Gross!

by John Quiggin on September 10, 2004

The CheneyeBay controversy is a welcome break from all the terrible things happening just at the moment (like most moments, I guess) and gives me a chance to reprise my favorite economic aphorism.

Gross Domestic Product is a lousy measure of how well a country is doing, because it’s Gross, Domestic and a Product.

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Dick Cheney on Employment

by Kieran Healy on September 10, 2004

By now you’ve probably read “this story”:http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/0904/171981.html about what Dick Cheney said yesterday:

bq. Indicators measure the nation’s unemployment rate, consumer spending and other economic milestones, but Vice President Dick Cheney says it misses the hundreds of thousands who make money selling on eBay. “That’s a source that didn’t even exist 10 years ago,” Cheney told an audience in Ohio. “Four hundred thousand people make some money trading on eBay.”

John Edwards “said this morning”:http://www.qctimes.com/internal.php?story_id=1034852&t=Business&c=31,1034852 that “If we only included bake sales and how much money kids make at lemonade stands, this economy would really be cooking.” I see three possible responses from Cheney.

* Say you’ve changed your mind and that women’s domestic labor _should_ be counted as part of the formal economy. Job-creation problem solved.

* Issue a “corrected transcript”:http://www.prospect.org/weblog/archives/2004/09/index.html#003975 of the speech, with one of the following corrections: “Four hundred thousand“; “trading on eBay NASDAQ”; or “That’s a source that didn’t even exist 10 years ago I just pulled out of my ass right now, because I think you’re “all idiots”:http://maxspeak.org/mt/archives/000761.html.”

* Glance out the window, turn to Scooter Libby and say, “Let them sell tchochkes.”

Stealing the election

by Henry on September 10, 2004

Kosuke Imai and Gary King have just published an “article”:http://gking.harvard.edu/files/ballots.pdf in _Perspectives on Politics_ that’s controversial – but quite important. King is a noted methodologist, who’s made very considerable strides in the application of models of ecological inference in the social sciences. On behalf of the _New York Times_, Imai and King applied their methodology to the disputed election results in Florida. The results are eye-opening.

(1) If overseas absentee ballots had not been counted illegally, there is a very small chance that Gore would have won the election outright. In Imai and King’s account (where they admit that there is some room for alternative interpretation), the chance that Gore actually should have won the election on this alone is around 0.2%.

(2) More to the point: if the recounted votes in Miami Dade and Palm Beach had not been rejected by Katherine Harris, Gore would have won with 82% probability. In Imai and King’s words

bq. To put it one way, the massive differences in probabilities from 0.002 to 0.82 for a Gore victory were due to the decisions made by Katherine Harris.

Finally, and most damningly, Imai and King find “strong and independent support” (albeit indirect) for the proposition that:

bq. the propensity of local election officials to violate the law and accept bad ballots was substantially greater in counties where Bush strategists believed there was more absentee ballot support for their candidate and tried to convince election officials to accept bad ballots.

One should note some caveats – ecological models are still as much art as science. Still, Imai and King have done their homework – they present a strong body of evidence to support the contention that Republican efforts to manipulate the count had a decisive impact in Florida in 2000.

Genocide and the UN

by Henry on September 10, 2004

I don’t have much time for Colin Powell, as a rule, but it’s only fair to note that his willingness to describe what’s happening in Sudan as genocide contrasts very favourably with the appalling behaviour of the Clinton administration over Rwanda. The “New York Times”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/09/international/africa/09CND-SUDA.html?ex=1252468800&en=a9110563b24686d2&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland says that the term ‘genocide’ “was used by the Clinton administration to describe atrocities in Yugoslavia and Rwanda” – I don’t know that this is true. My very strong recollection is that Madeline Albright bent over backwards to avoid describing the murders in Rwanda as genocide, for fear that the UN Genocide Convention would be invoked. It was a quite disgusting episode in US foreign policy. As Philip Gourevitch “describes it”:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/evil/readings/french.html

bq. The desertion of Rwanda by the U.N. force … can be credited almost single-handedly to the United States. With the memory of the Somalia debacle still very fresh, the White House had just finished drafting a document called Presidential Decision Directive 25, which amounted to a checklist of reasons to avoid American involvement in U.N. peacekeeping missions. It hardly mattered that Dallaire’s call for an expanded force and mandate would not have required American troops, or that the mission was not properly peacekeeping, but genocide prevention. PDD 25 also contained what Washington policymakers call “language” urging that the United States should persuade others not to undertake the missions that it wished to avoid. In fact, the Clinton administration’s ambassador to the U.N., Madeleine Albright, opposed leaving even the skeleton crew of two hundred seventy in Rwanda. Albright went on to become Secretary of State, largely because of her reputation as a “daughter of Munich,” a Czech refugee from Nazism with no tolerance for appeasement and with a taste for projecting U.S. force abroad to bring rogue dictators and criminal states to heel. Her name is rarely associated with Rwanda, but ducking and pressuring others to duck, as the death toll leapt from thousands to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, was the absolute low point in her career as a stateswoman.

Don’t Forget Your Towel

by Harry on September 10, 2004

ABout 25 years ago I was innocently listening to my radio very late at night, and heard the first episode of a strange science fiction show. I was one of the few thousand people who listened to all the first series. It was not a success, but, being the BBC, they made another series anyway. A couple of years later it was transcribed as a book and became a huge publishing phenomenon, and the author wrote several more books added on to the series. I refrained from reading them, on the grounds that books are just second-rate radio shows, and if it wasn’t dramatised it probably wasn’t worth reading. It never occurred to me that, if I refrained from reading them, I might, eventually, be able to hear them dramatised on the radio as they should be, and not have any inkling of the plot. Fantastic.

Darfur

by John Quiggin on September 10, 2004

While we mourn the victims of the Jakarta bombing, terror is still continuing in Darfur. Today, for the first time, Colin Powell described the campaign by the Janjaweed militia, backed by the Sudanese government, as genocide. Passion of the Present has his full speech and more.

Inevitably, whatever the world does in response to the Darfur genocide will be influenced by the war in Iraq and its aftermath, and I’m going to look at the question in that light.

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The Wisdom of Crowds

by Daniel on September 10, 2004

I suspect that the results of Chris Lightfoot’s estimation quiz (trailed by Chris a while ago) will prove to be the Dead Sea Scrolls of the subject for years to come; there is ample evidence for both sides here. I would just like to get my oar in first by saying that it provides definitive support for my views. Well it does.