Back to High School for English

Written By: - Date published: 6:20 am, June 15th, 2011 - 85 comments
Categories: bill english, education, wages - Tags:

My jaw dropped when I heard this listening to Question Time yesterday:

Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he understand that real average wages go up when high-income earners get massive tax cuts-$1,000 a week, in his case, and low-income workers lose their jobs?

Hon Bill English: No, I do not understand that, because it is not true.

Does English really not understand this, or does he just not want to acknowledge the truth?

The points that Mallard rises are undeniably true and pretty basic stuff. Of course giving tax cuts to the rich while the poor are losing their jobs means the average wage goes up even though most are no better off and some are worse off.

English must know this but doesn’t want to admit it because his ludicrous claim that Kiwis are better off despite 3 years of recession or near recession and rapidly rising prices relies on using the average after-tax full-time wage as his measure of Kiwi incomes. When you look at broader measures like the median household income, which captures all income, not just that of full-time workers, you see that incomes have clearly fallen. Which is what you would expect given the state of the economy.

Honestly, who feels 10% better off than 3 years ago? Very few people I would suggest, but English uses tricky statistics to avoid reality in favour of spin.

I remember my maths teacher in 3rd form explaining to us the different limitations of using averages (ie means), medians, and modes.

Two of the limitations of averages are relevant.

Our teacher had 10 of us line up at the front of the class and measured our heights. From that she calculated an average.

Then, she got the tallest boy to stand on a chair and measured his height again. He was now 50cm higher. The average of the ten kids went up 5cm. But nearly all of were the same height.

That was the first lesson: average does not mean typical, it can be influenced by movements in outliers.

Next, the teacher told the shortest 2 kids to sit down. The average height of the standing kids rose even though none of the heights of those remaining standing had changed.

That was the second lesson: a change in the composition of your population can distort the average even though the values of the individuals within the population haven’t changed.

Pretty simple stuff.

Does English need to go back to High School?

– Bright Red

85 comments on “Back to High School for English”

  1. Lazy Susan 1

    Would that be the same English who reduced the incentives from Kiwisaver to “encourage saving” and didn’t know where he lived? I think High School might be setting the bar a bit high – maybe back to Primary.

    • Jim Nald 1.1

      Sheesh. Is he for real about this?
      Or trying to put us in two minds whether he is being double dipton or dipstick.

    • National’s problem – any neo-liberal party’s problem – is that ideology (faith, actually…) makes the facts irrelevant. It is no accident that parties most likely to be attractive to religious people demonstrate a powerful and dangerous capacity to ignore evidence and believe whatever they want…..just because. Religion as we know it wouldn’t exist otherwise. Neo-liberalism has become a religion for people who don’t really understand economics is behaviour and the consequences of behaviour are not always good or optimal.

  2. Peter 2

    Household incomes is said to be the far more meaningful measure.

  3. ghostwhowalksnz 3

    Surely the way to pin the lying prick down is to ask about ‘ wage bands’.- $25,000-30,000 and so on.

    And to rub salt in the wound , ask for ‘treasurys figures’ not his own office.

  4. The fact that average wage figures are skewed upwards by a relatively small number of very high earners is exactly the reason the govt uses it rather than the median – and exactly why English pretends it’s impervious to being skewed, despite the fairly obvious fact that it isn’t. Are there politicians anywhere who won’t use a bullshit figure for how well off the voters are, if the real figure would be lower?

    • lprent 4.1

      Yep I have seen some bullshit numbers used inappropiately from politicians. However this is the first time I have seen a minister of finance confess that they didn’t understand basic statistics.

      Likke BR, my jaw dropped when I read that. At many levels, I suddenly got worried about the money I was giving to him to play with.

      What else doesn’t he understand? The difference between the states bank accounts and his own?

      • I don’t believe for a moment that he fails to understand it. I believe he’s assuming no-one in the media will call him on such an obvious and blatant lie – unfortunately, that’s probably a very safe assumption on his part.

  5. ZeeBop 5

    Citizens seek help from WINZ because they have problem making ends meet. So National have decided that NZ international obligations to provide that assistance requires testing. Not just testing when the benefit is first applied for, but again and again and again. Just to make sure that the citizen knows that they are a failure, again, and again, and again. This of course costs more money to provide staff to ask, again, and again, and again for information they already have. Now to add to this tragedy National have decided to extend this regime to those who have medical problems, and have a good laugh asking them, again, and again, and again.
    This is torture. State torture. Humiliation. And how does National justify it? Well they tell citizens that the citizen’s problem is just that, the citizen apply for the benefits ‘problem’. So, to put it more clearly, a citizen goes to get their rightful entitlement to support their income and they can be rejected because they have a problem that would entitle them to paid support. And therein lies the breach of Human Rights, the right to paid support isn’t conditional on the recipient, its conditional on the relative poverty to the rest of society. So when English tells us he doesn’t know that tax cuts for the top earners means the average disposal-able income goes up, he also is going to pay for it by breaching Human Rights of the poorest by reducing their right to basic social security (and drive down wages at the other end of the income scale).
    So when you ask where is the Human Rights Commissioner, you’ll know the answer, spending his tax cuts bonus paid for by taxpayers who now are carrying a larger burden of the tax take because National reduce the top band.

  6. Craig Glen Eden 6

    This is a shocking admission from English why have the media not started asking questions of him or his Boss? Would any one have a person working in accounts who dosent understand the difference between average and median average. Quite simply this is outrageous.

  7. Jenny 7

    Who said that he used statistics?

    He may have just done a vox pop of the sort of people he meets everyday, probably millionaires all.

    Insulated inside this incestuous little circle of the population, English could honestly be of the opinion that National’s policies were working and incomes were growing.

    • Carol 7.1

      Agreed. National is all spin, PR and self-congratulations, and avoidance of economic and financial realities as experienced by the majority of kiwis, especially those on the lower incomes. I saw Blingish’s performance on TV yesterday and, apart from his dissembling, I was increasingly POed by the irritating blond who is always positioned behind the top Nat brass during Qu-Time. She behaves like a sycophantic, visual echo – a cheerleading Greek-bot chorus who is part of the PR spin machine designed to present a positive face to Nat, whatever tripe they are presenting as facts.

      • Jum 7.1.1

        I’ve watched her too.

        She can’t close her mouth properly and she laughs at the opposition over such matters as Finlayson telling New Zealanders that because NActMU is in power that the Hobbit is more important than fair workplace rules; that it’s funny for English and Key to lie in answer to questions like how fair the pay structure is for CEOs and minimum wage earners and for the Speaker to help them do so.

        Occasionally, she lets her guard down and you see the real nastiness of the character, The arrogance and the ignorance of plain facts and the NAct spinning of lies never interferes in her ‘smile’ but the eyes never lie.

  8. nadis 8

    Actually, English is correct if he is answering the part of the question about wage cuts raising the average wage – they dont. This is yet another example of a stupidly worded question (dont worry, National was just as guilty when in opposition).

    Income stats gathered by IRD and Dept of Statistics are pre-tax. Ergo, tax levels have no effect on income levels as measured by department of stats.

    Don’t get confused by the word “real”. That implies inflation adjusted not what you really get in your hand after tax. Browse some of the user guides on the Dept of Stats website.

    English is perfectly correct, had Mallard asked a question regarding after tax incomes, then he would (or should) have got a different answer. English’s answer is one that Cullen would have been proud of.

    • freedom 8.1

      sorry Nadis but do you read what you write?  If pre-tax is your start point, there is still the small issue of those pesky growing unemployment figures which does raise the ‘average’ number describing the income of wage earners
       
      less workers means a smaller pool of income earners
      which means a higher average,

    • Lanthanide 8.2

      nadis – Trevor asked only 1 question. The case where ministers are allowed to answer only 1 question out of a group of questions is when a group of questions is asked.
       
      If you read the quote, you will see there is only a single question mark – only a single question. The question has an “and” in it, but it is still only one question.

    • Bunji 8.3

      There’s a dissonance between what English repeatedly quotes as his income figures (average, after-tax, only those working, excluding any overtime etc), and what his answer to this question is though. If he’s going to refer to ‘real’ wages as his skewed statistic all the time in the media, it’s incredibly slippery at best (if not downright dishonest) to suddenly go back to everyone else’s definitions in parliament…

    • Blighty 8.4

      um, where is English asked about wage cuts?

      “Does he understand that real average wages go up when high-income earners get massive tax cuts-$1,000 a week, in his case, and low-income workers lose their jobs?”

  9. Splitting Hairs 9

    The only part of Mallard’s question that is accurate is that as lower income people lose jobs average wage rates are affected. His reference to tax change effects on wage rates is inaccurate, other things being equal. He poorly phrased his question giving English an out.

    Aftertax income is affected by changes in tax rates but before tax income isn’t, other things being equal. Wage rates and hours worked help determine the size of a person’s before tax income. They don’t determine the size of a person’s aftertax income – tax rates and ACC levies do. Hence people receiving tax cuts doesn’t necessarily affect their wage rates. But if it did it may be more likely to depress wage rate increases over time as businesses try to justify lower increases because earners are taking home more of their aftertax wage income.

    The reference to “real” is a red herring – the same is true for either nominal or real wage rates.

    It’s also interesting that he refers to high income earners “being on wages” – they generally aren’t – they are on salaries. Stats NZ makes this distinction between wage and salary earners.

    Happy to be corrected…

    And for the rabid lefties on here I’m not suggesting the general thrust of Mallard’s enquiry is incorrect – merely how he phrased it.

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      WTF English has no idea neither do you

      Hence people receiving tax cuts doesn’t necessarily affect their wage rates. But if it did it may be more likely to depress wage rate increases over time as businesses try to justify lower increases because earners are taking home more of their aftertax wage income.

      THis is particularly stupid rationalising. You did get one thing right though, people receiving tax cuts may not actually be any better off. That was the case for about 50% of workers. The top 5% of earners did bloody well though thank you.

      • Splitting Hairs 9.1.1

        As I said I’m happy to be corrected but thus far you haven’t contributed anything that suggests my analysis is incorrect… Perhaps you can step through how changes in tax rates actually affect wage rates. I do enjoy how you try to stay in”viper” character so indulge me.

        • freedom 9.1.1.1

          Pre-tax or Post-tax it is the same mathematical law, there are no hairs to split.  Are you honestly defending a man who is ignoring basic mathematics that many primary school children easily comprehend.

          • Colonial Viper 9.1.1.1.1

            🙂

            NATs are screwed. The more they try this obfuscation tactic the more people are going to look into their wallets and realise that there is no extra money there, despite what English is claiming.

            Which makes English a liar.

          • Splitting Hairs 9.1.1.1.2

            As I said in my first post:

            1) lower income people losing their jobs will impact on average wage rates as it does change the population variable being measured – so I agree with that
            2) Changes in tax rates don’t affect wage rates to any meaningful degree in the short-term (wage rates are the dependent variable in Mallard’s question)
            3) Given that,Mallard phrased his question poorly by suggesting that changes in tax rates (independent variable) do affect average wage rates (dependent variable)
            4) Hence, English could answer as he did
            5) I’m not disagreeing with Mallard’s general thrust of enquiry ie that people are most likely by and large not better off on average than they were a few years ago – the reasons for that are complex

            In other words Mallard tried to establish a causal relationship between two independent variables and a dependent variable – he screwed up on one independent variable – hence the relationship outlined in the question is not true as English answered.

            But again happy to be corrected but thus far all the responses have been hubris. Please educate me on the mathematical law as it might be the new thing I learn for the day.

            • Colonial Viper 9.1.1.1.2.1

              ?

              Yes you can blame the questioner for not being pedantic enough. Or not using wording sufficiently tight from a legal languaging standpoint.

              Doesn’t change the fact that English was never going to tell the truth about the pathetic income situation that 75% or more of NZ’ers are finding themselves in.

            • freedom 9.1.1.1.2.2

              100 dollars divided by 20 workers = 5 dollars a worker
              100 dollars divided by 18 workers = 5 dollars 55 cents
               
              do you need some mat time now or a story? or can you admit the issue here is the Minister of Finance is either  an idiot or a devious and dishonest employee of the people.

              • Splitting Hairs

                I think you need the mat time – you’re changing the NUMBER of PEOPLE which as I said is fair enough.

                • Colonial Viper

                  Changing the NUMBER of people?

                  What did you do to dispose of those two missing people? Where have the bodies been buried?

                • freedom

                  it is called job losses, unemployment, a variable in the average generated.  Which if you actually read the question from Malllard, you can plainly see is a major factor of what we are discussing here

                  • Splitting Hairs

                    and which if you read my comments above you’d see I’ve acknowledged in every post

                    • Pascal's bookie

                      Think about it.

                      One variable has an effect. (we’ll call this one A)

                      One has no effec t at all. (and this one B)

                      What will happen if

                      1)A changes

                      2)A and B change.

                      If B has no effect at all, then 1 and 2 will have the same outcome.

                    • Splitting Hairs

                      Yes I accept that Pascal – I have no problem with that – but English doesn’t have to answer in that regard

                      I would prefer that House conducted its affairs in a different manner but for as long as I have followed it Ministers have taken any out they can to avoid answering questions. Cullen was a master of it

                    • Pascal's bookie

                      He was asked if he understood that if A and B happened then we would see the effect.

                      He said we wouldn’t.

                    • Splitting Hairs

                      Yes I understand the point you’re making but English has an out since the implied effect of B in the question isn’t (necessarily) true. He doesn’t have to go into any nuances to help Mallard get to the answer he was seeking. Its Mallard’s responsibility to ask the right question to obtain the answer he is seeking.

                    • Pascal's bookie

                      “hence the relationship outlined in the question is not true as English answered. ”

                      So you retract this then? Because the realationship “A and B leading to effect C” is real, even though B doesn’t matter.

                      coz that’s all I’m getting at.

                      It’s obvious that English is allowed to answer the question in any way he wants. the question was basically, “hey bill, are you an idiot?” and folks here are laughing coz bill answered. “Why yip, I say, ahuh”.

                      Folks are further talking about how it’s a bit sad that the media are a bit thick also, and too.

                    • Splitting Hairs

                      No I don’t retract it but acknowledge that someone smarter or more knowledgeable than myself could prove me wrong.

                      I’ve acknowledged your point as correct but simply suggest that because the implied effect of B is not true than English can state that the assertion of the question is not true – he doesn’t need to help Mallard out.

                      While I have sympathy for Mallard’s line of enquiry as I’ve stated previously – he needs to ask better questions. English isn’t at fault for his answer – its perfectly legitimate and I don’t think should be construed as showing his lack of understanding – merely the inadequacy of the question.

                    • Pascal's bookie

                      The relationship outlined in the question is that

                      “A and B lead to effect C”

                      You say you accept this, but also say it is “not true”. That’s daft.

                      the only thing implied in the question is that “A and B lead to effect C”

                      This could be because either ‘A’ or ‘B’, or ‘A and B together’ are sufficient for ‘C’, but the way the question is worded implies no preference.

                      One could infer for example, that ‘B’ is important and counteracts ‘A’ and thereby arrive at the conclusion that “A and B lead to effect C” is not true.

                      But you’d be an idiot, agreed?

                    • Splitting Hairs

                      Now Pascal is there really any need to start throwing around insults when I have been polite and open-minded? That seems rather poor form for a moderator.

                      All I’m saying is that the way the question is phrased suggests that both tax rate changes AND low income people leaving the labour market can each have an effect on average real wage rates rather than it merely being inequitable to give tax cuts to the rich while low income people lose their jobs then claiming that people are better off because average wage rates are increasing. I think we’re splitting hairs.

                      [lprent:

                      1. He isn’t a moderator but I am – you can tell the difference because I can write in your comment and he didn’t and cannot.

                      2. Read the policy if you want to know what kinds of things will and will not be tolerated here. We are pretty tolerant provided people aren’t repetitively trolling boring crap. With insults the only ones we tend to get concerned about are ones that the moderators judge are pointless.

                      3. If you think that Pb insulted you then you probably shouldn’t get involved in a political blog of this open robust type. You will get a lot worse from some (especially me when I’m commenting rather than moderating) because politics by its nature is about conflict and some of the most useful discussions happen when people are encouraged to think past their rigidity. There are other blogs around with more polite (academic) comment policies.

                      ]

                    • Pascal's bookie

                      Firstly, I’m not moderator

                      secondly, I didn’t insult anyone, I asked if infering that the tax rates would affect the average wage would make one an idiot. I thought you agreed with me about that so I’m confused at your response.

                      And you seem to be not so much splitting hairs, as you are backpeddling.

                    • Splitting Hairs

                      My mistake – apologies

                      All Mallard needed to do was ask “Does he understand that real average AFTERTAX INCOMES go up when high-income earners get massive tax cuts-$1,000 a week, in his case, and low-income workers lose their jobs?”

                      Then he should have got the answer he wanted and no one would have to quibble over:
                      1) Interpretations of the question
                      2) Validity

                      As I said – a poorly phrased question that doesn’t get the answer sought and leads to 1 and 2 above

          • Mike 9.1.1.1.3

            Sorry, I’m no fan of the National Party by any stretch but English was correct. It’s not the same mathematical law at all. Pre-tax is the same, post tax is different after tax cuts. Simple really. All Mallard had to do was say “after tax wages” instead of “real wages”. But in wording the question poorly the way he did, he gave English a legitimate out. Tax cuts will raise the average after tax earnings, not before tax earnings. Lower income earners job losses will raise the average, but that was part of the same question.

        • Blighty 9.1.1.2

          you’re missing the context. the whole discussion to that point had concerned after-tax real wages. It was clear that that was what Trev was talking about

          • Splitting Hairs 9.1.1.2.1

            He needs to phrase in that way then or English can answer as he did – he’s probably better also talking in terms of income rather than wage rates

            • freedom 9.1.1.2.1.1

              which will only ever prove how averages are a faulted mechanism for assessing a society’s wealth for work contract.  Income brackets are more based in reality but these often highlight how disparate those figures are

            • Blighty 9.1.1.2.1.2

              you know that he was speaking off the top of his head, eh?

              • Splitting Hairs

                You know he’s paid probably 4 to 5 times the average income right and has been a member of the house for what 15 years?

                • Colonial Viper

                  He’s a career bureaucrat who has spent his whole working life sucking off the public teat

                  • Splitting Hairs

                    I have no problem with bureaucrats – I was one. But he’s paid well enough to be incentivised to perform, has been a Minister of the Crown, and a member of the house for years so I think doesn’t have the option of “oh I was only thinking off the top of my head.”

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      Money provides no incentive.

                    • Splitting Hairs

                      Oh right he’s a Knight not a Knave. Thank you for the clarification.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      But he’s paid well enough to be incentivised to perform

                      Milton Freidman really had no idea of what motivates human beings, so I wouldn’t use his rationalisations.

                    • Splitting Hairs

                      Money is our current method of exchange for numerous things that people desire – some people even think of their status in terms of money. So while I agree that money in and of itself is only a means to an end – its a very important means to an end for many people as demonstrated, for example, by the amount of people that are motivated enough to go out to buy lotto tickets

  10. tsmithfield 10

    Just going to say the same thing.

    Mallard should have asked about the after tax income. English was accurate in answering the question that was given. Mallard needs to ask better questions to get better answers.

    • Pascal's bookie 10.1

      What happens to an average when you chop some of the lower numbers off?

      • Colonial Viper 10.1.1

        Heh I just figured out that the average wage in this country would sky rocket if you made unemployed everyone earning less than $15/hr!

        That’s cool, we can close the gap with Australia like, tomorrow!

        Of course this approach completely destroys our society on the basis of what will happen to median incomes (it will plummet as a huge number of people go on the dole).

        But that’s OK because average wages will have skyrocketed!

    • William Joyce 10.2

      It was a bad question composed off the cuff. But the after tax issue is slightly irrelevant.
      Mallard made two mistakes – he used the word AND and he got the wrong measure (ie. “real average wage” should have been “average after tax wage).
      Based on what he asked then he should have used OR
      Case A AND Case B  = C
      C. Do “real average wages” go up if…
      A. The rich get tax cuts – NO
      B. Low-income worker lose their jobs – YES
      Strictly, because of the AND it would be necessary for both A AND B to be true before C was true.
      A is false AND B is true therefore C is false.
      In reality, it should have been an OR situation and not an AND situation because C (real average wages) would be true if either one of A or B was true.

      However,
      A AND B = C would work is C was reworded to Average  After Tax Wage
       
      Although is galls me, Bill was right.

      • Pascal's bookie 10.2.1

        nah, he is describing a world where i) low wage jobs have gone and ii) the rich have got tax cuts, and asking what would happen to average wages in such a world.

        1) If low wage workers lose their jobs, the average wage will rise. (if p then q)

        “[do] average wages go up when high-income earners get massive tax cuts-$1,000 a week, … and low-income workers lose their jobs?”

        plain old Modus Ponens. the tax cuts are irrelevant.

      • Pascal's bookie 10.2.2

        For further befuddlement, an analogy:

        “Does he understand that you get wet when you go out in the rain and whistle a happy tune?”

        • William Joyce 10.2.2.1

          I may be a bit hard of learning but if I phrase it like this…
          If (A is true AND B is true) then C is true.
          It is counter intuitive to say that because of the above formula
          “Does he understand that you get wet when you go out in the rain and whistle a happy tune?”
          is therefore false. That is why I used the word “strictly”.
          You can only make C true is you factor out B which is what you have done by reason of affect or benefit of the doubt (i.e. I know what you mean Trev’)
          But strictly, he was wrong, IMHO.

          • Pascal's bookie 10.2.2.1.1

            I get what you are saying, and it’s much better said that the hair splitter, but think of it this way.

            Everyone agrees that

            i) If A then C

            (and no one disputes A.)

            Let’s introduce B

            ii) A and B therefore C

            (B happens to also be true.)

            A is sufficient for C. (i, modus ponens)

            B happens to also be true.

            So if we look about the place and find that A and B are true, and accept that A is sufficient for C, seems hard, to me, to deny that C is true unless you can demonstrate that;

            If A and B, then ~C.

            To actually hair split, the point is about what does the ‘when’ mean in the question. I feel like Clinton here, but hair we s(pl)it.

            I interpret it as ‘Given’ or as a description of facts (A and B are True, therefore C),

            rather than as an ‘If’ which would make the statement “If (A and B) then, (and only then), C”

            • William Joyce 10.2.2.1.1.1

              My first year phil is failing me but if as you say, in Mallard’s question, part B is sufficient for C (and we can identify the mechanism that make a relationship between).
              But if we conjunct B with A as conditional to C then we have qualified the idea that B is sufficient for C.
              So, PB, are you saying that because B is always going to infer C we are allowed to overlook “A and”?

            • Pascal's bookie 10.2.2.1.1.2

              I don’t think he did conjunct And B as being necessary for C.

              He observed that A an B are true, and said that means C must be also true.

              He did fuck up, and could have made his point better, but the way he did phrase it doesn’t make it false.

              It still is true that in a world where low wage jobs are lost, and high wage people get tax cuts, the average wage will increase.

              The tax cuts are not relevant to it, but they don’t counteract the fact that by necessity the average goes up when you drop some of the low numbers, which is what they would have to do to make his claim false.

              Look at English’s counter-claim, he claims that when high-income earners get massive tax cuts-$1,000 a week … and low-income workers lose their jobs, it is not true that the average wage goes up.

              That just doesn’t work

              • William Joyce

                Thanks, I guess I was trying too hard to apply a cookie-cutter to a bad question.
                The end result is pleasing – once again (and again today) English is a plonker.

              • Hi William, I think the confusion arises from the fact that you (and Splitting Hairs and TS) are confounding the tests for the validity of a proposition that arise from Truth Tables (invented by my favourite philosopher, Wittgenstein – in his early work) with fallacies surrounding conditional ‘If-Then’ reasoning.

                In Truth Tables, the conjunction fallacy is as you say: for the proposition to be true both ‘A’ and ‘B’ must be true. But, in this case, that ‘compound’ proposition would be something like “The rich have been given tax cuts AND low income earners have lost their jobs”. I think it is uncontroversial, as it happens, that both terms of that proposition are true, hence the entire ‘compound’ proposition is true when expressed as a conjunction.

                Now, where it gets tricky is that Splitting Hairs, TS and yourself (but you perhaps express the view with appropriate caution) believe that the test of the truth of Mallard’s question must be that both ‘A causes C’ and ‘B causes C’ must be ‘true’ for the question to be able to be answered unequivocally with ‘yes’ from Bill English. (i.e., ‘If A causes C and B causes C, then C’). Otherwise he can ‘wiggle out’ of a ‘yes’ answer. In fact, it’s the opposite. Mallard made no claim about which of A and B might be causal for C, so the conjunction fallacy doesn’t apply. All Mallard posed was that, given two logical variables, C will happen.
                There is a sense in which Mallard has been quite clever – although probably unintentionally. By including two terms, A and B, he makes the answer to his question true (i.e., the appropriate, logical response is ‘yes’) in a way that someone who was thinking ‘off the top of their head’ – despite being Minister of Finance, paid a large amount, been in Parliament for decades, etc. (i.e., all the sorts of things that Splitting Hairs believes mean there are no excuses for sloppy thinking and wording) – might not follow. That is, he – again, probably unintentionally – exposes illogical reasoning.
                All of what I’ve just said becomes clear when it is realised that Mallard could equally have said “Is the Minister aware that if pigs cannot fly and low income earners lose their jobs then the average wage goes up?” and the answer should be ‘yes’. It is entirely irrelevant to the ‘truth’ presented in the question that pigs not being able to fly has no effect on average wages.

                Oddly, I’d have to conclude that Mallard’s question was not ‘badly worded’ at all – unless by ‘badly worded’ all we mean is that people who do not follow a strict logical analysis of a question will be tripped up by it. Given that so many people here who are criticising the question are doing so because they believe it leaves logical ‘wiggle room’ for Bill English, it is quite ironic that if we are really strict in our logical dissection of the question it turns out to be absolutely fine.

                But English got the analysis wrong. There’s no logical justification for a ‘no’ answer, unless we think there’s something wrong with the logic entailed in mathematical averages – which would be a risky line to argue.

                And, I think, that is the point of the post.

                Edit: P’s B said it more clearly than me – but it is a slightly subtle point and probably bears restating.

  11. freedom 11

    Speaking of going back to school
    whilst the poodles were licking their wounds, and the journos were playing three card Monty with the truth,  it seems the Education Minister has been busy planning the destruction of one of the few programmes that has consistently helped thousands of POOR children recieve much need assistance for over fifty years
    Tolley wants to close the Health Camps and is not saying what will replace them
    This is a very serious attack on one of our country’s most internationally applauded Child-assistance policies.  Does anyone have any detail?
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/news/5140699/Letter-an-insult-to-board

  12. speaking of duncery, did anyone notice that in his interview with Sean Plunket,
    John Key said that WW2 started in 1938! 😆

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      Given Key’s Jewish background he may have an interesting point.

    • freedom 12.2

      had a quiet chuckle at that, but then again maybe he knows something we don’t.  Lots of lunches over the years and some of those seated would certainly  have some interesting chit chat

    • William Joyce 12.3

      I noticed that but I gave him a free pass. I think his mother was an Austrian Jew and so I guess for her the war  started with the Anschluss in 1938 and he may have fixed that fact in his other wise empty head.
       
      What disturbed me more was
       
      – his refusal to talk about his father (by avoiding the questions),
       
      – his professed ignorance about the relationship between his mother and father (as if we are expected to believe he “had no advice on that”)
       
      – his “apparent” lack of self-awareness of his thinking and values as a teenager/young adult unless it was part of the PR crafted narrative about the poor boy with an influential, “aspirational” Jewish mother and how that boy wants to give all NZdrs the same treatment.
       
      For an interview that was supposed to be an insight into the real John Key it was a failure. We looked into the real John Key and, as we suspected, there’s nothing there.
       

    • Luxated 12.4

      What is 20 years between friends? It started on the 28th of June 1919, no?

    • Daveosaurus 12.5

      A strong case could be made that the Second World War started in the early 1930s, with the Japanese invasion of China.

  13. Carol 13

    And Idiot Savant points out that Bill English repeated his fallacy today:

    http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2011/06/more-maths-denial.html

    Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he understand that real average wages go up when high-income earners get massive tax cuts—$1,000 a week, in his case—and low-income workers lose their jobs?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not understand that, because it is not true.

    Moana Mackay said in the general debate today, that if John Key was the only employed person in NZ, the average wage would be EXTREMELY high.

    • ianupnorth 13.1

      No Carol, the average wage would be very low because Herr Key allegedly gives away all his money to charity…

      Fact is NZ needs to wake up to the fact we are being frequently misled by this shower.

      • ZeeBop 13.1.1

        So to clarify, if Key paid his fair share and only earner, the average would be very very high.

        Its commonly understood by everyone who has had time to think about it, that the
        amount of money someone has little to do with whether they deserve it or not,
        just as the wage a person earns really show little reflection of their worth.

        Labour need to change that debate, make people realize that people are more
        than if they work or not, more than the car they drive or don’t, that devaluing
        humanity devalues the de-valuer.

        Small minded men don’t deserve your respect.

        And NZ has a huge dose of humility coming, with oil drips, they won’t be buying our
        quality they will be buying Australian Soy beans. So we better start getting our
        economy wide and deep, and we won’t do that if every second minute someone
        worries the pitiful amount the beanies get is too much but they are happy to pay
        $100,000 a year to keep them locked up, and destroy the world to keep economic
        activity up.

        Death happens, you will always be on the losing side eventually.

    • toad 13.2

      Yep, Carol, I could hardly believe that he hadn’t learned some basic maths overnight.  And he also stumbled and stammered and had no idea what he was talking about in response to Metiria Turei’s questions about inequality.

      • ianupnorth 13.2.1

        That’s because Bill English is as thick as two short planks – time he went back to playing at farming.

        • ZeeBop 13.2.1.1

          Does Manure rot the brain? Or work leave people old and thick?

          No. What’s with fascists why do they think they are social progressives?

          We know oil is running out, we know people who have jobs are no better
          than those who don’t. We know old people can be stupid, and we also
          know that boomers are full of shit they think that they did us all a favour.

          Look the conceited self-congratulatory elites are crashing the world in
          social, economic, environmental debt, and those who know better should
          stop helping them delay the inevitable because they would have been chucked
          out already. Just let them get on with the destruction, help it along, tell
          them their geniuses, that yes income does jump every time they speak.

          Until the cult of growth is ended we stand no chance. And you
          know what’s worth than the failed empathic people we have now,
          the socio-paths that will take their place. We need a healthy dose
          of humbleness injected in the working classes who seem
          untiring in their disgust and disregard for their unemployed mates.

  14. Jum 14

    I’ve listened to the spin of English and can well understand how he would tie NZers’ understanding of finance up in knots in much the same way that Douglas spills out figures that no one else can prove to refute him there and then. He does it in election debates. Someone needs to be at every election campaign place with a calculator and knowledge of policy and history to stop these liars from, well, lying, and manipulating the figures and the minds of the voters.

    I also begin to understand why some remaining seemingly unsympathetic (or maybe just desperate) workers might think they’ll earn more if fellow workers are sacked but we all know that does not happen. It goes into the profit side and the expenses side is reduced. Whoever invented the profit and loss and balance sheets hated workers.

    I say ‘unsympathetic’ because Key is still popular in the polls, no doubt with people still in jobs and with landlines.

  15. Jum 15

    So, maybe Mallard can ask this question and see what happens…

    “Splitting Hairs …
    15 June 2011 at 2:08 pm
    My mistake – apologies

    All Mallard needed to do was ask “Does he understand that real average AFTERTAX INCOMES go up when high-income earners get massive tax cuts-$1,000 a week, in his case, and low-income workers lose their jobs?”

    Then he should have got the answer he wanted and no one would have to quibble over:
    1) Interpretations of the question
    2) Validity

    As I said – a poorly phrased question that doesn’t get the answer sought and leads to 1 and 2 above”.

    Then we’ll all be looking askance at Splitting Hairs to explain why Slippery Bill, indulged by Lockwood, fudged the answer.

  16. Jan 16

    Pigs all fed… I’m feeling better off already!!;-)
    Has anyone thought of doing an OIA on the Minister’s sources. The calculations and the banding of after tax increases in wage rate would indicate the unpalatable truth masked by the averages. Secondly this information does not appear to exist in the public domain at the moment. No government websites (except the Beehive and Parliament web-pages referencing this story have any information on after tax wages).

    Indeed the Stats NZ (QES survey) figures that the Finance Minister’s statement is said to be based is not the same information at all. It:
    deals in means and medians rather than averages.
    is based on before tax income.
    doesn’t have any information on after-tax wages.
    acknowledges that “average earnings statistics reflect not only changes in wages and salaries, but also compositional and other changes across and within the paid workforce.

    Oh dear!

    Maybe because the Minister’s statement does have all the hallmarks of an ideological fart there is little on it in the MSM. Oh for Labour’s earnest, well-researched and tedious good news statistics!

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