I read somewhere once a learned article by an academic who asserted that people normally were far too optimistic in believing that dictators would soon get their comeuppance and be removed by the good forces of democracy. Which means those of you with any punting money left this afternoon should hop in and back Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. He is one of those dictators with a very good record as a stayer so laying the short price about the old rogue still being in office mid-way through next year looks like a decent punt.

You can get set on the event – officially described as “Robert Mugabe to depart as President of Zimbabwe on/before 30 June 08” – at the Intrade Prediction Market where the contract last traded at a 20% probability. I would be looking for the other side of that proposition, believing that the chances of him staying put are far greater than 80%.

Perhaps you would prefer to venture into the market on Pervez Musharraf departing as President of Pakistan on/before 31 Dec 07? The spread between the buy and sell quotes is a bit wide this afternoon as the traders digest the latest news about martial law but when it settles I’ll be looking to get on the military dictator.

Intrade really is a site for political junkies that I stumbled across by accident after reading an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Frank Rich headlined “Noun + Verb + 9/11 + Iran = Democrats’ Defeat?” This journalist speculated that when “President Bush started making noises about World War III, he only confirmed what has been a Democratic article of faith all year: Between now and Election Day he and Dick Cheney, cheered on by the mob of neocon dead-enders, are going to bomb Iran.”

Obsessed as I am with Australia’s own little election campaign I confess to having paid little attention recently to the one in the United States, the one that’s really important for all of the world. The idea that another extension of troubles in the Middle East was seriously possible had not entered my consciousness so to check on what I thought was a very Rich hypothesis I did a little googling and came across Intrade with its proposition “USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 31 Mar 2008”. And the market finding? An 18.2% probability of a bombing by 31 March 2008 and a 50% probability that one will occur by 31 December 2008. Not much chance, though, that a new Middle East conflict will come to John Howard’s rescue. The Intrade market gives only a 7.7% chance to a bombing before the end of this year.

Other events where you can back your opinion with dollars are “Bird flu (H5N1) to be confirmed in the USA ON/BEFORE 30th June 2008” (a 10% chance); “Dick Cheney to announce his resignation on/before 30 June 2008” (an 8.5% chance). For political buffs it has got to beat the Melbourne Cup.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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