Haunting Liberal Superstitions

COMMENTARY Budget and Spending

Haunting Liberal Superstitions

Nov 4, 2014 2 min read
Ted R. Bromund, PhD

Senior Research Fellow, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Ted Bromund studies Anglo-American relations, U.S. relations with Europe and the EU, and the U.S.’s leadership role in the world.
On Halloween weekend, everyone pretends to believe in ghosts. But a recent Chapman University study found that liberals are more likely to really be quaking in their boots. The supernatural doesn't scare me. But I am afraid of liberal faith in policies that make as much sense as astrology.

Conventional wisdom holds that it's conservatives who are anti-scientific morons, and liberals who are devotees of reason, science, and evidence. But as the The Chapman University Survey on American Fears reveals, that accusation is based on nothing but prejudice.

As The Washington Post summarizes it, "Democrats were slightly, and in some cases significantly more likely than Republicans to believe in paranormal phenomena." From fortune telling to astrology, liberals live in a world of spirits. At least belief in Bigfoot is bipartisan.

The Chapman study shouldn't surprise anyone. A 2011 Pew Research Center study similarly found that liberals were more likely than conservatives to believe in the evil eye, spiritual energy, reincarnation, communication with the dead, and of course fortune tellers and ghosts.

My own view is that people generally -- liberals, conservatives, everyone -- have a lot of beliefs that cannot be verified by science. Just because something is unverifiable doesn't make it wrong. The truths of religion cannot be proven scientifically, but that does not make them incorrect.

Moreover, while it's easy to mock people who don't share your particular unscientific beliefs, some of these beliefs don't have much broader significance. For example, the Big Bang Theory strikes Pope Francis -- and me -- as a plausible explanation for the origin of the universe.

But we will never be able to prove the theory true or, it seems, to falsify it. And since no significant issue of public policy turns on whether the theory is correct, I am not bothered by people who don't accept it.

There is also the awkward fact that experts often have no idea what they are talking about (a fact that columnists should bear in mind as well). Just last month, the federal government's top nutrition scientist admitted that low-fat diets are "probably not a good idea." There goes 35 years of official advice.

So enjoy that Halloween candy -- and if a survey criticizes you for not agreeing with the experts about global warming, remember that the experts might be wrong. We know a lot less than we think we do about virtually everything, and experts have powerful incentives to exaggerate their knowledge.

What frightens me isn't people who believe in Bigfoot. It's people like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who hold beliefs about actual public policy issues that rest on liberal superstitions. Last week, Clinton said that you shouldn't "let anybody tell you that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs."

The wage is the price the employer pays for labor. Arguing that raising the minimum wage will not cause employers to buy less labor is like arguing that the cost of a diamond ring has no bearing on how frequently you buy one. That's at least as irrational as believing in Bigfoot.

The secret of public policy is that most programs are never evaluated with any rigor. And when they are, the results are often ignored. Head Start, for example, costs taxpayers more than $8 billion a year. But a 2010 study found it achieved little or nothing. Yet the program rolls on.

In 2009, President Barack Obama said he would eliminate "government programs shown to be wasteful or ineffective." If I were a liberal, I'd have looked into my crystal ball and consulted my astrologer to figure out that wasn't going to happen. As a conservative, I had that frightening reality pegged already.

 - Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Thatcher Center for Freedom.

Originally appeared in the Long Island Newsday