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Dec 30th 2011, 19:22 by J.A.
“LIES, damn lies and statistics”, as Britain’s Benjamin Disraeli supposedly said—and Mark Twain definitely said. The phrase came to Cassandra’s mind when ruminating on the “world in figures” section of The World in 2012, in particular when looking at the predicted rankings for economic growth in the year ahead.
I have no quarrel with the figures themselves, all drawn from the acknowledged number-crunchers at the Economist Intelligence Unit. But as Bobby Kennedy famously said in his 1968 speech at the University of Kansas:
Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
With Kennedy’s words in mind a 15% growth rate for Macau—a tiny gambling haven for punters from Hong Kong and China—is meaningless. And should we really be impressed by the figures for Libya and Iraq, since they so clearly reflect a virtually automatic bounce-back from war? Much more significant in Cassandra’s view is the healthy 8.2% prediction for China. That may, of course, reflect a boom that eventually must burst (The World in 2012 worries about China’s growing debt), but with the economies of the western world in the doldrums we had better keep our fingers crossed that the prediction proves right.