It is high “tine” those who indulge in cutlery-based humour had a forum to share their ideas, perhaps headquartered in Sheffield. OK, enough with the cutlery, this is a post about stupidity – but one anxious to retain a PG rating.
As I left ASDA today (it don’t use it for much, but they do offer very cheap anti-histamine), I had the misfortune to see the main headline of the Daily Express. This was so flawed in almost every possible way that I felt the need to post about it. I’m sorry to pick on the Express, a mere 15 years after the death of Princess Diana and when the wound is so obviously still raw, but if no-one corrects their work they are never going to learn any better. For the sake of political balance, I should also pick on a rabidly left-wing “news” paper – sadly, these are much harder to find, but I shall keep an eye out for a copy of Socialist Worker (assuming it still exists) to maul with my heavy-handed sarcasm.
The gist of the headline in question was to announce that as (finally) a majority of our exports were to non-EU countries we should now feel free to leave the European Union tomorrow without a backward glance.
The first issue one might take with this is the idea that we are in the European Union purely for financial gain. I’d like to believe that we have slightly broader interests in membership, though accept that this may be down to the roseate tint to the glass of my spectacles. I certainly think some of the members are slightly less mercenary about their membership with political motives in addition to the purely monetary.
However, let us put this quibble aside for the moment and accept that the UK only does anything for direct financial gain to the country, that our membership of the EU is purely mercenary and that the only advantages that accrue are the purely monetary. I am no economist, but it seems that membership has a few more financial consequences than easing the export of our goods to the continent. I have no idea what the total net benefit or dis-benefit of membership of the EU brings to the UK – nor even the narrowly financial component thereof – and I’m pretty sure the Daily Express doesn’t either, but I very much doubt it can be explained by the destination of our exports alone.
Ignoring this small fly in the otherwise excellent ointment, let us assume that the only reason for still being in the EU is that they had hitherto taken at least 50.1% of our exports. Since the paper is describing the change to this status as “news”, I assume this change is recent (perhaps a dangerous assumption but it was enough to displace the Princess of Wales from the front page, so it must have seemed important at the time) and so exports outside the EU probably only represent a very modest majority this point. So, I presume we are to assume that the potential loss of roughly 49.9% of our export business is of no consequence whatsoever? Presumably, those traitorous companies (and their employees) who are foolish enough to sell their goods or services to the EU really don’t deserve to continue in business a moment longer.
Of course, total exports themselves should be of only modest interest to the UK. I could make a sizeable business exporting brand new Ferraris at £10,000 each. It wouldn’t be a very sustainable business or terribly positive for the UK economy, but it would represent a lot of exports (until my money ran out, after about tP seconds) if at some cost to our balance of trade. Still, it seems the Express is very wisely holding itself aloof from the grubby world of business, profitability and this country’s potential future trade deficit.
I have no idea whether leaving the EU would benefit me, the readers of the Daily Express or even the country as a whole. I’m not sure I have terribly strong views either way: I can see positives on both sides and have no real way to prioritise them without an awful lot of research (and perhaps not even then). I’m pretty sure that leaving will be pretty costly in the short-term as such major changes always are – and so doing it in the depths of a recession may not be ideal. However, it seems pretty clear that making such a fundamental change without any planning just because a single, unrepresentative statistic has briefly changed would be rather unwise. Might I recommend the excellent More-or-Less podcast to the journalists of the Daily Express to allow them to come to slightly better grips with the meaning of basic statistics? I realise this is produced by the much hated, Marxist, federal-Europe-loving BBC but despite these impediments does seem remarkably even-handed in its pillorying of numeric idiocy.