back to article Skewing statistics: Booze, money and sex

Sorry to bang on about these things again but yes, they're lying to us. No, this isn't just the normal drink-induced paranoia common to such as I - we really are being lied to again and again by those who claim to be our lords and masters. We've had Lord Adonis pompously announcing that he's minded to change the drink drive …


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  1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Write once, read everywhere

    Welcome to the Torygraph:

    "Now you and I, bright people and fair-minded as we are..." NFT

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. drongo
    IT Angle


    Dear Reg,

    Why are you giving a political platform, with no IT content whatsoever, to people withan obvious right wing, eurosceptic agenda?

    Tim Worstall's pigheaded comments last month on how Britain's manufacturing decline is a myth were annoying enough, we don't need any more from him.

    Please either drop him, or introduce a web 2.0 style filter so I can customise the site to my liking and ignore articles from idiots.

  4. shmirsh


    So the government are a bunch of lying sacks who abuse statistics to their own end - so what Tim? We all know this and we're all sitting around bemoaning the fact. The most interesting piece of this article was your suggestion that there should be a "none of the above" box built in to the election ballot. That at least takes us into a different landscape. Spend some time thinking about what that would actually look like and write that next time. Provide some kind of compelling vision of the way it could be and I'll read for sure. This scrawling "the government sucks" in the dirt isn't worth your time or mine.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      None of the above

      A none of the above voting box would be a relatively simple affair. The rule would simply be that the majority of votes wins. If "none of the above" wins then all the candidates and parties in that seat would be unable to stand for an immediate repeat of the vote. If the district fails to decide within, say, 3 attempts to vote, then it has no representative in the next parliament. The repeated votes would mean that voting would need to move to the Internet in order to be fast enough for general elections, but that is all relatively easy to do.

      The problem that I suspect we would see is that this system would almost guarantee no overall control in parliament. Unless parliament seriously changed the way it worked, this in turn would mean a crippled country that couldn't make a decision - somewhat akin to the California legislature at present.

      1. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

        The "majority government" myth.

        It is a myth that minority governments are inherently crippled. There are many examples around the world that regularly elect into power a party that does not have the majority of seats. These parties must then form temporary coalitions with smaller parties to get their bills passed. Compromise occurs, bills are vetted more carefully by all parties, and in general you don't tend to get one party tromping around for four years doing whatever they choose with impunity.

        Sure, minority governments aren’t the solution to all ills; there are a whole pack of problems with them. Still, given what I’ve seen in my own country (Canada,) majority governments do far more harm than good. The minority governments still seem to do harm; but it seems significantly mitigated by having to compromise with the other parties.

        Personally, I favour a change to proportional representation; but this causes all sorts of rage on behalf of our politicians, so I won’t be holding my breath. Counting every vote equally just isn’t something politicians are capable of. (I think the Holy Book Of Politics begins “first, thou shalt gerrymander.”)

        Ah well, less ranting, more cleaning up the DNS server...

  5. Number6

    Government works of fiction

    If you want another example, try the Badman Review of Elective Home Education. The statistics in that are somewhat dodgy, were pulled apart by angry home educators and even the Commons Select Committee considered them unreliable. Then the government produced the legislation before the report on the consultation that was supposed to guide the process (report turned up just before second reading so no one had a chance to look at it properly), managed to confuse a figure of 95% of responses against the proposals with a majority in favour and only the impending election has saved us from it becoming law.

    Definitely policy-based evidence-making.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

    <-- Thumbs up for a great article.

    'It's something of a pity that the upcoming ballot papers will not have a “hang them all” box to tick.'

    If this election ever actually happens, I know that I will be creating any boxes on my ballot paper I feel are missing and necessary, and I would encourage others to do so also.

    However, I've a funny feeling there might be some sort of 'terrorist' atrocity that'll put a stop to any election for quite a while...

    On the off chance it does go ahead, it would be interesting to know what the spoiled (as in deliberately) ballot paper numbers are after this one.

    Anonymous because I don't trust those lying, self-serving, thieving bast*rds.

    ...hold on, there's a knock at the door

  7. Jim Morrow

    where's the story?

    well fuck me! who'd have thought it? politicians and government manipulate statistics to mislead people. policies and laws are often based on these lies. really!? what next?

    i look forward to your next two-page exclusives on the pope's religion or what bears get up to in the woods.

    the data used for the law about trafficked whores may well be flawed. but it's not clear what point you're trying to make. is it a bad thing that this is criminalised? or would it be better if it wasn't a crime to pay for sex from someone who's forced into prostitution? nb that includes buying sex from blighty's native whore druggies as well as the foreigners: trafficked or not.

  8. Carlo Graziani

    Value Calculation

    "The value in enjoyment of these things must, by definition, be more than people spend upon them."

    Um, not that I disagree with the spirit of this piece, but you may wish to tune this bit of the analysis. By this argument, if booze taxes raised the price of a pint from £3 to £1000, and as a result only a handful of people ever drank beer again, the existence of that handful would mean that £1000 is in fact the correct value of a pint. In fact, you could only construct an _upper_ limit on the value, this being the price at which consumption goes to zero.

    You need some kind of correction for aggregate consumption.

  9. solarian

    [Sop for Title-Freaks]

    "policy-based evidence making" is one of the best lines in modern politics, and its justified use is to be commended.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't just blame politicians...

    If one thing hasn't changed in millenia, it's that politicians will try whatever they think they can get away with. It's up to people to decide what to believe and what they're going to do about it.

    I believe very little any politician tells me - and the more what they tell me is based on 'statistics' and 'reports' the less I believe them. I've worked in both govt and local govt and I'm well acquainted with statistics being generated from thin air. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who accepts such things at face value needs their head examining. That goes for online 'polls' too.

    What's more to the fore in discussions like this is how much anyone CARES. If the average voter is cynical about politicians' honesty, then why do politicians bother with their lies? Essentially because we don't count. Big money runs this country and it's they who must be pacified - the recent MP-for-hire scandal (not to mention the continued influence of people like Mandy) shows that it hardly matters which party is in power - they do as they are told, sooner or later. Whether by the Brethren, the Old Boys' Club, Big Money - or all three. Too many MPs are bought and paid for, and whatever their political colouring, so probably will their successors. With so much of MPs' commitment taken up by lobbyists, vested interests and party whips, the ordinary voter is a hell of a long way back in the queue of people who influence them.

    The problem isn't simply statistics, it's a system that's corrupt to the core. The huge changes necessary to make it honest and above board just aren't going to happen - won't be permitted to happen.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Integrity? Heard of it.

    Nice writeup, and no quibble with the topic -- integrity is a good thing in leadership, in fact it's the only thing constant over the vastly varied forms and styles of leadership found among humans, and it's equally clear that ours are not good leaders.

    I do have a minor quibble with the arguments at the beginning. Buying alcohol and tobacco are rarely rational decisions, yet while you acknowledge this, you also treat them as such. And there is the collateral damage, especially of smoking.

    I for me don't smoke and while I do drink I very rarely do so alone, meaning that it takes me several years of occasional nightcaps to finish a bottle of liquour. But there are plenty of people who will not, or even can not leave the bottle well alone, and fewer people still manage to smoke occasionally and keep it down to less than one fag a day. That is, if people smoke the amount gets counted in packets a week or packets a day.

    As I'm now experiencing first, well, second hand, smokers often don't notice just how bad they smell, and thus cannot make accurate assessments on that collateral damage. That's not even the risk of causing yourself cancer, or non-smokers in the same dwelling, which is pretty hard to calculate accurately, except perhaps from the NHS bill, which has a rather large overhead, IT and otherwise, factored in due to incompetent meddling elsewhere.

    For a very long time it was /de rigeur/ that you could smoke whenever and wherever you wanted, leaving very little social room for others to object. Now, governments are trying to change that, and while I'd rather had government meddling wasn't necessairy, being able to go about and not instantly stink of smoke --as a non-smoker-- does have its upsides. But the point here is that my disenjoyment is part of the price you paid for a packet of fags, but often isn't calculated in the decision to buy anyway. The craving, however, is.

    The craving thing isn't limited to drink and baccy, but also goes for such mundane things as coffee and tea (just spent two weeks without tea after a multi-litre-a-day habit, and yes, there was a weekend of headaches to endure), and less mundane things like pot (boy does that stuff stink). Probably more, though I won't advance a DHMO ( argument here.

    That of course leaves how the full ROI/TCO/LifeCycle calculations are done, which everyone, pro and con, will get inevitably wrong. How they should be done I have no idea either. Of course it's hard to be more wrong than a contemporary government, which isn't even trying, rather the reverse as you rightly point out, but that doesn't automatically excuse this sad state of affairs.

    Still and all, as a voice advocating integrity in government, I endorse this product and/or service.

  12. dogged

    A "Hang Them All" Box

    would almost certainly win the majority of votes.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    D minus

    "No, this isn't now going to spin off into a rant about how appalling the EU is (despite the truth of such an assertion)."

    Idiot. Assertions cannot be true. You assert the truth to a given proposition when you have nothing to back it up with. When it is finally backed up with something, it stops being an assertion. Still feeling cleverest? In a sneering essay on truth and methodology you have to be very precise in your language and arguments.

    Now. I have a day job. But I'm willing to learn you some science. If only to stop you UKIP-tards spouting the most god-awful shite day in, day out. You make creationists look good sometimes. Let's start off with Marmot:

    "Marmot and mates simply looked at health inequality and assumed all was caused by income inequality."

    Citation needed.

    Point me to the parts of the review where this assumption is made, either explicitly or implicitly. It's funny how report after report shows the same results when it comes to health and wealth inequalities. I guess we'd say that the basic proposition that wealth inequality causes health inequality to some extent is valid. Until such time as you can point to specific flaws in methodology (with actual references) ... you are, at best, attempting to misdirect us. I believe you like to break out the L word at this point.

    Page 86 of the report states:

    "[...] the fact that widening income and wealth inequalities, documented in Chapter 2, have not translated into commensurate widening inequalities in health and well-being."

    The report's authors consider it a fact that there isn't a complete correlation between wealth and other social inequalities, let alone a complete causation. I really need a citation for that alleged assumption, because it looks to me like ... you're lying. Of course, that is only how it looks to me.

    "One recent report said that the subsidy between housing association and market rents in Westminster, to take an obviously extreme example, was for a three-bed house over £20,000 a year. Such tenancies last for life, and indeed in some cases they are inheritable. While they can't be sold (at least not legally), the rights to occupy such housing is clearly and obviously part of wealth."

    Name the report, refer to specific passages, don't prop up assertions with "clearly" and "obviously", try a little evidence and / or reasoning. This isn't Speaker's Corner.

    "So the wealth gap, in this already admittedly extreme example, comes down to something like 2:1, which is a very long way indeed from our original claim of 100:1."

    Yes. because you took an edge-case, and then promptly forgot which end of the spectrum it lay on. It is extremely in your argument's favour, not against it, and therefore proves considerably less than you claim. Most people on low incomes don't get an annual £20k rent subsidy. So .... the figures are much closer to the 100:1 than 2:1. No?

    "There's no one at all in this country that has 'wealth' of £8,000 or less. We've all got vastly more than that, for we've all got a pot of wealth which will provide us with an income stream. It's called the welfare state"

    So ... since we're all so fucking rich, we can scrap the welfare state. Uh ... wait a minute, then we wouldn't all be rich and we'd need a welfare state. But then we'd all be rich, and could afford to scrap the welfare state ... et fucking c. Classic right-wing accounting. Adding figures into more than one column in an attempt to cream some off the top for yourselves.

    How's life in Portugal these days?

  14. 46Bit
    Thumb Up

    Nice job El Reg

    You know, it's difficult to say whether I read this site for the news or for the opinion pieces - the former is something you'd struggle to get elsewhere without masses of fanboi-style-articles but the latter is frankly brilliant written.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    What gets me... the continual whinging about what a burden the drinkers and smokers are on the health service - it's us that are f*cking paying for it!

    1. HollyX

      How terribly logical.

      Yes, because people who neither smoke nor drink (or drink only occasionally) don't pay any tax whatsoever.

      1. dogged

        Count the taxes

        Add up the proportion of income a 20/day smoker loses in tax to the proportion that a non-smoker loses in tax and you end up with a ratio very similar to the UK's economy with and without a National Health Service.

        Not that anyone dares mention this in any manifesto.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    what's the IT angle?

    Interesting read, but no IT angle and pretty much UK centered. Might be a better fit for another site.

  17. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    There Are Three...

    ...kinds of falshood. Lies, Damned Lies, and statistics. Variously attributed.

  18. ph0b0s

    Spoilt ballots instead of hang them all

    "It's something of a pity that the upcoming ballot papers will not have a “hang them all” box to tick. ®"

    You could spoil your ballot. There is a facebook campain for it. Unfortunately without a 'none of the above' option in our current system it is your only option to register your displeasure. No the vote may not be counted in the traditional sense but it is used in the turnout figures, so spoilt ballots put down the percentage of the vote the winners get.

    Quick and dirty maths. If 50% of people vote and the winner gets 30% of the vote, then if the other 50% did voted with spoilt ballots then the winner only gets 15% of the vote. I know this is not likley to happen, but the maths is easy.

    Some will say 'just stay at home'. But if you don't vote the parties just assume that all the people who did not vote would have voted in the same ratio as everyone who did vote, i.e they assume you would have voted for one of them.....

  19. Charles 9

    More than the price...

    As the Americas of the 1920's demonstrated, sometimes a vice can be worth more to a person than law itself--and if everyone ignores the law, the institution behind it doesn't have much to stand on anymore. It seems to be there are some things more valuable to people than loyalty to a country. In other words, people may actually be more willing to declare war on their own country than to declare war on their vice.

  20. heyrick Silver badge

    Wealth, or lack of it.

    A person, who shall not be named, is on a state pension of around £660 a month. In a rented accomodation, a noticable chunk of that is paid in rent. The state does help with various rebates, but she still pays. This takes her monthly down to around £510. Then subtract electric, which is not cheap, plus bus fares. She is or isn't able to claim the OAPs bus pass. Nobody seems to know or even really care. So, for now, she pays. We're down to about £460 a month. It might sound like a lot, but it works out to be under £15 a day. Oh, and we've not covered the TV licence and the telephone. Poor biddy, she wouldn't know a computer if you hit her with it. Her telephone is old tech (as in it still has actual bells and a rotary dial), yet under current plans she'll have to cough up a little more of her pittance to help fund *other* people getting broadband. So what are we down to now? About a tenner a day, give or take?

    I know this is a rather extreme example and most people are better off, but it goes to show that in some cases the 100:1 gap is actually an underestimate. What will she leave, if not a burden? Insurance? Nope, got too expensive. Private medical? Not at her age. She is being something of a silly fool in eating the Tesco blue-stripey food and blowing about eight quid a day on hard booze, but with no prospect of anything getting better and no assets whatsoever (unless you count a twenty year old TV that will stop working later this year as an "asset"), I can't say I entirely blame her.

    My top-line boss makes six or seven times what I do. Plus loads of perks like a company car, frequent days off for "recuperation" and such. Would you agree that the divide between him and I is around 8:1? I don't own property. I will inherit, but that's not a lot of help right now. If he owns, and isn't clobbered by a mortgage, that'll push the disparity up. Even with a mortgage, it will take a lot to bring him to a mere 2:1. And he's just the boss's boss's boss. Not the CEO. Or hell, not an investment banker or anything of that ilk.

    The fascinating thing about numbers is they can be manipulated to argue any case. You could take your story and swap money with Climate Change and it would read in much the same way. I especially like the bit about the state pension being index linked. Not only are pension increases NOT a legal requirement, but it's all a bit irrelevant when the index seems to be arbitrary and as well manipulated as any other set of statistics. Far better, perhaps, to do some research to ascertain three things: 1. percentage of general taxation (on wages and ancillary like council tax, rubbish tax, etc), 2. the price of a litre of standard four star, and 3. the price of a kilo of butter. Get the figures for 1985 and for 2010 and tell me if the 25 year difference is accurately reflected in the RPI/CPI and thus in state pensions and such. It'll be hard to cover a span like that given the changes in currency. Burger chain adverts brag about how such-and-such is only 99p. Well, back then at school (which would add a mark-up), 99p would have got me two Dr. Pepper, a Marathon, and two Curly-Wurlys, with a few copper coins to spare. lists Dr. Pepper as £1.05 for a 500ml bottle, which ought to translate to about 70p for a can size amount (330ml). A single Snickers is 44p. Curly Wurly no longer exists (Waitrose's best match was Thai chicken curry!), but already we're far over a pound. Has the price gone UP from what I remember, or has it - in relative terms - actually gone down as the money is worth less? Whatever the truth, I'm sure it can be manipulated as whims dictate as it is only a statistic. :-)


    I feel I ought to FAIL this for being as mathematically "convenient" as what you're arguing against, but I will only give you the unhappy icon because we agree on one thing - the bastards ARE lying to us. Over and over and over... but what's new there?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    with the amount of dodgy ballots called lately, (looking at the rail and BA unions)... i wouldent trust the next election to be fair....

    if the scottish twat gets in, i call foul!!!

    black chopper, because they will be coming to get me !!!

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Hear him, Hear him

    More! More of same!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Obvious reason for the change

    The reason for the change is obvious - it's abdicating responsibility.

    When you state "we will do X when we win" and then do "Y", it's obvious you were lying. If you state, "Report X states such" then you have pointed at an external reason for your decisions. The Shaggy defence ("It wasn't me") is pervasive throughout current government from feasibility studies to reports. It's always someone else that provides the material that is alleged to drive decisions.

    The problem is that such reports are not as neutral as they are alleged to be.

    The most self evident example was, of course, the Iraq WMD report. Intelligence did not provide the hard answer that was wanted, so the facts were "creatively modified/ignored".

    What if you commission a report and the first draft comes to the wrong conclusion? Easy, you send it back for rework with a quiet (unrecorded) word that suggests the desired outcome, possibly with a hint that payment and further work could be impaired otherwise. If the authors manage to arrive at the suggested conclusion you publish, and it will form the basis of many decisions to come over the years. If the authors prefer ethics over income you simply abort the project, boot them out, pay the bill in the most complex way possible and invite the competition.

    How unbiased is a feasibility study going to be for a multi-million pound project if the same organisation that does the study also gets the job of developing and rolling out the very service they are to study? Do you really expect a verdict of "not feasible" at that point?

    Ah, yes, the myth of the Chinese walls - conversations are never taped, and P&L of all such projects just happen to cross the same desks at the top. So yes, sure, keep on dreaming.

    BTW, some planning ahead is required to ensure audit doesn't pose a threat.. Just ensure that ex members of such companies are in charge. They will use school leavers for the interviews, and progress slow enough that the staff on the project can be briefed well in time. No problem. If only you could subvert the ONS so easily, the independent sods.

    In conclusion: not only are you being lied to, but the people who lie are not even man enough to own up to it when caught. That's who you voted for.


  24. Adam 67

    Hear hear

    God this is so depressing, and so true.

    How come they're all such a bunch of arseholes?


  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it just me

    or is this site getting far too politicised lately. I come here for tech news, not to read someone's half baked opinions on the government.

  26. Herby

    Then there is the sign...

    "The productive drunk is the bane of all moralists"

    Over the mantle in a wonderful location that I can't tell you about. It should be over those who want to legislate such things as:

    Absolute speed limits (as safe as conditions permit sounds good to me).

    Absolute DUI limits (I suspect that over 0.1% is a pretty good limit, but this 0.5% or less is a bit much for me).

    Absolute wealth limits (Giving ALL of Bill Gates $$$ to every American wouldn't help much, and it wouldn't make ANY dent in how much our nation borrows).

    Don't get me started (*SIGH*)

  27. jake Silver badge

    It's pretty easy ...

    "It's something of a pity that the upcoming ballot papers will not have a “hang them all” box to tick."

    Vote out the incumbents[1]. Or at least make a damn good effort to do so ... I know I do. If enough people do so, eventually the twats will get the message. Or, better, be voted out of office.

    [1] Or was that incumbints ...

  28. Stew Wilson

    Bad Science

    The value in enjoyment argument only makes sense if both sides are free from coercion.

    Addiction is coercion.

    The rest of the article unravels rather neatly once this particular bit of preposterous reasoning is dealt with.

  29. Alan Douglas

    Saying "of course" doesn't make it true.

    Seems reasonable to me that if an asset cannot be transferred, converted to cash or disposed of it should not appear in the balance sheet for an individual.

  30. Marvin the Martian

    And your point is?

    And how does this differ from anywhere in the past? Oh, there's an attempt at presenting facts that support the views of the lawmakers. As opposed to before where they didn't bother.

    At least now you can point out possible gaps or contradictions, instead of hearing "there's no society" followed by sincere efforts of making that true, by the iron lady.

    I see you have an axe to grind and hence you employ the techniques you accuse "them" of. There are enough UK inhabitants with less than 8000 to their name, namely those you argued that have more --- inhabiting a council house is not a cashable asset. It's like having a family heirloom that you may never sell; good to have but no cash. The homeless don't. Any non-priority case (read: single male) for council flat in regions with waiting lists --- hundreds of thousands live with one of their parents.

    Harmonisation is good. Or do you love getting spurious fines on any holiday in Spain, say because you have no safety vest in the car, no first aid kit, and no sticker proclaiming the country of origin? Ah no, I see, you're British so you love the fact that your legal identity is based on gas bills, and with some efforts and a few months a whole fake identity can be built from a gym membership.

  31. Martin Milan
    Thumb Up

    None of the above

    I have for some time advocated the "None Of The Above" option for the ballot papers. We have a problem in this country that people are becoming very apathetic toward voting - partly because they have seen the standard of our elected representatives, and partly because they feel their vote has no value anyway.

    If people do not feel able to support any of the offered candidates, their view should not simply be dismissed - it should be recorded and aggregated. Perhaps then people might feel that their opinions have at least some value.

    1. mmiied

      this is why

      we are seeing a rise in votes for the likes of the BNP as pepol despratiley search for a way to signle they do not like the current offerings in the main streem

      they do not realy like the BNP etc but they think "at least they are not the current crop of liers"

  32. Guus Leeuw

    Tom Worstofall?

    Well, well, here's an upset citizen, I can smell it.

    First of all, Tom, your unbiased opinion, which is not presented with respectable facts, regarding the badness of the EU is, mildly put, off target for a journalist.

    Second of all, Tom, your English is not the greatest. Oh yes, it was a typo eh... Well what do we have there? A journalist not worthy of the F7 key stroke? My my...

    Third of all, Tom, did your house get broken into? You seem to have lost your calculator. Oh wait, there is a calc.exe on your computer. Well yeah, I'm sure you didn't know that yet. Anyways, 30 or 40 years of 20,000 per annum housing benefits is more like a capital of 600,000 - 800,000, kinda not quite 400,000.

    And lastly, since when is it new that government acts and behaves like business? Anyone with a grain of common sense *knows* that we've been lying to for at least the New Labour years. What did he say: "We got evidence of WMD!!" Tony New Labour bLiar? (Typo intended!!) Oh my...

    So there we have it: A bad article for a *computer technology* related news website... Oh, this is due to the lack of technical news because of easter? Or is the angle this one: Computer Technology allowed government to utilise policy-based, evidence-driven government?

    The thing about statistics, Tom, in case you didn't know that yet: it's all in the Eye or Mind of the Beholder.

    I'll be getting my coat to up and leave in case The Register keeps publishing such obnoxious bullshit...

    Replies from Tom (any Tom, really ;) please...



    PS: Site proposal: Can we not include the link, next to the author's name link, that says: "Get less from this author" (just as we can "Get more from this author")? Or what about a journalist voting button:


    If votes.count.equals (100) then

    -- 60% bad votes results in filibusterproof removal of journalist

    if votes.negative_count.more_than_or_equal_to (60) then

    -- Give the journalist a C4 and ...


    -- ... remove said journalist from the list of journalists

    journalists.prune (journalist)




    1. Chris Miller

      No YOU fail!

      The present value of "30 to 40 years of £20,000 per annum" is roughly £400,000 (at least, that's the value of 35 years discounted at 4% pa ). You *don't* calculate the present value by adding up the amount of future payments. They used to teach compound interest in primary school, but I guess it's now part of the A-level maths syllabus.

      And if Tim had used your idiotic calculations, that would have made his argument even stronger. Sheesh, the standard of commentards these days.

  33. Brett Brennan 1
    Thumb Up

    Nice examples to underpin the empirically obvious

    Maybe being a Colonist (ie, in the US) has something to do with it, but most Americans seem to understand empirically that most of what you read or hear in the press is essentially an "infomercial" for what ever group has button-holed the reporter. And it's doubtful that a politician, industry group, environmentalist or anyone else is going to call up CNN with a study that proves that they're an idiot and have wasted XXX billions of your tax payments.

    Your story is excellent not for pointing out the obvious, but for giving some examples of how to QUANTIFY the obvious. While this may seem like a "Huh, what's he talking about?" moment, it's far more difficult to be cynical about news or politics if you don't have a starting point. The examples Tim provides are a great for showing what one should use to assess the validity of a claim.

    So the moral of the story is: when a report is made that neatly dove-tails with the conclusion previously put forward by the interest group, always ask "What could they skew to make this more favorable?" and "Who else is publishing the same information - or not?" While it won't change the penchant for self-serving policy, it will certainly make YOU feel better!

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Well writ dude!

    Re: wealth

    I wonder if wealth might be more realistically measured as "disposable income"?

    There are differences in how one might look at wealth and assets that give results like: lots of wealth on paper but can barely afford a jam sandwich.

    So, to me, disposable income = the bit left over when bills and stuff have been paid is more realistic.

    Another example might be a couple purchasing a very expensive property and mortgaged up to the hilt. Lots os paper wealth but possibly very limited disposable income.

  35. slhilly

    Triple wtf-ery

    1. Voluntary transactions, in relation to tobacco. I doubt even BAT would try to push that particular line any more.

    2. You're accusing Professor Michael Marmot, Chair of the global Commission on the Social Determinants of Health, of lying about the topic he's given over his professional life to, by -- so you say -- knowingly and wrongly asserting that all health inequality is caused by income inequality? And you're doing so without providing a direct link to the exact quotation where he does what you assert. That's, um, brave. I see from the Exec Summary of the report that the Review concluded as a key message that on the face of it flatly contradicts what you've said: "Health inequalities result from social inequalities. Action on health inequalities requires action across all the social deter- minants of health." Neither social inequalities nor social determinants of health are defined upfront as narrowly as income inequalities. I think that you've either misunderstood the report or are guilty of the same sin you are busy accusing others of -- deliberately misrepresenting the facts, ie lying. So, links please, with chapter and verse, or if you had any moral guts, you'd apologise.

    3. Your income calculation is just bizarre. The fact that a few people are able to benefit from subsidy on a 3-bed council house in Westminster that is worth, according to your unsourced "report" £20k per annum doesn't mean that this is true of everyone in the first decile. The first decile includes people living in shitty one-bed flats in the Gorbals, East Manchester, Tower Hamlets etc that is decidedly *not* worth a £20k per annum subsidy -- I'm not even sure if the few council tenants in 3-bed houses in Westminster would even *be* in the first decile. But also, way to missing the point, there's lots of people who want council housing who can't get any at all. They sleep in B&Bs and on mates floors and sometimes on the street. So they have none of this very exciting £20k pa subsidy that you think everyone gets. Equally, for pensions, lots of people aren't even entitled to a State pension, and if you're poor, you'll die before you've had much of the benefit. In fact, if you're in the Calton in East Glasgow, your life expectancy as a man is 54. And you'll have been killed by tabs and booze, most likely. Oh, and that statistic comes from Marmot's global work for WHO, so there you go, you can discount it now for coming from a nasty mean liar who pretends that -- God save us -- poor people exist in Britain and have a shit time with their health as a result.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An important point

    Nice one Tim. Yes, we all need to be a great deal more suspicious of politicians than we currently are. Take your eyes off those crooks and their desperate quest to "get into power" for a second and bad things like we've been seeing over the last 10 years will happen. We're so heavily brainwashed today, anyone who asks questions is labelled a "conspiracy theorist" and labelled insane. No doubt this is what ran through the "minds" of many people reading your article. A dangerous level of stupidity indeed, and one that our grandchildren are going to mock us for.

  37. Eddie Edwards

    "By definition", oh yeah

    "The value in enjoyment of these things must, by definition, be more than people spend upon them."

    This is a naive and oversimplistic view when you consider that nicotine is addictive.

    Sure, addicts get value from suppressing withdrawal symptoms, but that's not the same as "enjoyment" by any definition of the term.

    Raising cigarette prices forces addicts to re-evaluate that value proposition. Eventually it's less painful just to quit.

    But let's just ignore this well-understood concept and pretend people smoke tens of thousands of cigarettes over their lifetimes because they *enjoy* it. Then we can derive any nonsensical conclusion we like ...

    "At which point all the calculations of their being more expensive than any benefits they bring fail."

    ... such as this. It is obviously of more value to anyone to quit smoking than to continue. They will save money on fags and they will avoid possible serious health consequences. But by the idiotic model proposed here, we should somehow include the "value" the smoker gets from a packet of fags averting his withdrawal symptoms in the fucking GDP.

    1. FoolD

      Personal responsibility ?

      Thankyou for making the authors point for him.

      QUOTE: "but that's not the same as "enjoyment""

      Maybe, maybe not, but thats not the point. The enjoyment is subjective - it's in the 'addicts' mind, not yours or the governments. Whether it's based upon an addiction doesn't make it any less real - or the denial of it any less painful, as you alude to.

      QUOTE: "Raising cigarette prices forces addicts to re-evaluate"

      Does it ? I'd like to see some *independant* proof of that. From here is looks like fixed / rigged pricing is used primarily to generate tax revenue and just encourages black-market trading.

      It is this holier-than-thou attitude demonstrated in your post, combined with a disregard for personal choice and the devious manner that legislation is inched forwards, that the author, and many others, object to.

      Taking all arguaments of health consequences and financial drain aside a question remains: is it governments job to be policing people's personal choices or an individuals ?

      Does nanny know best ?

  38. Mr Grumpy!


    While I'm not forced to drink alcohol, and can enjoy it any time I like, I disagree with your statement that we are not forced to consume tobacco products... You see when I drink, I'm pretty careful to pour the liquid down my own throat, and not spray it round the room liberally, thereby giving everyone in range a bit.

    However smoking just isn't the same. is it. But you're a smoker, so I wouldn't have expected you to see that. For some reason smokers seem to believe against all the evidence that there's some invisible barrier around the smoker that stops non-smokers like myself having to breath in the foul emanations of your particular perversion. But the truth is, there isn't. Just like smoking around children doesn't somehow have a ring of magic keeping their lungs clear.

    So yes, I agree. Hang them all. But hang the smokers with them, those foul breeds that stand outside the doorways of offices, forcing me to breath their second hand emanations of death just to get into the office.


    1. Anonymous Coward

      Yes! Down With This Sort Of Thing!!!

      And! TEA!!! Do people who drink this not know that their CAFFEINE disseminates into the atmosphere, instantly killing everyone in a 10,000km radius!! And if they have sugar, this will also give everyone in the world diabetes! Adding milk will entail a large, laughing man with a chainsaw heading out and dismembering entire herds of cows! Personally, I think that anyone who partakes of this disgusting, vile liquid of DEATH should be put up against the wall, shot, then their corpses hung, drawn and quartered, the remains burned, the ashes thrown into a trough for consumption by pigs, the pigs slaughtered and the carcasses shot into the sun!!!

      PS: "Foul breeds", "invisible barriers", "emanations of death"", "magic ring" - do you not think that maybe you could do with laying off the Tolkien a little?

  39. Svantevid

    Oh well

    As a member of a former Communist country, I've come to accept certain inalienable truths:

    1. politicians will lie to you, as often as it suits them and following a "lie, big lie, statistics" line

    2. they are your worst enemy

    3. all ballot papers SHOULD have a “hang them all” box to tick.

  40. chris swain

    Here, here...

    ...and well said that man! Evidence must be fabricated to support knee-jerk policies and if you don't come up with the right evidence then you're probably a respected scientist on the drugs advisory panel.

    I've been led to believe, obviously erroneously, that you form theories to fit your data not the other way round (is it worth mentioning climate change 'research' here?)

    Anyway, re: the 'Hang 'em all' option on the ballot, there is at least one candidate standing on a platform of getting a 'None of the above' ( option onto the ballots. There are also numerous people on facebook campaigning for people to foul their ballots in protest (e.g.!/group.php?gid=342409911427).

    NOTA politics is interesting in so far as a party stood (in some seats) at the last election on a None of the Above ticket, the govt. enacted legislation to ban their party name shortly thereafter, just in case any poor fools felt that they actually had that option. Some info here:

    Personally I think that professional politicians are the least suitable people to run the country: just look at any one of a number of recent & past examples of sleaze. Worse still, look what happens when they all get together, you end up with the EU!

    Sorry for the politics but this is an op-ed article!

  41. John A Blackley

    Wasted box

    The "hang 'em all" box would be a waste of space as the sheeple will, of course, vote for the same people who've been buggering them (financially, at least) for generations.

  42. Dave Murray

    Lies, damn lies and stupidity

    Lies? Probably. But don't forget to take into account the stupidity of politicians and their so called experts. When so many government reports are done by vacuous TV celebrity types you have to wonder if the problem is they just don't understand statistics. Or maybe I'm just being naive and they are a bigger bunch of liars than even I believe in my most cynical moments.

    So far I haven't registered for the upcoming election, for the first time in 20 years I don't want to vote. If there was a "none of the above" box I would definitely tick that.

  43. David Pollard

    The weath gap comes down to 2:1?

    But the logic in this article that has hitherto been immaculate is seriously flawed. The conclusion that the real ratio of wealth between rich and poor is 2:1 omits a variety of factors. For example, the rich are in effect compelled to engage for a significant proportion of their time in managing their wealth and spending it. They suffer severely from strains and overhead costs in making decisions about which goods they should acquire and managing services that are supplied to them. Their status does not allow them to make do with substandard goods as can those who are poorer; it also compels them to contribute to the 'trickle-down' effect. And their lifestyle unavoidably denies them the simplicity of poverty.

    All in all the disbenefits of riches such as these lead to a further factor of about 2.4. So the real ratio of the wealth gap is about 0.8:1. And it is in order to mitigate this inequality that it is imperative that the poorer members of society should be taxed more heavily.

  44. Al fazed
    IT Angle

    I concurr

    I could not agree more.

    But maybe it's the software that's at fault ?


  45. xjy
    Paris Hilton

    Tax the malingerers!

    Dave P is right on. I could add that there are further disadvantages to being "rich" that should not be forgotten.

    The longer a life, the greater the pain and humiliation. And the "richer" you're perceived to be, the more you are racked by fear and terror of the hordes of creeps out to rob you of what you haven't got. Including your own flesh and blood.

    And while your lifestyle might appear to be "luxurious" it's all borrowed plumage. The "richest" often earn less than the "poorest".

    And since the "rich" often own more debts than anything else, you can compound this over a lifetime into poverty outmiserying the most spendthrift malingering countries.

    Talk about a "rich" man's burden!

    (Paris cos she's a poor little rich girl...)

  46. Scott 19
    Thumb Up


    How a man such as Guy Fawkes can turn from a sinner to a saint, Holywood will being doing a re-amke soon with CGI and the plot with the gun powder working.

    Day dreaming at work again.

  47. Jonathan

    i bet Richard Branson doesn't use the NHS much

    so... is it fair that he should pay the proportion of his taxes that goes towards it?

    if he sends his kids to private school, why should he pay the proportion of his taxes that goes towards state education.

    he gets (i am sure) negligible use/return from either and i'll bet he pays a (domicile adjusted) relative fortune towards both compared to the people who use them both.


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