Insult Retractions: A (Very) Occasional Feature

by Jonathan Chait | May 16, 2011

Last year, Daniel B. Klein and Zeljka Buturovic performed and analyzed a public survey that queried the public about a series of economic questions. The structure of the survey was such that agreement with the neoclassical economic model was deemed "correct," even on issues (such as the notion that the minimum wage costs jobs) where the evidence is far from clear. Klein announced the findings in a Wall Street Journal op-ed declaring "the left has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics." Conservatives widely trumpeted the findings. I wrote a fairly nasty blog item about it. (I know! I can't believe it, either.)

To their credit, when critics pointed out that the conclusion was totally invalid -- the survey was designed to catch myths, or "myths" believed only by the left, the authors set about to correct their error. They commissioned a new study testing myths that appeal to conservatives and libertarians (i.e., "When two people complete a voluntary transaction, it is necessarily the case that everyone else is unaffected by their transaction.") Result?

In a new survey, conducted in December 2010, we supplemented those eight questions with another nine new questions, all specifically challenging conservative and/or libertarian positions (and often reassuring leftist positions)... the new test consisting of all 17 questions yielded results that vitiated prior evidence of the left being worse.

I think they genuinely deserve credit for taking into account the objections and making the effort to correct them. The interesting question is whether the Wall Street Journal could be shamed into publishing another op-ed correcting the first one. Probably not, but you never know.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/88485/insult-retractions-very-occasional-feature