Republican economics

Posted: 9 June 2010 in Uncategorized
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The more you study economics the more likely you are to be Republican and to hold free-market views.

That’s the less-than-surprising conclusion of a recent study by the New York Fed. Here are some of the authors’ observations:

Those who took more economics classes or who majored in economics or business were more likely to be members of the Republican party and less likely to join the Democratic party.

We find a statistically significant relationship between the number of economics courses completed, or majoring in economics, and the likelihood that a person agreed or generally agreed with [an economic policy] statement.

Those taking more economics classes favored less regulation or government intervention affecting prices for specific goods and services, including wages and salaries.

On most of the items, graduates who took more economics courses, or majored in economics, gave responses that were more similar to responses by the national sample of Ph.D. economists.

Actually, on some statements (such as “A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy” and “The level of government relative to national income [GDP] spending should be reduced”), students who had taken more courses in economics held more doctrinaire views than economists.

The question is, what explains the results? The authors remain agnostic in the face of the chicken-and-egg problem: it’s possible that students’ views become more Republican/conservative as a result of taking economics courses or that students taking economics courses are already more Republican/conservative.

I’ll offer two explanations: First, economists tend, more than all other social scientists and humanities professors, to vote Republican. That’s according to every survey I’ve seen (such as “The Social and Political Views of American Professors” [pdf] by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons). Second, the economics taught to students tends to be neoclassical economics. That’s the hegemonic approach—the  basis of many economics curricula and certainly the leading textbooks—in U.S. academic economics. The lessons students get, in the basic theory as well as the examples and applications, favor free-market solutions over all others. In fact, many economics students are never even exposed to alternative theories and other forms of economic organization.

So, students of economics—whether by influence or self-selection—are more exposed to Republican politics and free-market, neoclassical views and approaches than they get in other academic disciplines. That’s why the conclusions of the study are not all all surprising.

And that’s exactly the set of Republican political views and neoclassical economic perspectives they’re going to get at the University of Notre Dame, now that they’ve dissolved the Department of Economics and Policy Studies.

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