Centre of the Continent

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Archive for Tom Broadbeck

Statistics Lesson

There is absolutely no credibility to Tom Broadbeck’s weekend column bashing the provincial government for it’s deficit. Mr. Broadbeck offers absolutely no context for the numbers that he presents and any figure out of context is meaningless. When I was a very young goaltender, I had a goals against average of 0.02 goals per game. “Wow”, you might say, “that’s spectacular!” Actually, I was horrible. I usually got one or two shots a game and most of them came from far beyond the blue line. That is context. It is information that when missing makes the numbers meaningless or worse totally misrepresentative.

First, let’s look at his deficit claim of $511 million dollars for 2010/11. My research puts it around $545 million but that discrepancy aside, what does it really mean? Below is a chart I compiled of the ten provinces and their shortfalls for the current fiscal period.


Deficit 2010/11 GDP 2011 (est.) Deficit % of GDP
Alberta 4,750,000,000 192,841,000,000 2.46%
British Columbia 1,720,000,000 172,369,000,000 1.00%
Manitoba 545,000,000 44,551,000,000 1.22%
New Brunswick 749,000,000 24,422,000,000 3.07%
Newfoundland 194,000,000 19,937,000,000 0.97%
Nova Scotia 222,000,000 29,982,000,000 0.74%
Ontario 19,700,000,000 542,545,000,000 3.63%
PEI 55,000,000 4,353,000,000 1.26%
Quebec* 4,500,000,000 281,675,000,000 1.60%
Saskatchewan** -20,000,000 19,937,000,000 n/a




TOTAL 32,415,000,000 1,332,612,000,000 2.43%









*Includes $8.3 billion in HST Federal Transfers
** Budget only shows surplus because Saskatchewan dipped into it’s “Rainy Day Fund”)

As a percentage of our gross domestic product (GDP) it is only 1.22 percent. That debt to output ratio is pretty good. It puts us in fourth place out of the ten provinces and well below the national average. In some further research also found that as a percentage of provincial revenue, we are also in fourth place. Frankly, that’s not too shabby for our small prairie province. What Mr. Broadbeck also doesn’t tell you is that “the province’s out-of-control” deficit is actually lower this year then last and though 2014 is expected to continue to fall. To give even more information to work with, here’s what RBC’s economic evaluation for June 2011 had to say:

Carried by a wave of capital investment and solid demand for
the products and services produced in their province, Alberta, Saskatchewan,
and Manitoba are set to achieve above-average growth this year.

Provincial Forecast – RBC Financial (link below)

Economic growth means more revenue. More revenue allows more spending. No provincial government nor the federal is running in the black right now. That’s to be expected when there is an economic downturn. If the price to achieve solid economic growth is running a deficit a little over one percent of our GDP, who in their right mind would argue that?

Context. What the column likes to bring in as some sort of counterpoint to the deficit claim is a 10.8% increase in spending from 2009 to 2011. Without the a comparison to revenue it’s just a number. My very rough calculations put a revenue increase of nearly 7% over the same period. So there is a real difference of less then 4%. Coming out of a global recession is that so horribly bad?

No.

It’s quite good actually.

Endnotes:

NDP Say: Charge It! – Winnipeg Sun — Saturday, July 9, 2011 – http://www.winnipegsun.com/2011/07/09/ndp-say-charge-it

Most provinces in deficit position – CBC News – Monday, May 3, 2010 – http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2010/04/29/f-provincial-deficits.html

Provincial Forecast – RBC Financial — http://www.rbc.com/economics/market/pdf/provfcst.pdf

Government of Manitoba Budget Summary – 2009 – http://www.gov.mb.ca/finance/budget09/papers/r_and_e.pdf

Government of Manitoba Budget Summary – 2011 –http://www.gov.mb.ca/finance/budget11/papers/r_and_e.pdf

New Jack City? … or “How To Sell A Tabloid 101”

An Analysis of the June 8, 2011 Winnipeg Sun Lead Story

Wow.

I must live in the most dangerous city in the world. How do I do it? I mean, and survive?

The Winnipeg Sun loves a good crime story and today is just that – a story. Pumped up by “Angry” Tom Broadbeck’s opinion that the responsibility for crime lies entirely with the provincial NDP in Manitoba. The Sun is a great believer in the “shock and awe” school of journalism. What that means is that they pick a single statistic and / or an example of a horrible crime to fit their agenda. Today’s rag is no exception.

PAGE 1

Headline: “NEW JACK CITY” and a photo “illustration” of a man being dragged from his car. Basically a catch-phrase and a dramatization intended to shock readers in believing that this is such a common crime that they caught it on film. Problem is, they didn’t. The “illustration” is just that. It could have been drawn by a fantasy artist. It’s not even based on an actual incident. It “illustrates” something close to a worse case scenario. As long as you’re into fictionalizing the news boys, hire some effects artists and get some fake blood. Just saying — you’re not even doing a good job at doing a bad job.

PAGE 4

Don’t open with any sort of thought. Oh no … that might allow a reader to think. Open with the heart-wrenching story of a woman who was carjacked in 2009. The story is tragic as are all the stories of victims. My heart goes out to each and every one. But as for value in a news item it has little. This is what anyone teaching high school level statistics calls anecdotal. It’s good for raising a reader’s blood pressure but serves no other purpose. But there are some real numbers so let’s not leave them out.

In the middle of the page there is a chart that shows the stats for car-jacking incidents from 2004 through 2010. There are many problems with said chart. First, what does it actually refer to? Reported carjackings? Attempted? Failed? There’s more to simple numbers then meets the eye. Also, what was happening before 2004? Was the trend rising or falling? Is this just a statistical blip? We have no way of knowing. Any real analysis needs a much bigger picture then  six years. The chart starts in 2004 at 13, 2005 – 25 (+12), 2006 – 37 (+12) 2007 – 50 (+13). Then in 2008 it drops to 38, spikes at 59 in 2009 and back to 49 in 2010.1

Now, the Sun wants you to believe that we can blame the MPI car immobilizer program for the rise in carjackings. There’s one problem with that and their own chart shows it – the immobilizer program began in 2007. If the rise in incidents had even continued at even the same pace after the program as it had been before then the number for 2010 should have been much higher. From 2004 to 2007 the number increased by 37. If I add 37 to the 2007 number, it adds up to 87, not 49. The chart clearly shows that the numbers were increasing more rapidly BEFORE the immobilizer program. If you were to actually plot a curve for the average rate of increase, it has been dropping since 2007. I will state again, that is since the MPI started the program. All that aside, blaming MPI for this crime is like blaming me for my neighbour getting robbed because I installed a better lock on my door. It just doesn’t make any sense.

PAGE 5

Oh Tom. What ever happened to you to make you so angry? I’ll say your angry because it seems to cloud your judgement so often. Today, you followed your paper’s pattern to the letter. You opened your column with the story of a car-jacking. Again, while I’ll assume it’s a true story, it’s anecdotal. To that was added another art-project “Illustration”. Your theory is that to stop crime, put all criminals behind bars longer. That doesn’t work and there’s evidence to back it up. You just delay the inevitable. They will get out eventually and they will commit crimes. Whether it be five years or ten years of twenty years down the road. You (and your aging readers) just hope to keep them in long enough that you won’t have to deal with it. Crime itself is an economic system. Just like any other economic system, as long as there is a demand, someone will attempt to supply. Throw away a criminal and another will take his place. The threat of punishment has been shown unequivocally not to deter. Shut down an avenue of supply and criminals will find another. Why? Because it makes economic and social sense to do so. The only real solution is to make crime unattractive and unprofitable and to replace it with something that is more so.

In 1989 Italy released all offenders with less then three years remaining on their sentences. These criminals were effectively given “suspended” sentences for the remainder of their time. The longer the time remaining, the longer the threatened punishment and the more effective the threat was. With an important exception – dangerous criminals. The threat had no effect whatsoever on the most dangerous offenders.2 Would carjackers be considered dangerous? I would think so.

Let’s look at the most extreme deterrence – death. In the United States, numbers consistently show that murder rates in states without the death penalty are invariably lower then in states with the death penalty. Violence begets violence.3 

A huge 1997 report from the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland to the United States Congress4  (which was largely ignored) looked at every possible crime prevention technique. In the end, there was no correlation between the threat of longer sentences and lowering the crime rate. In fact, the states with the highest incarceration rates and the stiffest sentences remained the states with the highest crime rates. This report looked at decades of data from hundreds of sources. I’m afraid Tom, that six years of stats from one crime doesn’t quite cut it. All columnists should be required to do a little research before they decide that they know what’s best for the criminal justice system. It’s easy to yell and scream and demand vengeance. It takes thought and deliberate planning to actually try and solve a problem.

Overall, crime rates have been falling steadily since the early 90’s and even violent crimes that were lagging behind in their secession have levelled off.5 Unfortunately, that doesn’t sell ad space. One bold headline spouting a half-truth apparently does.

I’m not a “bleeding-heart liberal” mind you. I actually support harsh penalties for harsh crimes. I believe that violent repeat offenders that don’t show remorse or change in behaviour should rarely see the light of day. What I don’t believe is that this will actually lower crime rates. Crime is power, power will fill a void. To tackle crime you have to deal with the reasons the crime is happening. The social causes. The economic need. Youth turn to gangs and crime because they see no other direction to go. As distorted as this view may be, in their minds it is reality. No threat of incarceration or even capital punishment will change that. The same university report mentioned above specifically looked at “scared straight” programs were at risk youth were given a chance to see what life incarcerated was really like and there was shown little effect on the rates of offending for these youth. Right or wrong, the criminals believe that the risk is worth the possible pay-off and that anything that happens can’t be worse then how they perceive their life is now.6

Ask any medical professional and they will tell you that the best way to prevent an infection is to not have conditions that foster it’s growth in the first place. In risky situations be sure to wash your hands and be careful not to cross-contaminate. Crime as a disease is no different. Clean the environment and build up resistance through the development of the community as a whole. Don’t ignore an issue as they are like wounds in this analogy – prone to deadly outbreaks if left alone. Separation from the infected area (amputation) is only a last resort.

Finally, the tabloid media has to take some of the blame for making crime cool. It’s how to get noticed. Want to be on the front page of the Sun? Commit a crime. Do some good for the community and Laurie Mustard gives you a paragraph on page six.

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Works Cited:

1 The Winnipeg Sun, Wednesday, June 8, 2011 – Pg. 2 (Source: Winnipeg Police Service?)

2 C. Montaldo, Do Stiffer Sentences Act as a Crime Deterrent?, About.com Crime / Punishment (Original Italian study published in the Journal of Political Economy)

3 Deterrence: States Without the Death Penalty Have Had Consistently Lower Murder Rates, Death Penalty Information Centre (With data from the US Census and the FBI)

4,6 Sherman, L. W., Gottfredson, D., MacKenzie, D., Eck, H., Reuter, P., & Bushway, S.
(1997). Preventing Crime: What works, what doesn’t work, what’s promising. National
Institute of Justice. Retrieved June 8, 2011 from http://www.ncjrs.org/works/

5 Statistics Canada, Exploring Crime Patterns in Canada, (2005) Catalogue no. 85-561-MWE2005005