Monday, 15 October 2012

Are you smarter than politics?

Here's a quick economic quiz composed of items that economist Daniel B. Klein and psychologist Željka Buturović have used in studies published in 2010 and 2011, respectively (of which more later). I'd like you to write down for each of the following economic statements whether you think it is true or false, or whether you don't know (as in "1. T, 2 F, 3. F, 4. DK... or something like that).
  1. Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited.
  2. When two people complete a voluntary transaction, they both necessarily come away better off.
  3. Making abortion illegal would increase the number of black-market abortions.
  4. Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.
  5. Gun-control laws fail to reduce people’s access to guns.
  6. Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services.
  7. By participating in the marketplace in the United States, immigrants reduce the economic well-being of American citizens.
  8. Minimum-wage laws raise unemployment.
  9. When two people complete a voluntary transaction, it is necessarily the case that everyone else is unaffected by their transaction.
  10. Drug prohibition fails to reduce people’s access to drugs.
  11. Legalizing drugs would give more wealth and power to street gangs and organized crime.
  12. Free trade leads to unemployment.
  13. A company with the largest market share is a monopoly.
  14. When a country goes to war, its citizens experience an improvement in economic well-being.
  15. Rent control leads to housing shortages.
  16. Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago.
  17. A dollar means more to a poor person than it does to a rich person.
Now, while you are free to find this as outrageous as you will, Klein and Buturović claim to know the correct answers to these questions, and they may well differ from yours. Indeed, contra the cliché that no two economists ever agree on anything, I believe there are a great many questions on which economists overwhelmingly agree among each other while also disagreeing on them with most non-economists (defending this point could be the matter of another blog post); furthermore, I believe that all the above statements are pretty uncontroversial among economists.
But regardless of what's true about the extent to which economists agree on these questions, and regardless of which of the above statements really are true or false, let me now reveal to you which of the above statements Klein and Buturović think are true or false. My task for you is to take note (in writing) of which items, according to the study authors, you got wrong (ignoring the items you answered with "don't know").
The statements which the authors deem true are: 3, 4, 6, 8, 15, 16, 17. All the other statements are deemed wrong.

Now let's consider three sets of items you may have gotten wrong (according to K&B).
Maybe the items you got wrong happen to be 1, 4, 6, 8, 12, 13, 15, 16
or maybe 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 17
or perhaps 2, 5, 9, 10, 17.

Does one of those three sets of items stand out as the most similar to the set of items you got wrong? Do let me know in the comments!
We could even make a magazine-style personality test out of this: Identify the one of the three above sets of items that  is most similar to the set of items you got wrong (for example, taking each of the three sets in turn, you could count +1 for all items in the set that you also got wrong and -1 for all items in the set that you didn't get wrong, and then see for which set you obtain the highest count); then calculate your score based on the proportion of items in that set which you also got wrong. Well, before some magazine buys this epic idea, I will concede that it could use some tweaking :P

But anyway, as you may already have gathered, here is what I would surmise your answers predict about you:
  • If your set of wrong answers is most similar to the first of the three sets above, chances are you are a liberal.
  • If it's most similar to the second set, you are likely a conservative.
  • If it's most similar to the third set, then I predict that you're a libertarian.
Neat! So your political ideology predicts ways in which you are factually wrong. (At least K&B's data and economic judgement would suggest this). Another researcher who has more on how moral ideology appears to determine descriptive beliefs (more strongly than evidence and rational arguments in most cases) is Peter Ditto. (He recently did an interview on Point of Inquiry, available here). As for Daniel Klein and Željka Buturović's studies, you may now finally read the whole story behind them here. Class dismissed. ^_^


  1. I got them all right, what's that mean?

  2. It certainly means you have above average economic literacy :D If you follow my link to Klein's article (the last one in the post), you'll see that most people did very poorly on these questions.

    The title of my post is modeled on the title the Wall Street Journal gave to Klein's op-ed about the results of his first survey: "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"
    Following through with the idea of my title, I hereby pronounce you smarter than politics.

    1. I accept the title, lol. Hey Seb, can I ask you some questions about free domain radio via e-mail?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Sure! sebastian . nickel AT gmx . net

  3. I got 14/17 8-)