Robert Kimbell is a Brexit fanatic, Ukipper and Twitter celebrity. He's regularly lauded as an economics expert by the hard right, but in this article I'm going to expose the cynical cherry-picking trick he keeps using to create utterly misleading EU-bad narratives.
A quick browse through Kimbell's Twitter feed reveals his extreme Brexit bias, with links to fanatically right-wing Brexit propaganda sites like Westmonster and Brexit Central strewn amongst links to the pro-Brexit right-wing corporate media (Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph, S*n) and Retweets of numerous hard-Brexit celebrities and commentators.
Kimbell's favourite Twitter trick is to pick a country in the EU that has fallen down the global GDP ranking a little bit since their entry to the EU, and then compare them to a random country from the developing world that has risen slightly in the global GDP ranking over the same period (see screenshots).
Beware of crude GDP figures
Anyone with a bit of basic economic nous understands that relying on crude GDP figures is a surefire way of creating misleading economic narratives.
Take the talk of the so-called Tory "economic recovery" between 2010-2015 that helped them win their unexpected majority at the 2015 General Election.
It is true that the UK's GDP grew a bit between 2010 and 2015, but what the Tories omitted to mention was that nearly all of that economic growth was generated by the rising population caused by Theresa May's all-time record breaking increases in the net immigration rate.
Between 2010 and 2015 our economy was only really growing because of the all-time high levels of immigration, with the amount of economic activity per person (GDP per capita) remaining well below the level it was before the economic crisis.
Reworking the crude GDP con for Brexiteering
Kimbell's approach is that if the Tories could win a General Election by pushing a shockingly misleading crude GDP narrative, he can use the same trick to make the ongoing Brexit shambles look like a fantastic idea.
Thus he's repeatedly used comparisons of crude GDP figures on Twitter to make EU countries look like failures compared to growing economies in the developing world.
I'll go through five examples of him using this trick to show how utterly misleading his little anti-EU propaganda tropes are.
Hungary vs Bangladesh
Since Hungary joined the EU in 2004 it has fallen from 44th to 58th in the global GDP ranking. In the same time Bangladesh has risen from 57th to 46th.
What Kimbell has omitted to mention is that Bangladesh has a population of 163 million people (the 8th most populous country on earth), while Hungary has a population of 9.8 million (the 92nd most populous).
A look at the International Monetary Fund's GDP per capita figures reveal that Hungary is the 45th most prosperous country per person ($27,482), while Bangladesh is 139th ($3,891 per person).
Additionally, since 2004 the GDP per capita in Hungary has increased by over $4,000 per person (more than the entire current GDP per capita of Bangladesh), while GDP per capita in Bangladesh has increased by less than $1,400 per person.
The idea that Bangladesh is now surpassing Hungary thanks to the failure of the EU is based on a crude statistical trick that completely ignores the fact that the population of Bangladesh is over 16 times the size of Hungary, and has in fact grown by over 20 million (double the population of Hungary) since Hungary joined the EU just 13 years ago!
Luxembourg vs Oman
Since 1960 Luxembourg it has fallen from 55th to 76th in the global GDP ranking. In the same time Oman has risen from 97th to 75th.
What Kimbell has omitted to mention is that Oman has a population of 4.6 million people (the 125th most populous country on earth), while Luxembourg has a population of below 600,000 (the 166th most populous).
The question shouldn't be why has Luxemburg fallen behind Oman, but why has it taken Oman so long to catch up given their population is over seven times the size, and the large oil and natural gas reserves they've been exploiting for decades.
The International Monetary Fund's GDP per capita figures reveal that Luxembourg is the 2nd most prosperous country per person ($104,003), while Oman is 21st ($46,698 per person).
Omitting to mention the fact that Oman has a population seven times the size of Luxembourg, the fossil fuel bonanza that has fuelled Oman's climb up the GDP rankings, and the fact that the people of Luxembourg are actually the 2nd most prosperous on earth to create an EU-bad narrative are all indications of the lengths Brexiteers will go to in order to con people into supporting Brexit.
Austria vs Nigeria
Since Austria joined the EU in 1995 it has fallen from 21st to 28th in the global GDP ranking. In the same time Nigeria has risen from 57th to 27th.
Again Kimbell is using the same trick of ignoring population growth, ignoring GDP per capita, and ignoring a huge fossil fuel bonanza going on in the cherry-picked developing nation. Here are some of the stats.
Austria has a population of 8.8 million (the 96th most populous nation). Nigeria has a population of 193.5 million (the 7th most populous).
A look at the International Monetary Fund's GDP per capita figures reveal that Austria is the 19th most prosperous country per person ($48,005), while Nigeria is 126th ($5,942 per person).
Nigeria has a population over 20 times the size of Austria's, yet they've only just climbed to one place ahead of them in the crude GDP statistics, and the amount of economic activity per person in Nigeria is one eighth of the amount per person in Austria.
In fact, since 1995 the population of Nigeria has grown by 85 million people, so in order to surpass Austria by one place in the crude GDP rankings, Nigeria has had to increase its population by over 9 times the total population of Austria!
In the same period GDP per capita in Austria has grown by over $10,000 per person, an increase of almost double the current total GDP per capita in Nigeria!
The idea that wealthy Austria is somehow being held back by the EU because their economy has fallen one place behind a poverty stricken developing nation country with over 20x the population is exactly the kind of hopelessly delusional drivel that hard-right Brexiters thrive on.
Slovenia vs Angola
When Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 it had the 65th biggest economy, now it's 85th. In the same period Angola has risen from 81st to 63rd.
It's exactly the same trick again.
In 2005 (one year after Slovenia joined the EU) Angola had a population of 16.5 million, now it has a population of 28.4 million (48th in the world). In the same period the population of Slovenia has changed from 2.00 million to 2.06 million (146th).
One country has almost doubled its population in the period, whilst the other has remained almost completely static. Is it any wonder that a country which now has a population eight times the size of the other has edged above them in the crude GDP ranking?
A look at the much more informative GDP per capita rankings paints a very much less misleading picture. According the the IMF, Slovenia are 37th in the world at £32,085 per person, while Angola are 120th at $6,844 per person.
The effort to attack the EU by painting Slovenia as some kind of failing dump and Angola as a thriving success story based solely on crude GDP figures is clearly the work of a person who takes their audience as a pack of absolutely gullible idiots.
Malta vs Zambia
Kimbell asserts that Malta has fallen from 124 to 132 in the crude GDP rankings, while Zambia has climbed from 126 to 107.
Between 2004 and the present the population of Malta has increased slightly from 401,000 to 437,000. In the same period the population of Zambia has increased from 11.4 million to 16.4 million.
In 2004 Zambia had a population over 28 times the size of Malta, and now it has a population over 37 times the size of Malta. It's not a surprise that the Zambian economy is now bigger than the Maltese economy at all. What is surprising is that they were still behind the tiny island of Malta just 13 years ago.
Let's compare the GDP per capita of failing Malta and booming Zambia:
Zambia are 140th in the world with $3,880 in economic activity per person per year. Malta are 28th with $39,834.
Only the most agenda driven fanatic could try to paint wealthy and stable Malta as some kind of failing economic basket case compared to poverty stricken Zambia, which has less than a tenth of the economic activity per person as the former-British colony in the Mediterranean.
Beware of Brexiter statistics
I'm sure most of us remember the disgraceful £350 million for the NHS lies promoted by the Vote Leave mob, but it's still worth remembering that these same dishonest Brexiteers are still out there programming people with warped narratives, cherry-picked statistics, and downright lies in order to con them into continuing to support the hard-right anti-democratic Tory Brexit shambles.
The really sad thing is that the UK education system has failed so spectacularly that huge numbers of people have not been equipped with the critical thinking skills to even see through such crude and manipulative statistical cherry-picking.
What to do about people who have been let down by the education system and left with such weak critical thinking skills that they don't even question such ludicrously cherry-picked stats is a question for another time, but what to do about Robert Kimbell and his ilk is easy: Call them out on their shockingly deceptive idiot fodder whenever we see them spewing it.
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