Monthly Archives: February 2012

Searching for the secret of a happy life? Live in Northern Ireland, get a job and move in with a partner – but don’t worry about whether or not to have children.

That, at least, is the formula that emerges from a groundbreaking exercise in measuring the wellbeing of the nation.

Emily Cadman

Amid rising diplomatic tensions with Iran this year, the west has been ramping up its efforts to choke off Iran’s oil exports, the country’s main source of foreign revenues.

 Read more

Emily Cadman

PMIs – or Purchasing Manager Indexes – provide a regular way to track economic changes in the private sector.

Released on a monthly basis, these surveys of purchasing executives offer a way to gauge decline or increase in activity. Read more

Chris Cook

The social mobility problem is not that there is a small number of weak schools serving a lot of poor kids. It is that poor children do badly in the majority of England’s schools. Read more

The price of Brent crude oil hit an eight-month high last week, and is currently trading at more than $120 per barrel as fears escalated that Iran, the world’s third-largest oil exporter, could cut its exports to the European Union.

How much do emerging markets depend on oil for their energy – and who wins and who loses from high oil prices? Read more

Martin Stabe

The retail sales indices published by the UK’s Office for National Statistics estimate retail sales values and volumes in Great Britain.

The January 2012 figures, published today, show a 4.4 per cent in sales values and a 2 per cent increase in sales volumes over January 2011. Read more

Carried out four times a year for the FT and The Economist by the Economist Intelligence Unit and based on interviews with more than 1,700 business executives around the world, the FT-Economist Global Business Barometer highlights the change in business sentiment and differences between regions and sectors.

Keith Fray

Amid talk of how governments should measure ‘happiness’, we should perhaps note that ‘misery’ – at least economic misery – may have recently peaked.

This week’s releases of inflation data in the UK and US, and labour market numbers for the UK should see the ‘misery index’ continue to fall in both countries.

This index – simply the unemployment rate plus the annual rate of inflation – has seen a modest revival of interest among economists in recent years. Read more

A new military spending forecast from analysts at IHS Jane’s Defence suggests that China’s defence spending will accelerate substantially in the next three years.

This interactive graphic examines defence spending and gross domestic product growth in the region – as well as showing contextual numbers for the US – the world’s biggest spender on defence. Read more

Chris Cook

A fortnight ago, MPs caught a fleeting glimpse of a process that has, to this point, taken place discreetly: the Information Commissioner’s Office investigation into the office of Michael Gove over suspected breaches of the Freedom of Information Act.

A transcript is now available for Mr Gove’s appearance before the education select committee, when he answered questions on the topic. He said the DfE had not released data from one document in response to FoI requests because it was political.

The law is straightforward: only government data is covered by the FoI Act. Party political or private business is never captured, even if it is sent via a government email address. Official business, however it is transmitted, is always covered.

In circumstances where there is a mix of party, personal and government business, official data is released and the remainder is redacted. So the whole text would need to be party political and not official for the document not to be covered by the act.

We have published it below. Read more

Chris Cook

An article in the TES, an education magazine, has caused some consternation – and rightly so. In a comment piece, written by a teacher, the author appears to describe being irritated at a child who is determined to get an A grade rather than a B at A-level.

That is not what the government wants this teacher to be doing. We can tell that from the incentives that this sixth-form teacher faces. The author works at a sixth form college, and if that child fails to get an “A”, it will show up in his college’s results. Sixth forms are ranked on the average grade attained by their students, and pushing a kid from a B to an A shows up in the school point score.

Were this teacher teaching a 16 year-old, however, his behaviour would be perfectly rational. The central measure for schools is the proportion of children getting passes of a C or better in five full GCSEs including English and maths.

Both regulation and league tables drive focus on that measure. There are buckets of data that reveal schools which are particularly focussed on that borderline, but as long as schools do well enough in the core measure, heads can safely ignore everything else.

As Graham Stuart, Tory chair of the education select committee has said, this measure offers no reward for pressing a child to move from a C to an A. It is rational for teachers to focus on getting children over the D/C borderline.

This measure also creates problems for those of us who follow DfE statistics. Read more

Keith Fray

Something has got the English media — and to some extent the population at large — in a periodic fit of frenzy. Austerity starting to bite? One banker’s bonus too many?

No, the issue is who should succeed Fabio Capello as the manager of the England football team, often referred to as the ‘second most important job in the country’. Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp, seems to be the likely successor.

Capello may be a hard act to follow. Despite an embarrassing exit from the 2010 World Cup at the hands of Germany, he surprisingly comes top in a table of England managers since the second world war ranked by the percentage of games won. Read more

The 2012 US presidential election is the first time that candidates have benefited from super-Pacs, which bring in millions of dollars that can be used to support someone’s campaign through advertising. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 loosened the restrictions on who can give how much to political action committees, giving rise to what has become known as “super-Pacs”. Direct donations to the candidates’ campaigns can only be up to $2,500. Donations to super-Pacs are often 10 or 100 times more than that.

Tensions between Argentina and the UK over the status of the Falkland Islands are running high as Buenos Aires prepares to lodge a formal protest with the UN Security Council and General Assembly after Britain dispatched HMS Dauntless to the islands.

This interactive map explores the economic and political set-up of the Falkland Islands, particularly the status of the ongoing oil and gas exploration around the islands’ waters.

Emily Cadman

Ever wondered what happened to the idea of a national happiness index, trailed by David Cameron last year?

Well, statisticians from the Office of National Statistics have been quietly working away on the project. In December the first set of initial analyses, based on a sample size of 4,200, concluded that three quarters of British adults rated their “life satisfaction” as seven or more out of 10. Read more