Thursday, July 08, 2010

Equality Or Death

They kept equality but for some reason they later dropped the bit about death

Tyler recently watched a repeat of Simon Schama's always entertaining History of Britain. It was the episode about the French Revolution and its effects on Britain.

Being a notorious old lefty, Schama naturally stressed the boost the Revolution gave to Britain's so-called radicals. How their struggle against the evil Tories and other forces of oppression here took inspiration from the wonderful transformation just across the Channel.

But even old Si had to acknowledge the wonderful transformation got a little out of hand. That the best of intentions as regards equality somehow ended in butchery and the streets of Paris running with blood. And he even hinted that almost all such popular uprisings start with the best of intentions only to end with Napoleonic pigs enforcing their version of equality by means of bloody dictatorship.

You see, nature doesn't really do equality - an iron law of history if ever there was one.

None of which of course, ever dissuades today's so-called radicals from pushing their own half-baked schemes for equality, telling us that we'd all be better off in an equal society.

Their latest campaign is encapsulated in a book called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilson, an epidemiologist, and Kate Pickett.  It has already become a key text for those advocating big increases in taxation and spending aimed at levelling out income inequalities, presenting as it does a slew of statistical evidence purporting to show that our big social maladies - like low life expectancy and mental health - are largely driven by income inequality.

But what exactly is this statistical evidence, and how does it hold up to scruntiny?

The TaxPayers' Alliance has now published a most excellent paper by three Swedish economists that provides just such scrutiny. It's called The Spirit Illusion, by Nima Sanandaji, Arvid Malm and Tino Sanandaji.

Their conclusion?

"...the most important statistical correlation between countries that the authors [of the Spirit Level] claim to have established – the connection they point to between life expectancy and income inequality in different industrialised nations – is simply wrong...

The most generous thing we can say about the matter is that the correlation between income inequality and average lifespan in industrialized countries is at best so flimsy that it disappears under the slightest scrutiny. The most straightforward measure of health available simply has no robust correlation to income inequality when comparing industrialized countries using standard OECD and UN statistics and measures for a wide range of country selections."
To give you a flavour, here's the actual relationship between income inequality and life expectancy across the 23 countries carefully selected by Wilson and Pickett to prove their thesis (the data is industry standard published by the UN; the Gini coefficient is the most widely used statistical measure of income inequality - higher means more unequal):

Now, even the dimmest eyeball can see there's no relationship - a fact easily confirmed statistically by the Swedes. Yet the Spirit Level somehow contends a relationship exists.

And what about the supposed link between income inequality and health? The Swedes examined all 17 of the health outcome variables published by the OECD, and could find a strong link in only one (infant mortality). For 14 of the 17 variables, there was no link whatsoever, such as here for cerebro-vascular disease:

Reading the Swede's devastating critique - which you should - you'd almost imagine the authors of the Spirit Level were deliberately fiddling the data and/or their statistical tests to produce the answer they wanted to see.

But that would be absurd.

Why it would be like, say, a bunch of boffins in the tax-funded climate change industry deliberately fiddling their data and statistical tests to produce the answers they wanted.

It simply couldn't happen.

PS The BBC's coverage of the Climategate enquiry has been well up to their usual standards. Apparently, the scientists involved were a little bit secretive but apart from that everything is tickety. Well, it would be tickety if it wasn't for a few swivel-eyed heretics out in the blogosphere who continue to deny the word of God.

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