SKETCH: Why do Economists Cost So Much?

The chairman of National Statistics has a familiar smile. Clever. Knowing. Wonderfully pleased with itself. The smile on the mouth of a man who makes £100,000 for two days work a week.

It’s the same smile as Robert Chote’s – and of course they are related. Both economists, both sometime heads of the Institute of Fiscal Studies. Now both attached to the public service udder (Chote sucking £142,000 from the Office of Budget Responsibility).

Dilnot has just been in front of the Public Administration committee explaining himself on police crime figures. His National Statistician had recently described the crime statistics system as “one of the best in the world” but he has now “de-designated” them for being unreliable. Or in the words of the committee, dross. Fiddled. Fictitious. And as ex-Met chief Lord Stevens said, they always have been. And indeed, as the chair of the committee has said, every police officer he’s spoken to has agreed the figures are fantastical.

So why have Dilnot and his highly-paid office been so completely useless?

“There simply wasn’t the evidence,” Dilnot said, “the world has changed since 2011” when the figures and the system that produced them were given a clean bill of health. “The evidence wasn’t there.”

But of course it was there, had they felt inclined to look for it.

The group-think these seat-shining, back-scratchers operate under is highly professional and devoid of common sense. Bernard Jenkin asked Dilnot what the experience had taught him.

He didn’t say: “Any target-driven culture must be vulnerable to this sort of manipulation”.

When the chairman pushed his face into this observation, Dilnot found himself saying, “That is something we are seeking to understand more clearly.”

Such is the naivety of the professional men of numbers, charts and percentages, the people who “prioritise the hierarchy of administrative data in a risk-based matrix”.

Yes, they are going to be more “risk-based” in their assessments from now on. That means they’re going to decide which figures are most obviously fraudulent and try and find out why.

I can’t help thinking this sort of work is easily done, and for half the price.




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Quote of the Day

The FT’s Wolfgang Munchau on the “fake maths” of economic forecasts:

“The truth is that our ability to forecast the future beyond the current quarter is limited… The curse of our time is fake maths. Think of it as fake news for numerically literate intellectuals: it is the abuse of statistics and economic models to peddle one’s own political prejudice… The fakeness of the maths lies in an exaggerated inference. Economic models have their uses, as do opinion polls. They provide information to policymakers and markets. But nobody can see through the fog of the future.”

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