Deceived by Surveys and Statistics
Surveys studies are done to get as close as possible to the truth about all aspects of life, be it social, cultural, commercial or political.
Obviously survey results are not meant to read as definitive, but rather as predictive. The true test of a survey’s success lies in its approximation to the developments that will take after the survey is taken and analyzed.
Surveys that are taken in societies that are modern, in peace with itself, and not based on mutual deception and deceit tend to give more affective, instructive and seminal results. Those taken in societies that are backwards in civic relations, feeding from tensions, thriving on problems and intrigues, however, tend to produce results that are in tandem with these qualities and therefore, often unhealthy, questionable and open to questions.
The feat of any survey taken depends on the girth of its base, the quantity of its respondents and the relevancy of its queries. If, for example, the study aims to yield a commercial, social, cultural or political benefit, then the questions will be asked, the responses will be shaped and the evaluations will be interpreted accordingly. Such a survey and its results will obviously be unhealthy, and they are a disease in the third world.
Our surveys in Turkey are unfortunately blemished as they are generally loose in their scope, topical in their respondents and problematic in their results.
HOW ABOUT THE STATISTICS?
So that’s the status of our survey-dom, but how about out statistical landscape? Well, statistics are not like surveys. Surveys are influenced by the questions, the people the questions are addressed, and the evaluations of these answers. Statistics, on the other hand, is a science. At least it is a scientific undertaking. Numbers, information and data are put on paper, they are then examined and analyzed. Since it is a scientific method, the numbers cannot be altered, the standards cannont be changed and the results cannot be adjusted according to will.
When it comes to Turkey, however, we dilute statistics as a science just as we do it in surveys.
For example, our Minister of Economy puts the GDP growth at 3% 4-5, but somehow the numbers magically becomes 5-5.5% a few months later. What in the world could have ignited the economy to achieve 2-2.5% growth in less than six months? What kind of statistics is that? Does anyone know our per capita income? You can ask a merchant, an industrialist, a business person, a scientist, actually anyone who are actually interested in this number, and you will receive as many various answers to the same questions as the number of people you ask. Just 3-4 years ago we were talking about USD8,000 whereas this number is currently put at USD11,500. What has taken place in the last three years that caused a jump of USD3,000 in per capita income? Not to mention the 3 million refugees that were taken in during the same period which shot up our population, and thus the denominator of our GDP, from 77 to 80 million range. It is like a joke! Just these two numbers should be sufficient enough to see where we stand when it comes to official statistics.
These are hard to stomach. Still you see our statesmen, our politicians, our bureaucrats in meetings, in conference halls, on television talking loudly about how our economy is growing, how fast we are developing, that we have achieved miraculous levels of GDP and per capita income growth. They must think that what they mutter becomes closer to the truth the louder they spam their blurb.
You don’t need to be an economist or know math to know that these numbers are not real, to know that we are kying to ourselves and to the outside world. Just a little wisdom and common sense will suffice. But when you put your faith rather than your acumen in politicians, you will be taken by these lies easily. You just believe and take comfort in your faith.
LIVING WITH SURVEYS AND STATISTICS
We also suffer from a delusional disorder when it comes to evaluate survey and statistics results. We are watching in awe as we witness people from different backgrounds, schools of thought and beliefs interpret the same strictly mathematical results in their own way.
We hear different versions of the same country on the same date and time, on the same statistical results in different television channels.
The numbers are out there, the data is clear: the situation in Turkey is either positive (though unlikely), or negative. It cannot be both. It is either “if these number are true, we are screwed. But that man paints a rosy picture of Turkey,” or “if these numbers are true, then why is that man painting such a stark picture.”
It is almost impossible to understand and read Turkey as it stands.
STRATEGICAL ERRORS AND TRUTHS
With the status in its current quo, how are we expected to agree on the strategies we will come up with and the decisions we will take in the steps we must take as a country and nation?
Are we developing? Are we growing? Is our growth rate sustainable?
All countries will sooner or later develop to a certain extent. When we put aside some specific situations such as the declines in Sub-Saharan Africa, ruinous post-war periods, and the occasional global recessions, all countries grow economically. And in a world where every country is growing, what you consider as the measure of growth is irrelevant. What matters is how much you grow when compared to other countries. You may take as yardstick the growths in Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, the Pacific Rim, Northern America, Australia and New Zealand, for example. Boasting about how fast we are growing and how other countries are envious of our success will not change the fact that we are growing poorer. In a world when every other country is growing to some extent, it doesn’t matter how much you grow by your own standards. What matters is how much you are growing and where your GDP stands in comparison to others.
I hereby present a graph by OECD that covers the period between 1970-2005. It shows the change in per capita income in OECD as well as some non-member countries. What is shows us is that Turkey kept a trend until 1998 after which it suffered from economic crises that led her to drop in her standing with the OECD members, and that the gap is still widening. The graph shows a deep divide between the truth and what politicians are saying.
We have to evaluate our current situation honestly before we do anything else. A society unaware of where it stands cannot discuss the reasons for it and the solutions that will take us out of the mess.