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!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Northern Ireland Numeraire - update

So, how are things in Iraq, twelve months after "the surge"? As longtime readers know, the numeraire that this blog uses to measure horror and chaos is the 479 troubles-related deaths in Northern Ireland in 1972 (the worst year of the troubles by a significant margin; the next worst was 1976 with 296 troubles-related deaths). Longtime readers will also recall that we make a genuine request for forgiveness to any Northern Irish readers for doing so; any quantitative discussion of numbers of deaths is always going to be horribly tasteless, but it's also necessary, so sorry. Using a Northern Ireland population of 1.5m, deaths in Iraq have to be scaled by a factor of between 16.5x and 18x to be comparable with Iraq (I'm giving a range here because the last census of Iraq counted 27 million people but there may be as many as 2m refugees living outside Iraq today).

The Iraq Body Count database counts 7974 civilian deaths between 1 January and 22 October for this year. Annualised and scaled (note that I annualised by multiplying by 366/295 which might be too high as the death rate is falling), this would be equivalent to between 1.1 and 1.2 Northern Ireland 1972s.

The month of October (scaled up by 31/22) is the lowest month so far with 462 IBC deaths. That would be equivalent to 0.65-0.7 NI72 units. However, the Northern Ireland figure I'm working off includes British servicemen and both Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries; it's not quite correct to say that the IBC count only includes civilians, but they have quite strict rules for counting Iraqi paramilitaries (basically, only summary extrajudicial executions, although I would guess that more Iraqi paramilitaries are miscategorised as civilians) and don't include coalition deaths at all. Using instead a numeraire of the 250 deaths coded as "Civilian" in the Sutton Index would have Iraq in October at 1.25-1.35 NI72c.

So probably too early to declare victory yet in these terms, although it is worth noting that since June 2008, the level has been below 1.8 NI72, which is worth noting as it is the typical murder rate in Jamaica in a non-election year (last year there were 1574 murders in Jamaica, out of a population of 2.78m). This is still awful, of course, but it's another milestone which shows that the situation is now stabilising to a level of awfulness which is at least comprehensible - in 2006, the IBC database alone recorded 3.2 NI72 units, which is simply unimaginable.

Oh, and of course, there is something of a sting in the end here; from all the surveys carried out in Iraq, from the two Lancet studies to the two UN ones, we have good reason to believe that IBC actually undercounts deaths in Iraq by a factor of between 4x and 10x. Multiply all numbers in this post accordingly, and thank your lucky stars you don't live there.
5 comments this item posted by the management 11/24/2008 04:02:00 AM

A particularly annoying species of Afrobollocks is the use made in opinion journalism of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. I've written about this before - basically, for purposes of editorialising all one needs to know is that "nobody intervened and therefore hundreds of thousands of people were killed". The Rwanda Gambit is played by someone wishing to add a sprinkling of moral gravitas to whatever point they want to make, usually about the United Nations being tragically inadequate to the modern world because of its failure to endorse the bombing of a current enemy. It's irritating bullshit, and is not rendered any less so by the fact that Paul Kagame is all too inclined to play the same game at the drop of a hat.

And so we have Alasdair Palmer in the Telegraph:

If Kenya, South Africa or Uganda had intervened to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, for example, they would have been violating international law. China would certainly have vetoed any UN Security Council authorising an invasion of Rwanda, as would Russia: even Britain and America would probably have done so.

Quite a lot to discuss here.

First, if South Africa had "intervened to stop the genocide", it would have to march its intervention force 1500 miles north through Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania (or the same distance up through DR Congo) in order to get there. This is rather like suggesting that Portugal might have intervened unilaterally in Croatia. Kenya is closer (about 450 miles from Nairobi to Kigali), but a) does not have a frontier with Rwanda either so would have to march through Uganda or Tanzania (depending which side of Lake Victoria they decided to go around) and b) was not exactly the world's most stable state itself in 1994, which was toward the back end of the Moi years. The geography here does not give one a whole load of confidence.

Second, this hypothetical four-party veto doesn't seem terribly consistent with the UNSC's actual behaviour. There was, actually, a UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda (UNAMIR) at the time, and UNSC 929 was passed in June 1994, authorising the French government's Operation Turquoise. Neither UNAMIR nor Turquoise were effective, but this is a different issue and Palmer doesn't get to simply assert that his hypothetical South African intervention would have been an unqualified success. It certainly isn't the case that the UN Security Council in 1994 was so overcome with concern for Rwandan national sovereignty that it was prepared to quadruply veto any overseas intervention. In fact, the main opposition from Turquoise came from UNAMIR, which believed that the resources that France and the African Union were devoting to "Zone Turquoise" would have been better deployed to a toughened up UN force with more robust rules of engagement, and they were almost certainly right. If only the UNSC had been prepared to take more of a stand against unilateralism, things might have gone better.

I've made this point about Turquoise before but it's important so I'm making it again. There is a really annoying tendency among the pro-intervention lobby to pretend it didn't happen and that "there was no intervention in Rwanda". There was an intervention in Rwanda, it was Turquoise and it made things worse. It was a somewhat politically motivated, terribly badly planned and wholly counterproductive exercise. Or in other words, the normal kind. Using the example of Rwanda as a data point in favour of unilateral intervention requires you to have a theory about why Turquoise can be considered as irrelevant or sui generis. Without that (or even worse, to make rhetorical use of Rwanda without mentioning Turquoise at all) is a particularly toxic strain of Afrobollocks.
5 comments this item posted by the management 11/24/2008 02:01:00 AM

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Melanie Phillips writes ...

... regarding her journalism on family issues during the 1990s:

Then as now, I was scorned and vilified by the ‘progressive ‘ intelligentsia. I had become reactionary, right-wing, ultra-right-wing, a harker-back to some mythical golden age of the fifties, a moraliser, an extremist, a bigot, a fascist, demented.

I'm sure that there's a word for this figure of speech, probably coined by Robert Conquest (who gave us, in the course of his analysis of Communist apologetics of the 1960s concepts like "rhetorical questions to which the answer is clearly no", and "words like 'basically' and 'fundamentally' used in contexts where 'not' would cleary be more accurate").
10 comments this item posted by the management 11/18/2008 10:01:00 AM

Friday, November 14, 2008

Kapelwa Musonda

As promised for some while, I find myself marooned in JFK airport for a few hours, and so have typed in three of my favourite articles from the Zambian satirist, Kapelwa Musonda. These articles appeared in the 1960s and 1970s; the influence of Will Rogers and Myles na Copaleen is clear, but they're also quite original and wonderful in their own way. I've picked three here dealing with fairly universal themes; next week I'll post three more with more specifically Zambian content. I've also kept the introductions from "The Kapelwa Musonda Files", the compilation of his Times of Zambia columns printed in 1973.


On the subject of sex, adults have been vying with each other to impress the young ones, especially the girls, with their superior and intimate knowledge about the facts of life. While the controversy on sex education was raging in Zambian society, a number of men fancied themselves as experts and harangued young girls on the subject at every opportunity.

Every time I think I am making a big impression on my listeners by intellectually discussing some current national problem, there comes along this fellow who upsets the applecart.

You have probably met the fellow. He comes along, takes the floor and makes you appear as though you didn't know what you were talking about. Experience has taught me that the only way out of this situation is to try and agree with him. In this way you make things look as though whatever he says is just what you might have said if he hadn't come along.

I was talking the other day to a couple of schoolgirls and I was discussing the touchy problem of those of their number who have had to abandon their education because of pregnancy. I remember clearly saying "It is has been proved conclusively that pregnancy is prevalent among schoolgirls who attend all-girls boarding schools and therefore, we can safely assume that there is a tendency among our girls to be lax in their pre-marital sex attitudes in the holidays".

As every man-about-town knows, a good vocabulary and skiful gesticulation rarely fails to impress our girls. They think a bright political career is in the offing for you. I developed the theme with all my resources and there was no doubt that the girls were fascinated. Then, out of the blue, appeared this fellow.

"Well, what have we got here?", he said, slapping me on the back and obviously fancying the girls. "What you were saying, friend, is causing parents and teachers deep alarm and concern, but they could sleep better if they understood the conventional standard of moral behaviour of our girls."

"Just what I was saying", I said. " The moral standard of our girls has become unconventional".

"That's where you are wrong my friend. There is nothing unconventional about the behaviour of our girls. They are just undergoing an evolution".

"That's what I mean", I said, realizing that his intention was to put me in a spot. "These girls have just been liberated from the bondage of traditional life and as you say, they are going through an evolution. Sooner or later they will know all the hurdles and will be able to say no."

"I wouldn't be too certain about that", he said, with a demeaning smirk. "You see, it all depends on the evolution our boys go through All over the world now, there is an apparent relaxation of rigid sex attitudes, so its purely wishful thinking to hope that things will settle down".

"You seem to misunderstand me", I said, wondering if there was no way of getting rid of him. "What I mean is that we have to start by educating our boys to respect the girls. After all, they are the ones who make the advance".

"I'm afraid that will get you nowhere. The initiative has to start in the home. The responsibility rests squarely in the hands of the parents".

I was really worried. I could see that he had no intention of accomodating me. All the big impressions I had made on the girls were completely quashed. However, I tried to persevere.

"All we have said boils down to one fact", I said "That parents should give their children some form of sex education. It's the only way out of the mess we are in".

"That would be a waste of time. Sex education, unless it's well done could be fatal. It will just raise their curiosity. In fact, what do our parents know about courtship? All of them think their daughters know better until they discover that they will soon have grandchildren".

"Anyway", I said, now on the verge of tears, "our daughters stand a good chance of completing their educational careers because we are learning a great deal. Things like the cinema, television and new educational methods keep on improving us and accelerating us beyond our years. We shall certainly pass this knowledge on."

"Maybe. We can only hope so since neither of us is a diviner, but that kind of attitude doesn't help anybody to sort out the problem as it stands now".

"Of course it doesn't, but I know that if we only find some way of bringing boys and girls together in clubs we could break the strangeness that exists between tham and in the process eliminate all thought of sex which is common now whenever a boy meets a girl". Remembering that the best defence is attack, I continued. "I try to think up solutions all the time unlike you who are only interested in arguments".

"Well you can go ahead with clubs. But you must be prepared to make a lot of room for new babies in the initial stages of your planning, and for your interest, it's not my habit, and it never will be, to argue with myself".

That's when I began hitting him, although I lost the girls there and then. Everyone I have told the story to wonders why I didn't hit him earlier in the conversation.


Bureaucracy is a combination of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, and the right hand itself not knowing what it is doing. Inter-departmental communications are some times so confused that there are times when it does seem as if the Government has gone to the dogs. Towards the end of 1971, Zambia was buzzing with speculation about the Second National Development Plan, which was due to be released by the Government in 1972,

With the launching of the Second National Development Plan only a few months away, there is a great deal of talk around the country about development. To most people, the only development they can see in the country is one that has an effect on their pockets. As for me, I measure the extent of development around me by observing what goes on on our city roads.

I think everybody has noticed that no sooner is a tarmac road made and opened for public use than some unit of the City Engineer's Department comes along and tears the road apart to install some sewage disposal drains. As soon as the sewage men are finished, the water preople come along too, to do their tearing apart to install water piping. As if this is not enough damage to the beautiful road which cost thousands to build, the electricity boys decide it's their turn and do their own damage. Not to be outdone, the Post Office people come along toom and break the road at some point where the traffic is rather heavy to lay their underground telephone cables. In fact, the extent of damage done to the road, legal or otherwise, is possibly the best indication of development in the surrounding areas. Unfortunately, there is never an end to the breaking and mending of the roads as long as the country is developing.

What has always worried me is that some lunatic - or anybody for that matter - just out for a prank decides to dig up the road. No one can tell whether he is from the City Engineer's Department or the Post Office until perhaps the damage is done and motorists are stranded.

Imagine what would happein if a couple of lunatics who have just escaped from Chainama come armed with shovels and picks and begin to break down the Secreteriat one Monday morning.

By 1000 hours, pandemonium has broken loose in the offices, nobody is able to do any work. The Secretary-General to the Government remembers that there had been tentative plans to renovate the Secreteriat building but wonders why he has not been officially informed when the workmen would arrive to start the job. What worries him most is that he doesn't recall that the renovations involved breaking down part of the building. So, he rings the Minister of Power, Transport and Works to get more details about the renovations/ The Minister informs him that he doesn't remember anything but he will get some details somehow.

Half an hour later, the Minister of Power, Transport and Works rings the Secretary-General and informs him that his Permanent Secretary and the Assistant Commissioner (Buildings) are away in India on a recruitment campaign but he has ordered some senior members of his staff to look into the matter.

By the lunch-hour, the lunatics have managed to break through into one of the offices and are now hammering their way into the adjoining lavatory.

It is realised that the job is of great magnitude. So the police are called in to protect the property at night as most of it could not be moved to more secure places.

By 1500 hours, there is so much confusion that noe of the Secretariat employees can do any work. The Secretary-General calls an emergency meeting of his most senior staff to map out evacuation procedures. It is decided that the army erect tents to be used as temporary offices.

The next day, the Ministry of Power, Transport and Works spokesman announces that they have not been able to find any plans but have sent a telegram to India for the Commissioner to come back and sort out the problem.

The next day a big government reshuffle affecting the Ministry of Power, Transport and Works is announced. The Minister, the Secretary-General, that is, will give the problem of office renovation to the Secretariat top priority.

The Commissioner returns from India, but as his office has been ransacked by those who had been instructed to look for the documents and plans regarding the renovations to the Secretariat, he can't find anything. However he promises to continue looking.

On the fourth day, the lunatics damage one of the water mains and a stream of water runs down the road, making it a hazard to traffic.

This deliberate wastage of water forces the Mayor, accompanied by the Town Clerk and the City Engineer to rush to the Ministry of Power, Transport and Works where they hold a crucial and heated three-hour meeting.

Both Ministry and city parties agree that in the absence of documents and plans relating to the renovation of the Secretariat, all work should be suspended pending a report from a special committee to look into the problems. Members of the special committee are duly appointed.

The special committee decides that it would do its assignment efficiently if it gets the advice of experts in London, New York and Moscow. Funds are made available for members of the committee to visit these towns to seek expert advice.

In the meantime, the lunatics decide they have had enough of the Secretariat building and so they leave it alone.

A couple of months later, the special committee produces its report and recommends immediate extensions and renovations.

At the official opening of the renovated buildings, the Secretary-General pays great tribute to the Ministry of Power, Transport and Works for the impressive work done and also for completing it on schedule.


The tax problem is always with us. This article, written after new tax measures were introduced in the budget in 1969, presents Musonda's view on how the Government can make the taxpayer part with his money without moaning. As always, it is a unique suggestion and was written with the common man in mind.

Newspaper editors across the country have been receiving thousands of letters each day from indignant taxpayers complaining one way or the other about the increased duty on luxury goods and the new income tax. Perhaps, next to mini-skirts, complaints about the new income tax is the hottest item for regular writers to the Press.

However, I have been giving the problem of disappointed taxpayers a lot of though and have come up with a solution which, if adopted, would eliminate all the complaints against the new income tax measures. I must confess though that I am not the originator of this plan, but I have given it some modifications to suit local pay packets and conditions.

The new plan is based on the simple fact that nobody likes to pay taxes because he has no direct say on how the money he pays is spent. What happens is that all the tax money is placed in a large basket and then some government official shares it up among the different ministries without the slightest consideration for the feelings of taxpayers.

Under the new plan, each taxpayer would specify on what his tax money should be spent. This would give each and every taxpayer a definite sense of participation in government budgeting and spending of his hard-earned money Nobody would have any grounds for complaint since he could see dotted around the countryside the fruits of his tax contributions.

If, for instance, a taxpayer wants his money spent on salary increases for the Police and the improvement of highway patrols, he would so specify on his tax form. The taxpayer would have to be given an opportunity to pay occasional visits to the Police and see how the Police are making use of his money. In return, the Police would be expected to mount a guard of honour for the taxpayer to inspect. After all, if one is responsible for part of their salaries, the least one can expect them to to is to show some appreication in the normal way.

Perhaps the greatest attraction of this plan is that it would give every taxpayer a sense of power and perhaps eneable him to feel that he is part and parcel of the whole plan of nation-building. A feeling of patriotism would be generated in all. If, for instance, the taxpayer feels that his District Governor is pushing him too hard, he would so specify in his income tax return and say that none of his money should be used to pay the salary of the Governor And vice versa, if one felt that the Governor deserved the whole of one's tax.

If a taxpayer feels that his money should be used to finance a trade delegation to Moscow, he would note it onthe tax return form and it would be expected that when the delegation returned from Moscow, they would bring with them a few gifts like Vodka, fur hats, and pictures of Russion women driving tractors for the taxpayers who contributed finance for the trip. They would also be expected to write the contributors a "thank you" note.

Under this system, it wouldn't be necessary to confine oneself to one item only. A taxpayer could, for instance, say he wants Kwacha10.00 of his tax to be spent on new hospitals, K5.00 on salaries for parliamentarians, K30.00 on subsidising a local mini-skirt factory, K1.00 on a school near his house, 2 ngwee on agriculture and 1/2 ngwee on foreign aid. The advantage with this is that a taxpayer could walk into any government building, say the Post Office and warn the teller that if he doesn't work fast enough, he might reconsider his decision to finance his monthly pay. This could perhaps help a great deal to bring about a dedicated civil service and a disciplined nation.

I know there will be many sceptical people who will dismiss this plan as unworkable since there might be some ministries and projects to which taxpayers might not decide to contribute any of their monies. But this is the whole point of the plan. If taxpayers feel that one project is not all that necessary and they have no money to contribute to it then that project has to be shelved. The taxpayer doesn't want it. However, the Government can always find some money from other sources, such as the sale of stamps, tax on land, radio and television licences, court charges, duty on luxury items and so forth.

As perhaps everyone has noticed, the main beauty of this system of taxation is that if a taxpayer specified on his form that his money should be used to finance a project to send a Zambian astronaut to the moon and then the Government felt that it could not afford such a project, then all the money would have to be returned to the taxpayer.

Now I imagine every tax expert will be asking himself why he didn't think of it before, and I think that for the same reason they won't be interested in even giving it a trial period.
8 comments this item posted by the management 11/14/2008 06:59:00 PM

Monday, November 03, 2008

Banda wins

... all over bar the shouting, of which Sata is apparently doing quite a bit, but to no noticeable effect - the international observers have certified this one, and so far (cross fingers touch wood) nobody seems to be up for a riot. Analysis to follow, but this looks pretty much on the money to me; the rural population voted for the incumbent party which has the organisation, while the urban vote went to the cri de coeur that "it's just not working". I still think the right man won, basically because Sata seems like too much of a loose cannon for my taste, but I suspect that the MMD is going to end up being a dead end on the paath to development.

Meanwhile, obviously, Congo gets worse and worse - the site of the conflict is a long way from the Zambian border though.
3 comments this item posted by the management 11/03/2008 10:18:00 AM

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