Home arrow Articles arrow CAUTIONS TO THOSE WITH GREAT WEALTH arrow LYING WITH STATISTICS
Home
Articles
Bible Studies
LYING WITH STATISTICS PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jim Jordal   
Wednesday, 07 January 2015

LYING WITH STATISTICS

By Jim Jordal

Legend has it that British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once identified three types of lies used by his political enemies: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Today we’ll look briefly at several fallacious statements often used by persons of wealth to help cover their tracks and persuade the gullible public that their great wealth is good for them and for the country.

First is the old lie that “A rising tide lifts all boats.” That is, if they aren’t sunk and already lying on the bottom, which a good share of the poverty-stricken working public already is. The recent, well-touted reductions in the unemployment figures fail to include the hopeless, demoralized sufferers who have given up the job search, and now survive any way they can. The rising tide didn’t lift them! Nor did it lift those who finally got a job, but at a wage so low as to be an insult. Employment is up, but family income is stagnant or even declining. So the rising tide has seemingly passed all but the top few percent of Americans as the yachts of the rich rise far faster than the rowboats of the working poor.

Second is the flawed “trickle down” theory that wealth put in at the top trickles down to those lower on the economic ladder. But the proponents of wealth have got it backward: What filters down is not wealth, but suffering and hopelessness. What filters up is wealth and power and the outrageous arrogance of great wealth that never tires of seeking new toys and possessions to flout their riches.

The trickle-down theory assumes that the rich will spend their newfound largesse in job-creating investment, thereby aiding the poor. But it’s becoming clear that the super-sized gains of the plutocrats are not spent in job creation, but in conspicuous consumption and in extremely shaky and non-productive  “investments” like the infamous derivatives and debt swaps.

Third is the evasion that it’s free markets rather than people, corporations, or governments that are responsible for economic deprivation, unemployment, and financial oppression. When a corporation makes a decision to offshore 10,000 jobs, with a consequent deadening impact on the local economy, they reject responsibility with the claim “it was just the market.” The idea goes back to Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand,” that somehow attributes a certain wisdom to the market, with the corollary concept that free markets always self-correct, thus wiping out any temporary losses or public discontent.

But markets don’t make decisions, people do. Neither do corporations or governments make damaging decisions; their individual board members or political leaders make the decisions, then blame it on market pressures. But jobs and human welfare are destroyed through damaging moral decisions that cannot rightly be blamed on inanimate, unfeeling markets.

All this reminds me of the farmer in Lindstrom of a century ago who sold an old, ragged horse to a neighbor. After a few days the neighbor brought the horse back with the comment, “Hey, You didn’t tell me this horse is blind.” Yes, I did, exclaimed the irate seller, “I told you he didn’t look so good!” This story illustrates another form of deceit: the use of common words or phrases that unfortunately don’t mean the same to all people and so transfer false or hidden meanings.

Each of these views can be “proven” using doctored, devious, false statistics. When you hear statistics used to support a view that all common sense says is erroneous, think before you accept it. What goal does the presenter have in mind? What will be the probable outcome? What is the background of the figures being offered? What has been omitted from the argument? And probably the best inoculation against the acceptance of error: Follow the money! Who gains and who loses?

Today, there seems to be little prohibition against outright lying in the political and economic arenas. God says he hates lying, and so should we in the churches of America.