14 October 2009

Idiot Savant's analysis woeful (updated)

Idiot Savant's latest post exclaims "The way the right talks, you would think that government policy was all about wealth and increasing GDP. Today, we have a stark reminder that that is not the case, in the form of the European Quality of Life Index".

Well no, some people talk about freedom as well, he chooses to select what he listens to about standard of living.

He continues "According to the index, the UK has the lowest quality of life in Western Europe...This is where NeoLiberal growth maximisation gets you: a country where no-one wants to live and everyone feels miserable. The lesson for New Zealand ought to be obvious."

So what IS the Index? Where does the data come from? How comprehensive is it? The answers are, a shonky piece of publicity, difficult to tell and not at all. Even with that, the conclusions he draws are little to do with neo-liberalism. All in all it's very woeful analysis that doesn't stack up.

The European Quality of Life Index did not come from a university, government institution, think tank or international organisation. It came from a private company that makes money running a price comparison website for consumers to choose the best value utility companies. Uswitch. Frankly, whilst it is nice for private companies to do a bit of research that they pay for, I'd like some robustness around it. So how does it fail?

1. Idiot Savant claims this is about Western Europe, yet it leaves out at least 10 other countries. Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Iceland, Cyprus, Greece and Portugal. Given it includes Poland, you might ask why not also Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. So really who knows if the UK ranks bottom?

2. The dates for data used are often missing with the sources. In some cases there are no sources (e.g. average working hours a week), others quote a date with the source but is that publication date (as some look like) or year? If years are not common across data, then it should be justified, as you are not comparing like with like.

3. GDP per capita is used, not GDP per capita adjusted by purchasing power parity, although the report looks like creating its own PPP measure. Frankly, I'd rather trust the more widely used ones. PPP matters for the same reason anyone comparing earning £ to NZ$ without looking at purchasing power makes it look like anyone living in the UK is rich.

4. Under wealth the report talks of council tax and travel expenses in the UK, but doesn't say the same for similar taxes or charges elsewhere, or housing costs. The UK may cost more than many for both, but is the highest?

So all in all, it looks a bit shabby. More shabby are the conclusions that this is about "neo-liberal" policies. Why?

1. One of the measures is "hours of sunshine", no need to explain why the UK comes out worse than France and Spain on this measure. Not a lot to do with government.

2. Education spending for the UK is similar to the average, as is France, Spain is less. So how does spending more on this matter? Finland is the interesting case as it is seen by some as a model, but it isn't included. Note Sweden spends more and has a voucher system.

3. The UK has one of the most centralised health systems of all, and the outcomes are relatively poor. The NHS is a huge central bureaucracy, compared to insurance based models in France, Germany, the Netherlands and others. However, that's been ignored as well as something "neo-liberal" when the UK is anything but.

4. One of the measures is cost of fuel, alcohol and cigarettes, all very high in the UK because of? Tax. Yes, nothing "neo-liberal here". The Netherlands and the UK have the higher fuel tax in Europe, so surprise surprise, they have they highest prices of fuel.

So what does this piece of work prove? Precious little. The data is hard to compare, but what can be compared shows that the countries with the best standard of living, have the most sunshine, spend the same or less on education, have insurance based health systems and lower taxes on commodities.

Hardly neo-liberalism vs socialism is it now, even if you do think a price-comparison website operator is a sound source for analysis.

UPDATE: Seems he has removed the link to this post from his website, doesn't like criticism does he? You'd think something ostensibly interested in free speech would allow his reliance on a pathetic piece of publicity driven research to be critiqued?


StephenR said...

Man my opinion of him has gone *way* down since the Nats got in.

scrubone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
scrubone said...

He seems to remove links he doesn't like a lot.

I write rebuttals and point out inconsistencies and more often than not, the link from his post mysteriously disappears.

But that's to be expected. After all, it's not like most of the criticisms that caused him to stop comments weren't valid. He just didn't like being told he was being an idiot.