02 April 2014

Republicans on the Internet

In the April 2, 2014 comic strip Mallard Filmore, the author Bruce Tinsley points out that the U.S. has the highest spending per child on education of any country in the world and claims that this is a problem. Tinsley does a good job of imitating an ignorant conservative by ignoring the context of that data point. He ignores that the U.S. has one of the highest costs of living and that the U.S. sends more of its children to college and grad school than most other countries. We can attempt to provide some context to the number by comparing the percent of GDP spent on education to the percent of children in a country. The percent of GDP is a proxy for cost-of-living and/or the amount that a country can afford to spend on education; the percent of children in a country is a proxy for the number of people over which the money should be spent.

I quickly found contextual data on line and built a spreadsheet: We can quibble about the dates of the various data estimates and the quality of the data; you’re quite welcome to find your version of the data and build your own spreadsheet. But when the data is presented in context, it makes a lot of sense.

When context is taken into account, we see that Cuba has the highest normalized spending. It spent 13.6% of GDP on education; young people make up 17% of its population. This gives a normalized spending score of 0.80. Cuba is well known for exporting doctors and nurses to Venezuela, so this level of education spending makes sense.

Monaco shows up second on the list with a normalized score of 0.68. It lavishes 8.2% of its large wealth on 12.1% of its population.

The lowest normalized spending level that shows up on my list is war torn Somalia. This again makes a lot of sense although we should be wary that the spending data is taken from 1985. Somalia gets a normalized score of 0.009 which is what happens when you spend 0.4% of GDP on 44.5% of your population.

Other low scoring countries include Afghanistan, Haiti, and many countries in sub-saharan Africa which struggle to spend 2% to 3% of GDP on 45% of their population. As we move up the list, we find Ethiopia which spends 5.5% of its GDP (similar to many western countries) on 46.3% of its population.

The U.S. shows up 51st on a list of 182 countries with a normalized score of 0.28. It spends 5.5% of its GDP (2007 figure) on 20% of its population. Western European countries typically have a higher normalized score than the U.S. Denmark leads the pack with a score of 0.45 with Sweden not far behind at 0.43.

A cool graph of college education by country can be found online.

For fun, I also grabbed the CIA world factbook figures for % of gdp spendng on military and education to compare the ratio. Here, Oman leads the list spending half as much of its GDP on education as military. The U.S. shows up at 17th place (out of 118 countries) behind Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Israel. The U.S. spends about 25% more on education than military.

Sweden, that perennial leader of the international test scores charts, spends nearly 7 times as much on education as military.


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