Liberals Aren’t Stupid After All

You have to say this for George Mason economics professor Daniel Klein: at least he’s willing to admit a mistake. In the Atlantic, Klein discusses his major mea culpa retracting a study last year that he trumpeted as proof that liberals are stupid about economics.

Last year, I wrote a lengthy blog post condemning Klein’s biased study, and I certainly wasn’t alone. I explained in detail why many of Klein’s questions were deeply biased, and noted:

It’s really annoying when ideological disagreements become the basis for accusations of stupidity. Now, I like to call people stupid as much as the next person (probably more). But I never use that word simply because of an ideological disagreement where there is plenty of room for rational debate….When a shoddy, dishonest “poll” is falsely used to smear all liberals as idiots, and the conservative movement promotes this superficial analysis as proof of the evils of liberal academics, it shows the intellectual weakness of the right-wing today.

Klein now claims:

The proper inference from our work is not that one group is more enlightened, or less. It’s that “myside bias”—the tendency to judge a statement according to how conveniently it fits with one’s settled position—is pervasive among all of America’s political groups. The bias is seen in the data, and in my actions.

It’s good that Klein realizes his error and is willing to admit it. And he’s right to point out the dangers of bias. But I worry that he’s promoting a certain kind of relativism: we’re all stupid, we’re all biased, and “no group clearly out-stupids the others.” But is that really true when we look at the major cultural influences on liberals and conservatives? In my new book about Rush Limbaugh, I devote a chapter to his complete ignorance about economics, and how that drives many of his insane conspiracy theories (such as his belief that Obama is intentionally destroying the US economy). Maybe it’s just my own bias, but I find it difficult to name a major figure on the left who promotes such extraordinary ignorance about economics. We do need to question our own biases and fairly debate opposing views. But we also need to honestly recognize that some ideas are stupid.

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.