Another great column by Thomasa Sowell: Sports Versus Politics

Here’s a key point:

Sports statistics are kept in a much more rational way than statistics about political issues. Have you ever seen statistics on what percentage of the home runs over the years have been hit by batters hitting in the .320s versus batters hitting in the .280s or the .340s? Not very likely.
Such statistics would make no sense, because different batters are in these brackets from one year to the next. You wouldn’t be comparing people, you would be comparing abstractions and mistaking those abstractions for people.
But, in politics and in commentaries on political issues, people talk incessantly about how “the top one percent” of income earners are getting more money or how the “bottom 20 percent” are falling behind. Yet the turnover in income brackets over a decade is at least as great as the turnover in batting average brackets.
In the course of a decade, the top 400 income earners include a couple of thousand people. The income received by the top 400 (as a statistical bracket) has risen, both absolutely and as a share of all income, even while the average income of the average person who was in that bracket at a given time has fallen by large amounts. How can this be? The short answer is turnover.
Turnover in sports creates no such confusion.
If players A, B and C all have batting averages in the .320s this year and, put together, they hit 100 home runs, while players X, Y and Z all have batting averages in the .320s next year, and together they hit 120 home runs, we could say that .320s hitters were increasing the number of home runs they hit. But A, B and C could easily be hitting less than 100 home runs next year.
It all depends on whether you are talking about what is happening in statistical brackets or what is happening to actual flesh-and-blood individuals who were in those brackets at one time but not another time. We understand that when we talk about sports statistics. But not when we talk about statistics on political issues like income differences.
Do our IQs just drop spontaneously when we turn to politics? Or are there many people in politics and the media with vested interests in misstating issues, and lots of experience in doing so? I think it is the latter, especially during an election year.

It’s always challenging trying to teach the macroeconomic concept of “aggregates” because student minds invariably default to “micro” thinking – they think about individuals, not the massed sum of all economic activity. I think I may try to use his sports analogies to get the idea across this year. Couldn’t hurt!

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