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Analysis vs. Ideology

In December’s “I Was Wrong, and So Are You,” the libertarian economist Daniel B. Klein retracted a swipe at the left, acknowledging that a 2010 study he had conducted did not prove that liberals have a poor grasp of economics, as he had originally claimed. Rather, he conceded, the study proved his own confirmation bias as a researcher.

As one of those who challenged Daniel Klein’s Wall Street Journal op-ed about the left’s alleged ignorance of economics, in a letter published in the same newspaper a few days later, I am pleased to see his retraction of his charges. But when Mr. Klein asks if he should have known better, the answer is an emphatic yes.

As I wrote in the letter, I initially thought the piece was a self-parody, so blindingly obvious was it that Mr. Klein had measured not knowledge of economics but ideology. (I came to my senses when I recalled which newspaper I was reading.) But his own ideology may still be blinding.

To take the most obvious example: he still believes that “agree” is objectively the incorrect response to the statement “Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited”—as if exploited were not a loaded word, and as if one cannot believe both that Third World workers are exploited and that they are better off with American companies in their country than without.

Ideology always demands a simple answer.

Barry Bennett
Instructor of Ethical Leadership and Decision-Making
Marylhurst University
Portland, Ore.

As I read Daniel B. Klein’s self-revealing apology for his prior polemical interpretation of the survey of “people’s real-world understanding of basic economic principles,” I was struck by the fact that he had overlooked the much larger implications of his missteps. As a professor of economics, he might rather consider that his field of study is much less than a scientific analysis of worldly reality and human behavior and much more like an organized ideology that rationalizes his underlying values.

Jeoffry B. Gordon
San Diego, Calif.

I can’t say I’m surprised. Pollsters have known for ages that if you slant questions just so, you can skew answers to match the results you want. Confirmation bias exists everywhere, true enough, but it exists rather glaringly in the world of partisan polling.

Still, I’m glad Klein wrote this up and published the retraction. It’s hard to admit when we’re wrong, and harder still to admit we’ve fooled ourselves.

E. D. Kain
Excerpt from a Forbes blog post

Daniel B. Klein replies:

This commentary is taken in good spirit, and I respond only to Jeoffry Gordon’s suggestion that my folly should tell me that my “field of study is much less than a scientific analysis … and much more like an organized ideology that rationalizes [my] underlying values.” Surveys show that most professional economists vote Democratic, and that upwards of 85 percent fall short of upholding what I would call a reasonably firm support for free-market policy positions. So whatever libertarian follies I perpetrate, they do not derive from professional economics.

Telling Anton’s Story

While covering the Libyan civil war last spring, Clare Morgana Gillis was seized by Muammar Qaddafi’s forces and held in captivity with two colleagues; a third, Anton Hammerl, was killed. In December, Gillis documented her ordeal for The Atlantic.

The moments of fear, the prolonged anxiety, and the inconvenience of Clare Gillis’s 45-day detention in Libya by pro-Qaddafi forces, several weeks of which were spent in the five-star Corinthian Hotel with full access to comfort and communications, are worthy of note. As she recounts, the widow of the South African photographer Anton Hammerl, upon learning of her husband’s death, implored Ms. Gillis to tell his story, as well as Ms. Gillis’s own. In the lengthy pages afforded to “What I Lost in Libya,” Ms. Gillis accomplished only the latter. It brings to mind Jon Krakauer’s writings of the 1996 Mount Everest climbing disaster, in which the loss of six climbers and two guides gave way to a tale of self. Although I read Ms. Gillis’s article several times, I still am puzzled as to what she lost.

Robert Leutheuser
Albuquerque, N.M.

Clare Morgana Gillis replies:

There is nothing I would like more than to be able to tell Anton’s story. Unfortunately, his body has not been located yet, and is likely in one of the mass graves that continue to be discovered, which contain hundreds and possibly thousands of missing Libyans. Currently, the National Transitional Council lacks funding and expertise to properly exhume such remains. There is also disagreement and confusion about which committee actually takes responsibility for dealing with these sites.

James Foley and I returned to the site of our capture in October and met with individuals who are involved with the efforts to reunite families with their missing, and met many capable and determined people who are dealing with a situation that is forensically demanding and bureaucratically messy. I will continue to monitor the progress of these committees until Anton’s family can lay him to rest properly.

The Waste of Walmart

In the December Atlantic, Orville Schell detailed how Walmart and China are setting environmental standards for 20,000 suppliers making thousands upon thousands of products for billions of consumers. Here, a Walmart employee praises the company’s green efforts but says it hasn’t gone far enough.

I have worked for Walmart for 15 years (I am a salaried member of management) and read with interest “How Walmart Is Changing China.” While I feel much better about the company since it has started making strides toward sustainability (we are required to recycle everything, including organic waste, at my store), there is still so much waste that it feels like no more than a drop in the ocean. We have been doing this for years, but I still see very few sustainable products for sale in the store.

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