Quantifying Everything

Last updated: 2015

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be. – Lord Kelvin (1883).

Many of the most cited international indices that purport to measure critical but not unambiguous concepts such as democracy, freedom, corruption, and fiscal health are carried out by organizations with ideological slants that put their assessments under serious question.

For instance, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2010 ranked Italy lower than Saudi Arabia, and Russia lower than Zimbabwe – an assessment at odds with both face validity and polls on the prevalence of corruption. Freedom House has a sordid record of calling elections in pro-US “death squad democracies” free and fair, while at the same time subtracting points for acting against American interests. The “Three Stooges” that are the global credit ratings agencies have already long proved themselves to be pens for hire who will write up a good report for you if you give them money.

To this effect I have over the years created (or helped create) a number of alternate ratings based on real world facts and data.

  • Comprehensive Military Power (2015) is the world’s most comprehensive database of military power that is both rigorously objective, additive, and consistent across time. Military power is calculated as a function of military personnel numbers, estimated military capital stocks (as a function of past military spending adjusted for purchasing power parity), and estimated effectiveness and technological level. The US is predictably first by a large margin, with China and Russia each controlling about a third of its military power, and India at 15% and Germany, France, the UK, Japan, and South Korea at around 10% of the US level.
  • Comprehensive National Power (2015) is my attempt to quantify national power as a function of economic output, military capabilities (see above), and soft power.
  • Aggregate Mindpower (2015) is an attempt to compute the gross intellectual/cognitive power of a society as a function of demographics, literacy, and average IQ.
  • The Corruption Realities Index (2010) measures corruption on the basis of polls about the prevalence of corruption and blind reviews of national anti-corruption laws by panels of experts. It stands in contrast to the Corruption Perceptions Index which despite (or because?) of its popularity is nothing more than a survey of the subjective feelings of various anonymous “experts” and businessmen.
  • The Journalism Security Index (2012) measures the relative international safety of journalists from murder and imprisonment. Unlike outfits like Reporters Without Borders, it does not pretend that a concept as nebulous as “freedom of the press” can be computed to any degree of accuracy; instead, it focuses only on those factors that are quantifiable and internationally comparable.
  • The Karlin Freedom Index (2012, 2010) tries to fairly measure democracy and human rights by country, without subscribing to the pro-Western bias that dominates organizations like Freedom House that have ranked several 1980’s Latin American dictatorships higher than today’s Russia and Venezuela. Unlike Freedom House (or the slightly better Economist Democracy Index and vastly better Polity IV series), in my rankings I do not pretend that we can be anywhere near accurate enough on this question to justify the usage of precise numerical rankings; instead, I classify countries into a few broad categories (liberal democracy; semi-liberal democracy; illiberal democracy; semi-authoritarian; authoritarian; totalitarian).
  • The Adjusted Sovereign Wikirating Index (2011) was compiled by the commentator “Hunter” on the basis of the original WSI – which rates the creditworthiness of countries on objective and publicly available fiscal information, as opposed to the opaque workings of the Big Three credit rating agencies – with one of its component factors adjusted to replace the opaque CPI with my Corruption Realities Index. It is worth noting that both the WSI and Hunter’s ASWI form a Gaussian shape when plotted, whereas the Big Three Stooge’s numbers resemble a heavily falsified election.

In addition I have compiled a comprehensive list of national average PISA results (2009/10), which can be converted into IQ by subtracting 500 from it, multiplying the result by 0.15, and adding 100 (so, for instance, China’s 520 will become an IQ of 103). This data is also available in a breakdown between natives and immigrants. This is highly important because of the very strong correlation between human capital and economic prosperity.