Friday, January 2, 2009

Truth is Bad and There Should Be Less of It

In Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding: Community Action in the War on Poverty, Daniel Patrick Moynihan points out the inevitable connection between the collection of sociological statistics and the unfortunate liberal intuition that government must therefore do something about them:
Among the complexities of American life is that the American business community, during the first half of the twentieth century, when it was fiercely opposed to the idea of economic or social planning, nonetheless supported, even pressed for, the development of a national statistical system that largely as a result of this support became perhaps the best in the world. This in turn made certain types of planning and regulation feasible, and in a measure, inevitable.

John Kenneth Galbraith has noted the indispensable ole of statisticians in modern societies, which seem never to do anything about problems until they learn to measure them, that being the special province of those applied mathematicians. Statistics are used as mountains are climbed: because they are there.

If one recalls that the nation went through the entire depression of the 1930's without ever really knowing what the unemployment rate was (the statistic was then gathered once each ten years by the Census Bureau), one gains a feeling for the great expansion of knowledge in this and related fields in the quarter century that followed.
It used to be the case that government turned its eye to social problems only when public outcry demanded that it do so; now, in an age when unemployment statistics (for instance) are a regular release, the impulse to "do something" comes from the top rather than the bottom. Boo, hiss.

Bottom line: Statistics lead to liberalism and should not be collected.

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