back to article Clueless do-gooders make Africa's conflict mineral mines even more dangerous

I have muttered around here more than a few times about the various idiocies of the Blood in the Mobile campaign. This was the idea that we could stop the appalling (and true) levels of violence in Eastern Congo's mining trade by making American companies fill out lots of documents. The idea was that if they all had to say …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I propose . .

    that the brilliant individual who's idea is so genius that he was showered with praise and recognition be offered a tour of Congo's mining areas to witness first hand what a great idea it was.

    If he doesn't come back alive, it must mean that he became enamoured of the place and decided to stay, right ?

  2. TeeCee Gold badge

    As usual.

    Whenever some nuImperialist gets their way, the Law of Unintended Consequences bites them on the arse.

    [1] Imperialism: A formal army of enlightened types brings "civilisation" at gunpoint to some place full of primitive brown people.

    nuImperialism: An informal army of enlightened types use political, economic (and when all else fails military) arm-twisting to force primitive brown people to run their countries the way the enlightened think they should.

    The crucial difference between these approaches is that the first is somewhat unfashionable in polite society.

    1. perlcat

      Re: As usual.

      I disagree. The crucial difference is that the nuImperialist has no interest in actually keeping said primitive brown people alive. They're simply engaged in the societal mutual masturbation exercise of "doing the 'right' thing", regardless of the actual consequences. Since they feel so gosh-darned *good* about themselves, they're happily able to ignore a democide or two of their own creation, or, even better, blame it on the people that have the gall to oppose them.

      The old Imperialist may have had serfs, but dead serfs can't work mines.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How utterly surprising !

    It never ceases to amaze me how, in all these wonderfull plans thought up by all manner of well meaning folk trying to better the world, the 'human factor' is always ignored.. if money can be made there will always be someone somewhere prepared to do anything to get their hands on some of it, bugger the consequences.

    It works a bit like this : legislation is issued by the governments of the world to be able to ensure that resources gathered around the world by major players are 'clean'. The method for this is inevitably a lot of paperwork and government stamps. No one is actually going to send out an armed force to a foreign country to verify if everyone is playing by the rules;

    Subsequently, it becomes more difficult -at least administratively- for more or less ethically sound legitimate players to import said resources. They will therefore try and source their needs from alternative origins. This leads, especially in regions already considered to be 'offenders', to a sharp drop in legitimate demand.

    At this point, all manner of of more err...mercantile oriented smaller, less visible and often decidly dodgy smaller 'intermediates' smell blood in the water, and set up elaborate sytems to 'clean up' traceability of the objectionable origins. Unfortunately, the locals will have to sell even cheaper (because they can not export legitimately) and the difference will be pocketed by the people providing the 'whitening' service.

    There have been many such examples in the past, and there will be many more in the future. Issuing a law and associated form is not going to work. Never has, never will.

  4. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    You'd think they hadn't had 150 years of experience trying to control substance consumption by banning the trade in it. Oh, wait.

  5. Jim99

    Bandit theory

    It is right to be wary of governments' excesses. But proponents of the "bandit" theory need to explain why all the richest countries have public sectors between a third and a half of GDP, and somehow remain rich, while poor countries have a smaller share of the economy taken up by public sector, as did now-rich nations back when they were themselves poor. Government adds something (I'd hesitate to suggest what) that makes being rich possible. Given a free choice, the countries most people would most like to live in also have big government. It is an odd type of bandit that takes your stuff but somehow leaves you better off.

    It looks like there is a balance here; a private/public Laffer curve if you will: 0% government (ie anarchy) makes you poor. A 100% public-sector economy under state-socialism makes you poor. There will be big debates where its best to be in the middle.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bandit theory

      What happens if you add the public sector corruption to the totals?

      I suggest it's more about the quality of the government than how much you spend on it. Singapore seems to do well enough with a government that spends less than 20% of GDP

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Bandit theory

        Singapore is a city state, it's very rare that a city state isn't well governed cheaply.

        1. Dr Scrum Master

          Re: Bandit theory

          Singapore is a city state, it's very rare that a city state isn't well governed cheaply.

          Indeed, the multi-million dollar salaries that Singapore's politicians award themselves are worth every cent...

      2. Naughtyhorse

        Re: Singapore


        but you wouldn't want to live there!

      3. Jim99

        Re: Bandit theory

        The governments of Singapore and Hong Kong both levy big taxes indirectly by being the main owners of freehold land and the principle landlords. This works in a land-constrained city state in a way that is not true more widely. Finding an example of a big (both physically and by population) country with European living standards and taxes less than 20% of GDP is pretty hard.

      4. DaveDaveDave

        Re: Bandit theory

        "Singapore seems to do well enough with a government that spends less than 20% of GDP"

        Singaporean government statistics are about as reliable as Soviet tractor production figures. And even by the official figures only around half of Singapore's population are citizens. (It's actually far less than that.) All the per cap figures go with the number of citizens, not the total population, making them look just great - because there are several uncounted workers living in the direst poverty for every citizen living well. Similarly, the government-to-GDP ratio looks good because they're taxing everyone in the economy, but only providing government services to around a third of their population.

    2. Wade Burchette

      Re: Bandit theory

      The richest countries became rich first, then the public sector became large. Countries are not rich because of a large public sector.

      1. Robert Grant

        Re: Bandit theory

        The richest countries became rich first, then the public sector became large. Countries are not rich because of a large public sector.

        That may be, but it sounds simplistic to me. It could well be that healthcare and education allow many more people to work at a more valuable level, so I think the (ill-gotten and Imperial, technological or resource-based) riches of a country's past kickstart a sustainable way to stay rich.

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: Bandit theory

          @ Robert Grant

          "It could well be that healthcare and education allow many more people to work at a more valuable level"

          These are not the exclusive provision of the public sector. Instead such services were nationalised.

          1. Robert Grant

            Re: Bandit theory

            such services were nationalised.

            Unless you're saying that the private sector was providing equal education and healthcare regardless of income, you've missed the point that educating and providing healthcare for everyone provides a more inventive, productive workforce, that is wealthy enough to spend money and drive the aforementioned kickstarted economy.

            (Moral arguments about whether is better to let poor people suffer and die from illnesses they couldn't afford treatment for are left as a simple exercise for the reader.)

    3. nijam Silver badge

      Re: Bandit theory

      > explain why all the richest countries have public sectors between a third and a half of GDP...

      Bloated (bandit) govermentents are a symptom, not a cause, of that wealth.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bandit theory

        "Bloated (bandit) govermentents are a symptom, not a cause, of that wealth."

        So bad government is a luxury good?

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: Bandit theory


          "So bad government is a luxury good?"

          Absolutely. Assuming we are happy with the wealth and prosperity we have we would surely look to protect our interests. However bad government can continue until enough people are affected by it to vote it out. The last 2 elections were telling as the main parties lost votes which fell to parties of action instead of parties of the status quo*.

          *This was the expectation of the libs in the last gov. Different people have different views of how effective/active they were.

      2. Marshalltown

        Re: Bandit theory

        "Bloated (bandit) govermentents are a symptom, not a cause, of that wealth."

        Not that simple, though correct in essence, I think. Wealth is no more or less than energy flow. Accumulating (not working, not in use) wealth is an indication of an inefficiency. That leads to social inequalities that in the end result in events like the French and Russian revolutions (the American Revolution was unusual in being a proactive action). Redistributive entities (and they appear way before bureaucratic governments) operate - mostly badly - to get pooled wealth moving, working. The inefficiency of these entities is critical because it destroys wealth, which is in fact a key element in the process that no one, especially not the wealthy or the poor, really wants to think about. But, the Second Law can't be denied, suspended or revoked. Most economists seem to think they are independent of physics. But an economy is nothing but ecology with specifically human elements included.

      3. perlcat

        Re: Bandit theory

        Precisely. The implication that there is a causal relationship between a bloated government and a well-to-do society is laughable. If anything, the causality flows the other way. Like Willie Sutton, old-time bank robber, they go there because that's where the money is. No more, no less.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bandit theory

      We just have a better class of bandit is all :). Just because its a protection racket doesn't mean you don't also get protection from the other bandits.

      It also depends how you separate government, regulators , judiciary and public sector. Resources into good quality 'rule of law' do seem to pay dividends although one presumes they are also subject to diminishing returns.

    5. Richard Wharram

      Re: Bandit theory

      The essential elements that caused these countries to become rich are rule of law and enforcement of contract. Without those investment is too risky to bother with, it's better just to farm the masses for small bits of wealth while they remain dirt poor in those circumstances.

      Rule of law has to be enforced against the rulers as well as the masses. Hence the reforms of the Glorious Revolution, more so than Magna Carta, kicking off the beginnings of British dominance in the world in wealth and power. Other countries which still allowed their rulers and elites to welch on deals if they felt like it couldn't muster the investment Britain could.

      Rule of law and enforcement of contract generally require a reasonably powerful state to enforce them. Wasteful shit will build around it once wealth starts to grow as noted but that doesn't mean all state-spending is such.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Bandit theory

        And the UK is about to throw away enforcement of contract by telling doctors that if they don't sign up to new contacts they will be forcably signed up. Do the UK's international investors know what contempt this country's government has for contact law?

      2. lucki bstard

        Re: Bandit theory

        I'll think you'll find the dominance started before 1688..

    6. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: Bandit theory

      > Government adds something (I'd hesitate to suggest what) that makes being rich possible

      What've the Romans ever done for us?


    7. bep

      Re: Bandit theory

      Well, the central government gave the British the Royal Navy. I don't know what percentage of GDP it used, but I suspect it was substantial. This meant that when Boney, for example, wanted to make an uninvited visit to London to take away the GDP, he was prevented from doing so. At the same time, the UK could go and take other people's GDP in whatever manner suited them at the time. Now that the British feel safe from invasion, they no longer spend so big on defence. This is a big benefit of the European Union for Britain, but you rarely see it discussed.

      1. Andrew Meredith

        Re: Bandit theory

        [[ This is a big benefit of the European Union for Britain, but you rarely see it discussed ]]

        The EU had nothing to do with this, much as they do indeed keep claiming they did in their propaganda leaflets. NATO was the one actually standing up and defending the peace. I have a good number of ex-military friends who get very aerated on this subject.

  6. codejunky Silver badge


    The law of unintended consequences. But I am sure the do-gooders will feel better just for doing something.

    1. Hollerith 1

      Re: Ah

      Sometimes the dogooders feel better for a reason, or do you not think the huge drop in malaria was worth the effort?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ah

        No - it was certainly not worth the effort as it could have been done cheaper and faster without the do gooders.

        They banned a product so it had to be replaced with ones with a *higher* relative toxicity to humans vs mosquitoes

        1. disgruntled yank

          Re: Ah

          And of course mosquitoes never develop immunities to things like DDT.

      2. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Ah

        @ Hollerith 1

        "Sometimes the dogooders feel better for a reason"

        Sometimes they do but it will be interesting to see if the do-gooders change their approach. Preferably to not adding more red tape in a shaming exercise which creates a moving target (the gangs do the same or worse to a different resource). On the plus side cutting this red tape should save a fair amount which can be better used in the recovering economy.

    2. Trollslayer

      Re: Ah

      Precisely - they do it for themselves not others.

    3. breakfast Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Ah

      As an alternative are you suggesting that nobody should do anything to try and improve matters anywhere because they may not have foreseen every possible consequence of their actions?

  7. Not That Andrew

    Well I guess I've received an answer to a question I never knew I had asked. Who would be stupid enough to draft legislation against conflict minerals and limit it to a very specific list of mineral in a very specific geographical area?

  8. Trollslayer

    There are times I disagree with Worstall

    But this article is spot on.

    The self aggrandising types that frankly patronise everyone who isn't in the club have caused more bloodshed then we can imagine over decades, even centuries.

    To deal with human nature we must accept and try to understand it. This is a slow, tangled and sometimes upsetting process.

  9. DHJ

    What about the (mostly) successful Kimberley process?

    And are we to believe that these militia's will continue fighting to the same degree when there are smaller financial returns, and, probably as a result, fewer weapons available?

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: DHJ

      ".....And are we to believe that these militia's will continue fighting to the same degree when there are smaller financial returns, and, probably as a result, fewer weapons available?" You really need to go read up on the history of Mozambique as a perfect example of how the militias will carry on with fighting long after there is virtually nothing left to fight over. Even when the returns are small they will continue the easier lifestyle of banditry over the much harder and "less manly" but peaceful pursuits of being farmers or fishermen. I would recommend "A Complicated War" by William Finnegan to give an insight into how banditry can become the norm.

      In London I once met a Rhodesian who used to train Renamo "freedom fighters". As he put it they never had to force anyone to join Renamo, just told them an AK-47 meant they would be able to grab whatever food, drink, women and consumer junk they wanted without having to actually work hard for it. Sometimes the do-gooders just don't realise how hard life is in the Third World, especially Africa, and that banditry can often offer a much better return than the daily grind of hard farming, where you can work as many hours of the day as you can and your family still starves to death. Simply assuming that if you make being a bandit (or blood diamond/mineral dealer/slaver) slightly harder it will drive former bandits to turning over a new leaf is the height of obtuseness.

      1. DHJ

        Re: DHJ

        Speaking as a so-called 'do-gooder'...

        a) Do-gooder doesn't automatically equal naive. In fact there are plenty of naive people on the sidelines, or on computer forums, whos contribution to the problem is far less helpful.

        b) That an AK, a few bullets and a gang is addictive, and not something you'd just give up when the going gets harder, is not something i've ever questioned. Instead i'm asking what happens when your gang can't afford as many AKs or bullets.... Mozambique is now a relatively bandit-free country. Just because banditry is normal now doesn't mean it can't be beaten eventually.

      2. Muscleguy

        Re: DHJ

        Except Mozambique got better, so your doom and gloom scenario is neither inevitable nor intractable as you imply.

        You may have missed the good news that Mozambique has been declared landmine free? The place is now so stable that deminers get to do work and nobody comes along and lays more of them. BTW the former deminers are all being retrained/educated in other skills. The HALO trust which organised this is run from rural Argyll here in Scotland. Do-gooding that worked.

        Note that the possibility of the now redundant deminers turning to banditry is lessened by training and educating them.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          Re: Musclehead Re: DHJ

          "Except Mozambique got better....." LOL, ignoring the fifteen years of truly horrific civil war, it "got better" because of Joaquim Chissano, who was a pretty unique individual. Oh, and a large UN peacekeeping and rebuilding force, after the UN had finally got over its politics. Unfortunately, people like Chissano (or Nelson Mandela) are pretty rare in Africa (just look at the bunch running the ANC post-Mandela), and the UN is even more riven by politics than in the '90s. And the conflict in the Middle East is getting far more attention than that in Africa.

          " your doom and gloom scenario is neither inevitable not intractable as you imply...." I'd laugh again but it's getting a bit sad how people have been so blind to the facts of Central Africa. The on-off Congolese civil war has killed an estimated 5.4 million people, fueled by the often illegal mineral trade described in the article. Indeed, Obama's much-hyped "biggest heartbreak" at his inability to change US gunlaws seems a might hypocritical when people in the Congolese civil war having been dying at a rate of about 24,000 per month for many years. Where's his heartbreak for Africa? Oh, but scoring political points in an election cycle is a lot easier than trying to fix really complex problems in a faraway land.

  10. DAM the other one

    Prizes for ...

    Less than nothing. Perhaps Tim you would like to calculate how much approximately has been handed out as rewards for this achievement. You might then speculate what the donors of these awards get for them? A nice sideways look at the economics of prize giving.

  11. Mark #255


    Whilst a price hike from $10M to $4B is Bad and Wrong, it's not a 400,000× factor. Well, not unless you're using (the archaic) British billions.

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: Arithmetic

      Fair point: let's substitute with Pratchett's "many lots" shall we?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    makes me wonder whether it might've been a better idea to offer the bandits one price with things just as they are, but a higher price if they lay off the worst excesses against civilians. Repeat at intervals until the bandits have transmogrified into an elected government.

    1. Mark 85

      You assume an educated and thinking banditry... There's a reason that gangs in general don't have education and thinking members. The leadership, yes. The members are exploted for the "good" of the leadership.

      As for the "higher" price... corporates will object as that cuts into their bottom line. The gangs would, at some point, realize that they're being paid blackmail money and want more.

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: Esme

      "makes me wonder whether it might've been a better idea to offer the bandits one price with things just as they are, but a higher price if they lay off the worst excesses against civilians. Repeat at intervals until the bandits have transmogrified into an elected government." Yes, that type of "bribery" is called international aid, but is a rather hit'n'miss affair that often just leads to massive corruption

      1. PNGuinn

        Re: International aid @Matt

        Hmmm - almost right.

        Delete "often" add "almost always".

        I'd go so far as to say that just pissing money into the aid fountain **never** works.

    3. Fink-Nottle

      > Repeat at intervals until the bandits have transmogrified into an elected government.

      No. Just no. No mater what Bono might say.

      This is a perfect example of the half-baked Western do-goodery that has contributed to Africa's plight in the first place. While this results in a state that is accommodating to western business, it does nothing to address the underlying problems that led to banditry to begin with.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Matt Bryant and Fink-Nottle

        Good points, well made, thank you!. This is why I'm neither an economist nor a politician (just point me at the observatory and slide pizzas under the door, already!)

    4. Ted Treen


      Unlike our experiences wherein our elected governments have transmogrified into bandits.

  13. auburnman

    While I understand and accept the concept that squeezing bandits out of the conflict minerals trade may increase violence elsewhere as they move on, wouldn't this be an issue with every conflict mineral solution that doesn't directly deal with the bandits themselves? i.e. it doesn't serve to condemn the current* solution while no-one is tabling an alternative that wouldn't have resulted in bandit migration.

    *Which is terrible and overpriced I do agree.

    1. Tim Worstal

      " while no-one is tabling an alternative that wouldn't have resulted in bandit migration."

      I have, here in these very pages.

      A division of Marines.

      1. Fink-Nottle

        > A division of Marines.

        The word that immediately sprigs to mind (from the comfort of my armchair) is 'quagmire'.

        Much better to provide support for the SANDF and other African troops already in-country as part of the UN stabilisation mission - coupled with funding a meaningful, African led program of social upliftment.

      2. thames

        @Time Worstal - "A division of Marines."

        Because that worked so well in Afghanistan and Somalia.

        1. lucki bstard

          In each of those was there an actual plan? Without a workable 'Marshall-type Plan' there is no reason to change

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Yes I was thinking along similar lines, hard to justify this as unintended consequences when it's blindingly obvious that the impact of this policy will create a substitution effect and if not addressed it's highly likely the bandits will just substitute with more banditry if no other options are presented

  14. bell

    Amusing, but also really frightening

    The core message of "Bureaucracy Happy Do Gooders In Footgun Debacle" warms my heart. If only because I would like to believe that no good ever came of bureaucracies.


    I see no reason that any other mechanism for limiting demand would have led to less negative consequences. Have I missed something? Or is funding the overgrown gangs of the less governed world through our gadget purchases the best thing we can do for the rest of the people there? At least once this sort of thing has gotten going?

    For extra credit: Does the same apply to cocaine manufacture, narcotics distribution in general, vice even more generally?

  15. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    It's sometimes said that the bloated NornIron government is the price worth paying to get former gunmen to pull in their money as MNIA salaries instead of shooting people's knees off. There remains the problem of those that simply got their jollies from shooting people and no amount of taxpayer-funded palm greasing is going to get them off their addiction.

  16. Old Handle

    Just to play devil's advocate, doesn't the fact that warlords have turned to looting prove this is working, in a way? One could argue that although it caused more violence in the short term, if they've lost a stable source of funding, in the long run it will inevitably weaken them, which is a good thing.

    1. ckdizz

      Old Handle

      Yes, and the operative statement used in the study by Parker and Vadheim is "short term". From a utilitarian perspective, of which Worstall is a blind advocate, it makes sense to buy from warlords who are committing lower levels of violence against civlians in case they move on and start committing violence elsewhere.

      Of course, as it is with economics and sociology, a few caveats are added to the paper to make sure that what they're not saying should be taken as conclusive. For one, the figures "imply" and "suggest" the above, as "there is almost certainly measurement error in the ACLED conflict data". Secondly, the paper notes that, to put it in terms Worstall can understand, correlation does not equal causation. Confounding factors to the thesis include:

      - increased reporting of violence enabled by Dodd-Frank (enabled by removing the financial base of static warlords and meaning they have to move into other territories where they have less control over the population).

      - movement of workers into other regions where the government may have less control (qualitative data included in the report suggests that the safety of workers was compromised during the move; the paper says that Ndjingala is "nearby" Bisie, but the reality is that Ndjingala is a day's walk from Bisie, one that has to be completed on foot).

      - commodity price increases that have led to the increased violence (several examples are cited, including from tin and coltan).

      What you have to remember is that this paper is designed mostly to support a theory: that policy, not price shocks are responsible for the increased violence. This monocausal explanation is not tenable at any level of policy study. It is more likely that there are multiple explanations, all of which in some way contributed to the measured increase in violence.

      Dodd-Frank has actually done what it was designed to do - it has put a stop to Western companies using exploited labour in the developing world by adding systems of accountability to a previously murky supply chain. The reality is that policies that are designed to deal with one problem often have other effects. Of course the warlords and gangs were going to find other ways to supplement their income - but the question remains as to whether or not that's actually happened as a direct result of the policy changes alone, or as a result of a combination of factors.

      But regardless, there is no justification for continuing to buy from warlords who commit violence against civilians. Dodd-Frank was supposed to put a stop to this enabling behaviour. And it did.

  17. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Started by DeBeers

    Of course, this is all based on the work DeBeers did to lock "Conflict diamonds" off the market. The concept was/is the same -- the assumption is these conflict diamonds come from mines where the money goes right to warlords and such. The reality is, DeBeers really didn't care where the money was going, they cared where it wasn't going -- these diamonds were being sold outside of DeBeers distribution system, and DeBeers big fear is that a large outside source of diamonds affects the supply and therefore lowers prices.

    So, really, the affect of this was not thought through to begin with, since the true goal was not to help the people in these countries in any way. I think those pushing for "conflict minerals" legislation just assumed the conflict diamonds thing was so successful, so let's do it for minerals (without looking at what the effect of the conflict diamonds legislation was either.)

  18. Howard Hanek

    A New Species Is Emerging

    The ascendance of a new species I have named "Homa Sapien Idioticus" will soon overtake "Homo Sapien Sapien" and has quite overwhelmed my original timetable of millenia. By several millenia.

    The natural fight/flight response has been replaced by a reliance upon empty rhetoric and an insistence that mythical semi divine beings such as the 'tooth fairy' and 'fairy godmothers' exist as the ultimate arbiters of all human existence.

  19. InNY

    People matter more than money

    Mr. Worstall's increasing move to the right of the Vikings, Visigoth's and Mongol's is becoming quite disturbing.

    Seek a solution to the world's problems through a collective, inclusive philosophy leads to insult; make the solution just about the self and you get an almost golden, reverential reference, with absolutely no hint of insult.

    The slave based "empires" of the warlord's are not a good thing which should be accepted in the pursuit of profit.

    Wonder how many readers' would support such a political system if they were the slaves and not the consumers of the products created by these economic, political systems? Or don't the advances in political and economic philosophy makeover over the last thousand years matter? Maybe a return to the days when the biggest, most violent, bully got to call himself King and his lackey's called themselves Duke, Lord and so on and got to hold absolute sway over your life would be a good thing?

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: People matter more than money

      "The slave based "empires" of the warlord's are not a good thing which should be accepted in the pursuit of profit."

      Did you read the article? The warlords are the beneficiaries of the current policy and I'm pretty sure that the proponents of the current policy would be just plain confused if you described their form-filling idea as putting profit ahead of people.

      If you find that counter-intuitive, you are not alone, but you really should read the article.

  20. Beridhren the Wise

    Send in the Marines

    There is an old saying… “Difficult, complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers”. Mr. Worstall, your solution is just such an answer. And let’s not forget that your solution has its own unintended consequences, which you ignore.

    As both our countries have discovered to our cost, sending in the Marines is an idea that simply does not work. If it did Iraq and Afghanistan would be peaceful and prosperous places. As soon as the Marines are gone the warlords come back because history has shown, time and time again, that you cannot change a culture by force. All force does is subdue it, as soon as the force is gone the old culture comes back.

    That happened here in the USA after the civil war, once federal troops were withdrawn from the south, Jim Crow laws and the KKK rose up and maintained the oppression of minorities for over a century, so real lasting change is much harder, takes time, money and lives to accomplish. And it must be accomplished by those who are oppressed, they must themselves rise up and defeat their oppressors, history has shown that no other option works in any lasting way.

    Outsiders can influence things, but that takes a long time and as you have pointed out it can have unintended consequences. The difference between you and the “do-gooders” is that the do-gooders are actually doing something. Criticizing is easy, actually doing something is hard. So while the solution they propose can have unintended consequences, at least they are making an effort at finding a solution that works, which probably explains why people like Mancur Olson have six honorary doctorates and people like you don’t have any.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Send in the Marines

      @ Beridhren the Wise

      "sending in the Marines is an idea that simply does not work. If it did Iraq and Afghanistan would be peaceful and prosperous places"

      Iraq/Afghanistan are really bad examples of this. The key problem wasnt the sending of the marines which worked very well and they were extremely well received and welcomed, it was the lack of direction afterwards. Regardless of the wars being right or wrong the wars they were initially successful. However Afghanistan was practically forgotten as the blood thirsty wanted to go after Iraq as well. After winning in Iraq what did they do? Nothing of much use. The western forces became occupiers because there was no local structure to hand over the country to.

      1. Bumpy Cat

        Re: Send in the Marines

        There's a passage in The Forever War by Dexter Filkins (a reporter who spent years in Afghanistan and Iraq during the last decade).

        "... whenever the prospect of normalcy presented itself, a long line of Iraqis stood up and reached for it. Thousands of them, seeing the opportunity in the events of April 2003, had set out to build an ordinary country with ordinary ways [...] And they went to the slaughter. Thousands and thousands of them: editors, pamphleteers, judges, police officers and women like Widjan al-Khuzai. The insurgents were brilliant at that. They could spot a fine mind or a tender soul wherever it might be, chase it down and kill it dead. The heart of a nation. The precision was astounding."

  21. AkodoGilador

    Three orders of magnitude

    $4bn / $10m = 400, not 400,000.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The solution would be for all the freethinkers, geniuses, civil rights advocates/liberals/etc to move to another habitable planet and start over.

    This would solve the problem once and for all, and allow equilibrium to occur without the loss of life and hardship overpopulation and resource shortage causes.

    So in about 1500 years or so, we can see exactly which society prospers.

    (hides under a rock because the Teaparty Federation of Aligned Planets would be truly dreadful)...

    1. Joe91

      Re: Maybe

      One cannot but agree and may I propose the name of the necessary space transport -- "The B Ark" -- or, given the number of parasitic do-gooder drones -- "The B Arks".

      1. John Hughes

        Re: Maybe

        Remember what happened to the crew of the "A Ark". They all died, for want of a skill possessed by the "parasitic drones" on the "B Ark".

        (Also, remember that *you* are a descendant of the crew of the "B Ark").

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