Monday, 30 May 2016
Politics - the vital importance of fact
I was there at the time!
I remember it well!
I was watching it live!
So... does that give me a greater right to claim that I was correct?
A few days ago (26 May to be precise), I replied to a tweet made by former finance minister Leszek Balcerowicz regarding the fall in the value of the złoty since President Duda took office, I tweeted "Warto zerknąć na wykres kursu złotego podczas expose PBS w dniu 18.11.2015. Spadek 8 groszy do euro w ciagu 50 minut." ("Worth looking at the chart tracking the zloty during Premier Beata Szydło's maiden speech on 18.11.2015. A fall of 8 groszy to the euro in 50 minutes."
Now, I trotted out this '8 grosze' fact from memory, having watched her live online while observing the zloty's fall in another window. I pressed 'send' without having checked the facts - which I had on the hard drive of the very laptop from which I was tweeting.
I got the direction right - but the facts wrong. The zloty did indeed fall during her speech, as markets began to size up what those promised social programmes would cost the state treasury. [See screenshot from Stooq.com , below, which I took after the premier had finished her speech.] But it was not a fall of 8 grosze to the euro. There was indeed an '8' in the data - but a) it was not euro but pounds I was following, and b) not an 8 grosze fall but a 2.5 grosze fall (from 6.0552 to 6.0807).
In this day and age, when access to market data from a day half a year ago is instantly accessible, I was brought to account very quickly. The zloty-euro min-max for that day was 4.2439-4.2640. (Thank you Jasiek!) So not eight but two. I exaggerated by a factor of four to make a political point.
Why is this important, and why am I bothering to confess to this? Because political discourse should be based on fact and not on faulty memory, spurred on by personal bias.
It's also important because the business of running a country is exceedingly complicated. Far more complicated than any 'let's tax foreign supermarkets' approach to fiscal policy. If you show disregard for facts and figures, it suggests you can't be trusted with the economy. You'll play fast and loose with statistics to make political statements, rather than to improve the country's macroeconomic condition.
As I wrote a few months ago, the nature of Twitter is such that it's easy to throw in some crowd-pleasing fact that gets retweeted and liked lots of times and adds grist to the mill - but is essentially wrong. Be it "240,000 people marching in the KOD rally", when pro-KOD Gazeta Wyborcza took the trouble to painstakingly count each head, frame by frame and came up with the figure of 55,600. So the Warsaw city authorities overestimated the true number by a factor of four. It was still a big crowd. It was still a big fall in value. But exaggerating wildly, you weaken a good point.
The same thing goes for the Brexit debate, which is heating up in the final four weeks.
The political discourse between populist Hierarchs and the democratic Network is by its nature asymmetrical. If you avoid hate-speech and lies, what are you left with? Patiently expounding the facts. Correctly. Repeatedly.
So it's worth checking the facts before pressing the 'send' button. At least you know you have a leg to stand on.
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