Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Monday, June 16, 2008


On tonight's (June 16) NBC Nightly News, the US commander of the UN forces in Afghanistan just said that the average age of the Afghan population was less than 10 years of age.

Which would be extraordinary, unprecedented.

But which is also, apparently false.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the median age of the Afghan population in 2008 is 17.6 years. (For contrast, Japan's median age is 43.8, the median age in the US is 36.7, and the median age in Mexico is 26.) If I can find this out in less than one minute, sitting at my desk, why isn't the commander of the UN military forces in Afghanistan able to be as well-informed? How can NBC's news personnel hear that and not ask, "Can this possibly be true?" and then find out?

This sort of mis-information is all-too-common, and all-too-rarely challenged. This particular bit might seem trivia, but talk to any development economist...the median age of the population is important. It affects educational attainment, it affects the proportion of the population that is economically active. It affects social stability.

An average age of less than 10 is inconceiveable. Yet now millions of US television watchers have heard that stunningly inaccurate remark, from a presumed authority, even if they have not grasped the implications.


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