Chris Blattman

A brief moment of transcendental angst

Almost immediately after writing today’s post on machine gun preachers and child abductions in Uganda, I switched computer programs over to Stata and continued running some regressions, where my dependent variable is “war deaths”.

It took me about 30 minutes to realize that this was ironic, absurd, vaguely cruel, and rather disheartening.

While I think my work sometimes serves important purposes, and that (sadly) I am probably better at blogging and running regressions than I am at more direct forms of assistance, perhaps some deeper reflection is in order.

Of course, what I actually do is say to myself, “well, at least I don’t work in finance.”

The brief moment of concern passes, and I turn back to dispassionately regressing death and destruction.


6 Responses

  1. Improvements in finance explain 80% of the increase in Thailand’s TFP (Townsend). The TFP of most developing countries would halve if they had financial markets like those in the U.S.

    What you do does not matter. Improved finance does.

  2. Well, the real question is: is there some connection, however tenuous, between what you do and hope for real peace?

    I sometimes wonder if academics that study areas for their discipline are far more valuable for their systematic area knowledge than for any publications they produce.

  3. George D – hear, hear. The last trumped-up genocide was Saddam’s. Admittedly, the main casus belli bruited about in early 2003 was the notional WMD, and the 16 words worth of Nigerien yellowcake that are now all but forgotten. Nevertheless, the number of people Saddam was supposed to have killed was not a negligible part of the case for toppling him.

    Well, when they got there and started the exhumations on mass graves purported to contain thousands that actually held only hundreds; on mass graves purported to contain hundreds that contained only dozens; and on those graves that supposedly contained dozens of corpses that mostly yielded only a handful each … oh, nobody wants to hear about how Saddam was really more like the 12th or 13th meanest son of bitch on the planet at the time, rather than #1 as commonly supposed. And later on, nobody *really* wanted to hear about the Lancet report, especially if it suggested he possibility that the U.S. invasion’s direct and indirect casualties might have been on par with (if not wildly exceeding) Saddam’s direct depredations.

    Getting the numbers right really matters, no matter what people say.

  4. Maybe you’re actually doing it right?

    In business, when someone talks about “cost structure”, I lean forward and turn up my cochlear volume nob. But when they talk about “leadership” with the same furrowed brow, I feign a relaxed mood while surreptitiously slipping the safety catch on my Browning.

    Real leadership is very much about figuring out the better thing to do. But — better by what measure? How do you calculate? Based on what figures?

    Think of much failed policy has come out of simply not getting the numbers right right in the first place. That’s got to be a lot of it.

  5. Existential angst. I get it every time I argue the numbers of an alleged genocide (I’m in favor of a radically lower number than most who talk about it). Accuracy matters, because each of these people have names, former lives, and people they’ve left behind – they’re as real as you and I. Generalized piles of bodies do us little good, and so we must keep grounded as much as possible. Remember that you’re (hopefully) doing real work for real people, and you’ll find a path again.

  6. mmm good point, do you have some names, pictures and personal stories of some of the deaths? Can you share at least one?

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