Public Economic Ignorance Is Rising
27 June 2017 | Pago Pago, American Samoa
It proceeds at two levels. Raw basic ignorance and the ignorance of those who think they know but don't. The two merge, but the latter dominates and is most vulnerable to propaganda efforts. All is then coupled to a declining public intelligence and much manufactured propaganda proving bogus answers.
The current conflict over government spending illustrates the new dangers of ignorance. Every economist knows how to deal with the debt: cost-saving reforms to big-ticket entitlement programs; cuts to our bloated defense budget; and (if growth remains slow) tax reforms designed to refill our depleted revenue coffers -- all to keep economic matters most simple.
But poll after poll shows that voters have no clue what the budget actually looks like. A 2010 World Public Opinion survey found that Americans want to tackle deficits by cutting foreign aid from what they believe is the current level (27 percent of the budget) to a more prudent 13 percent. The real number is under 1 percent.
A Jan. 25 CNN poll, meanwhile, discovered that even though 71 percent of voters want smaller government (Now, where did they get that idea?), vast majorities oppose cuts to Medicare (81 percent), Social Security (78 percent), and Medicaid (70 percent). Instead, they prefer to slash waste—a category that, in their fantasy world, seems to include 50 percent of spending, according to a 2009 Gallup poll. (Now where could they have gotten that misconception?) A recent GAO study placed the actual figure of government waste at less than 5%.
Needless to say, it’s impossible to balance the budget by listening to these people. But politicians pander to them anyway, and even encourage their misapprehensions. As a result, we’re now arguing over short-term spending cuts that would cost up to 700,000 government jobs, imperiling the shaky recovery and impairing our ability to compete globally, while doing nothing to tackle the long-term fiscal challenges that threaten … our ability to compete globally.
There is little hope here except for improved economic education and better intelligence, but our best information establishes both are on the sharp decline. Public discussion levels prove the former and research shows world intelligence has been sharp decline.
In such circumstances, what chance is there for democracy to function without a well informed and actually knowledgeable electorate?