Categories
Finances Political Commentary

The old classic, lying with statistics

Replied to Exaggerating China’s military spending, St. Louis Fed breaks all statistical rules with misleading graph (geopoliticaleconomy.com)

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis published a jaw-droppingly misleading graph that portrays China as spending more on its military than the US. In reality, the Pentagon’s budget is roughly three times larger.

In an accompanying report, the St. Louis Fed admitted that China’s 2021 defense spending was just 1.7% of GDP, “which was the lowest share among the six nations in the figure”.

Yay! I love Actual Propaganda! With a good ol dose of racist fearmongering 🙃

My Biostatistics teacher in college devoted our entire first lecture to discussing ways you could lie with data, so we would be better able to recognize it — and hopefully, not do it.

If we acknowledged how much we waste on bloated military spending, we would have to come to grips with our spending priorities. We would have to acknowledge what we don’t buy with that money. Some of that money could help stop children from going hungry, or keep diabetic people (who aren’t on Medicaid) from dying for lack of affordable medicine 🤷‍♀️ (To name some real problems in the US that shouldn’t be controversial yet somehow are.)

A much more accurate graphic created by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation shows how, as of 2022, the United States spent more on its military than the next nine largest spenders combined – including China, India, the UK, Russia, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea (and several of these countries are close US allies).

Some of what our $$$$$$$ military spending buys is impressive: a rapid response force that can be wheels up in under 18 hours (the logistics of that alone are mind-blowing), a sophisticated anti-tank weapon that still beats out everything anyone else has and is making a huge impact in Ukraine, and development of GPS.

Preserving self-governance in Ukraine A+++++++ But mayyyyybe we could spare some of the $850 billion we’re spending on the military this year to care directly for people?

Categories
Science

Safety through standardization

Watched The US Government Sells Human Poop from YouTube

This government warehouse keeps our entire society up to standard.

You’re right, I *am* glad that the machines to run my bloodwork are calibrated against known blood samples, and I am glad that steel used for building bridges is standardized and QC’d. Thanks government!

Categories
Future Building Political Commentary Society

Public spending needs context

Replied to

It’s easy to scoff at big projects and think they’re wasting tons of money, but there are valid reasons public projects cost a lot.

People are not good at thinking at scale. Even small roads through neighborhoods are like 25 feet wide, yeah it’s going to cost a bit to maintain an entire city’s roads. It’s also overwhelming how many people live near you who are sharing those costs — my city doesn’t feel that big, but 90,000 people live here, over 40,000 households.

I saw an article recently complaining that it takes way longer to build things now than in the past. Some of that is staffing limitations causing permitting delays, yes. *cough* I don’t hear the same people calling for higher development fees to cover increased staffing *cough* But some delays come from public process requirements. It’s important to give people a chance to hear about and comment on projects that will affect them — as much as I hate NIMBYs, in the past a lack of public process has allowed racist development decisions, so public process is important for equity. There are also environmental permitting requirements — so many impacts are externalities that the community will bear the costs of rather than the developer, so it seems fair to ask developers to evaluate and limit those impacts upfront. Inspections and plan review are also needed, because whatever gets built now, people will have to use for decades to come, and shortcuts can have bad long-term impacts, and cost-cutting can increase a building’s carbon footprint for its lifespan.

Government is concerned with protecting the public good, whereas developers are focused on the bottom line. Yes, if we let developers do whatever they wanted they’d make more money — and we’d get a city with no trees, mostly paved so rain runoff is terrible and streams become unlivable for fish, built using the cheapest (and likely most carbon-intensive) materials.

The bigger issue is that people seem to have lost touch with doing things for the common good — back to our society’s toxic individualism. The same attitude that makes people reluctant to pay for programs they don’t use also makes them reluctant to do things that benefit others at little cost to themselves, like wearing masks on public transportation.

Categories
Outreach

Internal comms as external comms

Liked Why these Welsh weeknotes are so good (gilest.org)

These notes are published on the web. They’re open. They’re external comms as well as internal governance.

This is an attribute of good agile communication: rather than doing the work, then crafting careful PR-style messages about how brilliant it is, your task is different. You do the work, and you peel back the wrappings so that the outside world can peer in and see for themselves how brilliant it is.

Categories
Future Building

A Surveillance Free Public

In another angle of how government should work differently than businesses, here’s one that should have occurred to me: government websites should be surveillance free.

I removed analytics from my personal blog a little over a year ago. But it didn’t occur to me that I could do anything about the local government where I work.

As a public servant, I need to try to push my city to think about what is best for our residents. The City is redoing its website right now and I’d bet we’re continuing to use Google Analytics on the new platform. I can plant a seed of thought at the least.

Does the value staff and Council get in knowing how many people visit a page or which pages see the most traffic outweigh the cost to our residents in providing that data to Google? I’d argue no. Analytics do help staff improve the usability of our website but probably not enough to justify the cost of being surveilled on a government website.

Would many people in my tech-sector town (which houses a Google office) bat an eye that their data were being collected on the city website? Probably not, but that doesn’t give us a pass. And those who don’t want to share their data shouldn’t have limited access to government services. We have an opportunity to do better by our residents, to be leaders in protecting our residents’ privacy.