Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Educated class failure?

Noemie Emery has an interesting column this morning in The Washington Examiner, arguing that Obama's failures as president epitomize the failures of a certain kind of educated class. Emery is of course writing about the failures of people like me, which naturally gets my attention. (Some of my best friends write for magazines for a living.) Also, I have a German father and a Ukrainian mother, so I suppose I'm hard-wired for self-loathing and thus inclined to read articles about why I should hate myself sympathetically. (See also David Brooks's tea party movement column, which made a substantively similar point.

Except a problem jumps out at me when I read this paragraph:

It [the public] has also moved strongly against his [Obama's] -- and the educated classes' -- ideas. It is more pro-life, more anti-climate change, more free market, less statist, more inclined to favor "harsh" measures against terrorism suspects, more in favor of "waterboarding" the terrorist caught in the brief-bombing effort, more opposed to the closing of Guantanamo Bay.

Actually, I'm not so sure this is right. I do not study political ignorance, but I live with someone who does. My understanding is that, contra Emery, voters with more education are more pro-free-market than those who are not. Similarly, I'm not sure what set of public policies she's referring to when she says "less statist," but I do recall that more educated voters favor fewer restrictions on immigration and trade, which would make more educated voters less statist than less educated ones. Leave aside for a moment that I'm not sure what being anti-climate change means. Presumably everyone is against the idea of climate change; it's just that some people think that it is happening, and others are skeptical. Also, others disagree about whether the issue can best be addressed through market-based or top-down approaches.

None of this is to say that today's educated class is perfect or without real flaws. Nor is it to say that the public policies Obama has chosen to pursue in office are right on the merits. In fact, I do think my own class has plenty of flaws, and I also disagree with nearly all of Obama's policy agenda. I'm merely skeptical that conservative intellectuals' navel-gazing about what is wrong with our class is the best means of coming up with an effective opposition strategy, narcissitically satisfying though it may be.

Time is tight at the moment, but if anyone has a link to some nice and short piece covering correlations between education and political views, please comment. I looked around briefly on both Bryan Caplan's blog and Volokh, but couldn't find one.

ETA: My Artist Formerly Known as Ilya notes that he discusses these issues in a Volokh post. He adds that "Knowledge and education are not the same thing, but they are highly intercorrelated. In general, more educated people tend to be more pro-free market, and also more socially liberal." I suspect that the latter would also displease Emery, though elite social liberalism doesn't displease me.

But Obama's most ambitious -- and most problematic -- policy initiatives haven't invoked social issues like gay marriage or abortion. Rather, it's the stimulus package and proposed health care bill that have really gotten conservatives, libertarians, and tea partiers screaming. If his popularity has taken a hit, it's more likely because of his fiscal or regulatory stances.

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