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Sins of omission

Taking statistics out of context is a dangerous games, says Theodore Dalrymple

Everyday Lies

As readers of The Critic will perhaps know from experience, there are many ways of telling lies. Among them is the old rhetorical trick of suggesting a falsehood while suppressing a truth.

Under virtual house arrest in Paris during the current epidemic, I have been reading the French press. Today, there was an article in Le Monde titled “How the left thinks of the post-coronavirus.” There are no prizes for guessing. One National Assembly member belonging to La France Insoumise is reported as saying, “In the United Kingdom during the Second World War, they had rationing. Life expectancy rose and poverty fell. It was sharing.”

So there we have it: the government should decide what each of us may consume on the basis of what it estimates that we need. But what is interesting is the assertion that, during the period of rationing, life expectancy rose. This is not untrue in itself. But what is implied is that it did not rise before rationing and did not rise after it, which is false, and that it therefore rose because of rationing.

If I were to say life expectancy rose in Britain during the Great Depression, which it did, quite steeply, no one would take me for an advocate an economic depression because I thought it would be good for health. But this is precisely what the deputy advocates with regard to rationing on the basis of the rise in life expectancy in Britain during the war. A little statistics is a dangerous thing, but it’s not the only method of suggesting falsehoods while suppressing truths.

“One has seen, as in every crisis, the retreat of governments,” says an economist quoted in the article. He omits to mention that public expenditure accounts for 56 per cent of France’s GDP and that one now needs a laissez-passer to leave one’s house or one will be fined by a policeman. How much government do they want? Nothing less than total, seems to be the answer.

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