Monday, November 08, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

A rather eminent publication has recently published the following:

"Europe's economy has progressed over the past 15 years, but its per-capita GDP is $11,250 lower than that of the United States. A preference for leisure time is one reason, but recent McKinsey research suggests that a widening productivity gap between Europe and the U.S., particularly in services, is more important. Local, business, and professional and financial services accounted for 19 percentage points of gross value-added growth from 1995 to 2005 in the U.S. but for only 10 percentage points in the EU-15."

Note, first, how the first sentence implies that only a little progress has been made in Europe. US publications regularly conduct propaganda against Europe. I can recollect such pieces from as long ago as the Sixties, with talk of "Eurosclerosis", "the European Disease" "Old" and "New" Europe, and so on

Second, the United States has a long history as one country. The EU is only a rather loose grouping of independent countries so far basically for purposes of trade. Comparing Europe with the US is comparing apples and pears.

Third, "per capita GDP" is a meaningless concept in the absence of other comparators - such as quality of life, gap between the poorest and richest, longevity, health, and so on.

Fourth, there are many kinds of capital as we all know (financial, social, relational, institutional, intellectual....). It is alwasys closer to reality if one attempts more well-rounded comparisons.

Fifth, it is a bit dishonest to quote figures from so long ago, and then for only a decade. If took only the ten years from 1998 to 2008, the comparison would be heavily weighted in favour of the EU.

Lastly, what's wrong with a preference for leisure time? Life is not all about work!

However, Northern Europeans (from the Protestant influenced part of the Continent), don't only take their leisure seriously but also work hard, though of course in the Orthodox- and Roman influenced parts of Europe, people are not sufficiently rewarded for their efforts as the elites still continue to rig the system against individual merit and effort, so the poor southern and eastern Europeans are left with little alternative but to enjoy what they can. Sphere: Related Content


charleskelley said...

As always, Prabhu, your articles provoke thought. Your last paragraph on this piece is fascinating. Do you know of any objective studies comparing Protestant with Orthodox/Roman economies and world views? Do you think that key leaders in Orthodox/Roman nations would agree and/or acknowledge this? Would you think that historically Protestant countries from the CSI (like Estonia and Latvia) have any remnant of the Protestant work ethic? These countries are now officially secular without state churches.

Prabhu Guptara said...

Dear Charles

Allow me to take up your points in reverse order.

1. I have no idea of whether or not CSI countries have anything left of their Protestant heritage in terms of their work ethic. I am sure that there will be others who will be able to comment - including, perhaps, you?

2. I greatly doubt that Roman and Orthodox leaders would acknowledge any such thing - but I don't know any of them personally, so can't really say. I hope I am wrong. Acknowledging such a thing would be at least a small step to their seeing the error of their ways.

3. There are in fact several academic studies that compare Protestant with Roman and Orthodox societies, starting with Weber and Tawney, right down to our day. In my view, the most detailed and scholarly of these were done by the the late Prof. Johann Millendorfer. Unfortunately, his work has not been translated into English and is available only in German as far as I know. However, his work is being carried on by:

STUDIA - Schlierbach
Studienzentrum für Internationale Analysen
Panoramaweg 1
A-4553 Schlierbach
Tel: +43 (0) 7582/81981
Fax: +43 (0) 7582/81981-94

But you don't really need academic studies. You need only to visit these countries to see the state of their roads and public works in general, the state of morality in these countries, as well as their economic, social and political condition in comparison (even today) with countries with a Protestant heritage.

Having said that, allow me to point out that I am neither a Protestant nor indeed a Christian at all - rather I am quite anti-Christian and anti-religious as I am a Hindu follower of Jesus the Lord (who was, as you may recollect, quite anti-religious and who is, I am sure, quite horrified by the Churches transmorgification of Him and His work and teaching into religions).