… is from page 115 of Robert Higgs’s insightful Summer 1998 Independent Review essay, “Official Economic Statistics: The Emperor’s Clothes Are Dirty,” as this essay is reprinted in the 2004 collection of some of Bob’s essays, Against Leviathan (footnote deleted):
Because they are ill defined conceptually, many official economic statistics fail to capture what they purport to measure. Figures on “poverty,” for instance, are notorious in this regard. Is poverty an absolute or a relative condition? If the latter, what is the proper standard of comparison? Obviously, the living conditions of many Americans below the “poverty line” must seem affluent to billions of submerged denizens of the Third World. Apart from international comparisons, many Americans now classified as poor would have seemed well-to-do in the eyes of, say, their grandparents. Above a certain absolute income, “poverty” becomes less a definite condition than a staging area from which armies of redistributionists launch their attacks on higher-income people.