0.7 is arbitrary? Well, there’s a random accusation


Today, we’re launching a new policy brief “0.7 – An Accepted Number”.  It’s a finger-licking three pages long, has lots of pictures and even (brace yourselves) an Olympic tie-in. 

The paper challenges one of the pet arguments used by aid skeptics who want the UK government to renege on their promise to spend 0.7% of national income on aid:  the argument that 0.7 is an arbitrary number.

Is it really fair to single out 0.7 as a number that is ‘arbitrary’?  Is it any more arbitrary than the other numbers that we use to set goals, establish rules and guide behaviour?

Using examples from the worlds of sport, public health and education, the paper describes numbers which, like 0.7, have a long-established, historic basis.  The reasons these numbers were originally decided upon have now eclipsed by the fact that they have achieved such wide acceptance.  The meaning of these numbers is bolstered by the depth of their establishment and long-standing.  In this context, the paper argues that 0.7 is not arbitrary but an accepted number.  


2 Responses to “0.7 is arbitrary? Well, there’s a random accusation”

  1. Owen Barder Says:

    I am not clear why “accepted” is the opposite of “arbitrary”. It could be both, no?

  2. Amy Pollardlard Says:

    Thanks Owen.

    I think arbitrary implies that the number has come out of nowhere – ie that it has just been pulled out of thin air. What I’m trying to get at with an accepted number is the idea that these numbers have not come out of thin air – they have come out of a social, historical and political context.

    As concepts I think ‘accepted’ and ‘arbitrary’ numbers are on an overlapping venn diagram (so potentially both, as you say). However, there’s no place for the pejorative dismissal usually implied by ‘arbitrary’ if the number is also accepted.

    Sometimes I wonder if 0.7 attracts critique not because it is genuinely more arbitrary than the other numbers used in policymaking, but because it is not a round number, which makes the negotiated quality of the figure more obvious. It’s like when beggars ask for 85p for the shelter… the specificity of the request instantly feels like a manipulation.

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