Salon misinterprets the numbers in piece on falling ruble

March 28, 2022

By Tim Worstall

What is it with journalists and numbers? Sure, we’re aware that the trade of writing about stuff attracts those who did words at school, not counting. But still, we should be able to demand certain competence concerning figures, no?

This is something not on display at Salon: “In such a stalemate, economic weapons mobilized on both sides become decisive. Western economic sanctions, which have so far cost the ruble 90% of its value.”

Leave aside the entirety of the arguments about whether the should be sanctions – should Russians be punished for the actions of its president? – and also about whether sanctions actually work. Just taste the facility with basic arithmetic there.

Before the events in Ukraine, the ruble traded at about 70 to one U.S. dollar. A 90% decline in value would lead to that foreign exchange rate now being 700 to one. Or, if we prefer to calculate a slightly different way, perhaps 630 to one.

Actually, the ruble is around 100 to one U.S. dollar at present. True, it peaked at about 130, but that’s still not a 90% fall in value. At which point we can see the mistake they’re making.

The move from 70 to 130 means that the ruble has changed in value by 90% of the original amount. But that’s a 90% change (not quite, but 60 is close enough to 90% of 70 that we’ll give them that), not a 90% fall. It’s even a 90% change downwards but it’s still not a 90% fall. For it to be a fall then each rouble would have to be worth 10% of the starting point – the exchange rate would be that 700 to one. We’ve actually had – at the extreme, then it recovered – a 45% fall in the value of the ruble.

Salon is influential in progressive circles, rather more so than its 7 million visits a month would indicate. It ranks at number 73 in outlets about law and government as well. Quite significant numbers of the people who try to devise progressive policy gain their information here. We might well end up with rather better such policy if the source itself were more accurate.

What really worries is that if Salon gets this sort of simple math about exchange rates – really, not a complex calculation about the economy here – then how much can we trust whatever they might say about taxes, spending, the deficit and all the rest?


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