One of the Best Critiques of My Work
By Bryan Caplan
I just noticed that my former student Jeremy Horpedahl penned an awfully clever critique of my work almost a year ago. Highlight:
I would encourage you to read Eva Mueller’s 1963 QJE article “Public Attitudes Toward Fiscal Programs.” Mueller’s survey design asked respondents many broad questions on fiscal policy, but then adding an interesting twist: asked the same questions again (only to those that wanted to spend more), but mentioned that taxes would have to be increased to provide the additional funding. The results are very revealing.
Keep in mind with all of these figures that the follow-up tax question (I’ll call it the “Mueller Test”) was asked only to those who first favored more spending on a program, those that we might view as more “fiscally liberal” to begin with. Of the fourteen broad spending categories investigated, five had clear majorities favoring more spending, and two more were within three percentage points. When the Mueller Test was applied, not a single program had majority support for increased spending. Remember, that’s among those that had previously supported increased spending!
To wrap this up, yes, it is true that this data was collected in the early 1960s. But first, this presents an interesting intertemporal response to “Caplan’s challenge,” since it seems certain that all the categories asked about have been vastly increased in real terms since the early 1960s, yet none had majority support when the Mueller Test was applied. And more broadly, we should be skeptical of any survey that does not use the Mueller Test. It seems easy to include this in the survey. So why not? Maybe you won’t get the answer you want.
It’s criticism like this that makes teaching graduate students worthwhile – and independence like this that makes GMU grad students great people to hire. (Buy now while supplies last!)
I’ll be posting a reply shortly.