Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The fag-end of life

Willem Buiter of the FT is a jolly clever man, but in his latest piece his common sense has utterly deserted him.

He takes umbrage at newspaper headlines such as “Smoking kills five million a year”, arguing:

The headline in question really ought to have read: “Smoking-related illness and disease caused the premature deaths of five million people worldwide in the year 2000. Average life spans were reduced by N years.” If they had not smoked, the five million would not have died of smoking-related illnesses and diseases… Instead they would have died, had they not smoked, at some later date, of [some other cause]…

This is technically correct but very, very silly. His logic would also have us saying ‘Terrorists caused the premature deaths of 52 Londoners in July 2005, reducing the average lifespans of those involved by N years’ and ‘The Nazi policy of gassing (mostly healthy) Jews prevented millions of fatal cases of heart disease, cancer, infection and other conditions’.

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