Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Freaks or Freakonomics (and Co-relating in the absence of reality)

Once upon a time, I was interested in the Freakonomics anecdotes. It all changed by the time I got to the end of the second chapter of the book. It reminded me of how “sales operations” guys come up with weird theories during sales reviews. Theories that don’t help you close deals or plan sales campaigns. Freakonomics has a very similar way of avoiding reality and the "big picture". I agree (like most others) that the authors are smart guys with a great talent for writing blogging. It's the lack of perspective in their content that worries me. They do have their fair share of critics. Some examples

I have followed the freakonomics blog on the New York Times website and am convinced that their approach to economics is culturally biased. By the way, NYT has now stopped publishing any of my comments (even when I have something positive to say about the post). Update: I stand corrected. They published this last night.

Yesterday’s post- “Do jobs really cure insurgents?” got my attention.  The first half of the post read as follows-
"Does giving a man a job stop him from becoming a political insurgent? The generally accepted wisdom is that it does. In fact, the U.S. and other western powers have distributed millions of dollars of foreign aid in the hopes of reducing political violence and instability. But a new working paper from Eli Berman, Joseph Felter, and Jacob Shapiro may force policymakers to reevaluate this strategy. The researchers looked at unemployment and political violence against both the government and civilians in Iraq and the Philippines. They find that unemployment is actually negatively correlated with attacks against the government and statistically unrelated to insurgent attacks against civilians."
The working paper that Freakonomics was referring was published by National Bureau of Economic Research and based on a grant from (surprise, surprise!) The Department of Homeland Security.

Here is my two cents- 
  • Cause: American invasion of Iraq Effect: More than 100,000 civilians in Iraq are DEAD.
    (Where do employment programmes fit in?)
  • I would not be looking towards “insurgents” as the root problem. I would look at the fact that Iraq is an occupied country that was invaded illegally and without ‘just’ or any other cause. Operation “shock and awe” devastated the infrastructure of the country. 
  • Disaster Capitalists lead by the likes of Halliburton and Black Water are “rebuilding” the country after bombing it flat. How? For e.g. - They are importing raw material after refusing use of local labor and factories to create raw material locally.
  • To try and look at the insurgency problem through the lens of “employment” is, for the lack of a better word, STUPID. You have insurgents, not because they are employed or unemployed but because their country was bombed to smithereens by American troops. 
  • You would not have to assess the functionality of development and employment programs if you had not blown up the country in the first place. 
  • As far as economic research is concerned, this paper deserves nothing less than the ignoble
  • I do not see any economic trends that deserves applause in the analysis. I would however hazard to suggest that the authors study the impact of development programs on insurgency while standing under US operated drones in NWFP in Pakistan. Maybe then, they will have better clarity on the co-relation between employment and insurgency.
  • The paper and Freakonomics blogspost has a Friedmanesque stench to it. 

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