This is why the right always fuck education and the economy

Because they really like having a population who, even if they remember the difference between mean and median and why these can be flawed ways to measure things, don’t really have the time in between just surviving on shitty wages and crap job security and rising costs of living and lack of social support mechanisms to get all critical and cynical about blatant political lies.

(A competent media could help them out on that, but none have been seen in the wild in this region for years and the species is now feared to be on the point of extinction.)

Still, props to Bright Red for this guest post at The Standard laying out why our Minister of Finance is either amazingly incompetent or feels very secure in the knowledge that he simply will not be called on this shit.

Our teacher had 10 of us line up at the front of the class and measured our heights. From that she calculated an average.

Then, she got the tallest boy to stand on a chair and measured his height again. He was now 50cm higher. The average of the ten kids went up 5cm. But nearly all of were the same height.

That was the first lesson: average does not mean typical, it can be influenced by movements in outliers.

Though I always like the “kill two rhetorical birds with one stone” method of getting 6 people in a room, working out a rough average wage for them and then saying “Oh look, here comes the CEO of Telecom!  Now you all have a mean wage of $1 million a year so you must have no financial worries!”

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8 comments

  1. James

    Kinda depends on how they calculate the average wage (and I’m honestly not sure about how they go about this). If they include the unemployed in the calculation, when people lose their jobs their wages fall to zero (if they do not get a benefit) or to the benefit level. Then outliers are being created at both ends: high-income earners get a lot more; low-income earners get a lot less. The average wage could really go either way, then, it really depends on how much extra the rich are getting (and how many of them there are getting it) and how much less the poor are getting (and how many of them there are losing out).

    Also note, it would be silly not to include the unemployed in average wage figures otherwise we could simply fire the bottom X% of wage earners and increase average wage figures dramatically. If they’re not included, then the average wage question by Mallard is utterly uninteresting because any answer that English gives would be contextless (whether or not it was accurate or answered truthfully).

    • QoT

      No, it doesn’t, James, because (a) the chief point is actually about political innumeracy and (b) it takes a shitload of people on even the median wage (around 28k I believe?) to lose their jobs before they can cancel out the likes of the CEO of Telecom.

      Your second paragraph immediately raises the question: why would that be “silly”? If our media are still quite happy parroting the “mean” wage of 40-50-odd thousand and acting like that makes people on 60 or 70 “normal” “middle-of-the-road” type people, why do you assume our present government wouldn’t fiddle the figures in that way?

      The question seemed basically driven at illustrating that Bill English will lie about basic mathematical principles in order to make his administration look good. I’d say that’s a damn interesting one.

    • Simon C

      James,

      It depends if you’re talking about household incomes or personal incomes. Median household income is the median income of all households (including the unemployed) while personal incomes are calculated from those over 15 years of age, who have an income. They’re both useful for measuring different things, but as you point out, personal income measures are not useful as a measure of general properity, because they go up when low-income earners are laid off, as they often are in a recession.

      Median household income is a generally preferred measure of prosperity, because it accounts for a broader range of changes in the economy, and isn’t skewed as easily by changes in outliers. That’s why Bill English’s use of mean personal income was so egregious – he’s using a less effective measure because it happens to agree with his position, and counting on a lack of numeracy in the public and soft reporting from the media to let him get away with it.

  2. James

    @QoT: “(b) it takes a shitload of people on even the median wage (around 28k I believe?) to lose their jobs before they can cancel out the likes of the CEO of Telecom.”

    To balance the CEO’s entire income, yes, but a tax break doesn’t double the CEO’s income. Given the butt-load of unemployed people around at the moment, I think it’d be entirely possible for the average wage to move either way.

    It’d be silly not to include the unemployed if what you wanted was an informative picture of what was going on. But I think you’re right in that that’s not at all what politicians are interested in. And so, no, I don’t assume that they wouldn’t pick and choose their statistics. Having said that, I don’t think any politician is immune to the ‘fast and loose game of truth’. It’s not particularly interesting to find out that Bill English is playing it as well and enthusiastically as any politician before him.

    @Simon: All good points that you’ve made. But I think there’s a problem with Trevor Mallard’s question, too, because you really can’t look at income alone (no matter which measure) as a good indicator of well-being or prosperity. For example, Singapore has one of the highest average wages in the world, but if you look at average wage per hour worked, it’s not doing particularly well. The limited-focus thing is a problem with politics in general, not any one party: there’s just not enough time or expertise available in politicis, nor much benefit in politicians teasing out a full picture of what’s going on in society for them to bother to do so. Instead we get short and sharp sound bites that only ever give an imperfect picture.

    • QoT

      Whoa! Where did those goalposts go? Oh, right, you shifted them.

      Condescendingly explaining what would be “silly” or not when discussing average incomes, when you yourself acknowledge that’s not the fucking point and when I’ve already made it clear why, is what we in the snarky feminist blogosphere refer to as “mansplaining”, James.

      But please, do just try to raise an irrelevant point about tax breaks which actually works against you – because tax breaks are yet another area where the Right likes to use the mean instead of the median to produce much nicer-looking figures, and pretend that magical pixies from the bottom of the garden will somehow ensure “no one will be worse off” when they raise GST and give fuck-all back to the poor.

  3. James

    I don’t think I ever had any goalposts. I just like to argue (whether there’s any point in it or not). That’s probably part of why I’m not “winning” by your metric.

    I am new to this concept of mansplaining. Please, oh please, tell me more.

    Talking about tax breaks at this juncture would only work against me here because we’re (read: you’re) obviously not having a policy debate, but a bag-whatever-politician-I-don’t-like-the-sound-of-today fest. I don’t think question time in the house is about policy, either; it seems to be far more to do with pointing out hypocrisies (justifiably or not) and inconsistencies, and uncovering the odd fact or two to be used in future sessions to embarrass whoever’s having questions directed at them. Seems to be more of a sideshow than a serious debate. I’d thought that the serious debate that was most accessible was that which floated about the blogosphere. If you’re not going to be partaking in that at any particular time (this post, for example), I’m sure the odd patron like me wouldn’t mind a trigger warning that reads something like *Not actually a policy debate*. Might save a lot of time (not that I haven’t enjoyed this). Just sayin’.

    • QoT

      1. “Metrics” =/= “staying on the topic actually being discussed”
      2. Your continued inability to acknowledge the actually point of the post (hint: something to do with political manipulation of mathematic fact) isn’t cute
      3. Being a smarmy fuckwit on the topic of trigger warnings means this will sadly be your last contribution to Ideologically Impure.

  4. PhilBeeNZ

    [QoT: It would be rude of me to point out that Phil’s inability even to post his Alasdair-Thompson-defending misogynist wank on the correct thread doesn’t speak volumes for men’s right to get paid more than women. So I shan’t.]