Measuring Progress

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 16th, 2009

I was flicking through a report on the limitations of GDP as a measure to guide policy decisions. Measuring progress by GDP is a laughable proposition (except for materialists). Financial growth at the expense of all else would pretty much destroy all social and natural resources. The report suggests inclusion of measures of “natural, physical, human, social” capital.

Recommendation 6: Quality of life depends on people’s objective conditions and capabilities. Steps should be taken to improve measures of people’s health, education, personal activities and environmental conditions. In particular, substantial effort should be devoted to developing and implementing robust, reliable measures of social connections, political voice, and insecurity that can be shown to predict life satisfaction.

All this provides a more balanced view for making policy decisions but is not without its draw backs. One recommendation is to measure “inequality” of these indicators for different groups. I would admit happiness is often based on ones perceived relative wealth. But I would rather focus on improving these indicators where efforts will actually realize results. The logical extension from eliminating all equality is to improve the lower scores and decrease the higher scores (in what ever measure we want to consider). This might sound a little extreme but medical ethics sometimes advocates using resources where the most benefit will be achieved (notably in the allocation of limited resources). They don’t normally advocate making visitors injured or sick to make things “equal”. I notice my view sounds rather utilitarian…. oh dear. Well back to the drawing board!

And others are proud of their modicum of righteousness, and for the sake of it do violence to all things: so that the world is drowned in their unrighteousness.

Ah! how ineptly cometh the word “virtue” out of their mouth! And when they say: “I am just,” it always soundeth like: “I am just-revenged!”

With their virtues they want to scratch out the eyes of their enemies; and they elevate themselves only that they may lower others. (Quote by…. guess who.)

Anyway, another concern is measuring an indicator and then trying to change it using policy usually causes distortions in policy to achieve “measurable” progress when actual progress might be zero due to resources being directed away from other unmeasured areas. We often see this in exam grade inflation, arrest to meet quotas, etc.

Thirdly, gathering statistics is only a step in policy decisions. Given a statistical “is” we cannot automatically infer a policy “ought”. A more fundamental change has to happen to values that drive decisions. This won’t happen by measuring things. What is “progress”? Until we figure that out, we are accelerating to destination unknown.

Anti Citizen One

Airport Security

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 8th, 2009

I have just been thinking about the claim “airport security stops terrorists”. If airport security is really effective and there are many terrorists, then I would expect they would be often caught at the security point or they would target other buildings. Since the number of positive detections at airport security is low (Richard Reid being a notable and singular exception? update: of course attempted his attack before appropriate checks where in place) and there are not routine bombings in western countries, I conclude that one of these axioms is false. It seems odd to claim that if terrorists can’t target aircraft, they just give up…