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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: A Conflict of Visions: Ideology Revealed

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Conflict of Visions: Ideology Revealed

In Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell argues that two different visions touching the nature of man, the acquisition of knowledge and social decision making explains many differences between individuals’ stances on policy.  These visions are so powerful that they affect how people view the same evidence, explaining why these visions have persisted for more than two hundred years.

I believe that Hedengren, Klein, and Milton, provide evidence supporting Sowell’s hypothesis in, Economist Petitions": Ideology Revealed, published in the Econ Journal Watch.  They examined 35 petitions signed by economists between 1994 and 2009.  Based on their analysis, they classified fifteen petitions as liberty augmenting, thirteen as liberty reducing, and seven as other.  They conclude
The most notable finding of this investigation is that virtually every single economist who is active in signing petitions leans heavily in one direction or the other. The pictures tell the story better than words can, but here are some facts put into words:

• The 63 economists who signed at least eight liberal petitions lent a grand total of 564 signatures to liberal petitions, but their signatures on interventionist petitions amounted to just  five!

• The 102 economists who signed at least four interventionist petitions lent a grand total of 461 signatures to interventionist petitions, but their signatures on liberal petitions amounted to just sixteen!

• There were 589 economists who signed at least three liberal petitions, but only one also signed at least three interventionist petitions (and that individual, Malcolm Robinson, signed only three of each kind). Meanwhile, there were 230 economists who signed at least three interventionist petitions.

• In fact, among the 589 who signed at least three liberal petitions, there were, besides the aforementioned Malcolm Robinson, only two individuals who also signed at least two interventionist petitions, Carl F. Christ and Peter Crampton. But these two each leaned heavily in the liberal direction, signing five liberal and just two interventionist petitions. It is fair to say that Malcolm Robinson is the only exception to the finding that economists who are active in signing petitions lean heavily one way or the other.

• Twenty-five Nobel-prize economists were among the set of signatories. Five of them signed at least three liberal petitions—Vernon Smith, Milton Friedman, Edward Prescott, Thomas Schelling, and Robert E. Lucas Jr.—and among those five economists there was not a single interventionist signature.

• Six other Nobel economists signed at least two interventionist petitions—Kenneth Arrow, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Solow, George Akerlof, Lawrence Klein, and Daniel McFadden—and among those six economists there were just three liberal signatures.

Our investigation shows just how fundamental ideas about liberty and government intervention really are in the thinking of economists—or at least those who like to sign petitions.
All five of the signatures on freedom reducing petitions by the 63 economists who signed at least eight freedom augmenting petitions were on a petition supporting cap-and-trade legislation.  The 102 economists who signed at least four freedom reducing petitions signed only sixteen freedom augmenting petitions.  Six of the signatures were added to a petition that opposed marijuana prohibition, four that supported increased immigration, three that opposed protectionism, two that opposed green protectionism, and one that supported prediction markets. 


  1. Travis Corley2/11/10 4:38 PM

    Maybe these economists are influenced by their fellow economist buddies. That might be why they are so bias toward each vote.

  2. Austin Anderson3/11/10 10:34 PM

    I agree with travis, i believe many of the economists dont want to go against the "popular" choice for fear of getting proved wrong

  3. I agree with Austin and Travis. The economists are probably trying to stay on the side they began with. They might not support the other because it is different from what they believed in. This makes them seemed biased. They might also have personal reasons for supporting or not supporting something Ceteris paribus. Like Austin and Travis said they might be influenced by others and also scared of being incorrect.
    Kimberly Farias

  4. I have to say that I agree with all three people, society these days are pretty much based on going with the crowd. and If almost everyone is voting or signing for one person, everyone else is going to do the same, to be able to fit in with the society.
    Reba Huhn

  5. Erica Caffey8/11/10 4:31 PM

    I agree with everyone above. The economists are probably influence by the other economists and are maybe scared of being proved wrong. It's hard to go against the popular vote.

  6. Sabine Wohlschlag10/11/10 9:03 PM

    Or it could be that economists are not necessarily influenced by each other, they could just generally view things from a similar perspective.

  7. I agree with the above mentioned post. I think that in fear of being disproved, Economist would rather be proved wrong on something that all economist had wrong instead of being that one person who opposed what the majority said and was proven wrong. I think it just makes you look beeter to make a mistake that everyone misses instead of making a mistake on what everyone knows is right

  8. I like the idea that Michael had. I don't think they want to be individually singled out for being wrong, but would rather be proven wrong as a group. No matter if they are going against the popular vote or not, I feel they should do what's right for the economy...not just for the vote! Sometimes the popular vote isn't necessarily right.
    Suzanne Goff

  9. Maddie Morris6/12/10 10:05 PM

    In fear of being different from everyone else numerous economists tend to go with what everyone else had said. Yes, many do have similar perspectives but what good do these people make if everyone is afraid to go against the norm?