Thursday, April 28, 2005

So why bother asking them?
Ready for a healthy dose of elitism? Well, ready or not, here it comes.
James Taranto points to an article in the New York Times under the headline 'Survey Finds Many Have Poor Grasp of Basic Economics,' because it begins:

With Washington considering whether to strengthen Social Security by giving Americans more responsibility for their own retirements, a survey released yesterday suggested that the typical American does not know enough about economics to prosper in such a system.
Taranto comments:
To see why this argument is faulty, consider an analogous one: Most Americans don't know much about medicine, therefore the government should control health care. Or: Most Americans don't know much about journalism, therefore the government should control the press.

Americans who don't understand economics don't need the government to make their decisions for them. There are people in the private sector with the expertise to help them make their decisions. But apparently Mary Williams Walsh has never heard of accountants or financial planners.
I think he's absolutely right, but I think there's another important issue at play, and with it comes the elitism I mentioned above. Many on the left continue to point to the poor polling numbers that Bush's social security plan continues to receive as a reason why said plan should be defeated. But, if this survey shows that the public isn't qualified to make that judgment, maybe we should do the opposite for their own good? At the very least, such surveys of public opinion shouldn't determine the way political leaders vote on the issue.

Also, I'd have to say that this survey is born out pretty solidly by another recent NYT piece. I'm referring here to (alleged) economist Paul Krugman's monday column, in which he says:
According to John Snow, the Treasury secretary, the global economy is in a 'sweet spot.' Conservative pundits close to the administration talk, without irony, about a 'Bush boom.'

Yet two-thirds of Americans polled by Gallup say that the economy is 'only fair' or 'poor.' And only 33 percent of those polled believe the economy is improving, while 59 percent think it's getting worse.
First off, a survey of public opinion cannot be used to establish economic facts—well, unless we're talking about consumer confidence or something similar. Krugman is effectively claiming that the economy cannot be in good shape because American people do not believe it to be so. Setting aside that we now know the American people most likely lack the qualifications to make such determinations, it seems that Krugman fits among that survey population, since he seems to think that the opinion of the economy inherently represents the true nature of that economy, which it really, really doesn't.

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