Bloggertarians and statistics

20Jul10

In an example of ‘Top blogging’ by amateur economists commenting on social issues, burning our money (via dillow) make the case for prison building.

It’s the usual case of bloggertarians having their cake and eating it. On the one hand it starts with a sceptical take on the usefulness of crime statistics – in this case a critical comment on the british crime survey:

“Yesterday we got the final instalment of those stats – the annual update of crime for 2009/10 as recorded by the police, alongside the results of the British Crime Survey (ie the crime opinion poll). And – surprise, surprise – both showed another fall”

It then implores the government to use the more statistically accurate way of measuring crime (the personal experiences of the blog author) and stop wasting our money on minor things like the collecting of evidence.

However, the article then goes on to demonstrate the author’s knowledge of criminology, and decides that the BCS is in fact a valuable tool for analysis. He collates the crime stats and correlates them with prison places over the last 15 years (starting from the peak year for crime), and finds that there is a strong relationship between the two. He then looks at possible reasons for this and declares that actually prison works, and is behind the fall in crime.

It’s actually an argument I’m pretty sympathetic towards, and the correlation repeats when you look at the experience of the US as well. On the other hand, the Scandinavian countries (and some others) are generally more lenient towards crime than ourselves, and also have lower rates of crime.

What is somewhat annoying, and indicative of the wider bloggertarian approach to social issues, is the tendency to either use statistics uncritically in order to support wild conclusions or to dismiss the statistics entirely (usually on spurious grounds) when they don’t support one’s world view. The statistics support the view that prison works, but they also support the view that new labour’s approach to crime and anti-social behavior (broken windows theory suggesting the two are closely linked) was a success. This is particularly important when we consider the coalition intends to change criminal justice policy by abolishing short sentences.

Another funny thing is quite why a website entitled “burning our money” is so uncritical of an authoritarian solution that involves the government spending shedloads of cash.

All in all its exactly the kind of content free partisan type post, and if that is an example of ‘top blogging’ then I’ll stick to reading crime articles written by people with some knowledge of criminology.

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