Economics of Warfare 8

Examining the eighth lecture from Professor Michael Spagat’s Economics of Warfare course that he gives at Royal Holloway University. It is posted on his blog Wars, Numbers and Human Losses at:

This lecture is focused on estimating deaths in a conflict, which is a subject that has produced some unusually high figures through faulty analysis. For example, he starts with a figure of 6.9 million killed in the Congo (slide 2). This leads Dr. Spagat into a discussion of “excess death rate,” which is basically estimating how many additional deaths occur if there is a war going on vice if there is peace (starting slide 4). From slide 4-12 he questions the Congo estimate. He does not offer an alternative figure, but it is clear that the real figure might be considerably lower, in particular as the IRC (International Refugee Committee) used an estimated baseline rate of deaths figure that was probably too low for Congo.

On slide 13 he starts discussing Iraq, where he has done such an estimate (provided on slide 14). His figure is 160,000 excess deaths for Iraq in 2003-2011, which is a lot lower than some of other estimates out there (I think I have seen them as high as 600,000). He then discusses the problems with his estimate (slide 15). From slides 16-30 he discusses further aspects of estimating excess deaths, including looking at regional variation and the impact of war on health (child height) . This may be getting a little bit to much into the weeds for most of our readers.

Anyhow, the main takeaway from all this is to be wary of over-estimates of total losses in wars. Sometimes they can be way too high.

The link to the lecture is here:



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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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  1. Sir,
    thanks for your informative comments on Michael Spagat’s lectures (and your other posts!). A minor clarification though: The figures M. Spagat refers to come from IRC/ Int’l Refugee Committee, not the Int’l Red Cross.

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