While I can’t verify his identity for certain, a commenter at Radley Balko’s site claims to have some firsthand knowledge of how those bogus piracy stats came about:
Nice article. The writer is closer than he knows about those numbers. How do I know? I wrote that 1988 ITC report. I was required to put the estimates in that appendix by the Commission because the USTR demanded an estimate (which I did not have the data to even remotely accurately estimate). I qualified it as much as I could and gave a range. At the USTR’s press conference announcing the report they immediately began using the upper limit.
As a footnote, I can tell you how the figure started to grow from $61 billion. A few years after the original report, the ITC Chairman needed an updated estimate for a speech. I called the IACC and asked what figure they were using. They gave me one, but warned me that it was an extrapolation of my earlier figure. So I knew it was BS, then and now. No one ever wanted to hear the truth, they just wanted a number and that’s what they got.
Emphasis added. I don’t know that this is how we actually got to the $200–250 billion figure, because it sure looks as though that came from a misinterpretation of a stat quoted in Forbes. But it still seems like a telling indicator of how these folks operate.
Something I may not have stressed sufficiently in the original piece, by the way, is that the ITC study was done two years after Commerce Secretary Malcom Baldridge offered a blind and preposterously broad guess of “130,000 to 750,000″ as the number of jobs lost to IP infringement. And that ITC study, instead of guessing, actually asked about job losses. As the putative author above notes, you can’t really extrapolate from their self-selecting base of respondents to the economy at large, but if you go with that study’s absolute upper-limit guess for total economic losses, based on what is almost certainly already a highball estimate from the respondents, you’d infer something on the order of 15,000 total job losses.
Obviously, we’re well into the territory where this stuff is so fuzzy as to be little better than a guess. Still, I think it’s worth noting that the jobs number still in circulation is some 50 times higher than the absolute maximum figure you could squeeze out of the most inflated possible estimate derivable from the actual study the government conducted two years later.