Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Saturday morning in the Digest household

Me: "doo de doo, newspapers, how I love them. First of all, throw away the 'Sport' section because I don't care about sport"

Mrs Digest: "I notice you've also thrown away 'Travel', 'Family' and 'Life'".

Freakonomics review part 3 coming next week I think. It would have been this week, but the Lancet survey came out. Mind how you go.
1 comments this item posted by the management 10/21/2006 08:30:00 AM

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Apparently, two suspected terrorists who were the subject of control orders (Americans; this means that the police and security services strongly suspect them, but don't want to show their evidence to a court) have disappeared. This means one of two things:

1. They have "disappeared" in the sense that our surveillance on them has broken down and they are currently at liberty to do whatever they like.

2. They have "disappeared" in the Latin American sense; they are currently in an unofficial or secret prison being tortured.

The first possibility is, of course, very frightening. The fact that the UK is now a country in which the second possibility certainly cannot be ruled out (it would currently be illegal for the UK to do this, but only just, and it would not be illegal for us to hand them over to the Americans who would be able to do it legally), is in my opinion a lot more frightening.

A note: of course, this is a "conspiracy theory" rather than a "cock-up theory", and as a result I am sure a number of my readers will take my entertaining it as de facto evidence of lunacy. It is not. It is a plain and undeniable fact that authoritarian states carry out disappearances of their enemies. If you're going to take seriously the concerns of Liberty, etc, about the direction in which UK civil liberties are going, it has to be because you are worried about something like this happening. I have no evidence that the missing terrorist suspects have been disappeared, but this is because I have no evidence about them at all. Which means in my view that the only reason to rule out the second possibility above out of hand would be a belief that the UK state security authorities operate under an absolute and effective prohibition against such things, which is a belief I no longer have with sufficient degree of certainty to build other beliefs on it.
0 comments this item posted by the management 10/17/2006 02:35:00 AM

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Northern Ireland Numeraire

More on the Lancet study �

Everyone knows that the standard unit of geography is "an area the size of Wales" (except for military purposes, where for some reason it is "an area the size of France"). Back in the dim days of history when the first Lancet survey came out, Marc Mulholland wrote something which got me to thinking that perhaps a similar standard unit for civil wars ought to be "the worst year in Northern Ireland". By the way, I'm conscious that we're talking about real deaths of people who had families and loved ones here. There is, frankly no way of writing this post which isn't as sick and tasteless as hell, so I'm just basically going to go for it. All I can do is beg the forgiveness of my Northern Irish readers and hope that, at least, the fact that their civil war appears to be at an end makes it a bit more bearable. Sorry in particular to Marc, who I must emphasise doesn't bear any responsibility at all for the use I've made of his numbers.

In the worst year in Northern Ireland, 1972, 496 people were killed in acts of violence related to the Troubles. If we scale that up for the difference in population between Iraq and Northern Ireland (27m/1.5m = 18x) and for the time covered by the Lancet study (39 months/12m = 3.25x), then we can say that, if the situation in Iraq since the invasion had been exactly as bad as the worst year in Northern Ireland, then there would have been 29,016 deaths by violence. Almost certainly coincidentally, this is the lowball number that George Bush gave when initially trying to rubbish the Lancet study. It does not, to be honest, seem very credible.

The IBC count of 43k-48k, would correspond to the worst twelve-month period in Northern Ireland, immediately following on from the introduction of direct rule (which would in turn correspond to the average death rate attributable to Israeli security forces in Gaza between 2000 and 2005). To me, at least, this kind of points out how low this count really is. The figure of 65k which has been thrown around quite a lot and appears to be rather tenuously sourced from Iraqi government data, would correspond to Iraq since the invasion being about as bad as the worst single month in Northern Ireland, July 1972 when nearly a hundred people were killed.

So basically, all these lower figures would be consistent with the country of Iraq having been, on average, about as lawless and dangerous as the really bad times in Northern Ireland. I don't think that this is remotely plausible. July 1972 was a horrible time from all I can read (I wasn't born at the time), but even then, it seems that there was at least a semblance of normal life going on in a sense that appears to be utterly absent from Iraq. I'd also note that British troop numbers scaled up from 17,000 to 29,000 during that period; to maintain the same troops/population ratio in Iraq, there would need to be just under 400,000 coalition troops in Iraq, about three times as many as there actually are.

On the other hand, the central Lancet projection would suggest that on average over the three and a quarter year period covered, in terms of violent deaths alone, Iraq has been roughly twenty times as bad as 1972 in Northern Ireland. Specifically, it was roughly ten times as bad for the period covered by the first Lancet study and is currently 36 times as bad. Is this credible? To be frank, I don't know; I think that these numeraires break down when you have to multiply them by too many times. But looking at these numbers makes me very confident indeed that the low numbers are completely incredible; they're not describing anything like the state of civil war that Iraq appears to be in.

The bottom line here is that, as I say, the Iraq war isn't just a terrible mess, like British policy in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It's a massive disaster, well on its way to becoming a disaster of world-historic proportions like Vietnam. The big and frightening headline numbers are just the logical numeric expression of that fact; if someone isn't proposing to argue with me on the fact that it's a total disaster then they can think what they like about the numbers.

Update: Jamaica had 1476 murders in 2005, out of a population of 2.7m. Scaled up in the same way, this gives a number almost exactly equal to the Iraq Body Count "high" estimate. Safe European Home = Rock the Casbah?
0 comments this item posted by the management 10/16/2006 03:25:00 AM

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lancet Survey of mortality in Iraq has been updated

Shit. This is very bad news. Currently estimating 600k excess deaths, CI 450k-900k. Death rate running at 3x its pre-March level. Picking over the rubble, how are ya. Can't get hold of the study itself yet - it doesn't appear to be on the Lancet website but I know a few subscribers. But Jesus Christ. Bad news.

"If you admonish a revolutionary for the bloodshed he is causing, he will tell you that you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. Ask where's the omelet and he will tell you Rome wasn't built in a day"

- George Orwell, via Kevin Donohue in CT comments (Kevin actually improved on the original quotation, which just says "he will tell you that you can't expect everything to happen all in a moment")
0 comments this item posted by the management 10/11/2006 01:07:00 AM

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