Central Park from the Air

Some pictures are so impressive that you just have to stop what you are doing and stare at them for a while.

I’m not sure exactly why I find this picture so interesting. Perhaps it’s about seeing a city from a new angle? Perhaps it’s the breadth of the shot? Perhaps it’s the surprising size of the lake in the park? Anyway, to do it justice, view it full screen by clicking on the image.


The Apology Prince Harry Should Make

The balance of opinion in the UK seems to be that Prince Harry’s actions are not too serious. This view was summed up excellently by Dan Hodges in his post for the Telegraph earlier today.

I agree with this opinion. While Harry may have been foolish to allow the photos to be taken, he’s perfectly entitled to let his hair down once in a while. And what’s more, I don’t think his actions are likely to cause too much damage to the reputation of the Royal Family.

During the 10 hour flight back to London, he’ll no doubt be doing a lot of thinking about what to say in response. If he wants to draw a line under this and move past it, he needs to say something fairly soon. Otherwise the media will continue to control the story and run with whatever gossip is being thrown around.  In my opinion he should make a statement within the next 24 hours. It should be apologetic, but not too apologetic. Here is what I think he should say.

I am truly sorry for the embarrassment that my actions have caused to those who are close to me. As someone who lives his life in the public eye I should have been more careful in choosing the people with whom I spent my time whilst on holiday. I deeply regret the fact that some images of me at a private party have made their way into the public domain. While these did not come from me directly, I recognise that I bear some responsibility.

In the past eighteen months I have witnessed, and been part of, some of the proudest moments of national celebration in my lifetime. Last April, it was a huge honour for me to stand shoulder to shoulder with my brother as his best man on his wedding day. More recently, I was immensely proud to be involved in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations; a time of real national celebration and unity. And of course, in the last few weeks it was a privilege to be an Olympic Ambassador during the great spectacle of the London Olympics.

I feel great pride in my country and consider it an honour to have been able to fight for her in Afghanistan on several occasions. Indeed I look forward to returning to the front line to be with my Army colleagues again soon.

If my recent actions have in any way, called into question my commitment to the Army, to my family or to Great Britain; I’m sorry. I recognise that the role I have carries a great deal of responsibility. While I do not think it is unrealistic for someone in my role to enjoy some ‘down time’, in future I will exercise better judgment and will endeavour to be more discrete.

I now look forward to drawing a line under this episode and returning to my duties as a soldier and as an ambassador of Great Britain.

Do Rapists Have Rights?

This morning I had one of those moments when you read a sentence that surprises you so much that you have to pause and then read it again. Here it is:

In the vast majority of [US] states, a rapist has the same custody and visitation rights to a child born through his crime as other fathers enjoy.

Wow. I honestly don’t know what to make of that. Maybe there are other elements of US law not mentioned that protect and support the raped woman and her child? Or maybe the law has a harsh face but is applied compassionately? Whatever the full story may be, the facts are discomforting.

The quote comes from this article by Shauna Prewitt, which is an open letter to Rep. Todd Akin following his ridiculous and offensive comments about “legitimate rape”. Shauna’s article is an emotional tale of someone coming to terms with being raped and getting pregnant from it. The letter also reminds us about how difficult it is to make meaningful changes to legislation when our law-makers are so out of touch. Shauna sums up this point nicely:

I believe that the way we as a society, and especially legislators, speak about rape — often wrongly and without a sound, reasoned basis — restricts our ability to pass laws offering meaningful protections.

On the same subject, Louise Mensch has this excellent article in today’s Telegraph that looks at the recent comments and actions of Todd Akin, Julian Assange, and George Galloway. Well worth reading.

Survey Data from the MENA Region

One of the reasons I love survey data is because it provides a window into the lives and opinions of real people. On Thursday I had the pleasure of listening to a briefing from Mohamed Younis – a Senior Analyst from Gallup and a specialist in the MENA region. For obvious reasons, survey data coming out of the post-revolution MENA countries is valuable both as a gauge for what’s happening now but also as a predictor for what might happen in the future.

Mohamed’s informal and informative briefing covered trends form the region as well as country specific data. A lot of time was spent discussing Egypt and Libya, particularly the UK and US involvement in the Libyan revolution. When he spoke it was clear that Mohamed is passionate about the region and is full of fascinating stats and interesting notes from the polling data he works with.

The briefing covered more ground than a short post can do justice, so I’ll just pull out some of the stats that stuck out for me:

  • Approval of the UK is very high in Libya – over 50% – which is among the highest of all Western countries (The US has 54%).
  • 75% of Libyans favoured the NATO intervention that led to the fall of Gadhafi (which is much higher than the number of Egyptians who approved (13%), Algerians (14%), and Tunisians (33%).
  • In terms of how the West can support Libya now, 61% of Libyans say they want economic aid, while 77% said they want governance experts.

Mohamed suggested that this wave of positivity won’t last for ever and in fact we have arrived at an important moment for UK Foreign Policy in Libya. The UK is perceived as a helper and a key ally in delivering the Libyan people from the Gadhafi regime and into a new era of democracy.

The UK has an opportunity to ride the wave of popularity and to be involved in the transition. Whether this comes in the form of economic aid – as many Libyans favour – or in other forms of assistance, the window of opportunity seems to be open now.

But this, of course, won’t necessarily be easy. A country’s transition to democracy is not straightforward and often messy. What is more, if we’ve learned anything from the recent events in Egypt, it’s that democracy doesn’t always look how we think it will look; it has different flavours and presents different challenges wherever it takes root.

The briefing was fascinating and I came away feeling that I somehow knew the people of the MENA region. Thanks to Mohamed for taking the time, thanks to Andy Rzepa for setting it up, and thanks to Gallup for consistently producing first-rate survey data that sheds light on some of the most challenging issues we face today.

The links to the data used in this post on the Gallup site are as follows:

Libyans Eye New Relations With the West

NATO Intervention in Libya Unpopular in Arab World

Links of the Day…

A selection of articles that I have enjoyed over the last few days…

– The Credit Illusion, David Brooks in the NYT

– We Are Great Britain, Daily Telegraph Editorial

– Why We Should be Worried About Mali, Will Inboden on Foreign Policy

– Why Paul Ryan? Ross Douthat at the NYT

– Hedemonics or Humanomics? Carol Graham for the Brookings Institution

– Baroness Trumpington Interview, Daily Telegraph

– David Cameron’s Spanish holiday wardrobe continues to underwhelm, Daily Telegraph



Olympic Power and National Power

Following on from my last post, I’ve noticed that my former colleague (and all round top guy) Will Inboden, has posted on the relationship between national power and Olympic success.

Will includes a comparison between medal success and GDP and military expenditures (both he happily admits are crude proxies for national power). He concludes:

Overall that wealth, military spending, and Olympic success seem to go together — not too surprising. The national characteristics necessary to produce Olympic-level elite athletes seem to involve a blend of hard and soft power quotients. The most obvious hard power dimension is economic; nations with more wealth are able to devote more resources to supporting Olympic training and facilities. Population levels are certainly a factor, but in relation to overall wealth. In the domain of soft power, nations with functioning governance can effectively direct their resources for determined purposes, such as developing a system to encourage Olympic athletes. Some dimension of culture is another soft power quotient that may play a part, for the self-evident reason that cultures that value sports in general, and in many cases particular sports, are more likely to produce Olympic athletes…

The other side of the coin is countries that are ascendant as economic and/or military powers but who still punch below their weight at the Olympics. From the table above, the three countries that stand out the most are India, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — all of which rank much higher in GDP and defense spending than in Olympic medal counts. This is understandable given that ascendant powers usually first focus on getting their fundamentals of economic growth, infrastructure, and defense on track before devoting national resources to sports sponsorship. Conversely, Olympic results are often a lagging indicator for declining powers. Nations such as Russia that are otherwise in relative economic and military decline still produce  Olympic successes, perhaps partly due to the inherited infrastructure and tradition of supporting elite Russian athletes.


Prosperity and Olympic Success

Below is an article I co-authored on the relationship between a country’s prosperity and their Olympic medal success (perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between the two).  We also used the relationship to predict the number of medals that would be won by certain countries at this year’s Games. I particularly like the second table in the article because it shows which countries are the most successful when population size is taken into account – which is an angle not often considered when we think of Olympic performance.

National Prosperity and Olympic Success

Can a nation’s prosperity predict its Olympic success? 

The greatest city on earth is currently hosting the greatest show on earth. The expectant gaze of the watching world has settled on London. The stadia are built. The athletes are trained. The tickets are purchased.

And while most of the pre-match analysis focussed on how terrible the trafficand weather would be, we are now not thinking about any of that (ok maybe the weather). Now the first starting pistol has been fired, the first ball has been kicked, the first pole has been vaulted, most of us are not giving a second thought to the special bus lanes on the M4.

The big question is who will win the most medals? And which nations will do better – and worse – than expected? How will Team GB perform? Economists have investigated whether a country’s economic status can explain its achievements in the Olympics. In a recent report, Goldman Sachs finds that income levels are “positively and strongly associated with medal attainment” but the report also notes that “there is more to medal attainment than simply high income levels”. Therefore, if we want to use a nation’s prosperity to predict their Olympic success, we need a predictor of success based on more than just wealth.

The Legatum Prosperity Index™ measures a country’s total prosperity (this includes income and citizen wellbeing) and as such provides a more complete assessment of national success. Using the Prosperity Index to predict medal wins we predict that Team GB can expect to win 73 medals, an increase of 26 from the last Games in Beijing (this estimate also includes a ‘home nation premium’ as history demonstrates that the host nation usually wins more medals than expected).

2012 Medal Predictions based on the

Legatum Prosperity Index™

Team London 2012 Medal Prediction Beijing 2008 Total Change 2008-12
United States












United Kingdom
















South Korea












When we consider historical Olympic performance, the relationship between the Prosperity Index scores and total Olympic medals won per head is clear: the more prosperous countries win more Olympic medals. There is no straightforward explanation for this but the results reveal interesting stories that arise not only from pure economic differences but also from particular cultural, institutional, and political conditions. Bangladesh, for example, a country of 100 million people has never won an Olympic medal. This reveals much about Bangladesh’s economic and political conditions as well as its under-developed infrastructure, low levels of health, and poor education system.

Nordic countries excel both in terms of prosperity and Olympic medals per head (see table below). By exploring this relationship in more detail we find that a country’s economic performance is actually one of the weakest predictors of Olympic success. A more accurate predictor is the safety and security in a country, the level of entrepreneurship in the society and the quality of education.

Total Olympic Medals Won (1896 – 2008) per Million People

Compared to 2011 Prosperity Ranking

Country  Medals per million people 2011 Prosperity Rank

































New Zealand












These latter factors are the results of developed institutions, infrastructure, and societal organisations that represent the legacy of long-term policies and objectives. As a consequence the current economic downturn that has affected most developed economies, such as Southern Europe countries, is unlikely to have much of a negative effect on the performance of these countries in the Olympics.

Although the relationship between prosperity and Olympic medals holds globally, some interesting stories are found in the outliers. It is surprising to see that India (population 1.2bn) has won only 20 Olympic medals in the last 100 years while Kenya (population 41m) has won 75 medals in the last 50 years, even though Kenya ranked lower in terms of prosperity in 2011; India 91st and Kenya 102nd.

This means that Kenya has won more medals per head than both Argentina and Brazil. Kenya has risen up the Prosperity Index since 2009 and, if this is reflected into its Olympic performance, Kenya is likely to break its record of 14 medals. On the other hand, India’s prosperity has deteriorated since 2009 and, therefore, we do not expect India to improve its performance in the London Games.

While the Olympics are primarily a sporting event, it is almost impossible to keep the Olympics and politics apart. From Hitler’s attempt to use the 1936 Berlin Games to propagate the Nazi ideology of racial supremacy to Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s Black Power salute in Mexico City in 1968, history shows us that the Olympic Games have often served as an arena for geopolitical debates and strategic rivalry.

And while much attention is given to the surrounding politics, the purpose of the Olympics is of course to celebrate sporting achievement. Rarely during the Olympics will our thoughts be on the politics of the Games. Instead our newspapers and our discourse will be filled with sporting events from table-tennis to taekwondo, boxing to beach volleyball, and water polo to weightlifting. We’ll speculate about whether Usain Bolt will break his own 100m record, whether Tom Daley can bring glory to Team GB from the diving board, and whether Mo Farah will win the 5000m (and if he’ll celebrate with the now famous “Mobot”).

The Olympics provides an opportunity to speculate about some underlying factors that contribute to a nation’s sporting success. Whether our predictions come true or not, the main point of the coming weeks is to enjoy the Olympics for what they are: games.

An abbreviated version of this article was published in City AM on August 1st. Due to space restrictions, that article did not contain the full medal predictions tables. The full version of the article was, therefore, reproduced on the Legatum Institute website.