I haven’t read the Wall Street Journal, except occasionally online, since the Lewinsky Scandal; so infuriating and just plain pointless was the paper’s obsession with “getting” Clinton that I could no longer plop down a buck each day for the rag, despite the fact that I’d been reading it faithfully for many years and always admired its journalism. Indeed,  many of the best business nonfiction books I’ve read were written by WSJ reporters, whose talent and clearly lavish resources the paper provided  gave us some of the best American business history, in almost real time, that I’ve ever read;  over the years there have been dozens of them.  In its glory days, the WSJ covered, in minute detail and considerable style, so many aspects of the economy that one marveled at the hundreds of very smart and inquisitive people that it was able to shower on that frustrating and increasingly non-remunerative task.  Even if I couldn’t stand the paper anymore, I still felt a certain grudging admiration for its contribution to the increasingly shallow media landscape, and the impoverished history it’s producing these days.

Once Murdoch came along, I knew that even these vestigial benefits of the Wall Street Journal would soon run out, and that venerable name would become just another overflowing sewer of flat-out propaganda; after all, Murdoch started Fox Business because he thought CNBC was too “anti-business,” and he promised something different.  Well, here it is, from the “news” pages of the WSJ, helpfully forwarded to me by dear ol’ Nailheadtom.


Who is better informed about the policy choices facing the country—liberals, conservatives or libertarians? According to a Zogby International survey that I write about in the May issue of Econ Journal Watch, the answer is unequivocal: The left flunks Econ 101.

Interesting, if true.

Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic and I considered the 4,835 respondents’ (all American adults) answers to eight survey questions about basic economics. We also asked the respondents about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian.

Rather than focusing on whether respondents answered a question correctly, we instead looked at whether they answered incorrectly. A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.

Of course, “enlightened,” to a normal person, means something entirely different from what it means to a right-wing propagandist at the WSJ, as you’ll see.  It’s starts with the framing….

Consider one of the economic propositions in the December 2008 poll: “Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.” People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.

Ooh, so science-y sounding, but it does neglect to mention the huge public costs associated with uncontained sprawl; “socialized” costs like traffic, roads, sewers, water, schools, and on and on that pretty much destroy the lying fake argument the question is meant to advance.  Sprawl = high taxes, and dreary, auto-dependent lives for a fattening America.  This fact has been shown, repeatedly, but evidently only to the “unenlightened.”

Therefore, we counted as incorrect responses of “somewhat disagree” and “strongly disagree.” This treatment gives leeway for those who think the question is ambiguous or half right and half wrong. They would likely answer “not sure,” which we do not count as incorrect.

In this case, percentage of conservatives answering incorrectly was 22.3%, very conservatives 17.6% and libertarians 15.7%. But the percentage of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly was 67.6% and liberals 60.1%. The pattern was not an anomaly.

Nor were the questions, coincidentally.  Get a load of this:

The other questions were: 1) Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services (unenlightened answer: disagree). 2) Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago (unenlightened answer: disagree). 3) Rent control leads to housing shortages (unenlightened answer: disagree). 4) A company with the largest market share is a monopoly (unenlightened answer: agree). 5) Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited (unenlightened answer: agree). 6) Free trade leads to unemployment (unenlightened answer: agree). 7) Minimum wage laws raise unemployment (unenlightened answer: disagree).

Can you believe that?  Yes, you can, I’m certain.  In a pathetically weak nod to journalism, they did throw in the “overall” to cover up the fact that but for the richest, the American standard of living has been flat or declining for 30 years.  The rest of the questions are complete garbage, and one would have to be illiterate to believe that “enlightened” in this case means what it purports to mean.  It means “nuts, but conveniently armed with discredited and similar right-wing ‘research,’ concocted from risibly slanted and deceptive questions.”

How did the six ideological groups do overall? Here they are, best to worst, with an average number of incorrect responses from 0 to 8: Very conservative, 1.30; Libertarian, 1.38; Conservative, 1.67; Moderate, 3.67; Liberal, 4.69; Progressive/very liberal, 5.26.

Americans in the first three categories do reasonably well. But the left has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics.

To be sure, none of the eight questions specifically challenge the political sensibilities of conservatives and libertarians. Still, not all of the eight questions are tied directly to left-wing concerns about inequality and redistribution. In particular, the questions about mandatory licensing, the standard of living, the definition of monopoly, and free trade do not specifically challenge leftist sensibilities.

Here, they go ahead and admit that they skewed the questions fo fill in a story that was already written, but they obviously aren’t a bit ashamed, or maybe more damning, aren’t even aware of how openly compromised and delusional they are.  Sheesh, rent control?  The recent and widely publicized Randian land grab of rent-controlled housing, mostly in New York, has not only made matters much worse, but the pipe dreams and ridiculous lending practices associated with it have left billions of dollars in New York apartments in receivership, with nothing but escalating costs and poor management. And would they want their heart surgeon to be a high school dropout?  Do they think Third World Labor is not exploited?  I wonder how much Oxycontin it takes to make someone that “enlightened.”

Yet on every question the left did much worse. On the monopoly question, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (31%) was more than twice that of conservatives (13%) and more than four times that of libertarians (7%). On the question about living standards, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (61%) was more than four times that of conservatives (13%) and almost three times that of libertarians (21%).

The survey also asked about party affiliation. Those responding Democratic averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Republicans averaged 1.61 incorrect, and Libertarians 1.26 incorrect.

Adam Smith described political economy as “a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator.” Governmental power joined with wrongheadedness is something terrible, but all too common. Realizing that many of our leaders and their constituents are economically unenlightened sheds light on the troubles that surround us.

So now they haul out Adam Smith, who would undoubtedly have thought they belonged in a rubber room.  This is part of Murdoch’s “war” on the New York Times?”  Such errant nonsense belongs in The Onion, which is something that business readers aren’t going to appreciate much; truth, or at least some semblance thereof, is important when money might be involved.


  1. michlib says:

    This just confirms that the dementia formerly confined to the editorial room has spread and infected the “newsy” part of the journal. Murdoch debases all he touches. This item looks like the editors told a “reporter” to get a story that makes the left look dumb – and if you have to be creative – oh well.
    Instead of a bogus poll pre-rigged for the desired effect ( the left does not genuflect to Randian economic dogma ), a more informative piece would have examined if Randian economic dogma comports with reality. But then again, reality has that liberal bias !

    • cocktailhag says:

      And ol’ Nailhead thought this would vanquish me, once and for all, not unlike something Wile E. Coyote ordered from ACME, with similar hopes, but nonetheless ends up under a boulder holding a smashed umbrella.

  2. nailheadtom says:

    The questions weren’t meant to elicit reponses based on humanitarian concerns but rather to determine knowledge of economics. You surely can’t believe that mandatory professional licensing makes the service provided less expensive? Its effectiveness is another matter. Thirty years ago I was living in a log shack with no running water or phone, although I did have two light fixtures and a couple of outlets. Now I’ve got several more outlets and a computer, as well as a mobile phone. Don’t have to choke rabbits to get supper, either. So my own standard of living has gone up, at least. In any sphere of competition one company will have the largest market share, that certainly doesn’t make them a monopoly, and, in fact, monopolies of any kind can’t exist without the assistance of government. In a truly free market, monopolies are impossible. Third world workers are overjoyed to have jobs making things that others can buy. Otherwise they’d stay in their pre-industrial villages gathering fruits and nuts and wishing they had the money to buy a TV. Nobody forces them to go to work. Economies with the most restricted trade policies have the highest unemployment rates, check out Zimbabwe, for instance, or Liberia. If you believe that minimum wage laws INCREASE employment, well, you’re denying the existence of gravity. If that were true, why not raise the minimum wage to $25/hr and we can all move to the Big Rock Candy Mountains. And we can just forget that in a supposedly free society, the government really has no business getting in the middle of voluntary contracts between individuals, in employment any more than in marriage.

    • dirigo says:

      I’d rather live in Zimbabwe, sit on a straw mat in my loincloth, eat the local gruel, and check my stocks on a cell phone, than listen to you, to be perfectly honest.

    • cocktailhag says:

      The questions were retarded, Tom, and completely based on a demented belief in a bonkers, fantasy based economic system that have never and will never exist. There is no evidence, and a lot to the contrary, that increased minimum wages (the last cuckoo principle you apparently have left among the many shot down here…) have any effect on unemployment, which always spikes when Republicans gain power. Randian shrunken apple doll Alan Greenspan said, many times. that “employment insecurity” was the key to prosperity. For whom? I didn’t say, of course, that a higher minimum wage would increase employment; that’s just a product of your fevered and desperate imagination, like all your “arguments.”

      • dirigo says:

        Yeah, and in the shrunken head, voodoo doll history of economics, the more economic insecurity the better, and, as George W. Bush recently admitted, war, American-initiated war, is good for business. Not full employment necessarily, but business.

        It’s the same old song. On and on …

        And then, there’s torture.

        Right, Tom? Can you concede to the drone of your broken record? At least?

      • nailheadtom says:

        “The questions were retarded, Tom, and completely based on a demented belief in a bonkers, fantasy based economic system that have never and will never exist.”

        The questions weren’t based on any particular system at all. If anything, they were based on the “system” we’re operating under now, which includes minimum wage, mandatory occupational licensing, rent controls, and countless other government infringements on personal freedom and voluntary association.

        It’s astonishing that you fail to realize that the statist, central-planned “system” that you seem to advocate, the one that had absolutely the best opportunity for success and certainly worked the hardest at it, the Soviet Union, went down in economic flames because socialism DOESN’T WORK.

        • dirigo says:

          What serious person, or policymaker, in this country, whether trained in high economics or not, is proposing to convert our economy into anything resembling that of the former Soviet Union?

          How many people lacking in seriousness, or people feverishly overwhelmed with fear and paranoia, think they’re on top of it by railing against others who “seem to advocate” an economic system which is generally and rightly understood by those debating in good faith to be where it belongs: in the trash bin of history?

          On the whole I’d rather be getting a massage from a health care worker in Stockholm, or be sitting on a deck chair, taking in the sun and resting on a Norwegian oil platform in the North Sea.

 (This clip suggests the presence of a whole other can of worms for you Tom: the tendency of modern women to be “socialists” by nature, probably not something considered at all at the time of the Bolsheviks. What a mess THEY’LL continue to make, eh? Do you have a contingency for this occurrence, old boy?)

          • nailheadtom says:

            “What serious person, or policymaker, in this country, whether trained in high economics or not, is proposing to convert our economy into anything resembling that of the former Soviet Union?”

            Evidently, a number of them. Statist solutions to economic “problems” are all the rage on the left. The federal government is the majority owner of the largest American automobile company. That same government, in conjunction with its mercantilist buddies, is in the process of taking over the health care industry. The federal government owns huge percentages of the land area of everything but the original 13 colonies, Texas and California. The FDA regulates over $1 trillion dollars in consumer goods, over 25% of consumer spending. Fourteen million employees and contractors suckle at the federal teat and the number continues to grow. Just as Social Security is an obvious Ponzi scheme, so to is government employment at all levels, eventally there will be no money to pay their retirements or salaries, or, more likely, people will be roasting their hot dogs over burning images of dead presidents. It’s not complex. This guy has the answer:

          • dirigo says:

            You never stop with the raving.

            Many of the actions now in play that you cite are due to recent market failures, and fraud.

            So since that is the case (Did the government really fuck up Wall Street all by itself, or order General Motors to make shitty cars?) how does it follow that there is, in this context, a grand conspiracy to create an American Soviet Union, instead of attempting to repair the economy we have, which was fucked up by our own capitalist wizards as much as by anybody?

            That you get up every morning and see boogie men doesn’t mean we should.

            Oh, about land, check out the efforts of that great Republican socialist (obviously an oxymoron there) – T.R. – and his efforts to preserve SOME open space in this country. Just a “traitor to his class” though, and blah blah …

            You are consistently dishonest, throwing one mud pie after another, but of course that’s just a piffle isn’t it?


          • dirigo says:

            Holy crap, talk about conspiracies! – I was checking in on the never-ending saga of my baseball team, Boston’s Olde Towne Team – the Red Sox (Get it: RED SOX!!!), whose members and fans are all commies. Have been since 1918.

            Anyway, they’ve been playing muddled ball for a while this season, but I notice they’re coming up now, about four games out in the A.L. East. They’re making a move!

            And tonight they play the Indians again in Cleveland.

            THEN I see – and, boy, does this scare the shit out me (thanks to you, Tom, I’m getting more scared every day!) – that the Indians now play in something called “Progressive Field.”


            Seems to me we’re more far gone than previously understood if the Cleveland Indians are now hosting visiting teams in a place where there could be unisex toilets, common stacks of hot dogs and buns, giant collectivist vats of mustard and relish, truck-size kegs of beer with lines of people helping each other fill their cups, maybe (gasp!) mingling in small groups, kids being forced perhaps to play in collectivist rumpus rooms under the stands!

            Who knows what other horrors are unfolding there? We need Fox News to investigate.

            I hope the Sox come home soon. Of course, being RED SOX, they’re already tainted; but any exposure to the Indians (named after a bunch of horse-riding and papoose-carrying socialists) in a place called Progressive Field, in CLEVELAND!!! – could, sooner or later, infect all of major league baseball, and the WORLD SERIES.

            THE WORLD SERIES! Oh my God! Another plot we’ve never really understood fully.

            My Frank Malzone autograph third base mitt is somewhere under my bed. I’m scared shitless just thinking about all this. I’m going to crawl under there right now.

          • nailheadtom says:

            Don’t order your Bosox world series tickets just yet, they’re not going anywhere without a catcher that can actually throw the ball to second base.

            Since 1900, over 2200 automobile manufacturers have gone out of business. No more Auburns, Cords, Duesenbergs, Henry Js, Studebakers or Ramblers gracing the showrooms. But life went on. For whatever reason, if a manufacturer can’t operate at a profit, they’re supposed to go out of business. If you examine a copy of Fortune magazine from back in the fifties, you’ll notice that practically none of the advertisers exist today. No Pan American. No Pennsy. No Northern Pacific. No Longyear. No Gar-Wood. It’s the natural order of things. Same goes for banks, insurance companies, you name it. The government simply needs to enforce contract law.

          • dirigo says:

            Thanks. I never would have known this, without your help.

            Can you hit a spitter? That’s all I throw.

            Oh, don’t go to Green Bay and see the Packers. That’ll upset you too.

          • cocktailhag says:

            Really, Tom? Contract law? You mean these brave Randians need the big, bad government to help them fleece people? Sheesh. They should just carry guns, like the Wall Streeters did for a while.

          • dirigo says:

            “The government simply needs to enforce contract law.”

            How quaint …


  3. A priceless exchange. The WSJ now sets out to prove that while economics isn’t a science, it’s even more dismal than we thought, and Tom bites hard on the hook. Will Murdoch reel him in? As always, CHNN has the story….

    Here’s a thought experiment: let’s rapture our hapless Tom, send him to a world exactly like ours, except that it’s organized according to his own principles. There won’t be any liberals to get in his way, ’cause we’ll all be left behind.

    Then let’s give his wife amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — or if that’s too cruel even for a thought experiment, let’s have him fall off a ladder and develop permanent aphasia. Or if that’s still too cruel, let’s have him be born black and penniless in some place like Detroit or Baltimore. After ten years, we’ll send someone to see how he’s fared in his libertarian utopia. (We’ll forbid him rich parents, of course, or an uncle in the health care industry, or a basketball scholarship to USC.)

    • The Heel says:

      Bill, inspired by your culinary suggestions in regards to Tom’s organs, I made “Leberknoedel” the other day. Didn’t turn out to my standards, yet. I have to practice some more. I want this to be perfect for when you visit us. Bring Tom along…. :)

      Oh, by the way, that new Nazi-Babe from South Carolina would be a most welcome dinner guest, also, together with her soul mate Sarah.

      • Ah, Leberknödel. It’s been years…. I did make paprikas csirke with galuska levesbe not too long ago — Wolfgang Puck’s recipe. Of course he’s Austrian, not German and the dish itself is Hungarian, so maybe it doesn’t count, Grossdeutschland having long since seen its day and all.

        If we could get a decent ham hock here, I might try Eisbein, but not when I have American guests. Boiled pig fat isn’t their thing. Come to think of it, though, liver isn’t either. On the other hand, they might like Schweinshaxe, or Stelze — anywhere north of Cincinnati, anyway.

    • cocktailhag says:

      I keep suggesting that; all he seems to need is a Nanny to run to to enforce contracts for him, on the mean streets of Baltimore.

  4. michlib says:

    I guess some Chinese workers were so busy jumping for joy they leapt clear of the roofs of the plant – where they live and eat and work – and accidentally died. But don’t worry Tom, the free market has innovated and come in with … nets !!! But don’t worry, I’m sure any free-loading 84 hour per week worker expecting a free “catch” will have their paycheck duly nicked for any ‘wear and tear ‘ on the nets and lost productivity to the company. Now there’s some compassionate conservatism for you.

  5. mikeinportc says:

    “The questions weren’t based on any particular system at all.”

    I’d guess that they were based on the literalist tunnel-vision so common among the Randian right. In that world there are no tradeoffs, no opporunity costs, no indirect costs, the Law of Diminishing Returns( Econ 101) doesn’t apply,this quarter is all that matters, and there are free lunches. (Pollution and lack of oversight/regulation don’t cost anything!) Also conveniently justfies everything they’re all about.

    The difference in repones isn’t really about economic literacy, or lack thereof. It’s about balancing short term vs long term, economic freedom vs a level playing field ( concentration of power/$), the big picture vs narrow self-interest, and where one’s priorities lie.

    When things are going well it’s easy to be for laisez faire, but keep in mind there’s (almost)always something bigger, stronger, more powerful, with deeper pockets, and that entity will be unrestrained also.

    Ps :The next step after Citizen’s United ,inanimate objects running for office? :)
    Binghamton City Council proposes a stop sign for mayor.

    ( Or the headline writer inadverdantly stumbling upon political
    (h/t Les_izzmore)

    • nailheadtom says:

      “In that world there are no tradeoffs, no opporunity costs, no indirect costs, the Law of Diminishing Returns( Econ 101) doesn’t apply,this quarter is all that matters, and there are free lunches.”

      In the case of minimum wage laws, it’s a fact that employers are less likely to hire anyone, especially inexperienced workers, for the few jobs that are actually covered by those “feel good” laws. We can observe the opportunity cost all around us with recent high school grads and teens on summer vacation enjoying record levels of unemployment. Isn’t there a little opportunity cost there? So “progressives” get to pat themselves on the back for putting a floor under wages but willing workers get to stay home when they should be able to work for free if they wish, like the interns in Nancy Pelosi’s office.

  6. mikeinportc says:

    Isn’t there a little opportunity cost there?

    Yes,but a less damaging one than having no bottom.

    So…… which free market utopia are you moving to,Tom, or at least advocating we emulate?

    Btw , both of my(regular-job-type) employers are looking to hire entry level workers , for more than minimum. [ Even here, in the fringes of the dysfunctional East Coast Socialist Hell. ;) ] If you’re looking, I’ll hook you up. ( & if you need some landscraping, I’ll do it my ownself for the special CHNN rate of $25/hr. :) )

    • cocktailhag says:

      Oh, that rate has increased a bit, Mike, but don’t tell Tom. I hate to pile on, but back in the socialist 70′s, I was proudly paid less than minimum wage, first as a paperboy and later as a “tipped employee,” in the restaurant business… The very idea that minimum wage laws are even observed, much less economically significant, beggars reality. Pointing out such obvious facts, however, is pretty futile, to someone who clearly has never had to work in the real economy.