If we are dependent on the future of the US and Europe, then we should require and should be given access to dependable numbers. I think we can all agree that certain predictions are hard to get, because we should all be able to agree on the fact that it is a lot harder then we bargained for.
Yet, if we look at the numbers before and after then good news is never as good as predicted and bad news is worse than they thought.
This can be seen in several fields, but nowhere as visible as today when the expected unemployment rate of Spain, which was expected to get as high as 26.5% has now surpassed 27.2%. We could consider that being off by 0.7% is not that bad, but these people are used to work in increments of a tenth of a percent, which mean they were off 7 times. On a population of 47.2 million this means that they ‘forgot’ about slightly more than 330,000 people. That is the size of Utrecht (Netherlands), Leicester (UK), Bonn (Germany), Nice (France), Bari (Italy) or Tarragona (Spain). That is not a small miscalculation at all. These cities are reasonable large by most definitions. In the US the closest city would be Santa Ana in California, currently ranked number 57 by size in the US.
Everyone awake at present? This is important, as both the politicians and all that press buzz comes from these kinds of predictions by economists. I am not stating that it is simple or easy. It is however the case that these people often cost a hell of a lot and many claim that they are needed. Yet, overall we see a collection of ‘miscalculations’ in a time where every budget is slashed from point X to the basement.
Another example was a prediction made by the Dutch CPB (Central Planning Desk). This document was made in 2010; please take that into consideration when looking at these numbers. It is expected that the further the future prediction goes, the more likely that a deviation is to be expected.
Unemployment rate was to decline from 6.5% in 2011 to 5.25% in 2015.
Consumer purchasing power was to increase annually by 0.25%.
The Government budget deficit would decline from 4.9% in 2011 to 2.9% in 2015.
We will take a look at later predictions, but I think it looks clear that none of these predictions panned out to be close to correct.
Interesting are the following statements on unemployment rates “De werkloosheid daalt van 6½% in 2011 naar 5¼% in 2015” This was in the initial document dated March 2010 as I wrote previously. Yet the second document, which was published in September 2011 writes “Naar verwachting daalt de werkloosheid in 2011 en 2012 niet verder en komt deze uit op gemiddeld 4¼% van de beroepsbevolking in beide jaren“.
The unemploymancy is not expected to decrease in 2011 and 2012 and this would amount to 4¼% of the professional population in both years.
So, we would think that this looks good. A much lower result then predicted which is good.
Yet the NOS (Dutch news broadcasting services) reported on the 16th of August 2012 that the unemployment rate had risen in July 2012 to 6½%. This shows not only the inaccuracy of the prediction; it also shows that predictions that go beyond 1 year in the current economic climate is not that reliable an act.
So what is the issue at hand?
When we read about all those cut backs, all those measures where we see a decline in legal aid, healthcare and a league of other needs now or soon no longer an option, should we be wasting large amounts of money on a document which seems to be a political presentation? We could even come to the conclusion that it has little value beyond its need as a political presentation.
In a day and age where the bulk of Europe is under such scrutiny of reducing cost, spending large amounts, resources and other additional costs on these debatable statistics should be regarded a little less then it currently is.
If you want to know a little more, then you should take a serious look at a book written by Darrell Huff. It was called ‘How to lie with statistics‘. It was initially written in 1954, and it saw the light of day again in 1991. It is an actual gem of much amazement! The book is really thin, so it will not take long to read it, but those pages offer a lot more insight then many books I have seen since then.
Darrell Huff, (1991) How to Lie with Statistics Penguin; New Ed edition, ISBN 0-14-013629-0
In 2010 Coen de Bruijn wrote a new book with plenty of examples. The book is thicker, yet remains light and amusing to read and as far as I know at present only available in Dutch, which is a shame as I feel certain that this book would be appreciated by both students and professionals all over the world. ‘Van tofu krijg je geheugenverlies‘ (translation: Tofu leads to memory loss). It has loads of examples where statistics were (mis)used, some quite unintentional I should add.
We should also look at these documents on the CPB. There is no evidence whatsoever that there was an intentional misrepresentation, yet, when we see the results and the effect as many newscasts all over the world use these numbers which results to either lull its population to sleep, or to soften the blows of bad news are things that should be regarded in some form.
Why should you care?
This is not just a Dutch issue. This issue is global! Too many use their national numbers in newscasts and live by these predicted percentages, whilst in reality they are in no way a representation of the facts. Even considering that most are nothing more than predictions and should not be regarded as factual, it seems that when the discussion moves to cutting back, too many nations seem to be focussing on the wrong presentations. It is actually quite fun (and I swear a complete coincidence) that only 5 hours after I started to work on today’s blog that Dutch newsgroup NOS announced a new director of the Dutch CPB. The new director will be Laura van Geest (who was formerly involved with the setting of the Dutch government budget). She was chosen by the same group that investigated the Dutch bank crises (Commission de Wit).
So back to these cut backs and more!
It is not just about cut backs and austerity. Spain is having riot issues and Greece is not in a state that much better. Harriet Alexander from the Telegraph commented in her piece on Greece holding a fire sale (source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/greece/10007606/Greeces-great-fire-sale.html).
This was a story that also made the news in the newspaper the Guardian by Rupert Neate. This also includes the Greek Embassy in London, so that place alone should take care of 0.000010714% of their debt (roughly). This means they only need 94,000 places of equal value to break even. The percentage should indicate that these acts are less than a drop of water on a hot plate. So instead of growing an option of income, it seems to show that the Greek government is bailing out, leaving a nation in utter bankruptcy and deserting its citizens.
I understand that they want to do something, yet what I am seeing is nothing less than a short term vision. When all is gone, when all possible ways of revenue, resources and incomes are gone, what is left? There are still the gold reserves for now, however when (or if) Spain, Cyprus and Italy sells theirs, what of value will be left?
It is time for governments to realise that they had given too much power to the industry and they are not getting them back unless they invoke a new way of thinking. If these companies continue to use a method of blatant outsourcing and under-pricing many for a tax reduced driven revenue that benefit just a dozen people, then it is time to change the game so that it is fair to its OWN citizens. My reasoning here is that their approach has even less morality then that of a mercenary, yet they claim to be the value to ‘that’ nation.
When we look at such overwhelming numbers of debt and unemployment rate, then we have an increasing responsibility to deal with that. Yes, in the first degree the governments need to get their budgets under control. They must more openly report the bad news and not sugar-coat it for whichever government is in office. It is also time to get back on the horse and wagon of in-sourcing! Consider the fact that too many companies are getting their Jeans, sport shoes and mobile phones from sweat shops and low cost places like Indonesia, Bangla Dash, China and a few alternatives, only to save a few dollars (of course per 100,000 units this results in a hefty saving). Yet on the other side those nations have hundreds of thousands without a job, and THAT bill is not with those companies. Even if they would only transfer 10% of these markets, we would see a decent reduction in unemployment rates and we see a local gain in trade. These are all good and essential things for Europe. The danger of not doing so would just set the end date of nations like Spain and Greece. In case you think that this will not happen, then think again. These economists will state on how things will turn for the better, and after they are proven wrong, then an excuse reasoning will surface and they walk on. Yet in the meantime a few with serious cash would have bought up areas of Greece and Spain for less than 10 cents on the dollar. Oldest rule in the book: “In confusion there is profit!”
Let us take the shown evidence that many placed online, so it is visible to all; let us all realise that WE hold our futures by work in actuality and they in debatable prediction do not.