…from the quill of Antisthenes the Younger
On 25th February 2012 The Economist woke up and published Don’t lie to me, Argentina, trying to explain its decision to cease publication of statistics emanating from that country. The first paragraph is worth quoting in full:
Imagine a world without statistics. Governments would fumble in the dark, investors would waste money and electorates would struggle to hold their political leaders to account. This is why The Economist publishes more than 1,000 figures each week, on matters such as output, prices and jobs, from a host of countries. We cannot be sure that all these figures are trustworthy. Statistical offices vary in their technical sophistication and ability to resist political pressure. China’s numbers, for example, can be dodgy; Greece underreported its deficit, with disastrous consequences. But on the whole government statisticians arrive at their figures in good faith.
I can guess what you think, and, yes, somebody thought it already. The next issue of The Economist published a letter from a certain Paolo Belomo, New York: “Your leader regarding Argentina’s dodgy inflation figures asked us to imagine a world without statistics. In such an imaginary world, ‘governments would fumble in the dark, investors would waste money and electorates would struggle to hold their political leaders to account.’Please tell me: how exactly would that be different from the real world?”
If you wonder whether The Economist‘s experts ever lived in the real world, you are not alone. The Economist does not identify the authors of articles. It is apparently deemed necessary because “collective voice and personality matter more than the identities of individual journalists”and reflects “a collaborative effort.” American author Michael Lewis wrote in 1991“The magazine is written by young people pretending to be old people. If American readers got a look at the pimply complexions of their economic gurus, they would cancel their subscriptions in droves.”
At the times long gone when I used to read The Economist, I often had the impression that two mutually contradictory articles, sometimes in the same issue, were written by the same person.
John Ralston Saul described The Economist as a “magazine which hides the names of the journalists who write its articles in order to create the illusion that they dispense disinterested truth rather than opinion. This sales technique, reminiscent of pre-Reformation Catholicism, is not surprising in a publication named after the social science most given to wild guesses and imaginary facts presented in the guise of inevitability and exactitude.”
The sudden concern about inexactitude of Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos, (INDEC) of Argentina is puzzling. It is well know that the official USSR government production figures were so fraudulent that the politburo relied on CIA estimates, knowing that even those uninformed guesses were more likely to be closer to the truth then the fairy tales in numbers dreamt up by their own state and party apparatchiks. Anybody familiar with the companies’ annual returns or the financial institutions’ balance sheets will confirm that any semblance therein to reality is purely coincidental. The bigger the establishment the more brazen or more ingenious the lies are.
Genuine errors may even out, but not deliberate falsification. For example, on 23rd April the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that the consumer price index rose 0.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2012 from the fourth quarter of 2011. Only The Economist could believe that. Normal people know that Gillard’s socialist Government put pressure on the Reserve Bank to lower the interest rate and that the ABS figures provide a convenient excuse to RBA for caving in. The application of the hedonic regression also helps.
However, it may have been The Economist‘s warning to other governments’ statistical fabricators; or, more likely, an attempt to cover its backside, knowing that the house of marked cards will shortly collapse.
If one glances through a issue of The Economist one should take the figures therein as an entertainment at the best or as an indication of the masters of The Economist‘s long term strategy at the cynical worst.
People less familiar with The Economist ought to know that it is generally in favour of: – globalisation, free markets, free immigration, progressive taxation, a carbon tax to fight global warming(!), supporting insolvent banks and other important corporations via central banks, amnesties, legalisation of drugs, Barack Obama, prostitution, atheism, recognition of gay marriages, banning smoking in public and gun control.
The Economist Newspaper Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Economist Group. The Economist Group is not a subsidiary of Pearson PLC, only an associate. The Financial Times Limited, which is a Pearson subsidiary, owns 50% of the share capital of The Economist Group but does not have a controlling interest. The bulk of the remaining shares are held by individual shareholders including the Cadbury, Rothschild, Schroder and other family interests as well as a number of staff and former staff shareholders.
There must be demand for opinions masquerading as the truth since the corporation almost doubled its profit in the last three years. Of course, comparing to other enterprises peddling opinion as, this time scientific, truth, such as Al Gore Inc. [http://www.dailyfinance.com/2009/11/03/al-gore-the-worlds-first-carbon-billionaire/] or Greenpeace [http://www.telofski.com/blog/2011/08/26/greenpeace-financial-reporting-error/] , those self-appointed economic gurus from Oxford Magdalen College are small potatoes.