Sunday, February 05, 2006


In a previous post I linked to a tribute to John Cowperthwaite. The following excerpt also got me thinking (no conclusions mind you.)

(Marian Tupy) asked him to name the one reform that he was most proud of. "I abolished the collection of statistics," he replied. Sir John believed that statistics are dangerous, because they enable social engineers of all stripes to justify state intervention in the economy.

Here we are on the eve of another official five-yearly Census, which produces arguably our largest and most reliable collection of statistical information. This is a very tricky area for anybody who relies heavily on statistics to produce social research. Rather than justify more state intervention my research is intended to build a case against it.

But arguing that this end justifies the means, ie forcing people to provide information about themselves and their families, their income, religious beliefs etc under threat of prosecution, doesn't sit easy.

Statistics NZ spends a great deal of our money on TV and radio trying to "educate" us about why the information is needed. If it's any consolation, some people will be using the collated information to remonstrate about the level of government intervention we have to tolerate.

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