A trillion dollar war (crossposted at CT)

Before the Iraq war began, Yale economist William Nordhaus estimated the likely cost at between $100 billion and $2 trillion. At the time most of the interest lay in the fact that the bottom end of the range was twice as much as the $50 billion estimate being pushed by the Administration. But with a couple of years’ experience to go on, Nordhaus’ upper range is looking pretty accurate. Assuming that Bush ‘stays the course’, it’s safe to estimate that the war will cost the US at least $1 trillion by the time all the bills come in, and it could easily be closer to $2 trillion.
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Lurker Week

Via a chain of links starting at Crooked Timber, I found out that it was Lurker Day on September 21. This is the day when readers of blogs who don’t normally post comments are supposed to do so, ideally with some sort of comment about why they read the blog, how they found it and so on. Given that it’s Friday afternoon now, I’m making it a week instead of a day.

Don’t be put off by the term ‘lurker’ which dates back to the days of newsgroups, when there was a feeling that everyone ought to join in[1]. There’s nothing wrong with reading the blog and not commenting, but I’d really like to know that my page views aren’t all robots and spiders, so a short message from you, just this once, would give me lots of encouragement. Feel free to use a pseudonym; most of the regular commenters do.

fn1. Apart from which, if I can put up with ‘blogger’, anything goes.

Yet more elections

Thinking about the German election outcome, it struck me that this would be an ideal test for betting markets. I’ve always thought that, if there’s a bias in such markets it would be towards the right, so the toughest test for them would be predicting a left-wing upset win like this one (I’m calling a win on the basis that left parties got a majority of the vote, not making a prediction about what goverment might emerge). A quick Google reveals that there is such a market, called Wahlstreet but my German isn’t good enough to deal with their site, which has lots of graphs bouncing around without an obvious control. Hopefully someone will be able to help me.

Anyway, if there’s a contract allowing a bet on the share of votes for the three left parties (SPD, Greens, Left party) and if, two weeks in advance, that market was predicting a vote share of more than 50 per cent (as actually happened), I’ll concede that the case for the superiority of betting markets over polls has been established, at least as a reasonable presumption. [I didn’t follow the polls closely but I had the impression that most of them were predicting a CDU/CSU win until the last days of the campaign].
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I’ve been reluctant to post on the Latham book, for a variety of reasons. In particular, I don’t much like politics as blood sport. I found the Brogden business pretty depressing, and similarly with this. The whole affair has certainly brought out the worst in a lot of people, including Latham himself.

Although I’ve seen various selected quotes, I didn’t watch the Denton interview until last night and I still haven’t got around to the book itself. Latham made some good points in the interview and had he chosen, he could have used his current position to make severe but constructive criticisms of the Australian political process and the Labor party. But on the whole he failed to do this, preferring instead to seek revenge on real and imagined enemies. Publishing a book of this kind is always a bad idea, and has obviously damaged Latham himself more than the targets of his indiscriminate attack. It’s also damaged the Labor party, though they are at such a low ebb in any case that it will probably not make much difference beyond the short term. But Beazley, his main target, seems to have emerged almost completely unscathed.
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Racism and censorship

Via Jack Strocchi, this story about the censorship by Deakin University of an article on the White Australia policy by racist academic Andrew Fraser, accepted for publication in its law review.

There’s a lot of background on this from Catallaxy, Mark Bahnisch and Rob Corr.

My view based on limited information: the refereeing process was highly dubious and, from what I’ve seen of Fraser, any journal with decent academic standards would reject his trash. However, that didn’t happen and the university authorities should not have engaged in ad hoc censorship.

Fraser appears to be right in claiming that an academic publication in good faith is protected under the Racial Hatred Act, so the university would have to find a reason the publication was not in good faith, for example, that normal academic standards were waived in the interests of attracting controversial publicity. This seems plausible, given the recent record of Deakin Law School, but the University hasn’t made such a claim.

UK soldiers ‘storm’ Basra prison


There’s loads of confusion about this story, but it seems to be common ground that British forces used tanks to break down the walls of an Iraqi prison where two soldiers, arrested for firing on Iraqi police, were being held. It’s increasingly evident that the coalition forces have become one of the array of armed militias in Iraq, all pursuing their own overlapping agendas and all claiming not to be answerable to anyone else.

Update This story is, not surprisingly, front page news in Britain and Australia, but the NYT barely covers it. It never made the front page of the website and, on the International page, it appears as a subheading to a story about the murder of an NYT reporter, also in Basra.

The latest statements from the UK government say that the soldiers had been handed over by police to a Shia militia group, presumably one of the Sadrist factions. The provincial governor, who has condemned the British action strongly, is also a Sadrist, it appears, though most of the reports I’ve seen suggest that the police are predominantly associated with the Badr brigade (armed wing of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who are currently regarded as ‘good guys’, being part of the national government). There’s more on this in the comments thread.