Thomas Sowell

Meanwhile, whole organizations and movements are in the business of trying to alarm the public -- radical feminists, environmental extremists, race hustlers, "consumer advocates" and many more. Wild statistics help them get free publicity in the media and help stampede politicians to "do something," usually by spending the taxpayers' money to deal with a manufactured "crisis."

False statistics are only part of the problem. Even accurate statistics can be given misleading emphasis. The U.S. Bureau of the Census seems dedicated to producing statistics that emphasize differences between groups -- black and white, men and women, etc. -- and far less interested in statistics which indicate how much all Americans have progressed over time.

For example, in the Census' Current Population Report number 60-209, with voluminous statistics on all sorts of "income inequality," there is just one sentence saying that the real per capita income of whites increased by 13 percent in a decade, while that of blacks increased by 24 percent. That, apparently, is not a "politically correct" message about American society.

Perhaps the greatest distortions of statistics involve comparisons between "the rich" and "the poor" -- who are mostly the same people at different stages of their lives. Most of those who were in the bottom 20 percent in 1975 were also in the top 20 percent at some point over the next 17 years. That too is not a "politically correct" message, so you seldom hear it.

The one thing that all these distortions and falsifications of statistics have in common is their thrust in the direction of creating artificial "problems" and "crises" to be dealt with by imposing government "solutions." That is apparently what makes them so attractive to the media that these shaky numbers are uncritically accepted and proclaimed to the public.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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