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Here are some data to chew on.

There's been a fair amount of discussion of education issues in this thread (quite understandably), and so it may be useful to take a look at measures of child poverty. Unicef publishes Child poverty in rich countries 2005 which is really worth looking at. Unicef examines the situation in the richer countries of the world, which seems to fit the discussion here. The report also has a clear and useful discussion of measurement questions.

Here is a graph you won't find in the report, but which is based on data given p21:

Child poverty rate in percent, 2000 (threshold 50% of median income)
and change from 1991 to 2000

The graph is from the French economics monthly Alternatives Economiques, special number Les chiffres de l'économie 2006. Not online. Label translation/pasting mine.

What's immediately striking is that initial child poverty levels are similarly high in France, the UK, and the US, but that after social transfers (earned income tax credit, welfare benefits, etc) the situations are radically different. The French number jumps way down (though 7.5% is still 7.5% too much), the UK number by a more moderate amount, and the US number hardly at all. Now here we can fairly identify a difference, not so much in the existence of poverty, as in the treatment of poverty.

Here's a second graph, which is not based on the Unicef report, but on Eurostat figures (so no US, I'm afraid). This one also shows the before and after social transfers numbers, plus a measure of "persistent poverty", defined by Eurostat as living in poverty for at least four years together.

Alternatives Economiques, special number Les chiffres de l'économie 2006. Not online. Label translation/pasting mine.

Here again, initial poverty levels are fairly similar, but social transfers bring them down -- more in Germany than in France, for example (though these numbers are for 2001 and there may have been some change since). Useful: EU15 included.

These two graphs don't use the same measure of poverty (Unicef chooses 50% of median income, Eurostat 60% of median income), but we only need look at them relatively rather than absolutely.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 06:26:22 AM EST
afew, these are great - extraordinary even - graphs in that they convey very clearly the message. Please make a diary out of them.

Actually, if you authorise me, I think I would like to use them for a dKos diary for mximum exposure. Would you mind sending me the files for the graphs by e-mail.

(btw, I am still amazed that the WSJ  allowed a rag such as Alternatives Economiques to be quoted in their Op-Ed pages...)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:21:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Jérôme, and will send files.

Note, however, that this kind of post ends up at the end of a long thread because everyone piles into the "hot" debate higher up and doesn't have much appetite for looking at pdf files (though pdf files, it's true, are a pain). But I'm beginning to wonder if the professed appetite of some for data, metrics, comparison, etc, isn't a bit, shall we say, over-stated?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 02:02:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I, for one, very much appreciate the data, afew.  I don't usually comment on it, because I'm not always confident that I'm interpreting it correctly and don't know what to say.  But I always appreciate the statistics and graphs and having people like you and Jerome explain what it means.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 02:10:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Izzy. You know, when I said "some" I wasn't thinking of you. You've got your work cut out in this thread anyway!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 03:27:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, when I encounter this thread, I feel myself becoming inert, lazy, and lacking in the necessary fortitude. ;-)

I really should be responding to more of the excellent comments in here.  And I see plenty to argue with, too, but the thought of backing up my statements takes the fun out of it -- I'm more of a storyteller anyway.

So thank goodness for you and Jerome and people like you bringing all this data -- it's the least I can do to say how much I appreciate it.  

There're also some other comments such as Gaianne's and DeAnander's that I've completely ignored because they're so brilliant and substantial that I mean to attempt to give them a deserving reply which I so far haven't mustered.  So now I'm inert, lazy, and guilty as well.

I actually didn't realize this thing would get so big.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 03:39:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I also second Jerome's idea of turning it into a diary.  It would be a shame to have it get lost in all this.  Even I'm having difficulty keeping track of the various threads of conversation in here!  I'd be more than happy to see several of these topics made into other diaries.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 02:13:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well I did do a diary over at dKos using afew's graphs, and a few others:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/10/14/7283/9652

It did get recommended, but it garnered a lot less attention that my other diaries do these days, even the empty meta ones. Maybe we need to build a more compelling story around these numbers. Let's use them in a diary here and focus and exactly what kind of message we want to get through?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 05:54:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, thank you Jerome, I finally noticed it over there and the one at BooTrib as well.  You should tell us these things -- are you too modest, or have I perfected my omniscient routine?  ;-)

All kidding aside, it was an impressive diary.  As to your further suggestion, I'm more than willing to help with the story part if you feel it would be useful.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 06:33:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One thing is that DKos is American, and if you say "Poverty!" to Americans, even Americans on the left, a lot of them will just avoid the question. (The discussion here is different, partly because it built up from past threads, partly because this is a meeting-place outside of the American cultural zone).

Also maybe the different graphs needed more explanation. Some people love graphs, others run a mile when they see them. (I'm aware I didn't give a huge amount of explanation above, but in this thread, it didn't seem necessary -- there were demands to see data, and demands to compare with Europe, and I tried to present some respectable comparison material in a simple and expressive way.)

As to "story" I'm dubious about the use of the word. The MSM frame things in terms of stories or narratives. Sure, it catches people's attention more easily, which is why it's the rule in the commercial media. (And one of the great strengths of the blogos is that we're not commercial). But it tends to infantilize people, imo. God save us from the lists of over-dramatized diary titles we see on DKos and even Booman's, and the over-emotional reactions that they sometimes encourage (seems to me there's been an increase in this over the last few months).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 05:41:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see your point about the media, afew, but I've been arguing for stories.  Perhaps we're seeing the same thing and calling it something different?

I think the media's job is to provide a narrative and context -- whenever we present a set of facts, we're telling a story.  Without narrative, everything's just a blob of isolated facts.  

In my view, this lack of either narrative or context is one of the big problems.  They tell personal stories sometimes.  They allow the political propagandists to tell their false stories, but otherwise they just report certain things out of context and the facts have little meaning.

I've actually been writing a post about this as it applies to Latin America.  We've had all these isolated reports -- uprisings in Bolivia and Ecuador, the back and forths with Chavez, removing Venezuela from our "compliant" category in the drug prohibition, Chavez moving his money to Europe -- it goes on and on, but what story is it telling?

Is it the story of an oppressed continent throwing off it's chains and being inspired by a good-hearted leader?  Is it the story of a wiley dictator stirring up rebellion?  Is it a build up to war or purely a political story?  What do all these moves mean and are they connected?

You probably know more in Europe than we do here.  Our press isn't connecting any of these dots.  In one week we learned (if we were paying very close attention) that Ecuador ousted their president and we also knew our gas prices went up.  And everyone heard about Pat Robertson calling for the assassination of Chavez.

But the press never told the story -- that Ecuador's uprising shut down oil production.  That they're one of our largest importers and the prices immediately went up.  That Chavez supported this move and Pat Robertson's remarks came the next day.

Anyway, all this to say I think telling stories is vital, but agree that the way the media has been doing it or not doing it is currently flawed.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 05:57:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The first thing to my mind is that narratives are imposed on us by those in power (political/military/corporate/financial) through the echo-chamber of the media - either compliant or manipulated, doesn't matter which. I think it's important to deconstruct and deny these narratives.

The second is that, though I think we should be clear about the message we want to give (what is this all about?), we need to be very wary (and very smart) in using narrative ourselves. To put it bluntly, we'd better be damned right in the story we choose to tell. It had better correspond to reality. Because we don't have the power they have to go on churning out hype. And because successful stories (by which I mean stories that grab people's imagination enough to move them even to action) are a responsibility.

Your example of Latin America is a good one. Dare we say that it's a continent rising up and throwing off its chains? That's a powerful narrative, but I wouldn't want to take the responsibility for trying to sell it. OTOH, stating the facts and linking up the dots (that the Ecuador uprising cut off oil supplies) corresponds to reality and tells the true story -- and therefore informs people usefully (which, we agree, the media are not doing).

I think what I'm saying is we need to dig out the facts and present them without manipulating them in some search for a compelling storyline. Otherwise we're just "framers". True stories is what we want, and, in a sense, they tell themselves...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Oct 16th, 2005 at 05:31:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, afew, I was just going to let this slide off into oblivion, but this particular argument has been niggling at me and now that the diary has been yanked back for a last gasp (thank you Bob and Colman), I'll muster a response.

Actually, I did respond over the weekend, but lost the comment and didn't have the energy to reconstruct it (and I run almost entirely on hot air, for you energy experts).  And actually, the original was so nice!  I don't know how I did it, but I basically said I thought you were completely wrong in the most complimentary fashion.  I just know I can't be that sweet again, I just don't have it in me.

And the thing is that I have such a high opinion of your opinions, that I really don't want to just come right out and contradict you.  So I'll beg your forgiveness in advance and just say it:  I think facts rarely speak for themselves except in the most simple of situations and, if taken out of context, the human brain will invent a narrative if none is provided. This isn't laziness, it's just how the brain sorts and stores information and makes sense of the world.

Providing a narrative is simply telling the story.  It's the only way to provide context, history, perspective and our accumulated knowledge to the facts.   In my view, is one of the most important functions of the media.  Just because they've perverted their job is no reason to disdain the function.

Now, I will reiterate that this has nothing whatsoever to do with manipulating, lying, hyping, or churning out propaganda, although it can be used for those things.  So can books, so can papers, so can statistics, so can words -- but we don't advocate getting rid of them.  We make distinctions and judgments.

I think one of the reasons these false narratives have taken hold is because no one is articulating a true narrative to counter it.  Facts and data won't do it alone -- people need both.

We often wonder why people are so stupid that they believe the false narrative of steady, strong, Republican leadership -- it is because the media is not reporting the true narrative.  And we often opine that the facts and data are all out there, often right in the very articles that are saying the opposite -- but the facts alone are not doing the job because, in general, the media isn't telling the story of Republican crimes and avarice (although I'm hopeful this is changing).

Someone needs to provide the alternate narrative.  That's actually what we here on the blogs have been doing and what we should be pushing the big media to do -- tell the story that matches the facts.  If the true story is being told, it'll trump the false narrative every time.  I know that bad people have been taking advantage of the format, but we can no more do away with narrative than with communication.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 05:20:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I went to your link and found you have to pay for the article. I wondered if you could tell me whether it had any stas/graphs for Australia, New Zealand etc., and if so, would you mind posting them either here, or emailing them to me?

I'd love to be able to compare what's going on in my neck of the woods to the other graphs you've posted here.

thanks, Imogen

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 06:18:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
at Unicef and look again. You can order a hard copy of the report (for free), and you can also download it for free as a PDF file (click on Download PDF to the right of View Cart). It's not dreary statistics, btw, it's well-presented and explained.

Australia and New Zealand are included.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 01:47:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, ok, cool! Sorry, I really had the impression you had to pay for it. I even don't mind reading (free) dreary statistics. ;-)

thanks for taking the time to reply.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 07:40:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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