Robert Cormack

2 years ago · 4 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Why I Hate Graphs.

I'm not too crazy about Lamborghinis, either.

Distribution of Average income Growth During Expansions
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I hate charts. I just despise them.” Rush Limbaugh

If I’m being totally honest here, charts scare the crap out of me. There was one in the phys-ed office back at high school that ranked STDs. It was a bar chart and gonorrhea (red bar) was practically hitting the ceiling. To this day, I can’t have sex if the test pattern comes up on the television. I used to try finishing before Johnny Carson — even when I was with someone.

Charts show varying degrees of confusion based on how seriously the researcher wants to confuse people like me. Judging from my confusion over the years, I’d say most researchers — actually all — do a marvelous job.

“The results of this research still need to be tested in warmer climates like Venus or the sun.”

The charts that bother me most are the ones with a bunch of qualifying details at the bottom, like “The results of this research still need to be tested in warmer climates like Venus or the sun.”

Researchers obviously don’t want to paint themselves into a corner. Anyone challenging their numbers will just have to wait until the “sun stats” come back, which could be a few hundred years, and if we ever do reach the sun we’ll be far more worried about terrible sunburns and blindness.

I’m also wary of qualifiers that say “Results are accurate within .0000006 percentage points.” I’m pretty sure this means absolutely nothing other than whoever did the research has a really great calculator.

Since most of my work over the past 25 years involved charts, I’ve had considerable challenges to overcome, one being my eyes, the other being headaches. These headaches could be eye-related or could just be headaches. Either way, I wear stronger glasses now and take enough aspirin to sink a ship. I’m convinced my carpal tunnel is the result of safety caps.

I don’t have any wealth, so I figured I’d better find out why before I blame the Russians.

This past week I was researching distribution of wealth. I don’t have any wealth, so I figured I’d better find out why before I blame the Russians. I’m particularly drawn to charts that say “much-cited,” meaning practically everyone’s read it. In this case, the chart was done by Pavlina R. Techerneva (a Russian name if I’ve ever heard one), of the Levy Economics Institute.

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Tracking average income growth during periods of expansion, Techerneva made an interesting discovery. Since WWII, wealth distribution has gone a little crazy. It used to be that the bottom 90 percent of society had 80 percent of the income floating around. Today, we have minus 20 percent. The top 10 percent of society, on the other hand, has gone from having 20 percent of the income to 150 percent. Take a look at the chart. For every dollar we have, rich people have, like, all the rest, including dibs on our dollar if we’re ever stupid enough to take it out of our pocket.

The only thing that baffles me more than a bar graph that goes off the page (like gonorrhea) is one that defies conventional wisdom. Let’s take the graph below presented by the IMF. They claim governments shouldn’t give “job creators” tax breaks because big corporations would rather keep the money and move to Mexico leaving us with, you guessed it, no jobs.

Banks, however, figure they’ve got the solution. They’ll give us hand-dandy credit cards, saying “Don’t worry, use this card and we’ll just take a nominal 18 percent on money you can’t pay back.” Again, this doesn’t work because, well, we can’t pay it back. Our jobs are in Mexico.

Give it to the top 20 percent of the population and they buy Lamborghinis. GDP growth declines by 0.08 percentage points because Lamborghinis do absolutely nothing to stimulate the economy.

Now let’s examine why the IMF thinks bolstering lower segments of society (you and I) is better than tax breaks. If we increase income share to the bottom 20 percent of society by a mere one percent, you get a 0.38 percentage jump in GDP. Give it to the top 20 percent of the population and they buy Lamborghinis. GDP growth declines by 0.08 percentage points because Lamborghinis do absolutely nothing to stimulate the economy.

WHY WE NEED TAX BREAKS

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Since I don’t have a Lamborghini, and never will have a Lamborghini, I’ll have to take the word of the IMF members (who probably have Lamborghinis). They’re saying wealth distribution is critical, yet our governments are saying tax breaks are critical, and President Trump is saying he’s got a hotel in Turkey with two towers, which is neither here nor there, but you can bet either he, Ivanka, or her husband, Jarod, has a Lamborghini.

I’m sure there’s a chart that shows just how many people have Lamborghinis, including star athletes, the Kardhasians and plumbers.

If I understand the charts correctly, either we divvy up these Lamborghinis more fairly, or we use the money we’d normally give to corporations, and do crazy things like hiring people to make something that looks like a Lamborghini, or, hell, anything.

I’m sure the numbers are fiddled, and if I had any brains at all, I’d provide a Trump graph that looks like a Grade Three finger painting.

This is why charts scare, confuse and, at times, irritate the hell out of me. I don’t know who’s telling the truth. I’m sure the numbers are fiddled, and if I had any brains at all, I’d provide a Trump graph that looks like a Grade Three finger painting. He’s got one on black employment that’s a corker.

Charts are there to confirm our worst nightmares (like gonorrhea), or stimulate discussion, or open our eyes. Big corporations, obviously, don’t want our eyes open, so I’m pretty sure they’ll come up with a graph of their own, which will probably look like this:

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If we ever get to the point where we actually understand graphs, we’ll no doubt either pull our hair out, or wait for another graph that hopefully looks better — or at least is in colour.

I’ve stopped trying to finish sex before the test pattern comes up. Besides, I have Netflix. I can go all night.

And for those of you who say a test pattern on the TV isn’t a bar graph at all, I know that now. Please don’t send me comments saying I’m a dummy. I’ve stopped trying to finish sex before the test pattern comes up. Besides, I have Netflix. I can go all night. I don’t because I’m watching Netflix. There isn’t a single bar graph or test pattern or anything else confusing on Netflix.

It’s just, well, programming, which is better than graphs.

Robert Cormack is a novelist, journalist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Skyhorse Press or Simon and Schuster for more details.

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Comments

Robert Cormack

2 years ago #4

Yeah, pie charts definitely reek of plotting.#3

Ken Boddie

2 years ago #3

It’s not the graphs themselves that are the problem, Robert. After all, just like a picture, a good pie chart, histogram, or even line graph, paints a thousand words. What really gets me upset about graphs is they usually mean somebody’s been plotting behind my back. 🤣😂🤣

Robert Cormack

2 years ago #2

Depding on which way you turn them sideways, the results can be very uplifting.#1

Pascal Derrien

2 years ago #1

Once I tried to turn a graph upside down I thought that was called reverse engineering but to my surprise the graph had nothing to show no mathematical underpants or technical air tight leggings it was such a disappointing experience nowadays graphs leave me alone 🤔

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