Monday, February 18, 2008

Northern Rock is in the news again. The government has decided that a 'temporary' nationalisation of the company is the best route forward. Whether they are right or not remains to be seen.

The economic literature on auctions has highlighted the existence of something known as the 'winner's curse'. In any bidding war, it is usual for some bidders to underestimate the value of the lot, while others overestimate it. By choosing the nationalisation option, the government is implicitly suggesting that the various private sector bidders for Northern Rock were all undervaluing the company, and were therefore not willing to bid enough for it.

Perhaps the government is right. But equally, perhaps the government has got its own sums wrong. After all, while there were only two players in the game at the end, other private sector bidders had pulled out much earlier. Could it be that they were all wrong? Or is it more likely that the government's estimates of the financial commitment that will be needed to bail out the Rock will prove to be overly optimistic?

Monday, February 04, 2008

I was reading a fascinating paper by Eli Berman and David Laitin last week. This suggests that terrorists' choice of method - overt insurgency or suicide attacks - depends upon a number of factors. These include the terrain (with insurgency being favoured in mountainous areas), the extent to which an attack might be expected (with insurgency being favoured if the attack is a surprise), and with the level of resourcing of the security services (with surprise attacks likely being more successful than overt insurgency where there is generous resourcing).

In Iraq, overt insurgency has been the norm. But over the last month or so, suicide attacks have been getting more common, the latest case being particularly disturbing, involving as it did the use of two mentally disabled women as carriers. The surge, which has improved the resourcing and numbers of US armed forces in Iraq over recent months, has rendered conventional insurgency less fruitful for the terrorists, and this may be what has led them to turn increasingly to suicide attacks as a means of operation.