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8 September 2005

State Failure

This article in World Politics on forecasting state failure that Langche Zeng (who by the way is moving this week from GW to UCSD) and I wrote a few years ago seems relevant to what is presently happening in New Orleans. Here are the opening sentences of the article: "`State failure' refers to the complete or partial collapse of state authority, such as occurred in Somalia and Bosnia. Failed states have little political authority or ability to impose the rule of law [on its citizens]." We normally associate state failure with foreign countries you would not want to visit, but with a third of the New Orleans police force not showing up for work, with the two-thirds that remained barricaded in their homes or police stations, with corpses strewn around the streets from the hurricane and some murders, and where a policeman today "joked that if you wanted to kill someone here, this was a good time" (see today's NY Times Article), it is hard to see how New Orleans this past week was anything but the definition of state failure.

Our article was about some methodological errors we found in the U.S. State Failure Task Force's forecasts and methods of forecasting. They had selected data via a case-control design (i.e., selecting on their dependent variable all examples of state failure and a random sample of nonfailures), which can save an enormous amount of work in data collection, but it is only valid if you properly correct. The Task Force didn't correct and so, for example, their forecast for Brazil failing was reported at 0.72 but their model, correctly interpreted, indicated that it was only 0.11; their reported forecast for Somalia failing was 0.45, but the model actually indicated that it was only 0.04. We also improved their methods and thus forecasting success over their corrected models via neural network methods and some other approaches. They also collected one of the best data sets on the subject, which you might want to use.

The charter of the U.S. State Failure Task Force prohibits it from discussing state failure in the U.S. or making forecasts of U.S. state failure, but by their definitions, there is little doubt that for a time anyway all relevant governmental authorities in the U.S. suffered a "complete or partial collapse of state authority" and so the U.S. would seem to fit that definition. I haven't checked, but I doubt their model or our's had any ability forecast these events.

Posted by Gary King at September 8, 2005 8:59 AM