I wander over to right-wing hack Stephen Pollard’s blog, and there I find a badly-written post called “The EU kills one person every 13 seconds“.
It’s advertising a think-tank report which he’s co-written against EU trade rules, and in his post he restates the claim and makes it slightly more precise: “EU protectionism kills one person in the third world every thirteen seconds”.
Curious as to how these figures were calculated, I follow the link to the press release put out by an outfit Pollard works for called the Centre for the New Europe, and there, in a summary of “Key Findings”, I read that “6,600 people die every day in the world because of the trading rules of the EU. That is 275 people every hour”, and then, with a bullet point all of its own, that, “In other words, one person dies every 13 seconds somewhere in the world – mainly in Africa – because the European Union does not act on trade as it talks.”
Still curious, I download and skim-read the report, and about two thirds of the way through a pop presentation of the case for free trade attached to some rude remarks about the EU I find this:
The Human Cost of Protectionism
24,000 people die every day from starvation, or from causes directly related to malnutrition. Let us make a reasonable assumption – erring on the side of caution – that 20,000 of these people do not die from the purely local causes of civil war and crop failure.
In a world of potential abundance that could be made actual by more open trading rules, the European Union accounts for a third of trade protection. Thus – given the earlier assumption – 6,600 people die every day in the world because of the trading rules of the EU. That is 275 people every hour of the day.
In other words, one person dies every 13 seconds somewhere in the world – mainly in Africa – because the European Union does not act on trade as it talks. (p.10)
And, er, that’s it. That’s the sum total of the pathbreaking reasoning and demographic analysis employed to produce this conclusion. It seems to be slightly more respectably generated that the figures about global child abuse which Michael Jackson tosses around whenever he’s given the chance, but not much.”These are questionable, if not unreasonable figures…”, the writers recognise in the sentence that follows on from the chunk quoted above, but they don’t go on to question them. And, regrettably for the credibility of the report, this flash of self-awareness fails to percolate through to the trumpeting of “key findings” in the press release, nor to one of the co-authors’ own breathless blogging of his own achievements.
EU agricultural subsidies produce grim results. There’s no disagreement there between people like me and people like Pollard. (Lots of others, though).
But there’s a part of me which likes to think that so-called think tanks are supposed to raise the level of public debate, sponsor interesting research papers and produce real “findings”, rather than churning out tabloid-esque shock headlines which turn out to be underpinned by little more than tabloid-esque arguments.
Another part of me wonders whether the entire output of the Centre for the New Europe is as silly as this, or whether it’s just this report, or just the stuff that Pollard works on; but having spent the time reading one of their efforts this morning, I’m not sure I can be bothered to invest the energy to find out.