Switzerland has no official poverty statistics. So what?

In the early 1960s, Chicago economist Milton Friedman travelled to Hong Kong to meet Sir John Cowperthwaite, the colony’s Financial Secretary. The economic development of Hong Kong had aroused Friedman’s curiosity, but, to his surprise, he was unable to get hold of any detailed economic statistics. So he asked Sir John about the peculiar lack of data. Cowperthwaite, a classical liberal economist, explained that he deliberately refrained from having detailed economic data gathered. He argued the bureaucrats of the colonial administration should not even be tempted to intervene in the economy.

Cowperthwaite’s approach may appear a bit eccentric, but it seems it was not to Hong Kong’s detriment. According to estimates, the city’s income per capita has increased tenfold in real terms over the past half century. With that in mind, perhaps it is not the end of the world if Switzerland does not produce official poverty statistics…

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There are lies, damned lies, statistics and then there are poverty statistics.If we had a two country world, with rich country A with a very unequal distribution of income, and then poor country B with an equal distribution of income, but where the people in B are poorer than the poorest in A in terms of absolute income, which country would we deem to be preferable? And what would the migration patterns be? If A was entrepreneurial, then from B to A, but if A was an apartheid country, then from A to B.

“Cowperthwaite… deliberately refrained from having detailed economic data gathered. He argued the bureaucrats of the colonial administration should not even be tempted to intervene in the economy.”I think the point was that, once data was gathered, bureaucrats would be inclined to act up the statistics, especially where they deviated from what would be predicted in theory of desirable politically.

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