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July 24, 2005



"One of the under-rated virtues of the stock market is that it’s a device for eliminating extremism. The facts often undermine the beliefs of even the most successful investor, with the result that we learn to hold our views lightly, and to be open to contrary opinions."

Surely the sheer weight of investment can create facts rather than simply correct prejudices towards them, as it did over the way that valuations of dotcom companies soared during the late 90's boom? Similarly, if you have enough resources then you can create facts in foreign policy, or at least attempt to do so. I think everyone can agree that this is what the US and its supporters have tried to do in Iraq over the past two years (and we now seem to be watching a particularly gruesome correction process).

Since both foreign policy and economics involves testing theories of human behaviour then the appeal of both must be fundamentally the same. Preferring one to another is therefore a choice between explosions and equations. It's a matter of taste.


"Take a simple question: how many people have been killed in the Iraq war? Is it around 25,000 as Iraq Body Count claims, almost 100,000 on the Lancet estimate, or just too difficult to count, as the UK and US governments claim?"

Kind of a side-issue to your point, but this question becomes a lot less difficult to answer when you realise that the IBC and Lancet studies were measuring different things and that the UK and US governments don't want to know the answer. IBC were looking only at violent deaths and accept that even in that limited sense their 25,000 figure is an undercount since it only measured deaths reported by the media.

Not that you would know this from reading the mainstream media on the subject, who don't help by giving equal weight to pretty much anyone who offers an opinion on this as on so many other subjects. As Paul Krugman says, if the Republicans claimed that the planet was flat, the headline in the respectable press the next day would be "Opinions Differ Over Shape of Earth".

Paddy Carter

If you like some understandable respite from armchair kissingers, these guys manage to extract some abstract philosophising from the current bruhaha - should appeal to an anorak like you ...


my tuppence - I know Harry & Norm bang away endlessly at the same issue, endlessly reformulating the same points, but perhaps that's a worthwhile thing to do, if, like me, you think that popular liberal opinion, as personified by Guardian op-eds, is way out of line on these issues and needs beating around the head until its sees the error of its ways.


Dear writer,

An economist without an interest in international affairs such as the war in Iraq because you cannot immediately begin to apply your elasticity theories?

Here I was imagining that only the uneducated held "awkward" views or chose to be deliberately ignorant.

I suppose for some people (self made or otherwise) it is extremely difficult to see beyond their own nose. Even your interest in Sub-saharan Africa is from a discussion perspective.

I am deeply disappointed, I thought I'd found a well-rounded blog but I was clearly wrong.

Here is some food for thought (or as in your case, maybe not): There is more to our own existence that just our mere gratification with how intelligent we are through witty commentaries about economics and nothing else.


I've been thinking a bit about why I like this blog, even though I'm not greatly into a significant number of topics covered. My hypothesis is that somehow S&M comes through as someone capable of changing his mind given the right facts & reasons. (You can stop blushing now). I'd be interested to know what other regulars think, and if there are any other blogs similar in tone.


regarding Africa, check out http://www.bulletsandhoney.blogspot.com/

Paddy Carter

JB I think you may be confusing being interested in a topic - that is wanting to read and write about it - with caring about the outcome for the people it involves. It is, for example, possible to care about the outcome in Iraq, without wanting to join the armchair generals. Same goes for poverty. You might ask yourself whether a writer who has raised epistemological (spelling?) questions about these subjects ought to be accused of deliberate ignorance, or for that matter whether its makes much sense to think that only the uneducated hold "awkward" views. You might also ask yourself what your worthy enthusiasm for the topics that Mr S&M distains actually achieves, apart from allowing your to nuture the flame of your own self righteousness, which must be quite gratifying.

may I recommend this to you?



Paddy Carter – your comments pose food for thought, much appreciated. However, in the wake of London’s recent incidents of terror, I have had the misfortune of discovering that very intelligent individuals can have ignorance of monolithic proportions. The kind that is almost unforgivable.

The reason for my comment “Here I was imagining that only the uneducated held "awkward" views or chose to be deliberately ignorant” was because I suspect that only a few people bother to keep well informed about the issues they read about in the papers. Most take is as God send. I have personally known some reports on highly regarded newspapers to be wrong, and the masses buy, read and regurgitate their own versions of the same idiocy. It makes me sick.

I expect, rightfully or wrongfully, that well educated people make their own well-informed decisions. Professional economists, for instance, cannot separate world political affairs from economics. The two are linked, so is world poverty, etc.

I hoped that by increasing our knowledge (more education) we can bring more reason into an argument, not announce our choice to be ignorant.

In closing, I doubt very much that someone who says:

“I’m not interested in foreign affairs. Mention Iraq, Israel, or Korea to me, and the chances are I’ll switch off”

is interested in reading about the issue all together. They have their right not to be bothered, but why bother to say that you’re not bothered? It arrogantly suggests a hint of complacency in that position of ignorance.

And to respond to your last question/comment:

“You might also ask yourself what your worthy enthusiasm for the topics that Mr S&M disdains actually achieves, apart from allowing you to nurture the flame of your own self righteousness, which must be quite gratifying”

No, no, no. Feeding self righteousness? Though colourfully phrased, I don’t think so. I seek out interesting discussions on relevant issues (international or otherwise). Discussions that look at both sides of an equation and have a perspective with minimum bias. Stumbling and mumbling was recommended by a friend after a very interesting article. I even wondered why the page starts with “strong views held weekly”. However, I did not expect the kind of self-denigrating comments such as the ones I responded to.

john b

Side note: as far as I'm aware, nobody takes Galloway seriously, so I'm sceptical that this particular criticism works...

Rob Read

"as far as I'm aware, nobody takes Galloway seriously"

So why is he on the BBC so often?

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