If Only Ed Conway Knew His Economics


Ed Conway is correct in that there is no great inequality crisis – of either income or wealth. But that doesn’t excuse these two blunders:

Look at the gross income divide, in other words the gap before the government gets involved, and the UK and US look almost identical: very unequal indeed. But look again once taxes are deducted and benefits distributed and suddenly it’s a different story: after tax and benefits, US inequality is not much lower than before, while Britain’s income divide diminishes considerably.

The US inequality figures are almost always quoted before the impact of redistribution is counted. The EITC, Medicaid, Section 8 vouchers, food stamps – they’re all goods and services in kind. As such they’re not counted in the Gini after redistribution. It’s odd but there we are. That usual US figure counts only cash redistribution, something the US welfare system does very little of. The effect of this is some 9 or 10 off the Gini. A substantial change really, moving something at 0.48 to more like 0.38 or 0.39.

Then there’s this:

Back in the 1970s economic historians argued over whether the rise in inequality during the early Industrial Revolution was a good thing — presaging higher income growth — or a bad thing, causing genuine human suffering. In the end the answer was to be found in the most unlikely of all measures: a tape measure. It turned out that during the period in question the average English soldier’s height dropped sharply, suggesting malnutrition, ill health and dangerous levels of deprivation.

Not really. The change was from a small number of volunteers to the general conscription of the society. But this?

So here’s one to leave you with. In the latest year the average height of an English man fell from 175.6cm to 175.3cm. That might not sound like much but it is the biggest annual fall since records began in 1993. That sounds rather alarming, but so far we have scant analysis on what it implies for health or indeed economic outcomes. The sooner we drag ourselves away from our imaginary economic inequality crisis and focus on this stuff, the better.

To focus on that then:

At the time of the UK census conducted in April 2001, 8.3 percent of the country’s population were foreign-born…. In 2005, the foreign-born population was estimated at 9.1 percent, compared to a European Union average of 8.6 percent.[4] The 2011 census recorded 7,337,139 foreign-born residents in England, corresponding to 13.8 percent of the population.

A substantial portion of that immigration has been South Asian peasantry. You know, those reknowned for their height and general physical size?

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Any one who seriously thinks the average height in the UK fell year on year is utterly bonkers.

The claim is around a difference of 0.3cm. That’s 0.2%, which is obviously just a sampling difference.


A substantial portion of that immigration has been South Asian peasantry. You know, those reknowned for their height and general physical size?

There was a recent period of leftie hand-wringing over the UK’s decline in average life expectancy – possibly a similar effect manifesting itself?