What the Klein Study Proves
By Arnold Kling
[update: Daniel Klein emails me to credit Zeljka Buturovic for the study.]
Dave Leigh writes,
People who frequently shop at Wal-Mart scored much better than those who never do (2.24 to 4.24 questions wrong, respectively). This isn’t much of a surprise to me… the snoots who won’t shop there aren’t likely to know a thing about saving a buck. It’s pretty clear that the people who shop there aren’t stupid about economics… but their detractors may be.
He refers to the study by Dan Klein. I think what makes the study obnoxious to many people is Klein’s use of the terms “right” and “wrong” to describe what many people would prefer to think of as matters of opinion about propositions in economics. I think that the study has merit, regardless.
Suppose, as a worst case, that Klein’s characterizations are not defensible. As Leigh points out, the study nonetheless shows interesting correlations between economic beliefs and other characteristics. I think it really challenges Bryan Caplan’s view that the unwashed masses have the most dangerous economic views from a free-market standpoint.
In the past two years, I have given talks at two churches. At both, I tried to explain some basic realities of health care, namely (a) that as individuals we would like unlimited access to medical services without having to pay for them, but collectively this is not sustainable; and (b) health care does not break down neatly into necessary vs. unnecessary care, but rather that even among beneficial treatments there is a continuum of benefit-cost ratios, starting with some services that have very high benefits relative to cost and ending with services that have low benefits relative to cost.
At the University of Vermont, an outpost of the established Church of Unlimited Government, I received nothing but pushback from the audience. The typical question from the audience asserted that people have a right to health care, and that settles the issue.
In northern Indiana, inside a Methodist Church where I spoke to many people of Tea Party sympathies, people got what I was saying right away. They asked more constructive questions (I got pushback, but it was of a different nature and on different issues).
I think that libertarians ought to be very agnostic about the relationship between educational attainment and grasp of economics. That relationship may not be as strongly negative as Klein claims to have found (I will disclose here that I tend to believe that Klein is right.) However, it is certainly not strongly positive, as it would have to be in order to justify confidence in giving power to the educated elite.