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 Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

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Oliver
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PostSubject: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics   Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:09 pm

A friend of mine, rather conservative (but I'm sure his heart's in the right place), posted a link to an Ottawa Citizen article yesterday. You can find the link at the end of the note. The article argues that we in North America are uniquely privileged, when compared to the rest of the world, so our protesters cannot possibly claim to be disadvantaged. North America has 6% of the world's population, but 34.4% of the world's wealth. According to the article: "Canada on its own remains a bit player, with only 0.6 per cent of the world's adult population. But our share of global household wealth is, no surprise, disproportionate, at nearly two per cent." You can read the rest on your own, there are a number of other statistics involved as well, suggesting that the protesters are all wealthy compared to the rest of the world, so they should shut up and be thankful.

This article bugged me for the last 24 hours or so, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why until late last night. I have two major issues with the article. Firstly, its statistical analysis is, well, that of a newspaper, and not of a responsible academic (though the article cites an academic paper). In the article, the statistics come at you so quickly it's difficult to notice the sleight of hand going on here. The richest 1% of the world's people own a disproportionate amount of the wealth, and they are disproportionately western, and this plays havoc with percentage figures. The ultra-rich 1% are what most reasonable academics, if they were studying monetary equality, would consider outliers. Do you know what responsible academics do with crazy outliers? They acknowledge them, but leave them out of their calculations. If we simply left out the richest 1% and recalculated the worldwide percentage, would the west still be disproportionately wealthy? Absolutely, but, I rather expect that the percentages would not be quite so extreme. There's no mention of how the western world's breakdown affects the world-wide percentages of wealth. Somebody living on social assistance is lumped in with a billionaire like Bill Gates, and both those people affect our numbers, even though one is much closer to the trend than the other.

I'd like to reiterate, for clarity, that I don't think the west is in such dire straits as Africa, or certain countries in Asia, the Middle East, or South America; I just think that the numbers representing our share of the wealth are skewed by the very 1% we're protesting about.

So this leads me to my second issue. There seems to be an insistent move from the right which says: "There are people starving in Africa, so you have to shut up." The first part is true. The second part is bullshit. There are people starving here too. Not as many, and in most cases not as horrifically, but that doesn't make it okay. The argument that you can't complain about conditions here because they're far worse elsewhere is an old one, and most people can be relatively easily swayed by it. The issue is that it suggests we can only worry about the worst problems, and not any others. We can't worry about the barbecue thief, because there are murderers out there. So stop complaining about your barbecue being stolen, because some people have been murdered.

Do you see where this runs into trouble? There are problems out there, and they're horrible problems, but there are problems here too. My family lived on welfare for years when I was a kid, and I didn't know then, but I have a slightly better idea now what my mother did to keep things going for me and my sister. Sometimes we'd get sick, and my mom would eat one meal a day to pay for the medication. Is that better than it would be if I was a poor child in another part of the world? Absolutely. Does that make it okay? I don't think so. There's a growing movement out there, who call themselves the 99%, and most of them just want the playing field re-leveled. They want an appropriate level of government oversight over industry and progressive taxes to repair our social safety net, which is fraying and has some big holes in it. Are things comparatively better here than they are elsewhere? Absolutely. That doesn't make things here good, and it doesn't make them appropriate for a wealthy western nation.

I've often heard conservatives saying things like: "We can't send out so much money in foreign aid, there are problems that need fixing here." Now, when we have a movement that wants to fix things here, we are supposed to look outwards and be thankful for what we have? Come on.
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Henry Von Hoffman

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PostSubject: Re: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics   Fri Oct 21, 2011 5:05 pm

I completely agree. We shouldn't have to put up with BS just because other places in the world may be worse off.
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Earth

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PostSubject: Re: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics   Fri Oct 21, 2011 6:00 pm

I also agree, and for the millionth time love your writing.
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