Have world poverty and inequality fallen since the 1970s?

This article suggests so:

Between 1970 and 2006, the global poverty rate has been cut by nearly three quarters. The percentage of the world population living on less than $1 a day (in PPP-adjusted 2000 dollars) went from 26.8% in 1970 to 5.4% in 2006 (Figure 1).

Although world population has increased by about 80% over this time (World Bank 2009), the number of people below the $1 a day poverty line has shrunk by nearly 64%, from 967 million in 1970 to 350 million in 2006. In the past 36 years, there has never been a moment with more than 1 billion people in poverty, and barring a catastrophe, there will never be such a moment in the future history of the world.

And later:

We can compute not only the world poverty rates and the poverty rates of any country or region, but also other statistics related to the distribution of income. For instance, we can compute the world gini coefficient, a measure of world inequality, for every year between 1970 and 2006. We show that world inequality measured by the gini fell from 67.6 to 61.2 (Figure 3), and similar declines in inequality can be shown for other inequality statistics, such as the mean logarithmic deviation, the Theil Index, and the Atkinson family of inequality indices.

Finally, for many theoretical concepts of welfare (e.g. Atkinson’s expected utility for the society, or Sen’s real national income) it is possible to find an inequality index described above such that the welfare concept can be represented as GDP multiplied by one minus the inequality index. Since we can compute these inequality indices, we can show that because world inequality fell, welfare measured for the world as a whole grew even faster than world GDP did, and more than doubled over the period 1970-2006.

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Happy 2008!

2008 looks as if it could be a crucial year in British politics. The current government’s poll ratings have dropped substantially and seems to be beset by problem after problem. If they cannot turn things around they’ll be on course to lose the next general election.

Also, in the wake of story after story depicting loss of personal data through incompetence, it looks people are finally waking up to the dangers of the national identity scheme and the other huge surveillance/database schemes the British government has been pursuing over the last decade or so. This development has yet to kill off the national identity scheme however, but if it does so, it will mark a major blow for civil liberties and privacy. Such a development would suggest that the tide is turning against the onslaught on civil liberties and privacy we’ve been seeing from this government. It’s been a long time coming.

2008 is also a crucial year for the US and thus the world, with George W Bush’s presidency into its final year and presidential elections being held. Given the US’s role as the most powerful country in the world, a change of direction from its government will have an impact on everything from middle east politics to efforts to deal with climate change.

I expect 2008 to be an interesting year.

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Three cheers to…

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Cartoon wars roundup(3)

The Danish cartoons controversy continues to generate stories around the world:

No wonder the cartoonsts are in hiding.

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The consequences of a nuclear armed Iran

Iran’s continuing defiance of the International Atomic Energy Authority, the US and the EU over its nuclear power program, their President’s claims that the Holocaust did not happen and his suggestion that Israel should be wiped off the map are all naturally making people nervous that some sort of military clash with Iran is brewing.

The fear behind this conflict, on the part of the West at least, is the fear that Iran may be trying to develop nuclear weapons for themselves. One must hope that this conflict can be resolved peacefully, but Iran’s actions seem to suggest a willingness to test the will of the international community to prevent them acquiring these weapons, if not to actually acquire them. Of course they deny trying to do so, but their lack of cooperation with the IAEA over the matter and their secrecy naturally lead to suspicion. They would not be the first state to develop nuclear weapons clandestinely, e.g. consider India, Pakistan and Israel. So the possibility they are trying to develop nuclear weapons must be taken seriously.

Why is there so much concern over Iran obtaining nukes, when we already have a nuclear armed US, Britain, France, Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan and India? It seems to me there are a number of reasons (in no particular order):

  • The more countries who have nuclear weapons, the more likely they’ll end up being used, with devastating consequences. Containment combined with the deterrence of Mutually Assured Destruction(MAD) may have worked in the cold war (even then we nearly ended up in a global nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis) between two large evenly matched power blocks, but we may not be able to rely on MAD working if nuclear weapons proliferate amongst religious fundamentalists in an unstable area of the world.
  • The Iranian regime is a sworn enemy of the US, Israel and indeed the West generally and is ruled by a president who seems to see himself as some sort of messianic/prophetic figure.
  • The Iranian regime is a Islamist fundamentalist theocracy, sitting on a large chunk of the oil that fuels the world’s economy, and sitting in one of the more unstable regions of planet.
  • A nuclear armed Iran would thus be far more powerful, and would likely try to use that influence to spread Islamist fundamentalism around the world (note they are known to support Islamist terrorist groups), whilst undermining the West.
  • Iran’s neighbours would naturally be nervous and would either ally themselves or seek to acquire their own nuclear weapons or both.

Allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and I’d thus expect a nuclear exchange in the region within a decade, if not less, alongside a serious boost to a totalitarian religious ideology. It must not happen. Hopefully this scenario can be averted peacefully and there is still some way to go before the diplomatic road runs out. However, it seems Israel will attempt other options if she deems it necessary. It would be far better if the international community united to stop Iran on this and far more likely to end peacefully too.

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Does Michael Howard really believe Iran’s president is democratically elected?

This story on the BBC caused me to do a double take when I first saw it:

Quizzed on Iran in the Commons, Mr Blair said the world’s security lay in spreading “freedom and democracy”.

But Mr Howard later said he was talking “gibberish” given that Iran’s president had been “democratically elected”.

The West fears Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons after it broke seals on a research facility.

‘Tough issue’

“To go on and on about democracy, has he forgotten that the president of Iran, the cause of all this trouble, was actually democratically elected?,” Mr Howard told BBC Two’s Daily Politics. (emphasis added)

What planet is the Tory party’s former leader on?

In Iran, the Supreme Leader’s authority overrides all other authorities. It is the same country that has a Guardian Council to vet candidates, whether for presidential or parliamentary elections, which barred 2,530 out of 8,157 candidates in recent parliamentary elections. In the Presidential elections, 1000 candidates entered, but only 8 were allowed to run. The Guardian Council can veto laws that are un Islamic and anti Constitutional. It is appointed by the Supreme Leader (6 members) and the head of the judiciary (6 members). The head of the judiciary is also appointed by the Supreme Leader. And Howard thinks this makes Ahmadinejad a democratically elected leader?!

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Amazing example of people power in Iraq

Some good news for a change.

Despite the awful security situation in Iraq, despite the gloomy prognostications of many commentators in the West, despite the war on democracy declared by al Zarqawi, the turnout in the Iraqi elections was a healthy 72%:

Polls have closed after a day which saw Iraqis defy the bombers and turn out in their millions to cast their ballot in an historic election.

About 25 people died in a series of bomb attacks staged by Sunni militants trying to scare voters away.

Despite the suicide bomb attacks, voter turnout was 72 per cent, the Election Commission said.

Highest turnout was in the Kurdish and Shia areas, where up to 90 per cent of the population cast their ballots.

However the BBC is quoting a lower but still respectable turnout of 60%. Either figure is quite remarkable in the circumstances. For comparison, the turnout in the last 3 British general elections was 77.7% in 1992, 71.3% in 1997 and 59.4% in 2001.

It thus appears that the Iraqi people have turned out in droves to vote, risking life and limb to do so. Sadly 25 of them were killed by the insurgents, but overall what else is this but a great success for the project to bring democracy to Iraq?

Those who’ve been claiming that democracy cannot be brought to the middle east (and, however unwittingly, providing succour for the likes of Zarqawi), should ponder this result very carefully.

Those who’re in charge of reconstructing the country and who have promised democracy now have a lot to live up to. The Iraqi people clearly want democracy. Now it must be delivered, we cannot let the Iraqi people down, we cannot let the jihadists and ex-baathists win.

Blair and Bush may yet have serious cause to be proud of their Iraq policy, costly, bloody and marred by mistakes as the process has been.

Indeed, who back in 2000, or even after the 11 Sept 2001, would have thought that the legacy of George W Bush and Tony Blair would include a democratised Afghanistan and a democratised Iraq? Yet now we’re well on the way to achieving both.

Now a message to Blair, stop undermining democracy and liberty at home!

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Lancet study claims 100,000 extra deaths due to Iraq war: but is it flawed?

The Lancet (free registration required) has published a study of mortality in Iraq before and after the 2003 invasion. This study concluded that 100,000 extra deaths had occurred, mainly due to the violence, a figure that has been widely reported in the media.

However it seems to me the study is seriously flawed.

Take the reported excess of deaths. They estimate roughly 98,000 excess deaths in the post war period. But the 95% confidence interval for this estimate is 8,000 to 194,000 deaths! (See page 5, column 2, second paragraph). That is a huge level of uncertainty. The range of this confidence interval is 186,000, almost twice the stated estimate itself. The actual number of excess deaths could be as low as 8,000, or as high as 194,000, and still be consistent with this study!

Then there is the methodology (from page 2, column 1, second paragraph):

“We obtained January, 2003, population estimates for
each of Iraq’s 18 Governorates from the Ministry of
Health. No attempt was made to adjust these numbers
for recent displacement or immigration.”

Thus we have them using pre war data provided by Saddam Hussein’s government, hardly the most trustworthy source, and no attempt to assess whether there was any migration between January and the time of the study.

Moreover, they interviewed 988 households and asked them about deaths. However they only attempted to corroborate the reported number of deaths by asking for a death certificate in 78 households, and only actually obtained a death certificate in 63 of the households. In the vast bulk of households there was no corroboration of the reported deaths. Given that this a population that lived under tyranny for decades and may be wary about what they tell people lest it gets them into trouble, and people may also lie if they have strong (pro or anti) views/feelings about the occupation, the failure to verify the bulk of these deaths is yet another source of error.

Then there is the method of sampling used. They used cluster sampling. According to this critique of the article, this can exaggerate figures if there is a skewed distribution of deaths. Yet most of the violence is concentrated in a few areas such as the so-called “Sunni triangle”. Several clusters fell inside the Sunni triangle.

Returning to the pre-war estimates of mortality, the study gives a figure of 29 deaths per 1000 live births for infant mortality, rising to 57 deaths per 1000 births for infant morality. Yet earlier studies of infant mortality in Iraq give higher pre-war levels than this. For example, UNICEF reported a 1999 figure of 108 deaths per 1000 live births for infant mortality, implying that if the study is correct, the post war infant mortality rate is still an improvement on 5 years ago, despite the invasion and continuing violence, damaged infrastructure, etc.

An estimate for 2002, from the CIA world factbook puts the infant mortality rate at 57.1 per 1000 live births, about the same as the post war infant mortality the Lancet study gives. My point here is that the Lancet study appears to have used an optimistic estimate of the pre war Iraqi infant mortality rate. Certainly there’s no obvious reason why the infant mortality rate in Iraq would have dropped sharply (from 57 per 1000 down to 29 per 1000) between 2002 and Jan 2003, whilst the country was still under sanctions.

In conclusion, it seems to me this study is pretty worthless. Even taken at face value, the reported figures include such a high degree of uncertainty as to be worthless.

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Great news! And congrats to the coalition forces. Now the Iraqis need not fear Saddam ever regaining influence, which may make it easier for the remaining Ba’athists to be hunted down and captured. In the meantime let’s hope Saddam is made to answer for his crimes.

Now where’s Osama got to?

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