Monthly Archives: November 2012

Brazil is a commodity exporter – and even more so than official statistics suggest. The share of its exports taken by what are classified by the government as primary goods was just below 30 per cent for most of the past two decades, rising to nearly half of all exports in the last five years. But if we include items such as raw and refined sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, crude soybean oil, cocoa butter and other products that have a level of processing but are closely derived from commodities dug up or harvested in the country, the proportion rises to different levels. Chart of the week takes a look.

The revised picture shows the shrinking role in trade played by Brazilian manufacturers and the vulnerability of Brazilian exports to the shifting tides of the global economy.

Using our broader classification, Brazil’s commodity-based exports rise to half of the total during the past two decades and to more than two thirds in the last year. The share of manufactured goods therefore falls from about half to less than a third – showing that growth in Brazilian exports has been driven entirely by commodity-based goods.

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Chris Cook

Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, has written up a paper on Swedish school reforms, which you can download here. I thought it was worth using to quickly flag up two important statistical public policy points.

The context to this is that Sweden has, since the early 1990s, allowed private (including for-profit) institutions to enter the school system – and parallels are often drawn between it and the ongoing reforms of England’s school system. This paper, as Fraser rightly says, comes to the view that increasing the volume of private schools in an area is associated with improved results. Mikael Lindahl and Anders Böhlmark say:

If we transform our estimates to standard deviation (S.D.) units (using the variation across all individuals) we find that a 10 percentage point increase in the share of independent-school students has resulted in 0.07 S.D. higher average educational achievement at the end of compulsory school.

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Chris Cook

Last week, the excellent Paul Francis, political editor of the Kent Messenger, reported that Kent, the most significant selective county left in England had come up with a clever plan: to make the entry test for grammar schools “tutor-proof”.

This idea comes up a lot, largely from people promoting selection. You can see why: it is often presented as a means of squaring a problem. They can argue that grammar schools help bright poor children while dealing with the fact that very few get into them.

But, in truth, a properly administered test, which accurately captures the education enjoyed by people at the age of 11, should exclude large numbers of poor children. Not because they are intrinsically less able. But, at 11, the poor-rich divide is already a chasm. Read more

Thailand’s economy grew at a 3 per cent year on year in the third quarter, a slight decrease from Q2 but in line with analysts’ expectations.

But as data released on Monday show, the pattern of the previous four quarters is now entrenched – Thai GDP is being dragged down by its poor export performance. Chart of the week takes a closer look.

As the chart below shows, Thailand’s economy would have grown at 4 per cent in the third quarter, a full percentage point higher, were it not for the negative net contribution of exports. Even so, things were better than they were during the previous three quarters, when the economy would have grown as much as 4 to 6 percentage points faster if it was not for the negative impact of exports.

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Valentina Romei

Today, World Diabetes Day, is a good time to look at what countries weigh. Not in economic heft or population numbers, but the actual physical weight of their population.

Specifically, we established countries’ share of the global population and their share of global weight (using data on their average body mass index (BMI) and their average height for the male population over 20 years old). Then we calculated the difference between these two measures.

The weightiest countries are the US, Mexico and Brazil: their share of the total global body mass is bigger than their proportion of the global population. All three countries have an average body mass index of above 25, which corresponds to being overweight. Read more

Nate Silver’s success in predicting the winner of the US election symbolises a generational shift in political analysis, from qualitative to quantitative, rendering an intermediate class of skilled labour obsolete. It is a shift already seen in other fields, such as finance. Read more

With the US presidential election race coming to an end tomorrow (we hope!), it is time to take one last one last look at the RealClearPolitics (RCP) poll average and the Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM) winner-take-all contracts and see where things stand.

We’re including one more data set this time just to give an additional picture – Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight model, which has become the source of quite a bit of contention.

One thing to point out about the IEM that we mentioned in the initial post – the contracts represent a probability, as does the much-cited FiveThirtyEight model that we’ll look at later in this post. That means that as it stands in the IEM, Obama is the favourite but far from a sure thing.

The RCP poll average appears neck and neck:

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Chris Cook

One question I get asked a lot is: “You say that Frewmanackshire is a terrible local authority. How do you know? Do you know what we are working with?” etc etc. It is true that schools with radically different intakes cannot be usefully compared. So I thought I would let you in on how I benchmark schools, and supply you with two jolly new maps.

What I do for secondary schools, is run a simple regression – that is to say, I fit a simple line through all the pupils’ school results in the country after asking it to account for the children’s ethnicity, poverty and prior test results. Unlike other models, the regression contains precisely zero information about the schools – only data about the children. Read more

Chris Cook

On Thursday afternoon, journalists were taken into the basement of a Westminster building, fed chicken satay and walked through Ofqual’s report on the recent English GCSE. During the summer, a late shift in grade boundaries shocked schools, leaving many high-flying schools with significantly worse results than they had been expecting.

The most striking outcome of the Ofqual research is that it seems to find evidence of cheating. It is incidental to the main purpose of the review, which was to ask whether the shift in the grade boundaries was correct. But it’s a stunning – and quite clear – finding.

Here is the issue: English GCSE can be taken in such a way that the pupil has done everything except for teacher-marked “controlled assessments” in the final months. If they do that, the teachers know what marks each pupil needs. And teachers give those marks.

In the graph below, Ofqual have worked out how many marks candidates needed from their teachers to get a C. If they got a mark to the right of the red vertical line, the teacher gave them a high enough grade to get the C. The shape of that distribution is, frankly, a sign of something horribly wrong. Teachers are massaging marks.

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Kate Allen

By Kate Allen and Katie Carnie.

As the FT’s new interactive graphic shows, the UK’s reliance on nuclear energy is a vital part of its energy policy. With many plants due to shut down in the coming years, Hitachi’s deal to buy the Horizon plant is a welcome step. But aside from nuclear, where does the rest of the UK’s power come from?

Historically, Britain was reliant on coal until the North Sea oil fields were opened up. Nuclear then became a major source in the 1980s, and in recent years the use of natural gas has stepped up considerably – again making the most of its considerable territorial reserves.

UK electricity generated by source Read more