The locomotive and the bullet (QED 96)

Do you remember Margherita Hack ? The Florentine astrophysics (but she would have said: astrophysiha), strongly committed also in politics and in the social field (some malicious or distracted Wikipedia editor at this moment inflicts on her a curious slip calami

perhaps misunderstanding about a certain award that had been awarded to Torre del Lago for certain reasons that no one here disputes). I liked listening to her on television, partly because the subject in which she had established herself, among the many she had practiced (or practiced), has always fascinated me, as some may have noticed, and partly because the my mother tongue, that is paternal, but in short: the language of that noble homeland to which I was perhaps too annoying (but less and less than some illustrious young colleagues …).

I remember in particular one evening when he was getting excited trying to explain to an Italian intellectual (that is, to one of those people who for a job do not have to know anything about mathematics – "I don't know anything about it" – or about music – "to me everyone likes music! ") a very simple concept: kinetic energy is the mass times the speed squared (it would be: the square of the speed), or, as she said," kinetic energy is the mass for the speed in iqquadrato! "

And indeed it is.

A locomotive weighs 101 tons (here I refer to the E636 , the ones from my childhood), but if it hits you at two per hour it hurts less than a 4-gram bullet coming at you at 920 meters per second (and here I am referring to the AR70 / 90 , the rifle of my youth, because unlike you I did the military, and to the Cascine, indeed: to the Hascine).

And do you remember when, a few posts ago, we talked about Ireland 's spectacular performance in 2015 ? 25% growth, practically the speed of a bullet! I wonder if the Irish journalists, in that wonderful year, would have described their green country as "the locomotive of Europe".

This story of the locomotive (which is not a bullet) is part of the dullest and most worn repertoire of stale metaphors, the metaphors of the travet of thought, which, unlike those of poets, subtract rather than add meaning to the discourse. We ran into it and its fallacies from the very beginning :

citing studies that evaluated it in a critical sense, such as that of De Nardis .

Probably those who use it have in mind a concept that we have examined several times here: that of a country's contribution to the growth of an area, a concept not very far from that of kinetic energy, because it is also the product of a mass (the share of the country's GDP on the total area) for a speed (the growth rate of the economy: the first time we talked about it ten years ago and here you will find all the technical explanations ). In short: to contribute a lot to the growth of the area (to "pull" the train), that is, to be a locomotive, a country must run a lot, or be big enough (if both things happen then obviously it's better).

Let's try to give substance to this reasoning with some numbers. In the 23 years from 2000 to 2022, the twelve countries of the initial Eurozone exceeded the growth rate of 5% in only 29 cases, out of the possible 276 (twenty-three years for twelve countries). Such sustained growth took place in just over 10% of possible cases.

In 2000, for example, Spain grew by 5.1% and Ireland by as much as 9.4%. But who will have made the greatest contribution to the growth of the area, which in the same year was 3.9%? Obviously Spain, given that its economy accounted for 9.8% of the total, against 1.6% of Ireland, so Spain that year accounted for 13% of the total growth of the Eurozone (0.5% out of 3.9%). , while Ireland only 4% (0.15%, still up 3.9%). That is, it was not the relatively fastest country, but the relatively largest country, that pulled the most.

Why do I say "relatively"? Because of course it was neither Spain nor Ireland that made the greatest contribution to the growth of the Eurozone in that year, but the two largest countries by far, Germany (29% of the total) and France (21% of the total). despite their relatively more modest growth (2.9% and 4.1% respectively).

Bottom line: bullets tend to go faster, but locomotives tend to be bigger, which is why they pull more.

I thought about it while re-reading some triumphal titles all centered on the concept of speed (of growth):

The problem with writing certain things is that, even if only a few read them, someone who reads them believes them, and this can have consequences. Mind you: not that the figure is contested here: 6.3%, hoping that it is the actual figure, is a good result, no one can be sorry. The fact is that this, like other newspaper headlines, is rather inaccurate: even if its growth rate is the same as ours, the locomotive, that is the country that makes the greatest contribution to the growth rate of the area, is France, which expresses 21% of the total GDP, instead of Italy, which accounts for only 15%. And so, of the 5.1% growth in the area in 2021, France, which has grown like us to 6.3%, expresses 1.3% (i.e. 25%, a quarter, of the total), while Italy expresses it only 0.95% (i.e. 19%, less than a fifth, of the total).

You will tell me that it is not that important, you will tell me that I want to be defeatist. Absolutely not, and indeed, to urge you to look at the glass half full, I immediately tell you that this year our contribution exceeds that of Germany, something that has practically never happened before:

as this almost illegible Excel shows you, where I have highlighted in pink the years in which a country has made a contribution of more than 20% to the growth of the area.

One thing should be noted in this regard: Germany and France have almost always contributed more than 20% to the growth of the area (because they have more mass), we almost never, except in 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2020, years in which we made a great contribution … but in the opposite direction, because the area was decreasing (it was in recession), and we were among those who contributed most to bring it down!

I am starting to conclude (as the politicians say).

I would be a little careful to rest on the tracks … sorry: on the laurels of the locomotive, as transpired by the utterances of some members of the Government and the confidences of some senior officials. In particular, the idea that "we can stop supporting the economy, we are out of the tunnel, we are the locomotive of Europe" seems a bit risky to me. As we told ourselves a few posts ago, the combination of SRAS and SARS is unforgiving, and some are noticing :

We had just had time to explain why our científicos would soon be worried, and here is the QED, they are already worrying :

We, in order not to be mistaken, will do our job, presenting some amendments to the milleproroghe (for example, extending the credit moratoriums …). This story of being more and more realistic about the king has never been good for us, and if the EU leaves us room for help we believe we should still use it. The thing must be studied, hoping that no one is offended: it is not defeatism, it is pragmatism, and also a little allergy to journalistic metaphors.

Neither our mass nor our speed allow us distractions: if we crash, we hurt ourselves, and the conditions for this to happen are all there, and they do not depend on us. In short, as someone who solved problems said

(… those who await the cathartic and palingenetic event may not know what they are waiting for: all in all, I prefer to fight …)

This is a machine translation of a post (in Italian) written by Alberto Bagnai and published on Goofynomics at the URL on Fri, 14 Jan 2022 21:47:00 +0000. Some rights reserved under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 license.