Sunday, 17 February 2013

Simple rule: if a statistic supports a left-wing argument, it’s a damned lie

You know the sort of thing I mean: 9 out of 10 adults are severely disabled, 40% of British children are dying of malnutrition, immigrants represent a net financial gain to the UK economy, Britain has lower educational standards than Cuba… i.e the sort of ridiculous crud regularly featured by the Guardian and the BBC and endlessly repeated by liberals at dinner parties (or whatever these people do for amusement these days).

Fellow-blogger David Moss (visit his site here) was recently kind enough to send me a copy of The Spirit Level Delusion: Fact-Checking the Left’s New Theory of Everything by Christopher Snowdon (available to purchase here). As ubiquitous super-bore Stephen Fry would probably say, it is scrumptiously, adorably, nipple-lickingly wonderful (actually, given his drearily leftist view of the world, it would no doubt make him botty-spankingly cross). Anyway, it’s great.

Snowdon’s mission is to demonstrate that the statistics used in a whole slew of recent(ish) books seeking to prove that the more unequal a society is, the worse it is for everyone are either deliberately misleading or simply untrue. His main target is 2010’s The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (yes, Wilkinson Pickett – how disconcerting is that!). Selfish capitalism, it seems, makes us fatter, more stupid, more violent, madder, more depressed and shorter-lived than people in places like – yes, you guessed it – SWEDEN!

Basically, the argument goes, those of us who live in an unequal, consumerist, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses sort of society where there are large disparities between the earnings of those at the top and the bottom has all of us in a permanent state of anxiety – if we’re down at the bottom we feel we’ve failed, if we’re at the top we’re terrified someone’s going to take it away from us, and if we’re in the middle we’re running madly just to maintain our precarious place in the pecking order. Anyhow, we're all really miserable and anti-social.

Of course, it’s all tosh. Take The Spirit Level’s approach to infant mortality rates. The writers' aim is to show that unequal countries – most notably the US and the UK – have worse rates than Norway and Sweden. This is true – but is of no significance, for the following reasons adduced by Snowdon:

Wilkinson-Pickett chose to use data from 2000 rather than 2004, when the rates had evened out.

According to United Nations data covering 200-2005, most countries don’t fit the egalitarian narrative – for instance, Singapore and Hong Kong are more unequal than the US, but have lower infant mortality rates: Singapore, the most unequal country of the 28 featured, has the same rate as Japan, which is the most equal of the lot.

The differences between the countries featured by W-P are negligible – 20 of the 28 featured countries record between 3.9 and 5.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. Egypt, Turkey, Morocco and Iran record 35-40 deaths per 1,000 live births and, between them, pretty much cover the whole equality spectrum, but aren't featured in The Spirit Level.

W-P ignore race altogether. The major cause of infant mortality in rich countries is premature births, and numerous studies have shown that black women are thee times more likely to give birth prematurely than white women – Aborigines in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand, Afro-Carribeans in the US and the UK: it’s the same story everywhere, and it’s apparently nothing to do with socioeconomic factors. (East Asian and Hispanic women have lower premature birth rates than whites – it’s nobody’s fault: it’s just Nature.)

Every subject area studied by Snowdon yields the same results (the chapter on Crime & Punishment is particularly heartening, as it demonstrates that the “obscene” policy of sending more people to prison for longer terms reduces crime rates – Sweden’s liberal sentencing policies have made it the most criminal country in Europe).

In the unlikely event that you need any further inducement to read The Spirit Level Delusion, you should know that our Left-wing commentariat has used it mercilessly as a stick with which to beat freedom-loviong rightists ever since: both Polly Toynbee and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown practically wet themselves with excitement when they got their hands on it, convinced that it proved once and for all that income inequality is the greatest of all evils.

My thanks to Mr. Moss for a truly splendid gift.


  1. Glad you enjoyed the book.

    Our man is due to appear on Sky News at 2:30 ... er, one minute's time

  2. Damn - missed him. I guess he was talking about the misuse of statistics?

    My favourite spurious lefty statistic of recent weeks was David Atteborough's claim in his "Africa" series that the continent had warmed by 3.5 degrees centigrade in the past 20 years which would suggest a death-dealing rise of 17.5 degrees by the end of this century. Obviously, he wasn't deliberately lying - but the fact that the BBC shoved this out unchecked shows a distressing left-wing tendency to park their brains when it comes to stats.

    "The Spirit Level Delusion" really was a delight.

  3. No, one of his specialities is the history of "repression" as he calls it. The cyclical rises of Puritanism during which the bien-pensants impose their lifestyle choices on everyone else for their own good.

    He majored on the difficulty of distinguishing between the sort of fatty/salty/sugary drinks and foods the Puritans would like to ban from the ones they like to eat themselves such as olive oil. Actually, it's not difficult, he said, the distinction is nothing more than snobbery but of course its advocates can hardly say that.

    Probably best, he suggested, if the distinction can't be made, to give up the attempt and let government keep its nose out of micro-managing people's lives.

    Doubling the price of fizzy drinks, say, might sound a good idea to doctors, but they don't have to stand for election. Politicians, he reckoned, won't relish explaining to their voters that they're paying double for their comforts for their own good.

    Food and drink, he pointed out, are actually quite good for you ...

    He's got a lot to campaign about at the moment. The bien-pensants are busy. Plain packaging for cigarettes. Minimum pricing for alcohol. Unhealthy foodstuffs. Snus and e-cigarettes.

    Those last two are revealing. The health fascists claim to act for the benefit of everyone's health. Snus and e-cigarettes have no ill-effect on bystanders and no known ill-effects on the consumer. If they started to replace conventional cigarettes, that would tend to improve everyone's health.

    So what does the European Commission do, at the behest of campaigners? Bans them (or attempts to).

    #GoFigure, as I'm learning to say on Twitter.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks you for both links - absolutely brilliant!