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Find, compare and share OECD data

26 January 2015
by Patrick Love
Sunday Post

Data suggest they’re not Greek

Scottish newspaper The Sunday Post (“A thoroughly decent read”) built its fortune on a mixture of gratitude for heart-warming behaviour; outrage at things that should or should not be happening in this day and age; cartoon strips featuring happy families; editorials that denounced absolute disgraces; and reader services that catered to two main groups. First, clueless shoppers in Kirkcaldy, asking for: “A Kirkcaldy stockist of men’s coats, please.” (“Wright’s Coats on High Street should have what you’re looking for, Mr. B”) And people who spent their time starting fights: “To settle an argument, which has the bigger population, Kirkcaldy or Tokyo?” (“Tokyo, but it’s hard to find a reasonably-priced coat”.)

Thanks to the Internet, finding a shop that sells coats is now a lot easier than it used to be, but it’s an absolute disgrace that in this day and age the same still isn’t true for information on other subjects that are nearly as important to many people, such as GDP or employment. So thank goodness for the new OECD Data Portal. Its 500+ free databases provide quick, easy access to information on all the topics, for OECD and a number of non-OECD countries too. The data are divided into twelve themes (agriculture, education, innovation and technology, and so on).

When you click on the catalogue, the default listing is by relevance. The most intriguing, for me anyway, was the second dataset: Energy prices in national currency per toe. But I was disappointed to discover it’s nothing to do with your frostbitten tootsies dropping off because you can’t afford heating. It turns out that “toe” here means “tonnes of oil equivalent”. It’s a standardised measure used by energy economists based on the energy released by burning a tonne of crude oil – 11.63 MWh in these tables. The toe is a practical way to compare prices and consumption, given the large variations in types of energies used even within a single country.

Take Greece for instance. On Saturday, a BBC reporter described how the smell of wood smoke was now characteristic of Athens since so many people couldn’t afford central heating anymore. A toe of electricity costs Greek households 1895 euros, more than France (1693), but less than Germany (3395). Average household disposable income in 2012 (last year for which comparable data are available) was the equivalent of $33,406 in Germany, $30,811 in France and $19,224 in Greece. Despite the crisis, France and Germany have seen rises in average income, but it’s fallen in Greece ($23,682 in 2008).

The OECD Data Portal has a useful feature called “pinboard” that allows you to collect a number of different data sets and present them together. To stick with Greece, here are a few of the things voters are asking the new Syriza-led government to change:

You can also compare groups of countries for the 518 indicators provided and share your results via the pinboard in various formats. Here for instance is a map giving the share of corporate tax in total tax, showing that it’s much lower in rance than in the US for isntance.

Useful links

OECD work on Greece

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