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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Book review

The best part of this update of actuary Terry Arthur’s 1975 book is the collection of extracts lampooning the nonsensical utterances of British and US politicians over the last few decades. Yet the book provides much to disappoint.

In a chapter entitled ‘Statistical Crap’, he takes to task the ‘politicos’ (as he calls politicians, to whom he rather tediously gives schoolboy nicknames). Yet he then exaggerates: “Brown’s spree raised taxes by well over 80% in eight years”. It is actually 62.7% according to HMRC.

Terry does not believe in man-made global warming, whereas I unequivocally accept the science. So I read with incredulity that “...oil reserves are virtually infinite — at least 75 000 years’ worth and still counting”. Global warming might apparently be due to “fluctuations in cosmic rays”.

Gun control is another target, if you excuse the pun. He advocates “allowing the public to own dangerous weapons” because “outlawing guns means that only outlaws own guns and there’s plenty of evidence that crime would reduce”. As it has in the US?

Coral reefs are sadly disappearing but “there are plenty of private coral reefs”. Really? “All you need is an old wreck of a bus and somebody to drag and drop it a few miles out... within weeks a sophisticated community of... marine life will have become established.” But component corals grow for hundreds of years and reefs for thousands — more than the weeks for an old bus (yuck!) to do its worst on his privatised sea-bed.

We also have the solution to pollution: “...one fine day, if private enterprise is not fully banned, there’ll not only be private collection of bags and rubbish, but private depositing of rubbish on another planet.” It currently costs something like £10 000 per kilo to launch payloads into space. Dumping on Mars hardly seems likely.

I admire Terry’s economic challenges but I would prefer to see him addressing how markets can help us price environmental harm properly rather than simply engaging in denial.

Peter Tompkins