Stats and the State

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The State and
statistics go hand in hand.1 They
are utilized by the State as a justification for its necessity;
they can be compelling and sometimes intimidating — and the general
public rarely questions them. Most people don't understand how to
make sense of the many numbers, ratios, and percentages spewed at
them by State Bureaucrats. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that
the State employs so many resources in gathering data. As Murray
Rothbard said, "Statistics
are the eyes and ears of the bureaucrat, the politician, the socialistic
reformer."

The etymology
of the word "statistics" is revealing:

  • German,
    Statistik: political science or science of state.
  • New Latin,
    statisticus, statisticum collegium: council of state or
    state of affairs.
  • Italian,
    statista: person skilled in statecraft, statesman or politician.
  • Old Italian,
    Latin, status: position, form of government.

Statistics
were first used by the State to measure, for example, the number
of taxable subjects in its territory. They were also employed to
determine how many of its inhabitants could be sent off to invade
and conquer its neighbors. Today the trickery continues on a much
larger scale.

In 2009, the
US Government will employ over
150,000 full-time workers
(higher than normal due to its "decennial
census staffing"; and yes, governments usually keep statistics
on their statistical shenanigans) to carry out its statistical
programs
, all at the taxpayers' expense. It will spend almost
$8 billion
to gather and analyze data, a 117% increase from
10 years before. As a reference, when Murray Rothbard wrote "Statistics:
Achilles' Heel of Government
" in 1961, the US Government
spent (a mere!) $43 million with 10,000 full-time employees.

All of this
data is taken from over 90 agencies that spend over $500,000 in
gathering data, which means the true amount spent and the number
of employees actually involved in this process is much higher; it
also does not include part-time and contract workers. The (accounting)
cost of this is also much greater when we think about the number
of private companies that are required to keep statistics to hand
over to Government Bureaucrats. Private resources are being diverted
to create public waste.

But the cost
to liberty is even greater. A government without statistics would
make it almost impossible to rationally justify its myriad interventions.
The State is a respecter
of persons
; it employs fallacies
of collectivism
and talks in aggregates, not individuals, to
present its data. It divides and segregates a population and uses
terms such as groups, classes, races, and ranks. We
hear of
Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, wealthy, middle-class,
poor, insured, uninsured, homeowner, homeless, old, young, immigrant,
illegal immigrant, citizen, foreigner, married, divorced, widowed,
male, female, employed, unemployed, etc. For example, phrases such
as "the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting
poorer" can only be understood when aggregates are used, which
are then used as an attempt to justify, for example, government
welfare programs. Stereotypes are then linked to certain groups
and many people begin to think in terms of classes of people.

The State
that uses statistics finds it much easier to manipulate numbers
and formulas rather than the more conspicuous task of altering definitions.
For example, it becomes no longer necessary to redefine what inflation
means to achieve the desired figure; now all that needs be done
is change what is included in the formula before calculations are
made. It doesn't take much work to then choose a desired outcome
and "work backwards" to include the "right"
data in the calculation. For example, in Australia and other countries,
responding to pressure from the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund, "statistical
gymnastics
" were used to systematically manipulate the
consumer price index, which has robbed pensioners and other social
security recipients of billions of dollars.

It is also
only because of statistics that the State can decide how to regulate
its inhabitants. It attempts to plan and control the economy through
this data. It can convince the public that it is necessary to take
action, to "do something"; it tries to create something
"seen" through a hodgepodge of numbers, and to disguise
the unseen
.

Nassim Taleb
has been an outspoken critic of constructing uncertain models
to make certain predictions. He
says
his "outrage is aimed at the scientist-charlatan putting
society at risk using statistical methods. This is similar to iatrogenics,
the study of the doctor putting the patient at risk.”

If we look
back to 2006, Taleb
wrote the following
:

"The
government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its
risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable
to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry: their large staff of
scientists deemed these events u2018unlikely.'"

Henry
Paulson
and other government bureaucrats seem to be intoxicating
themselves with the same delusionary potion as Fannie Mae's mad
scientists. They are like puerile children playing with a sophisticated
and toxic chemistry set.

This was part
of the reason Mises
pointed out
there is no such thing as statistical laws. There
are, however, economic laws which the State cannot repeal, no matter
its obstinacy. It is no wonder Murray Rothbard wrote about
the State and its statistical ploys:

"Thus,
in all the host of measures that have been proposed over
the years to check and limit government or to repeal its
interventions, the simple and unspectacular abolition of government
statistics would probably be the most thorough and most effective.
Statistics, so vital to statism, its namesake, is also the State’s
Achilles’ heel."

This
is why the State and statistics, which are both linked etymologically
and historically, are also both united in the goal of destroying
liberty — they are nearly one and the same. The answer is to topple
either one, and enjoy the plunging of both.

  1. This article
    does not argue against the use of statistics per se (which the
    author believes are useful); it argues against the State's
    use of statistics.

November
29, 2008

Chris
Brown [send him mail]
is a lecturer at the Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship.
He also centrally plans the Austro-libertarian
blog.

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