From the fantastic folks at venezuelaanalysis.com:
“All statistics, including economic statistics, can be manipulated, or only partially revealed, so that they demonstrate a foregone ideological conclusion rather than reality.
“By 2006 and 2007, it was impossible to hide the evidence that the Venezuelan economy had been growing at a tremendous rate for four years running, and that income was being redistributed to the poorer classes in an unprecedented fashion. Some of the relevant economic numbers appeared in a 2007 report generated by two private consulting firms, AC Nielson and Datos, for VenAmCham (The Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce and Industry). They showed that the poorest economic class, Level E, had more than doubled its income in three years, but their interpretation was still tinged with an anti-government bias.
“For example, the title over the table of figures provided in the AC Nielsen/Datos report sounded discouraging, “In the last three years, only the income of Level E has grown in real terms.” Since there are 6 household income levels customarily used in Venezuela — A,B,C+, C-, D, and E — this doesn’t sound like much of an achievement. That is, until the reader learns that level E consisted of a solid majority, or 58% of the population in 2003. Level E’s income grew by a whopping 130%, after being corrected for inflation. [emphasis added]” (source)
Of course, distorting economic data is by no means a phenomenon of only the developing world.
The manner in which even agreed upon economic data is presented in the West is highly ideological and, one could charge, intentionally misleading.
First off, the standard practice economists use to measure per capita economic wealth is to use average GDP per capita. It is important to dwell for a second on the fact that this isn’t just something that a lot of economists do by coincidence, this is considered the standard measure with, by extension, all other measures being heterodox or in some other way subaltern.
When you don’t want to give all three measures of mean (average), median and mode in mathematics and statistics, it is widely acknowledged that if you’re going to use only the measure of ‘average’, it is by far the most informative on linear trends such as this:
This is hugely important due to the fact that all economic wealth distributions under global capitalism, by definition, do not look like the graph above. Rather, all existing patters of economic wealth distribution under global capitalism are more or less exponential (in fact, this is the very predictable result of capitalism).
Whenever you have exponential data and you intentionally and conscientiously only give the average indicator, you are likely skewing your analysis dramatically.
Here’s an example of a fictional global distribution of wealth which nevertheless more accurately approximates reality. As you can see, if readers were to be given only the average income for this graph, the reader would likely develop a highly skewed view of the economic realities.
Note that the orthodox approach of giving only the average measure gives a more than 10 times more favourable view than if one were to give only the median measure.
Now this isn’t to say that economists themselves don’t recognize these limitations. Indeed highly technical economic documents often contain data using medians instead of means. Moreover, in defense of economists, it is often more difficult to calculate the median income than it is to calculate the mean income due to the fact that less data is required to calculate the mean (average) income.
But even if the ‘median’ indicator finds its way into some technical documents, it is almost impossible to find it anywhere in any news report, or think tank research paper — the two sources that are most predominantly fed to the public.
For an especially bad example of utter and sheer ideological and propagandistic distortion of this median/mean practice, see this ABC news report on “Tax Freedom Day”.
Given this, is it really still tenable to continue to ignore the possibility that the very language we use to express economics to the populace is itself so hopelessly entrenched in a capitalist ideology?