Arnold Kling  

Wording the Questions

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Seeing Greg Mankiw's reference to the World's Smallest Political Quiz put me in a puckish mood to tweak the questions. Alternative versions (Arlo's versions?) are in parentheses.


Government should not censor speech, press, media or Internet
(People should be allowed to advocate for terrorism, racial hatred, or any other unpopular cause)
Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft
(The wealthy and the powerful should be able to initiate wars, and pay others to fight them)
There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults
(If two teachers want to have sex in front of a classroom of elementary students that is fine, since the teachers are consenting adults)
Repeal laws prohibiting adult possession and use of drugs
(Abolish the requirement to obtain a prescription to get medication)
There should be no National ID card
(Illegal immigrants and terrorists should have their anonymity protected)
End "corporate welfare." No government handouts to business
(Government will do nothing to try to help save small farms, achieve energy independence, provide affordable housing, or achieve other social goals)
End government barriers to international free trade
(End government barriers to free trade, including all barriers that restrict people coming into this country to work)
Let people control their own retirement; privatize Social Security
(Either stop paying benefits to people near or beyond retirement age, or pay those benefits and use borrowing or new taxes to finance the large expenditures necessary)
Replace government welfare with private charity
(Eliminate government welfare, and hope that private charity picks up the slack)
Cut taxes and government spending by 50% or more
(Eliminate public education, Medicaid, and Medicare)

Even with the revised wording, I would take the libertarian view on several of these issues, particularly the economic issues. However, it strikes me that the original wording of the questions is too heavily geared toward encouraging libertarian answers for the quiz to have any reliability.

Two issues give me pause no matter how they are worded. I feel that the national ID card is not a big issue either way--the need for ID is so great and the forms of ID so widespread that I cannot see what the fuss is about. And regarding the military, I think there are serious problems with either a draft or a volunteer force. The draft is a cruel tax, but the volunteer army does create a disconnect between the people who are fighting and the people for whom they are fighting.

Note, however, this CNN poll.


Queried about their views on the role of government, 54 percent of the 1,013 adults polled said they thought it was trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Only 37 percent said they thought the government should do more to solve the country's problems.

Americans had a slightly different perspective when it came to the specific issue of promoting traditional values. A slight majority -- 51 percent -- said they thought that was an appropriate activity for government, while 43 percent said it should not favor any particular set of values.


I wonder how those questions were worded.


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TRACKBACKS (2 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/589
The author at The Liberal Order in a related article titled Mandatory vs. Voluntary Draft writes:
    Arnold Kling argues: The draft is a cruel tax, but the volunteer army does create [Tracked on October 29, 2006 2:11 PM]
The author at Economic Investigations in a related article titled News of the World #12 writes:
    Elsewhere… Uncloseted Libertarians My Politics, at least since the recent Cato paper on libertarian voters, prof. Mankiw has been dropping subtle hints to signal that he’s ready to “come out” as libertarian. With this latest pos... [Tracked on October 29, 2006 7:23 PM]
COMMENTS (10 to date)
drtaxsacto writes:

In my mind the failure of libertarian thought is its reliance on absolutes. There are some limited reasons for government and all of us should think carefully about what absolutely needs to be in government. Someone should revise the short quiz to recognize that fact - Arnold's redraft presents, for me at least, the reason why I remain committed to liberty but opposed to the libertarian expression in most things political.

I disagree with Arnold on the possible errors of the draft versus a voluntary army. In my mind all of the errors are on the side of coercive system. The evidence from when we abolished that which was neither selective, a service or a system is that we have gotten a reasonable spread of people willing to serve in the military. The end result of the draft is that the worry about who will serve is exacerbated by a coercive system. People who do not want to serve in a draft can figure a way to evade it.

drtaxsacto writes:

In my mind the failure of libertarian thought is its reliance on absolutes. There are some limited reasons for government and all of us should think carefully about what absolutely needs to be in government. Someone should revise the short quiz to recognize that fact - Arnold's redraft presents, for me at least, the reason why I remain committed to liberty but opposed to the libertarian expression in most things political.

I disagree with Arnold on the possible errors of the draft versus a voluntary army. In my mind all of the errors are on the side of coercive system. The evidence from when we abolished that which was neither selective, a service or a system is that we have gotten a reasonable spread of people willing to serve in the military. The end result of the draft is that the worry about who will serve is exacerbated by a coercive system. People who do not want to serve in a draft can figure a way to evade it.

Kent G. Budge writes:

I kind of agree that the questions are loaded, but I'd stick with a libertarian position even with the rewording -- except for those where I rejected the libertarian position in the first place.

Government should not censor speech, press, media or Internet
(People should be allowed to advocate for terrorism, racial hatred, or any other unpopular cause)

Well, when you put it that way ... But then I never really had a problem with laws against libel and conspiracy.


Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft
(The wealthy and the powerful should be able to initiate wars, and pay others to fight them)

An all-volunteer army sounds like a no-brainer. But there is some reason to think that a draft does a better job of allocating resources. You don't necessarily want all your most civic-minded young people getting shot at in the front line and your least civic-minded young peoople running the bullet factory. The draft, for all its problematic implications for civil liberty, keeps some civic-minded young people growing food and filling shells.

I think the right philosophical view is that every citizen has a duty to help combat existential threats to his civilization, and it's reasonable to have the government assign the duties. Maybe a draft to fight the big dangerous wars and an all-volunteer army to fight "the savage wars of peace?"


There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults
(If two teachers want to have sex in front of a classroom of elementary students that is fine, since the teachers are consenting adults)

Well, since you put it that way ... It's a particularly good existence proof that sex between consenting adults can have nontrivial external costs.


Repeal laws prohibiting adult possession and use of drugs
(Abolish the requirement to obtain a prescription to get medication)

I'd go along even with the reworded version, except that misuse of antibiotics really can get worse and inflict serious external costs. For example.

There should be no National ID card
(Illegal immigrants and terrorists should have their anonymity protected)

I hever had a problem with the ID card to begin with.

End "corporate welfare." No government handouts to business
(Government will do nothing to try to help save small farms, achieve energy independence, provide affordable housing, or achieve other social goals)

I favor this even as reworded. With the two exceptions that, since knowledge has the characteristics of a public good, subsidization of research might make sense; and, since national defense is also a public good, subsidization of key defense industries, to keep them healthy, may occasionally be justified. The military heavily subsidized the aviation industry prior to the Second World War, and a good thing it turned out to be.


End government barriers to international free trade
(End government barriers to free trade, including all barriers that restrict people coming into this country to work)

I want to know that those coming here are law-abiding. I don't want them or their descendants becoming citizens until they have shown loyalty to and some understanding of the Constitution*. (Unfortunately that is impossible under the present Constitution.) Otherwise, let them freely in.

*I also think this should apply to native-born children reaching the age of 18. Though I've never thought of a system for checking this that I'd trust, so it's problematic.


Let people control their own retirement; privatize Social Security
(Either stop paying benefits to people near or beyond retirement age, or pay those benefits and use borrowing or new taxes to finance the large expenditures necessary)

I agree even with the reworded version.


Replace government welfare with private charity
(Eliminate government welfare, and hope that private charity picks up the slack)

I agree even with the reworded version. (I already give significant support to private charities.)


Cut taxes and government spending by 50% or more
(Eliminate public education, Medicaid, and Medicare)

Agree even with most of the reworded version. If I was Grand Benevolent Dictator, I might support public subsidies of private education for the very poor, obvious public health measures (basic stuff like chlorination of water supplies) and catastrophic health insurance for the very poor. But it makes no sense that the wealthiest age demographic is getting health care at the expense of the younger middle class. Nor does it make any sense that government pays for, supplies, and is effectively the consumer of public education -- that's a huge three-way conflict of interest.

I conceptualize a volunteer army as similar to volunteer any-other-job. Conscription is a kind of slavery, volunteer armies are a form of indenture (which is bad enough, but better than slavery).

A professional volunteer army has the same kind of functional advantages as any system of wages versus slavery.

Furthermore, a professional volunteer army is an aspect of the specialization of function that constitutes modernization: simply, it allows the army to be more efficient.

Max writes:

Well, my question is, what is the difference between an ID card and a driver license?
I mean, if you have a driver license, you have identification, why is there need for ANOTHER ONE?

I am living in Germany and should (by law) carry my id card wherever I go. However, I have started NOT to do that, because a driver license is enough and I don't need another card in my wallet.
Also, ID cards are a pretty neat way for the government to control its citizens. People are getting easily used to presenting their cards, whenever they are asked without thinking about it.
If government doesn't get enough infos via peeking in your bank accounts and your buying habits, this card is another great opportunity.

The question is what is gained by a national-id-card? I mean, it is as easily forged as a driver license and has no additional features. So, why the need for a special ID card?

Omer K writes:

Pish-tosh...they said World's smallest Political Quiz... obviously they got to compress the wording.

blink writes:

I like the idea behind the challenging rewordings; we should think carefully about the implications of what we espouse. Moreover, I think most are fair to the survey questions.

The new “sex” question, however, does not seem to equivalent. The school-house example appears to violate simple property rights. Even agreeing with the original question, I will still be able to prevent consenting adults from copulating in my home and can choose to send my children to a school where such behavior is prohibited. A better re-write might say something about “two consenting animals” or about sex in public spaces, perhaps even achieving the same (appalling) force as the present example.

As for the “draft” question, the rewrite makes sense, but places the alternative in too positive a light. Historically, draft exemptions have been strongly favored the elite. Perhaps this elite is different (and somehow preferable?) from the wealthy, but it still exists. Moreover, there seems no way to have interested humans administer a draft in which all are in equal jeopardy. While a volunteer military may allow the powerful to wage war for a fee, the draft does nothing to change this besides eliminating the fee. To suppose that the draft solves the “disconnect” created by a volunteer military is self-deceiving.

Dezakin writes:
(The wealthy and the powerful should be able to initiate wars, and pay others to fight them)

How does a draft really prevent this? The wealthy and powerful will still largely control the state and the the draft selection process.

There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults (If two teachers want to have sex in front of a classroom of elementary students that is fine, since the teachers are consenting adults)

This is a fallacious rewording. The sexual activity includes the audiance.

There should be no National ID card (Illegal immigrants and terrorists should have their anonymity protected)

After all, the alternative is only trusting the state. Private institutions would seem to do a fine job at identification authentication; We need not designate yet another arbitrary power to the state.

Xellos writes:

As a libertarian, I've always been somewhat annoyed by the quiz. It's meant as a propoganda tool, which is why the wording is slanted the way it is. Don't think they've ever tried to disguise it, which is good (to me, anyway).

But you shouldn't take it very seriously. It's meant to get people thinking "Hey, maybe I am one of these libertythingamummies", nothing more.

Jeansbrother writes:

The new wording pushes the majority of people towards being centrists by using extreme examples. This new version appeals to the “purists” by showing that the majority of people really are centrists, but it does push people away from the Libertarian party, and not giving them reason to think about switching affiliation. This is obviously not the point of publishing the quiz.

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