Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Problem With Averages

I glanced at this interesting post about the GNP of Sri Lanka the other day and it got me thinking.

So the Sri Lankan per capita income for 2010 has been estimated to be around $2400. That's got to be a good thing hasn't it?

Well you know me, given a choice between optimism and pessimism, there's no choice. Optimism, in my book, is good, whereas the p word is bad. Of that I have no doubt. But, they're different perspectives that should be used in order to view a situation, neither is necessarily the approach one should take if a balanced and well thought out view is what's required.

And, like Ratmale says in the original post, things aren't always what they seem.

First of all there's the fact that the figures are reported by the Sri Lankan department of census and statistics. Actually, if I was to be really strict on this, the fact is that Ratmale is reporting this. He seems like a trustworthy fellow, but academics and brainy sorts might question his reporting. I won't, let's assume his is an accurate depiction of what the department of census and statistics has told us.

There are many who would say that the figures themselves aren't accurate. Let's face it, the statistics published by any government are questionable at the best of times, such is the somewhat sad nature of the short termism of politics.

But, even if these figures are accurate, I'm unsure about what to really feel here.

A mathematical average is a statistical tool. I'm highly and seriously qualified to tell you this, having got a B in my 'O' level statistics back in 1981 or so, no mean achievement I think you'll agree.

As statistical tools go, per capita income is pretty simple. It's the equivalent of the old one size manual flat head screwdriver that you've had for so many years that you don't want to throw away that sits in your toolbox. You might grab it and try to use it every time there's a screw to be turned, but it rarely does the job. Fuck me, I must confess I could go on for ages with this screwdriver and toolbox metaphor. I rather like it. In fact it's a bit like that old......

No, wait, the thing is that per capita income merely takes the total income and divides it by the total population, or something along those lines. I think it gives no more than a very general picture on the economy of a nation, if that.

And we all know that currently in the isle of Serendib there are a lot of rich people. And many of them are hungrily and busily making vast sums of money and growing richer. That's cool with me. They're people taking advantage of the opportunities that have opened up post conflict, the opportunities within and outside of Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile there are a lot of poor people at the other end of the scale. The people who struggle to pay for gas and bread and rice and the basics, the people who, some say, are struggling more each day, who others say are going to prosper in time.

Sociologists, those with an economic bent, will say that this is what happens as an economy grows; that the upper echelons of society are the first to prosper and then, as they start to use the working classes in order to grow their wealth, the working class people begin to get more affluent and move up the ladder.

What we have here, in my humble O, is a current situation in which the top chaps makes shed loads of wedge, the bottom level struggles and the average rises, yet there are very few people who actually live like the "average".

How do I know all this? What statistics and proof do you have about this RD? I hear you asking.

None. Nothing. Zilch.

It's just my feeling.

And could I borrow that flashy screwdriver, the electric one with all the different heads please? My one's a but crap.


maya❤ said...

Ditermining the GDP of a 3rd world economy is shifty owing to the vast wedge that seperates the classes, and yup, the rich always get richer..../ vice versa.

As for the manipulation of figures... its just the norm of this global economic arena... even ngo's manipulate figures on a daily basis, how else would they bring in donor funds.

Did your o/l's in 81 ? i would never have guessed... !

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Maya - aaah thank you!! For the O level bit I meant