Opium came before oil… in the 19th Century

Courrier International is a French weekly I have been a regular subscriber from its start, twenty year ago. It is actually made of a selection of articles from newspapers from all around the world (that are translated into French except for a few English and Spanish exceptions). There are obvious biases in this selection, both geographically and politically, in that a majority of articles is about/from either Europe or North-America and that the orientation is more (French) liberal than its ownership by Le Monde would suggest… Translations are sometimes visibly botched, especially in scientific and economic sections, and the choice of scientific issues often verges on the pseudo-science with a brave-new-world flavour… Anyway, I nonetheless enjoy the diversity of views Courrier International provides as well as the access to translations from languages other than French and English. (Articles from the US press are in majority taken from the New York Time which is fine with me!, except that I have read most of them weeks before.) Anyway again, I was thus reading the special 20th anniversary issue of Courrier International and a so-so paper about the youth in Iran, when I stumbled upon the sentence

Opium has been used for centuries in Iran, and cultivation of opium poppy was a large part of Persia’s gross national product in the 19th century, before oil, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

This struck me as a particularly dumb statement, either from the authors of the paper if they made this up or from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime if this is a figure appearing in their statistics. Indeed, (a) there was actually no [whatsoever] oil exploitation in Iran in the 19th century, so any contribution to the GNP would have been larger than oil!, including rose water and (why not!) shoe laces…, and (b) I have doubts about the accuracy of the evaluation of the Persian GNP in the 19th century, even though Persia was a mostly stable country by the early 1800’s. This is only a minor point in a minor article, but Courrier International should know better than using non-sensical statistics.

One Response to “Opium came before oil… in the 19th Century”

  1. It’s a little pointless to comment, but I will anyway. When I read that paragraph, it seems that a comparison is implicitly being made between the status of opium in the Iranian economy then is similar to the status oil in the economy now. Now oil is the major commodity, back then it was opium. Is it really such nonsense? But yes, it is poorly written.

    Ah, the trivialities of life….

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