Editorial, Radical Statistics issue 109

This issue of Radical Statistics begins with three pieces which provide an overview of the value of the UK census and the damage that its potential cancellation will wreak. These articles highlight the disquiet that academics, policy makers and the public should feel about government plans for 2021 and beyond. In the first piece Danny Dorling highlights some of the surprises that have emerged from the 2011 census and suggests that only a government that does not care about its citizens would favour a plan which effectively makes it impossible to find out about them in the future (about where people live, about their needs, about their ages… etc). In the second piece Paul Norman makes the argument for the census and for small area data in particular. He ends with an appeal to everyone who has used (or is intending on using) census data to contribute their experience to the ‘business case’ for retention. The third piece, by Emma Stevens, is based on research conducted for an undergraduate dissertation. Emma surveyed human geographers about their use of the census and about how the proposed changes will affect their work. This article shows that the arguments made by Danny Dorling and Paul Norman are echoed by human geographers from across the UK.

In the next section are three very diverse articles. The first, by Lucy Borland, provides shocking data on how changes in the regulation of lead in water in the UK (whereby 99th centile data is treated as a ‘maximum’) may mean that dangerous contamination is going unnoticed. Using equivalent data from Northern Ireland Lucy highlights the importance of absolute values where health is an issue. She also raises serious doubts about the effectiveness of tap-water sampling practices.

The next article, by Robert Grant, provides a timely overview of the history and potential of graphical representations. Robert shows that graphics can provide a fruitful way to make and disseminate radical arguments where these depend on statistical data. Perhaps most helpfully, he provides a wealth of practical suggestions, which will be invaluable for anyone toying with the prospect of learning more about data visualisation.

In the last article, Jonathan Bradshaw has written up his Radical Statistics conference presentation from February 2012. In this he uses York as a means for thinking about inequality and poverty and the ways in which these are measured.

The issue concludes with David Elliman’s enthusiastic review of The Geek Manifesto, Larry Brownstein’s comment on an issue raised in this book (and the review) – assessing tests of scientific competence, and finally Russell Ecob’s brief summary of the Radstats conference discussion on whether a fair voting system is possible, and what it would look like.

We hope that you enjoy, or at least are stimulated by, the articles in this issue. If you think that you have something to say that would be of interest to Radical Statistics readers, get in touch. We are always keen to receive articles, news stories or book reviews. If you are unsure about whether something is suitable, drop us an email and check.

Rachel Lara Cohen

Alastair Greig

Larry Brownstein

Email: editors @ radstats.org.uk  


2013 UK Budget: A contextual appraisal

Contributed by L Brownstein

Osborne’s latest budget was both a non-event yet contained some peculiar features. In discussing it I have avoided technicalities, particularly mathematical (= algebraic) ones. It isn’t that the algebra is difficult but there can be a lot of it and, therefore, difficult to keep track of.

One reason that this budget was such a non-event is that most of the measures that come into effect have already been passed, like the bedroom tax, so called. Another was Osborne’s concern to avoid any ridiculous mistakes.

One of the problems besetting discussion of economic policy and budgets is that so many journalists, even those who have some economic training, make fundamental errors. Two who usually, though not always, avoid doing this are William Keegan of the Observer and Larry Elliott of the Guardian. Keegan has written more than once that, in his opinion, Osborne is the worst chancellor in living memory, and he remembers Macmillan’s one year stint as chancellor. Another astute economic commentator is Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian.  One journalist for whom I have a great deal of respect is Andrew Rawnsley of the Observer. When discussing political matters, he is quite insightful, but when discussing economics, he invariably gets it wrong, as he did this weekend. So, it is important to be able to distinguish the empirically relevant comments dealing with economic issues from those that miss the mark, for whatever reason. There are journalists whom I have not named but whose work is eminently worth reading.

What we are experiencing is a private sector crisis portrayed as a public sector crisis.

First, let me note that although Osborne and Cameron still try to blame the Labour Party for the ‘disastrous’ legacy they left the coalition to contend with, this discourse has been somewhat replaced with claims that it is Europe’s plight that is hampering the UK’s recovery, a claim he made in this budget. Labour Party spending had nothing to do with the creation of the crisis. Their lack of sufficient oversight of the investment banking sector was, however, a contributing factor. It is highly unlikely that the present government, had it been in office at that time, would have done any better, given its actions so far.

Second, he did something quite odd with respect to the Bank of England. Although it was unclear what was meant, since he never spelled it out, some of his and the Treasury’s responsibilities appear to have been shifted to the Bank of England.

There are matters that need to be clarified in order to interpret the budget and its fallout. First, there is the nature of money. Second, there is the relationship between taxation and government spending. Third, is the character and function of welfare spending.

Since all budgets are political in character, indeed, are ideological in nature, they inevitably affect someone adversely. The real question to ask is, as Cicero did, Cui bono, Who benefits, which he attributed to the Roman consul, Lucius Cassius. In virtually all of Osborne’s budgets, the relatively well-off benefit and the poor do not, even with measures claimed to do so.

The second thing to say is that the UK is not Europe and it isn’t Greece, in fact, it is nothing like Greece economically. Because the UK is not a member of the Eurozone, any economic similarities are purely fortuitous. The countries of the Eurozone function more like US states or Australian territories than sovereign nations like the UK. This difference makes a big difference in the range of economic policies a sovereign state has to hand, something not available to the individual European nations. Individual US states and Australian can, and indeed sometimes do, go bankrupt. Sovereign states, on the other hand, due to the kind of monetary system they have, cannot economically go bankrupt. Sovereign  can always, in principle, pay the country’s debts. The only exception is if the political system intervenes, as Congress has done in the past in the US. Contrary to an article of the Constitution which stipulates that the government can always pay its debts, Congress can ensure that the government is unable to pay its debts. But this is not because the government has run out of money.

A third thing to notice is that credit rating agencies’ ratings have no relevance whatsoever to sovereign nations. A credit rating is an index of how likely the organization being rated is likely to go bankrupt. As the UK can never go bankrupt, these ratings are economically irrelevant. However, they can be politically relevant. Which they are in Osborne’s case as he made them a rod for his own back.

A fourth thing to notice is that the economic problems facing the country have nothing to do with the public sector, except incidentally. The fiscal crisis is the consequence of a private sector bubble, not overspending by the public sector.

A fifth thing to notice is that when politicians and journalists contend that some measure is being funded by the taxpayer, this is false.  While the measure is being funded by the government, it does not follow from this alone that it is the taxpayers who are picking up the tab. The issue is where the money is coming from. This point and the second point are linked.

Where does the money the government spends come from? It arises ex nihilo. From nothing. Government creates the money it needs out of thin air. This is the essential difference between what is known as a metal money system and a chartal money system. Many economists and most journalists think in terms of metal money systems. They think something must back up government spending. They are right, but it isn’t anything physical, like gold. It is something intangible, like confidence that the government won’t collapse, or the like.

The monetary system that virtually all nations use now is known as a fiat money system with flexible exchange rates vis-á-vis other sovereign countries. This is a money system where the money is self-created. There are hybrid systems, such as the one running between the end of WW2 and the early ‘70s, where you had a fiat money system being treated as a metal money system with gold as the backing. However, since Nixon’s famous statement that we are all Keynesians now, the global currency system has been a fiat money system with flexible exchange rates.

The Eurozone could operate a fiat money system like that of the UK or the US or Australia or Japan, but its organization prevents it from doing so. The Eurozone demands a federal economic system with a federal treasury and a federal bank with the requisite powers. While the Eurozone has a central bank, it does not function as a lender of last resort. It can only exercise this function under the table, which renders it ineffective. It has no federal treasury. Creating these institutions would mean a small loss of sovereignty, but this is small beer compared to the loss of economic sovereignty they lost when they joined the Eurozone.

So, when Osborne or Cameron say that the government or the treasury has no money, this can only mean that it hasn’t been created yet. What does having a fiat money system mean for public spending on for instance the NHS, or schools, or indeed welfare? It means that the UK can meet all its internal financial obligations without any difficulty whatsoever. (I am ignoring the spectre of inflation for the moment.) So, whenever a government minister contends that the government can’t pay for something like schools or the NHS, they either do not know what they are talking about or they are lying. The issue isn’t whether the government can pay for our schools or the NHS, it is whether this is the best way of running these organizations.

This is a problem concerning which institutions should be public and which private (or a hybrid). And this includes banks. My position is that it would not be a bad idea to have government banks where all citizens deposit their money and companies get their loans and leave casino banking to private banks. But this is a separate issue.

If the government can create its own funding out of thin air, what is the need for taxes? In a fiat money system, taxes are not needed to fund government expenditure. Taxes do three related things. (a) They legitimate the established currency – taxes can only be paid in the legitimate currency, which is what the government says it is, hence the current furor over the bitcoin. (b) Taxes also direct or constrain private spending. This can, of course, be overdone, and there is an argument for cutting taxation during a deflationary period like the one we are in now. An obvious example is VAT, a crude sales tax. (c) From our current perspective, perhaps the most important function of taxes lies in its redistributive function, thus enhancing surplus recycling, necessary for capitalism to function at all. Put starkly, taxes take the excess from the rich and redistribute it to the poor — this function is related to the second point but is not identical to it. The current coalition is misusing the latter two functions of a fairly functioning tax system, either possibly for perverse reasons of their own or through sheer ignorance about how the modern currency system works.

So, when Osborne gives himself credit for spending on this or that, he is doing nothing special. The monetary system within which he works can’t prevent him from doing this. It is not whether he spends that is the issue, it is what he spends his budget on. What is even more important is where he restricts his spending. As we have seen, there is nothing to prevent Osborne spending his budget on anything he likes, as much as he likes. He can spend as much as he likes because in a deflationary economy, there is no likelihood of inflation, that is, there is no likelihood of inflation as a consequence of any spending he engages in. Overspending on his part would only become a problem were there full employment.

The inflation we have is due to external factors, like the weather causing food prices to rise, and the like. It is not due to any internally generated wage-price spirals, which can cause inflation to get out of control. When such positive feedback processes take place, the need is to control all the elements of the process, not just one, as was done in the US. Nixon froze both of them. Freezing prices irritates capitalists while freezing wages irritates labourers. Hence, the need to deal with both of them simultaneously in order to be fair to all parties.

Osborne has noticed that banks aren’t lending. This is for a number of reasons. One is that the money that the government has put into what are basically insolvent institutions has been used to pay down their debts and to pay back the government. Whatever is left over has been sitting in the banks. It is known that corporations are sitting on funds instead of spending them. Neither individuals nor businesses are asking banks for loans. Banks are not lending because no one is borrowing. Those who can don’t wish to. And those who haven’t been able to still can’t.

Why hasn’t QE, quantitative easing, worked?

QE is a sort of fiscal policy where the money goes to the banks who are then supposed to lend it out, the assumption being that there are borrowers to lend to. The problem is that the banks have been using the money to pay down their debts, pay back the government, increase their capital reserves, and pay bonuses to their high level employees. It is for reasons such as these that QE hasn’t led to growth. A better fiscal policy would be for the government to directly give the money to businesses or individuals who would then spend it. Tax cuts for the rich won’t lead to spending, while substantial tax cuts for the poor would. Because of the crisis, the surplus recycling mechanism has stalled. Benefits for the rich tend not to be recycled, while those for the poor do. Osborne has consistently failed to place money where it would be used as opposed to saved, or if he places it with the poor via one measure, he removes it with another. The result is that the economic position of the poorer either remains the same or worsens as a more or less direct consequence of his policies.

Since Osborne has consistently hammered the welfare system, this surely must be because it is a drag on the economic system. Well, it would be, were we operating in a metal currency system where there is a finite amount of money. Since we are operating a fiat monetary system, there is in principle an infinite amount of money available to the government. In fact, the welfare system ensures a certain degree of circulation and recycling. A better welfare system would naturally ensure greater degrees of the circulation and recycling of money to the benefit of everyone. From this point of view, there is no economic justification whatever for cutting welfare payments. All justification thus tends to be moral in character. Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury under Hoover, insisted that the rot had to be purged out of the system. This purging applied only to those who weren’t rich or if rich had misspent their money. It can then be legitimately asked: who are Mellon, or Osborne for that matter, to make moral judgments about the rest of us? An identical argument can be made for the pension system. The public pension system is not in trouble. It will never default, unless made to. Hence, there are no economic  reasons for Osborne to do what this budget and previous budgets have done to the public pension system.

It is clear that economics as a field of study is not just about money and its distribution and recycling in the absence of the social and cultural, indeed ethical, context in which economic activities take place. Osborne makes it clear that he understand this in relation to overseas aid, even though it is only 0.7% of GDP, which given the scale of the UK economy is trivial. However, it is when he deals with the domestic situation that the ethical imperatives become cloudy. It is an odd situation where the poor have to be “beaten” in order to work whereas the rich have to be “bribed”. Investment bankers appear to need to be bribed with bonuses in order to carry out their jobs. Their salaries are obviously insufficient motivation.

One of the most important matters in the last budget is the child care provision that is designed to enable those who care for their children to go back to work by enabling them to take advantage of child care facilities which would otherwise be too expensive for them. It is of interest, and perhaps indignation, who benefits from this particular piece of legislation. Here is a chart I scanned from the Observer of 24 March.


It seems obvious that those whose need is greatest benefit least if at all from this scheme. In fact, the beneficiaries are those who pay a certain amount of tax in addition to those families where both parents work. This distribution of funds makes no economic sense.

This entire budget is like this. In this budget and the last, the richer benefit the most and the poorest the least, but in general, everyone loses. If this isn’t a budget based almost entirely on moral premises as opposed to economic ones, then I don’t know what is. Take the LibDems’ £10,000 tax credit or personal allowance. Who benefits? Again from the 24 March Observer [below].


The Treasury contends that even after all allowances are taken into account, the overall impact of the tax and benefit changes will be negative, as can be seen in the chart. In fact, according to the Treasury, the richest 10% are a little over 2% worse off while the poorest 10% are a little under 2% worse off. This difference will not make much difference to the top 10% whereas it will make a great deal of difference to the bottom 10%.  In the Treasury’s view, virtually all households are worse off.

The economic rationale underwriting this set of figures is deeply flawed. And it increases the economic inequality that we are experiencing now. The perspective I outlined above would turn this on its head. Such inequalities lead to de-legitimization of the social contract. In the US, some of the rich already live in gated communities and have for the past 30 years. And they feel the need to carry guns. Part of this lies in the US’s history, but part lies also in the grotesque economic inequalities that have become so pervasive in the US.  Neither the US nor the UK governments, however, have done much to shift the economic burden on their citizens, especially since the financial crash of 2008. If anything, this budget entrenched them further, while claiming the opposite is taking place.

In assessing this budget, we must never forget that the financial crisis arose from excessive leveraging in the private sector, most particularly the investment banking sector, not overspending in the public sector. What we are experiencing is a private sector crisis portrayed as a public sector crisis. There is a public sector problem, but this derives from the public sector bailing out the private sector responsible for the crash of the economic system, which occurred because of the absence of sufficient safeguards, safeguards that were in place from the thirties until the ‘80s and ‘90s when they were dismantled.

This budget does nothing to deal with the essential insolvency of the banks and their egregious practices.

Especially since two of the largest have been effectively nationalized. It is often said that the taxpayer owns these banks. This is true only in so far as the taxpayers/citizens own their own government. Even were we to agree that citizens own their government, it doesn’t follow that the taxpayer is paying the salaries of the bankers. While the government is paying the salaries of the bankers, with our implied consent, the taxpayer is not effectively involved. This is because what government spends is not dependent on its tax base  – taxes are not the foundation of government expenditure, as I mentioned above.

It has been said by some that this budget may have been a preparation by Osborne to be replaced in the summer Cabinet reshuffle.  The 2010 intake and senior Tories want Redwood or Hague to be Chancellor. Because Osborne’s budgets have had so little relation to reality and, therefore, have either had no effect or had a quite pernicious effect, his position has become increasingly vulnerable, leading to a number of his own party wanting him removed as Chancellor.

Check out two recent research reports by Donald Hirsch on the contradictions inherent in Osborne’’s tax benefit/universal credit schemes:

A miminum income standard for the UK in 2012: Keeping up in hard times. http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/minimum-income-standards-2012-full.pdf

Tackling the Adequacy Trap: earnings, incomes and work incentives under the Universal Credit. http://www.crsp.ac.uk/publications/tackling_the_adequacy%20_trap.htm

The analysis of he and his colleagues is in my view devastating for Osborne’s policies.

– L Brownstein


Hutton & Stewart on the autumn statement and welfare hits + Addendum

Both Will Hutton and Heather Stewart made swipes at Osborne’s approach to welfare in general and the benefit cuts in particular. Hutton’s attack centered around the notion of a social contract. He claims that Osborne’s autumn statement shredded that contract to pieces without entirely dismantling it. The notion of fairness is still a fundamental part of British life and can be crushed only with difficulty. As is known with certainty now, even our closest relatives, the common chimpanzee and the Bonobo have an understanding of fairness, ie., equitable distribution. Both humans and chimpanzees are able to depart from distributing resources equitably, but only humans can do so on such a grand scale and to such large sections of the community.

The fact is that the number of scroungers on benefit is a miniscule part of the population and nowhere near the size that Osborne would like the population to believe. Hence, the amount paid out by the government as a consequence of deception doesn’t amount to a hill of beans and will, in fact, cost more to retrieve than is spent. This is not sound economics.

Hutton says of Osborne that he is an economic illiterate. This certainly seems to be the case. In economic terms, virtually all of his economic policies have been pro-cyclical rather than counter-cyclical. In other words, if an economy is going into depression, government policies ought to be aimed at getting the economy going in the other direction. His policies have consistently made the economic situation worse rather than better. And pointing at external influences are at this juncture misdirection at best.

Stewart posits a hypothesis about why Balls flummoxed his rebuttal to Osborne, that he was surprised by the OBR figures. This may be true but there is I think a deeper mechanism at work in Balls’ case. And this is that he doesn’t really have an adequate understanding of how to fix the economic situation any more than Osborne does. What is good, however, about Balls’ position is that the government of which he would be a part would not engage in the slashing that Osborne seems to revel in.

Hutton thinks Osborne an economic illiterate. I am afraid that this charge also applies to Stewart. She asks the following questions. “And when Osborne puts some flesh on the bones of his latest austerity plans, in a spending review now planned for 2013, he will have a whole list of charges to chuck at Balls and his colleagues. Would they reverse the benefits cuts? Yes? Then what else would they cut instead, or what taxes would they raise to pay for it?”

The economic fact of the matter is that taxes are not needed to pay for any government program. That is not what taxes are for. Among other things, they forge a community together, thereby, in Huttonian terms, underwriting a community’s social contract, part of which cements us all together. It is this social cement that Osborne and part of his party is, in my view, perhaps unconsciously, trying his best to rip asunder. For support for this view from Robert Choate himself, watch his interview with Paxman where he almost admits this very point (but is apparently saving what he really thinks for his memoirs).

In short, the benefit cuts can be reversed without the need to raise taxes to pay for any such reversal. Related to this is Osborne’s fear that the country will lose its credit rating. The rating of credit agencies refers to the likelihood that the UK will go bankrupt. This is impossible, unlike the countries in the Eurozone who have given up their sovereign currency. He surely knows this, but if not, his fear can result from the City losing its foreign investment drawing power. Had the City not been allowed to become so central to Tory policy, this would be an irritation but nothing more. But this fear lies also in other false economic ideas held by the Chancellor. One of them is the one held by Heather Stewart, that taxation supports government spending. Balls has given every impression that he also is in thrall to this falsehood. Were he to divest himself of this unfounded idea, he would find himself in a better position to battle Osborne’s socially divisive, inequitable, iniquitous, and economically unsound policies.





Addendum: on balanced budgets

One item that I left out of the previous account of the welfare hits but which has been part of the coalition’s belief system for some time – balanced budgets. This government, as have governments before it, believe in balanced budgets and have reaching such a state as a policy goal. Bill Clinton actually achieved this.

The notion of a balanced budget is a goal of a political administration is a useless goal and a potentially destructive one. Stephanie has a terrific metaphor of deficit/surplus interaction between the public and private sectors. It is a see-saw – the kind you find in children’s playgrounds. What you find in this metaphor is that surpluses in the public and private sectors cycle around the balance point but never settle on it. They never settle on it because the economy is always in motion. As anyone who has ever used a see-saw knows, you have to keep the see-saw see-sawing back and forth passing through the middle, or balance, point. If you stop and get off, one or the other side will slide to the ground where it will stop.  A successful see-saw ride will be one where neither side will go too far in either direction, which will disturb the cycling equilibrium and be potentially dangerous for one or both of the children. The same is true of the economy.

Here are Kelton’s graphics illustrating the point. First, the see-saw in its simplest situation.

As you can see, if one sector is in deficit, the other is in surplus. The trick is not to let either sector become too extreme. In these graphics, G = government expenditure and T = Taxation Revenue.

Now, capital accounting is added. But this does not alter the way the mechanism works.

For further information, I recommend Kelton’s own posts.

What happens when government tightens its belt, as the coalition is presently doing.


US not broke and Clinton surplus destroyed the economy


Kelton’s See-Saw version of the deficit-surplus interaction taking capital accounts into account, as it were.


Radical Statistics Issue 107 – Editorial

This issue of Radical Statistics comes out of the February 2012 Radical Statistics Conference, which was held at the British Library in London. The conference focused on the Mis-Measurement of Health and Wealth and was the best ever attended Radical Statistics conference. Five of the eight presentations given at the conference are collected here (we hope to include the remaining three presentations in some form in a future issue of Radical Statistics).1 As a set, the papers published here are very much in the radical statistics tradition: they do not simply critique mainstream methods of measuring, but also reveal the social necessity of challenging such measures and begin to propose alternatives.

The issue begins with Howard Reed’s critique of the ways that UK debt statistics are constructed and interpreted. He unpicks the UK Coalition Government’s ‘maxed-out credit card’ explanation of current government finances, and demonstrates the links between this reading of the data and the ‘austerity’ policies which are responsible for slowing growth in GDP (and therefore exacerbating the debt/GDP ratio). Howard also points out that contrary to popular opinion, the previous Labour government’s real spending was very much in line with historical precedent. Continue reading

Riotstats – Issue 106 of Radical Statistics


Editorial – by Alastair Greig

The following is a reprint of the Editorial in the special issue of Radical Statistics: Riotstats.

The August disturbances, we are led to believe, brought out the “best” and “worst” of contemporary British society. It is not difficult to find a range of views on the causes and the most appropriate response to the rioting that followed the death of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, London, in the summer of 2011. In this issue of Radical Statistics a couple of articles question the statistical basis for making sweeping empirical claims about the riots. We also have a debate about causes of the riots, which mirrors the one which has taken place in the public domain. Ultimately, however, the statistics do not provide any simple answers, and it remains up to individual readers to decide upon the most compelling approach to understanding the cause and effect of these riots and to contribute to the analysis and dissemination of our understanding of these events.

Roger Ball and John Drury provide, in time-honored Radical Statistics style, a critical analysis of the way in which data have been used, particularly in the media and by politicians, to support various ideological interpretations of the disturbances. The article refrains from putting forward the authors’ own account of the causes of the riots, while providing a convincing account of the way in which dubious statistical evidence appears to have been used to promote narrow sectional and political interests.

Carly Lightowlers and Jon Shute, using the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) and Manchester court records, show that individuals from deprived neighbourhoods were disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system as a result of the rioting. To Carly and Jon, the dominant narratives do “not acknowledge the structural roots of the problem or the counter-productivity of ‘get tough’ policies designed largely to appease voter’s concerns”.

Nigel Williams and Nick Cowen argue that the IMD should be disaggregated. Their analysis shows that not all forms of deprivation were associated with areas in which those ‘rioters’ charged were living. Nigel and Nick argue that although crimes were committed in part due to the deprivation-related incentives of the rioters, these would have been averted with a more conspicuous policing deterrent. This aspect of their analysis echoes similarly dispositional interpretations of the riots (Waiton, 2011), which Carly and Jon take to task in a rebuttal. Among other things, they argue that the “rational choice” explanation that Nigel and Nick present inhibits understanding of the myriad of plausible situational factors at work.

Janet Burja and Jenny Pearce recently authored Saturday Night & Sunday Morning: The 2001 Bradford Riot and Beyond, which documents years of work dedicated to making sense of the rioting that occurred in Bradford 10 years ago, and the legacy it has had on the city. Those riots had a particularly striking racial dimension, not entirely dissimilar to the August Riots and in other ways the participants were very similar to the more recent rioters. Janet argues that, in Bradford, local institutions – the police and local government – needed to recognise legitimate grievances of young, deprived individuals. Perhaps to the shock of some Radical Statisticians, Janet argues that statistical analyses have limitations in understanding, and developing responses to, such grievances.*

We are then left with a letter from Brian Quinn, which argues that the Radical Statistics overpopulation working group in its contribution to issue 105, has overlooked the ecological impact of having another child. This is followed by a brief response by the working group in which they address Brian’s points. The issue ends with news from the newly formed Reduced Statistics group.

Changes in Editorship
I would like to thank Janet Shapiro, who is standing down as editor. She had done a miraculous job as editor, and lately had taken on a hefty workload by herself. I am sure I am not alone in thanking her for the marvellous work she has done for Radical Statistics over the years. Rachel Cohen, from the University of Surrey, will take over from her and I am sure all our members look forward to her contributions in the months and years ahead.

Radical Statistics is a not-for-profit membership organisation, and our journal does not aspire to be exclusively academic. We look for contributions from all walks of life and, thanks to our diverse membership, offer a peer review service upon request. If you would
like to help review for the journal or contribute, feel free to contact any of the editors for further information. This year, we are particularly interested in receiving shorter articles from as wide a range of authors as possible. These may highlight the misuse of statistics or promote results, which may not be given a fair hearing in other settings.

Waiton, S. (2011). Wellfare Culture: the English Riots and the Collapse
of Authority. Journal of Scottish Affairs, 77, 54-78.

Mis-measurement of health and wealth: Radstats Conference & AGM, 24-25 Feb 2012, London

British Library logoFebruary is upon us! If you’ve not had the chance, please note that you can still book a space for the Radical Statistics conference to be held on Friday, February 24th 2012 at the British Library Conference Centre, followed by a half-day interactive workshop and AGM on Saturday 25th.

Don’t miss our challenging and engaging programme with talks on:

·       Measuring health – history and methods

·       Deception in medical research – scientific and regulatory failure

·       Deception in financial statistics – how this contributes to financial mayhem

Speakers:  Roy Carr-Hill, Val Saunders, Dr Aubrey Blumsohn, Prof. David Healy, Prof. Prem Sikka, Ann Pettifor, Prof. Allyson Pollock & Howard Reed.

Both days will provide a great opportunity to learn and discuss how misleading statistics are used to bolster political preferences and how difficult issues can be demystified with clear statistics.

All interested in research and statistics are welcome – the conference is neither technical nor limited to professional researchers.

Please find the programme and related information at www.radstats.org.uk/conf2012, where you can make your booking now!

1967 Census of the West Bank and Gaza Strip: Digitized Tables

image of Shu'fat Refugee Camp

Shu’fat Refugee Camp by Decode Jerusalem on Flickr

In the summer of 1967, just after the Six-Day War brought the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Israel’s control, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics conducted a census of the occupied territories. The resulting seven volumes of reports provide the earliest detailed description of this population, including crucial data about respondents’ 1948 refugee status.

In recent decades, these volumes of tables — over 300 tables in all — have received little or no attention from historians of the occupation, not least because it is not easy to use the reports in print form and in any case the volumes are not widely available even in good research libraries.

The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College is making the contents of these volumes available in machine-readable form for the first time, free of charge to anyone with access to the internet. The tables can be downloaded in Excel format for intensive research.

Many tables provide information cross-tabulated with several social characteristics at once (for example, education or occupation cross-tabulated with age, gender and refugee status) and presented for small geographic locales as well sub-totaled for regions.

Also, in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority’s censuses of 1997 and 2007 these tables help provide an understanding of trends over 40 years. We hope that the data can be exploited by researchers interested in a fuller understanding of the social history of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

For an overview of our project and to access the hundreds of tables contained in the 1967 Census database, go to http://www.levyinstitute.org/palestinian-census/
Feel free to circulate notice of this website to anyone who you think would be interested.
Joel Perlmann
Project Director
Levy Economics Institute of Bard College

Radstats 2012 Conference Announcement

Bookings are open for the Radical Statistics conference on February 24th 2012. This year we are hosted by the British Library and have a challenging programme on:

  • Measuring health – history and methods
  • Deception in medical research – scientific and regulatory failure
  • Deception in financial statistics – how this contributes to financial mayhem

This conference gives an opportunity to learn how misleading statistics are used to bolster political preferences and how difficult issues can be demystified with clear statistics.

All interested in research and statistics are welcome – the conference is neither technical nor limited to professional researchers. There are eight speakers and smaller group sessions, with lunch included.

The Radical Statistics AGM and activity debate will be on Saturday morning February 25th.

 Please pass on by email, print and distribute the
A4 flyer
advertising the programme, and visit the conference site at www.radstats.org.uk/conf2012, where you can make your booking now!

Alistair Cairns, admin@radstats.org.uk
Radical Statistics

Moral panic about overpopulation: the distracting campaign of Population Matters

Moral panic about overpopulation: the distracting campaign of Population Matters

—For Immediate Release —

28th October 2011

On the 31st October the world population will pass 7 billion. It is essential that evidence rather than myth informs the challenges and opportunities that such population growth presents.

Population Matters describe themselves as “the leading environmental charity and think-tank in the UK concerned with the impact of population growth on the environment”. The group have promoted their apocalyptic views of population in well funded media campaigns to mark the passing of 7 billion global population.

Radical Statistics’ Population group of UK demographers/population scientists and statisticians, have examined the claims and policy of Population Matters finding them guilty of frequent overstatement, rhetoric and one-sided assertion rather than evidence that population growth is the main cause of environmental threats. Like others concerned about overpopulation before them, Population Matters promote policies that erroneously focus on the groups who consume the least. The Radical Statistics group calls on high profile patrons of Population Matters to reconsider their support, including the naturalists and broadcasters David Attenborough and Chris Packham, environmental campaigner Jonathan Porritt, and senior academic and cultural figures.

Seven key myths that are promoted by Population Matters are summarised below:

Myth 1Population growth is increasing at an ever faster rate.Evidence

Current UN projections indicate slowing growth and a maximum world population that remains between 10.0 and 10.5 billion from 2083. In the UK levels of fertility are below the level required to replace the current population.


Myth 2Population causes resources to run out.Evidence

This myth has a long history; it has been expressed by Malthus, Plato, Aristotle and Tertullian, and many times since. Resources are not fixed or knowable; what is considered a resource changes over time. This myth overlooks the potential for human ingenuity to overcome problems, discover and use resources more efficiently. Historical evidence of steadily increasing population fed by successive productive revolutions demonstrates that a fixed human carrying capacity for planet earth is nonsense.


Myth 3More population means more environmental damage. 


The link between population growth and environmental damage is not supported by evidence. For example, there is a weak relationship between a country’s population growth and carbon emissions. The Royal Commission on Environmental Protection’s final report in 2011 found consumption and the impact associated with each unit of consumption more important than population in terms of environmental impact. Historical experience clearly shows that current population growth has not the prime driver of environmental degradation.


Myth 4The economic and social inequality experienced by women and their access to contraception are being ignored. Evidence

Improvement of women’s educational and economic conditions, and non-coercive facilitation of family planning throughout the world, are embodied in the Millennium Development Goals, although more efforts to empower women are needed.


Myth 5Population growth causes poverty by preventing development in poorer countries.Evidence

There is no empirical evidence for this claim. Poverty is recognised to be a result of inequality stemming from social factors rather than population size. For example, globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, farmers produce more than the necessary nutrition requirement to feed the world population. This supports views that not limited world resources but the unequal distribution of resources mainly explains the current poverty and hunger problems in the world.


Myth 6Reducing teenage pregnancies will reduce the population of the UK (a policy advocated by Population Matters). 


Teenage births represent only 7% of all births and births to young women below the age of 18 and around 2% of all births in 2008. Reducing teenage pregnancy would very likely have little impact on population size especially as many teenagers would simply delay having children to a later date.


Myth 7Reduction of migration is needed to reduce the impact of population on the environment (a policy advocated by Population Matters).Evidence

The Royal Commission on the Protection of Environment (2011) found no case for further controls to regulate non-EU migration on environmental grounds. Any policies on migration will have no direct impact on population size. Population Matters are keen to restrict immigration to the UK but do not encourage migration away from the UK to less populated regions. Restricting non-EU migration to the UK might well lead to greater world population in the future as research suggests migrants to the UK from developing countries tend to have lower birth rates than the country they came from.


For more detail on the critique of Population Matters see the paper ‘Moral panic about overpopulation: a distracting campaign?’ by the Radical Statistics Population Studies group available at:


Dr Alan Marshall is the contact for Radical Statistics Population Studies Group on this matter and is available for comment on Friday 28th October 2011:




Editorial: ‘The cuts’ (Radical Statistics issue 103)

From Radical Statistics 103, published November 2010. Available online: February 2011.Fat man leaning on thin man saying We're all having to  tighten our belts.

Since they came to power, the Coalition Government has been reshaping official statistics so as to tell a story. Part of that story is how Britain was brought to ruin. Over the past decade, economic growth in the UK has been driven by the accumulation of unsustainable levels of private sector debt and rising public sector debt. This pattern of unbalanced growth and excessive debt has helped create the exceptional economic and fiscal challenges that the Government must address …1

Part of the story is the attribution of responsibility for the problems to the public sector. Over the last decade, the UK’s economy became unbalanced, and relied on unsustainable public spending and rising levels of public debt. 2 Part is how welfare dependency has grown. We need to address the high and increasing costs of welfare dependency. There are now nearly five million working-age people receiving the main out-of-work benefits. 3

This leads to the conclusion that the deficit must be tackled by curbing dependency. The Spending Review makes choices. Particular focus has been given to reducing welfare costs and wasteful spending. 4

Radical Statistics has always been concerned at the extent to which official statistics reflect governmental rather than social purposes. At every stage of the narrative, the evidence has been distorted. The UK public debt, as a percentage of GDP is less than in Germany. France, the USA and in many periods of the UK‟s own history. The public debt was incurred, not because of the expansion of the public sector, but to save the banks, and the economy. The growth in benefit expenditure reflects the extension of entitlements for older people, increasing unemployment and responses to disability. The statistical presentation is often questionable. This extraordinary graph – the third circle is more than double the size of the first – comes from The State of the Nation, published by the Cabinet Office: claimants have increased by over 40% since 1997, from 1.2 million to 1.8 million.

circles showing increasing claimant numbers from 1997 to 2009

Figure 3.1: The numbers of working-age Disability Living Allowance claimants have increased by over 40% since 1997, from 1.2 million to 1.8 million

The government’s claim to be giving priority to deficit reduction is inconsistent with its limited emphasis on taxation. John Grieve Smith points to an alternative of increasing tax income, from VAT, income tax, inheritance tax and corporation tax, which has reduced in the UK from 33% to 28% during the time of the Labour administration.

Stewart Lansley cogently argues for action to limit the rising concentration of wealth at the top. This raises the concern that the central focus is not the reduction of the deficit, but rolling back the frontiers of the state. One aspect of the government strategy that is
hard to quantify is the privatisation of services (to those who can afford a profitable price). Radical Statistics has received a request from the public sector union UNISON for help with quantifying the impact on services of privatisation: please contact troika@radstats.org.uk with your willingness to work with them.

The papers in this special issue examine some of the key propositions in the government’s analysis. Stewart Lansley looks at the history of the crash; John Grieve Smith and Richard Exell, at the economics and the public sector; and Paul Spicker at spending on welfare. Other papers are concerned with the impact of these measures on the people they affect: Tim Horton and Howard Reed consider the distributional implications of the cuts, Alan Franco the local impact of benefit cuts, Jay Ginn pensions and support for older people, and Robert Moore the effects on Wales.

Paul Spicker and Ludi Simpson, Guest Editors

1 HM Treasury (2010) Budget 2010, HC61, http://www.hmtreasury.gov.uk/d/junebudget_complete.pdf
2 Cm 7942 (2010) Spending Review 2010, London: HM Treasury, p 6
3 Cm 7913 (2010) 21st Century Welfare, London: DWP, p 4.
4 Spending Review 2010