Saturday, October 11, 2008

The fallen, phantom 750,000

At a time like this, when the doughty custodians of public money turn out to have not grasped that high rates of interest go hand-in-hand with increased risk, and ITN has sent someone up into the loft to see if they still have that UK Job Losses Map they used to track Thatcher cutting a swathe through British manufacturing, any threat to the economy has to be taken seriously.

Like, for example, the oft-quoted figure of 750,000 jobs that are lost in the US to piracy. Any threat to a quarter of a million incomes has to be taken seriously, right?

Only it turns out - after ARs Technica do a bit of digging - that this figure has no basis whatsoever; like a Wikipedia entry referencing an article which was based on the Wikipedia entry in the first place, it is supported merely by reference unto itself, perhaps sparked by a finger-in-the-air estimate made by Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldridge. That would be Reagan's Commerce Secretary. He was talking in 1986. Oh, and 750,000 was a top-end, on a range he proposed that stretched from 130,000. Take the lower estimate, and you've successfully re-employed 620,000 people. Job creation really is that easy.

Likewise, the USD200-250 billion dollars that is sucked from the economy? That appears to have come from a 1993 edition of Forbes, and referred to all counterfeit products. Oh, and that was worldwide. And when Napster wasn't really much of a threat. It's a bit like Sarah Palin using back numbers of Punch to try and create a foreign policy position.

It's possible, of course, that the damage to the economy might be harsher than these white-bearded old numbers suggest - the entertainment industry's reluctance to think about the numbers could, humorously, be actually making its case less compelling. We don't know. More importantly, though, neither do they - and they're calling for changes in the law on the basis of made-up numbers.

[Thanks to Michael M]