Arnold Kling  

Data on Political Beliefs

A License to Sing?... Less Liberty Than Meets the Ey...

Two items in the Wall Street Journal. An editorial notes that the Chinese top the world in their support for market capitalism.

In a poll conducted for the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes between June and August last year, fully 74% of Chinese citizens said they agreed with the statement "the free enterprise system and free market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the world." The Philippines, at 73%, and the U.S., at 71%, were second and third. The poll, which surveyed 20,791 people in 20 countries, seems like a pretty good snapshot of current sentiment, as such things go.

...Fully half of the French disagreed that capitalism is the best way forward. Italians and Spaniards were more supportive of Adam Smith's ideals, with 59% and 63%, respectively, voting for free markets.

At lunch last week, Tyler Cowen and I both expressed pessimism about China. Our view is that the state appears to control too much capital. However, those pro-capitalist beliefs could turn out to be a real asset.

In another item, Cato's David Boaz writes,

The Gallup Poll's annual survey on government found that 27% of Americans are conservative; 24% are liberal, up sharply because the poll was taken after Katrina, which boosted support for the proposition that "government should do more to solve our country's problems." Gallup also found -- this year as in others -- that 20% are neither liberal nor conservative but libertarian, opposing the use of government either to "promote traditional values" or to "do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses." Another 20% are "populist" (supporting government action in both areas), with 10% undefined. Libertarian support, spread across demographic groups, is strongest among well-educated voters.

The last sentence, particularly, caught my eye. Relative to a recent Caplan-Kling dispute, it lends to support to my co-blogger.

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The author at Bayesian Investor Blog in a related article titled Chinese Capitalists writes:
    Arnold Kling reports that free markets are more popular in China than in the U.S. That reminds me that I should give more thought to investing in China-related companies.... [Tracked on February 6, 2006 7:54 PM]
COMMENTS (9 to date)
Robert writes:

It makes very little difference whether a single voter uses their franchise informed by good ideas, informed by bad ideas, or not at all. What, then, is the individual voter's motivation for acquiring good ideas?

benny writes:

20% are libertarians? this is quite a high number. in germany the share of libertarians as share of population is not more then 5%, maybe much less.

T.R. Elliott writes:

I do hope both Caplan and King realize how silly it looks to make arguments the irrationality of voters by drawing upon polling data.

How does this argument go. The result of voting are often irrational because people are uninformed (King might say uneducated, Caplan unintelligent). And we have found further proof in a poll. Which is a form of voting. Which means the results are irrational.

You are compounding errors. I found this to be an annoying component of Caplans book. He draws upon polling data (polls show people believe economic issues are important) to argue about problems with democracy.

David Hays writes:

I suspect that many of the American "pro-market" poll-respondents wouldn't know a free-market if it slapped them in the face.

Brad Hutchings writes:

I think this new libertarian 20% club needs a defining catchphrase to separate itself from the 51% lib/con block. You know the old saying about how Democrats think Republicans are evil and Republicans think Democrats are stupid?

So how about... "(Smal-l) libertarians think Republicrats are stupid and evil." Does that capture the essence of Boaz's last sentence enough?

liberty writes:

It would be interesting to compare countries, track who saw the market favorably with how free their economy was 5 years later, and with the standard of living. For example Germany, France, Sweden, Canada and the US, compare attitudes in 2000 with the percent change in public sector / intervention and with economic growth and measures of standard of living in 2005.

James writes:


Caplan doesn't deny that polling is an effective way of finding out what beliefs people have about some issue. His position is that polling results are a poor way to find out what beliefs are rational for people to have about an issue. There is no inconsistency or irrationality in this approach.

T.R. Elliott writes:

James: Caplan argues something as follows:

S1: Economics is the primary activity of the state. He says "Economic policy is the primary activity of the modern state, making voter beliefs about economics among the most — if not the most — politically-relevant beliefs." He also says the "modal respondent in the National Election Studies ranks economic issues as 'the most important problem' in most election years."

S2: He provides many examples of American ignorance based upon surveys and polls. Please note, not voter ignorance. American ignorance. One can assume American ignorance carries over to voter ignorance but the correlation is unknown and cannot be assumed.

S3: He argues that the economically illiterate, which includes most, are unfamiliar with basic economic concepts such as comparative advantage, the invisible hand, etc.

So the way I understand his argument is that democracy is inferior to free markets because economic efficiency is the goal of government, voters don't understand economics, but voters do indicate that they think economics is important (based on polls). So we should give them what they really want: economic efficiency.

Now I understand the import of many of his ideas in this book do not hinge upon this. They are worthwhile and important to consider. But I think his solutions will. He has to argue that economic efficiency is what government is all about and voters really do want this. Because if voters really don't care about economic efficiency, his proposed solution--free markets--is dead in the water. Unless he believes a dictator should seize control to force economic efficiency down their throats whether they want it or not.

So that's why I think he draws upon the polling data that indicates economic issues are important to voters (contrary to the last election when we heard moral issues were important). He has to find a way to say economic efficiency is a primary voter concern. But how can he do so except by...having them vote about it. Otherwise he's proposing dictatorship.

You see my point now?

James writes:


"So the way I understand his argument is that democracy is inferior to free markets because economic efficiency is the goal of government..."

There's your problem. His argument is not that economic efficiency is the goal of government. As I read Caplan, he takes it as given that there should be economic efficiency.* He then infers from empirical evidence that democracy is unlikely to achieve that result.

* His belief that there should be efficiency is probably based on his ethical judgements as well, but I don't think he believes there should be efficiency just because of anything related to what people seem to want.

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