"LIES, D--D LIES, STATISTICS"
Robert C. Binkley, in collaboration with Mervyn Crobaugh, writing in The New Republic, brings to light an interesting analysis of the findings of the National Economy League. As the co-authors point out, the League has widely advertised their statistical results, which show, for instance, that the government receives $500 every year from the average family, and that every household is responsible for a $1000 share of the government debt. On the basis of these and similar calculations, the League "counts it a grievance that the government activities have not shrunk with the declining business index." Yet the authors of the article in question show that by calculations from the same figures as those which the League used, the average family can be proved to receive $500 a year from the government, and to possess one $1000 government bond. In addition, one third of the money spent in the country comes, directly or indirectly from the government.
The Economic League has accomplished much in calling attention to government expenditures, and in creating what is essentially a lobby for reducing them. One, indeed, may deprecate the necessity for employing such a tool as the lobby; nevertheless, it is undeniable that that tool has been, in many respects, a valuable one. But by issuing figures, like the ones above, which can easily be turned to the support of the opposition, the League has weakened its own case, leaving an inviting and vulnerable opening to those who are opposed, on one ground or another, to government cuts.
But what is more to the point, the League has fallen a prey to the prevalent weakness for "significant figures" and catch-words at the very time when the need for clear thinking is greatest. "Technocracy," which has furnished a source of news to every periodical in the nation, but which has finally exploded in a cloud of misunderstanding and wasted breath, is merely a more extreme example of this predilection for grandstand play. It cannot be maintained that all the exponents of startling new theories are merely seeking remuneration; many are admittedly altruistic. But a cause which, like that of the Economic League, is fundamentally sound should be guided in every case by the principles of intellectual moderation, for its own safekeeping as well as for that of the people at large.