Friday, 6 July 2018

Homicide, Happiness and Equality


For a counter argument to my discussion below, see Equality Trust.
I don't buy their line, because the stats I've looked at don't support it 
A few days ago someone on BBC radio claimed that there's an inverse relationship between Homicide rates and Equality in any given society. The more Equality, the lower the Homicide rate. The BBC did not challenge this assertion.
But it reminded me that I'd heard something similar about "Happiness" some time ago. "Studies showed", we were told, that the more Equality in society the greater the Happiness in that society.
Sounds right, right?  Well, no; it's not so right. At least according to me...
I did my own study of that proposition a while back and found it wanting.
These days, with the wonder of Mr Google and Excel spreadsheets, one can do one's own fact-checking of such studies. Rough and ready perhaps, but studies which purport to show a correlation ought to be borne out by readily available and authoritative statistics.
In both these cases, Happiness and Homicide as functions of Equality, that's not the case.  At least according to the stats I found....

Is there a relationship between Happiness and Equality?  

NO, not really.
Here is the PDF of my own results.
The Correlation between "Happiness" and "Equality" is 0.419, which is "not significant", but "weak" to "moderate".
The "coefficient of determination" -- the percent of the variation in Happiness that can be explained by variation in Equality -- is 17.5%.  So equality determines happiness a bit, but not much.  Money really doesn't buy happiness.
Sources:
For "Happiness" -- a pretty slippery concept -- I use as a proxy the Legatum index, which considers a range of factors to come up with an overall "happiness" score per country: economic performance; entrepreneurship & opportunity; governance; education; health; security; personal freedom; and social capital.  One might argue these don't comprise, or necessarily make for, "Happiness", but I can't find a better proxy and would be happy to hear of suggestions if there is one. Meantime, Legatum seems pretty comprehensive to me.
For "Equality": I use the widely accepted and widely used GINI index. This is an index from 0 (best) to 1 (worst).  Good, ie very equal, countries are around 0.25.  Bad, very unequal countries, are around 0.5 to 0.6.


Is there a relationship between Homicide rates and Equality?

NO, not really.
Here is the PDF of my own results.
The Correlation between Homicide and Equality is 0.532.  A bit more than for Happiness, but still "not significant".
The "coefficient of determination", the percent of the variation in Homicides that can be explained by a variation in Equality is 28.3%.  More than for Happiness, but still not significant.  This makes sense as we know there's been a major drop in homicides, in, for example, the United States in recent decades, while inequality has become (slightly) worse.
Sources:
For" Homicide rates", I use the statistics of the United Nations Global Study on Homicide, collated in Wikipedia.
For "Equality": I use the widely accepted and widely used GINI index. This is an index from 0 (best) to 1 (worst).  Good, ie very equal, countries are around 0.25.  Bad, very unequal countries, are around 0.5 to 0.6.

Something else about GINI (the equality index)


A couple of things come out of the GINI figures (PDF which is sorted by GINI, best to worst):
Overall, equality worldwide has improved slightly in the recent decades (that's the "Previous" column in the PDF).
That corresponds to Stephen Pinker's observation (and YouTube) that country-vs-country equality (wealth and income) around the globe has improved. That is, poorer countries have become richer, in income and wealth more quickly than rich countries have become richer.
Indeed if you look at the "top 50" and "bottom 50" (in my PDF) you see that the top (ie the most equal) countries have become very slightly less equal, while the bottom 50 (the least equal) have become more equal.

So, there we have it: Equality (or lack thereof) doesn't seem to have (much of) a direct impact on either Homicide rates or Happiness, despite what those (mainly on the Left) would have one believe.
AND... equality overall has improved in the world, despite what those (mainly on the Left) would have you believe.
The Left doesn't like this, because it pulls the rug from under one of its main tenets: we must have more equality, no matter what the costs. And the costs of that shibboleth can be high: witness every country from Albania to Venezuela which has tried out socialism, the main route to equality, or so Marxists think.

Final disclaimer: I wouldn't want my comments to be seen as suggesting that there's something wrong with Equality or striving for Equality. I mean, it's a good thing if a society can be more equal in income and wealth.  But being obsessed with it doesn't do us any good in working out how to improve our lives (Happiness) or how to avoid its downsides (Murder).
There are other factors at work here that make us happier or make us kill people less.  Capitalism and freedom, perhaps?
I'm all for Equality, and the figures do show that there is "some" correlation between it and the Happiness/Homicides.  So, for sure, let's strive for it.  But let's not be obsessed by it.  Especially not if it involves socialist redistribution, because I've lived in such a society (China of the seventies) and there's no way it was either happy or safe.