28 April 2023

Private College Sticker Price v.Average Price

If you see economic phenomena that seem weird or counterintuitive, the most common explanation, which applies in this case, is "price discrimination", which is the desire of sellers to extract higher prices from those who are willing and able to pay, while accepting lower prices from those who cannot.

In the case of private colleges: "By providing grants, fellowships, and scholarships, these institutions forgo more than half the revenue they otherwise would collect if they charged all students the tuition and fee sticker price."

From the Tax Profs Blog.

26 April 2023

The MAGA Movement Is A Noisy Minority

In Nixon's day, conservatives liked to say that they were a "silent majority", but today's far right movement is the opposite: a noisy minority.

The notable parts of a new poll on favorability rating for the MAGA movement are its shallow support in the GOP and very weak support among independents as well as Democrats. Supporters of the movement that President Trump co-opted, radicalized, and took the helm of are the most vocal force on the political right and have greatly influenced Republican politics, but it isn't just the political left that rejects this movement. The "reasonable right" may have gone underground, but it isn't gone.
24% of respondents viewed the [MAGA] . . . movement favorably, while nearly twice as many, 45%, expressed their distaste for [it] . . . .  Among Republicans, a modest majority of 52% hold a favorable view of the MAGA movement. . . . among the unaffiliated, with a mere 12% of independents giving it their blessing. . . . Rural dwellers, the highest-ranked geographic subgroup, offer the most robust support, with just over a third viewing the movement positively.

Via Boing Boing citing an new NBC News poll. The NBC News story goes on to say that:

More than a third of rural Americans have positive views of the movement, the highest of any geographic subgroup. And the movement received its highest mark from white Americans, with a 29% positive rating, of any racial subgroup.

Men over the age of 50 were evenly split, with 36% voicing positive views and 37% voicing negative views. And a combined 58% of those with a high school degree or less and those who attended technical or vocational schools view the movement positively.

On the flip side, the movement received its highest negative ratings from groups that make up the Democratic base: the higher educated, younger people, people of color, particularly Black people, and those who define themselves as liberals.

24 April 2023

The U.S. Has Evacuated Its Embassy In Sudan

Sudan is dissolving into another civil war and as a result, the U.S. is evacuating its embassy there. As the Associated Press reports:

U.S. special operations forces carried out a precarious evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Sudan on Sunday, sweeping in and out of the capital with helicopters on the ground for less than an hour. No shots were fired and no major casualties were reported.

With the final embassy employee out of Khartoum, the United States shuttered its diplomatic mission indefinitely. Remaining behind in the East African nation are thousands of private American citizens. U.S. officials said it would be too dangerous to carry out a broader evacuation operation.

Battles between two rival Sudanese commanders had forced the closing of the main international airport and left roads out of the country in control of armed fighters. The skirmishes has killed more than 400 people. . . .

About 100 U.S. troops in three MH-47 helicopters carried out the operation. They airlifted all of roughly 70 remaining American employees from a landing zone at the embassy to an undisclosed location in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia also provided overflight and refueling support, said Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Biden said Djibouti and Saudi Arabia provided assistance, too. . . .

U.S. Africa Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, were in contact with the factions before and during the operation to ensure that U.S. forces would have safe passage to conduct the evacuation. John Bass, an undersecretary of state, denied claims by Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Security Forces that it assisted in the U.S. evacuation.

“They cooperated to the extent that they did not fire on our service members in the course of the operation,” Bass said.

Biden had ordered American troops to evacuate embassy personnel after receiving a recommendation from his national security team, with no end in sight to the fighting.

“This tragic violence in Sudan has already cost the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians. It’s unconscionable and it must stop,” Biden said. “The belligerent parties must implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and respect the will of the people of Sudan.”

Sudan’s fighting broke out April 15 between two commanders who just 18 months earlier jointly orchestrated a military coup to derail the nation’s transition to democracy.

The power struggle between the armed forces chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the head of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, has millions of Sudanese cowering inside their homes.

The violence has included an unprovoked attack on an American diplomatic convoy and numerous incidents in which foreign diplomats and aid workers were killed, injured or assaulted.

An estimated 16,000 private U.S. citizens are registered with the embassy as being in Sudan. The figure is rough because not all Americans register with embassy or say when they depart.

The embassy issued an alert earlier Saturday cautioning that “due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, it is not currently safe to undertake a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of private U.S. citizens.”

The U.S. evacuation planning for American employees of the embassy got underway in earnest on Monday after the embassy convoy was attacked in Khartoum. The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that U.S. troops were being moved to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti ahead of a possible evacuation.

Embassy evacuations conducted by the U.S. military are relatively rare and usually take place only under extreme conditions. When it orders an embassy to draw down staff or suspend operations, the State Department prefers to have its personnel leave on commercial transportation if that is an option.

When the embassy in Kyiv temporarily closed just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, 2022, staffers used commercial transport to leave.

In several other recent cases, notably in Afghanistan in 2021, conditions made commercial departures impossible or extremely hazardous. U.S. troops accompanied personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, in an overland convoy to Tunisia when they evacuated in 2014.

Evacuating embassies, and when possible, other U.S. nationals, from countries plunged into war, is a small, but important and recurring, mission of the U.S. military. 

Addiction Is Genetic Predisposition Plus

Most people who try drugs don’t get addicted, even to opioids or methamphetamine, which suggests that ‌factors other than simply being exposed to a drug can contribute to addiction. ‌The majority of people who do get hooked have other psychiatric disorders, traumatic childhoods or both — only ‌7 percent report no history of mental illness. ‌‌Nearly 75 percent of women with heroin addiction‌‌ were sexually abused as children — and most people with any type of addiction have suffered at least one and often many forms of childhood trauma‌‌.
Chandra Sripada, professor of psychiatry and philosophy at the University of Michigan, argues that distorted thinking is more important in addictive behavior than overwhelming desire, leading to what he calls “unreliable” control over use. . . .  During addiction . . . despairing thoughts about oneself and the future — not just thoughts about how good the drug is — predominate. At the same time, thoughts about negative consequences of use are minimized, as are those about alternative ways of coping. Drugs are overvalued as a way to mitigate distress; everything else is undervalued. The result is an unstable balance, which, more often than not, tips toward getting high.

This theory ‌is helpful for explaining who is most likely to get addicted and what is most likely to generate recovery. Risk factors like poverty, a traumatic childhood and mental illness generate excess stress while tending to produce negative thoughts about oneself. In my case, I was depressed and isolated because of what I later learned was undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder — and hated myself for my inability to connect. The result was a mental climate conducive to relying on drugs, even when they no longer ‌provided relief.

Factors linked to recovery — like social support and employment — can offset distorted thoughts and inflated valuation of drug use. Essentially, people make better choices when they recognize and have access to better options‌. If you are locked in a room with an escape route unknown to you hidden under the carpet, you are just as trapped as if that exit didn’t exist. My recovery began when I saw that there was a bearable way out.

This is why punitive approaches so often backfire: Causing more pain to people who view drugs as their only way to cope drives desire to use even more. Punishment doesn’t teach new skills that can allow better decisions.

From the New York Times

The story has many other worthwhile insights, for example, on how addition is neither a total absence of free will nor a totally unfettered free choice.

A Colorado Supreme Court Decision That No Justice Joins

This doesn't happen often, but today the Colorado Supreme Court issued a ruling in which none of its seven justices ruled (on judicial discipline of a lower court judge) because all seven of them were conflicted and recused themselves.

21 April 2023

Crime And City Living

A thirty-four year old man was killed yesterday a couple of blocks from my daughter's home in a recently designated historic neighborhood that is walking distance from Denver's downtown Auraria campus. 

This is the second murder within a stone's throw of her home since she moved in. Like the last one, it was swiftly solved, but a quick arrest doesn't bring the dead back, or erase the unease the murders leave behind.

This burglar and murderer who was already wanted on outstanding warrants was caught with the latest technology - a traffic camera feed and iPhone tracking, as well as more old school gumshoe work, and the weapon used, a metal bar, was also old school. He was caught to the victim's house keys in hand.

The previous murder in the neighborhood involved two girls, probably with gang connections, who were fighting downtown and reconvened to the park. A bystander who tried to intervene was shot and killed by one of the girl's boyfriends.

Crime, serious and petty, is a reality of daily life in a major city.

There have been three shootings near East High School, which is almost exactly half a mile from my office.

A couple of years ago, a man went on a murder spree that started about four blocks from my office, killed a passing acquaintance of my wife on South Broadway in the middle, shortly before its end resulted in the death of a clerk at a hotel where I'd met a friend from out of town a few months earlier.

A few months before that, some drunks drove their car into a light pole in the alley behind my office and took out power to the entire block for a day. They were arrested on the spot barely conscious in the car.

I was having breakfast at a fairly nice restaurant a couple blocks from my office, maybe a year ago, when a schizophrenic homeless man barged in and started trying to wreck havoc, knocking things to the floor, before a couple employees and a patron in an elegantly executed maneuver managed to remove him from the premises and send him on his way.

It barely even counts as crime, but I routine drive by one to three homeless encampments going to or from work, or on errands elsewhere around town.

The most serious incident my family has personally experienced was a few years ago when I was robbed by two men at gunpoint in front of my home who then fled in a beat up late model car. I stayed cool and cooperated with them, and it honestly wasn't even a lasting PSTD class trauma.  I called the police ands they came, but no one was caught and there wasn't much of an investigation.

They took my laptop, my cell phone, and my wallet. In the end, it was inconvenient, but not life altering. Almost all of the files on my laptop were backed up in the cloud and a quick call from my wife's phone to my assistant made it possible for him to adopt new passwords that made it impossible for any of the data to be accessed even if someone could breach the password to the laptop itself. He also quickly alerted my credit card companies to the theft and no unauthorized charges were made. It took a couple of weeks to replace my ID and credit cards which was particularly inconvenient because I had to be on a trip for which I needed not just an ID for airport security, for which I could use my passport at home, but a driver's license to rent a car. I'd also had about $100 in cash and an unfilled pharmacy prescription in my wallet. The cash was a total loss, but I managed to find the prescription, wrapped around a couple of discarded meth prescriptions in a public trash can a couple of blocks away, the next day. The monetary loss was sufficiently marginal that I didn't make an insurance claim. While they weren't caught for this mid-level felony, I'm sure that within a few years that the perpetrators ended up in prison for something, OD'd, or killed.

Other incidents of crime were far more mild. A locked bicycle was stolen off of our front porch. A stroller we were no longer using was stolen from our garage when the garage door was left open once. My car parked on the street has been broken into several times with a handful of items of trivial value like spare change, a pocket knife, a disposable lighter, and a bottle of ibuprofen were stolen although my musical tastes were sufficiently unfashionable that they didn't steal my CDs.

I've had a couple of instances of authorized credit card charges. One was a set of recurring false charges probably at a gas station I used to frequent when I worked in Wheat Ridge that I didn't even notice until I started working in the Denver Tech Center on the other side of town but kept seeing charges from a gas station I no longer used. The other was a string of expensive appliances purchased from big box home supply stores in Houston, Texas while I was several states away and knew no one there. Both were reversed without much trouble when I called attention to them and the problem didn't recur.

Beyond that it's been nothing more serious than littering and dogs pooping on my lawn without the owner picking it up, and near misses with cars violating traffic laws from cutting me off on the highway or a roundabout when they were supposed to yield, to nearly being hit by someone running a red light, to honking my horn at someone driving the wrong way on a one way street towards me.

My partner in my law firm, who also lived just a few blocks away from me, experienced a couple of home burglaries.

Still, it's survivable.

In the practice of law itself, it isn't usually quite so personal. 

Mostly, I routinely dealt with cases of major fraud and embezzlement. Economically, these cases, often involving hundreds of thousands to many millions of dollars of losses, have been the most serious. But white collar crime simply isn't as traumatic of violent and physical blue collar crime.

I have, however, worked on a couple of wrongful death cases involving homicides (which honestly are easier on the stomach than negligence based personal injury cases because you don't have to delve into the gory medical details of the horrific injuries). There have also been several cases involving the multiple legal facets that can flow from sexual assaults involving people who know each other, domestic violence, and child abuse, from restraining orders to custody to claims for money damages.

There have also been a number of cases of more mundane thefts from probate estates, the most notable of which involved a widow whose late husband had rented heavy construction equipment that his employees misappropriated a dozen of after his death. 

Finally, there have been a few cases of on the job potential threats of violence from people connected to cases we are involved in, the most notable of which happened in Grand Junction, Colorado, where I had to deal with a stalker ex-husband who had followed his wife and our of our attorneys back to our offices after a hearing, while the client, the attorney, and rest of the employees of the office fled out the back door to hide until the police arrived. The attorney involved, a former domestic relations magistrate, took the risk very seriously because she and her law clerk had been shot outside the Mesa County Courthouse by a disgruntled husband in a divorce case after a hearing.

17 April 2023

When Did Environmental Policy Become Partisan?

The partisan divide over the relatively importance of the environment and the economy mostly dates until after I graduated from college (far later than I would have guessed), and the gap wasn't huge until the 21st century.
Though Democrats and Republicans have long come down on different sides when considering the tradeoffs between economic growth and environmental protection, the gap between the parties has never been larger. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats, compared with 20% of Republicans, now believe environmental protection should be given the higher priority.

From 1984 to 1991, the parties expressed similar views on this matter, but by 1995 a divide became evident, which has since gradually expanded. At least half of Democrats have favored the environment over economic growth in all years of Gallup’s trend except during the economically challenged years of 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, majorities of Republicans typically prioritized the environment from 1984 through 2000, but Republicans have not returned to that level since falling to 47% in 2001.

There have been years when more Democrats prioritized environmental protection than do so today, including 82% in 2019 and 85% in 2020. But in those years, more Republicans than now thought environmental protection should be the higher priority.

Similarly, the 20% of Republicans who currently think the environment should get greater consideration is not the low point for that subgroup. In both 2011 and 2021, 19% of Republicans held that view, years when fewer Democrats than today prioritized the environment.

The results are based on Gallup’s annual Environment survey, conducted March 1-23.

Political independents’ views are closer to those of Democrats, as 54% give a higher priority to environmental protection.

Meanwhile, 40% of independents, 17% of Democrats, and 74% of Republicans fall on the other side of the debate, saying economic growth should be more important than environmental protection. The pro-economy figure for Republicans is the highest Gallup has measured to date, and the 57-percentage-point Republican-Democratic gap on prioritizing the economy is also the largest.
From Gallup.

GPS Tracker Shooting Guns

People have been suggesting this as a law enforcement tool for a long time, but it is now finally ready for prime time. 

[T]he New York Police Department debuted its latest set of high-tech policing equipment. We New York denizens will soon come face to face with robot dogs, daleks, and something new: A pneumatic gun that can fire a sticky GPS tracker at a moving vehicle.

The New York Police Department finally has a device based on a rifle that can shoot sticky GPS trackers at fleeing cars, potentially reducing the need for dangerous high speed chases.

Repeat Shoplifters In New York City

The fact that lots of crime is committed by a small number of recidivists is a widely replicated result worldwide. Recidivist false 911 callers are even more concentrated in New York City.

Nearly a third of all shoplifting arrests in New York City last year involved just 327 people, the police said. Collectively, they were arrested and rearrested more than 6,000 times, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said. Some engage in shoplifting as a trade, while others are driven by addiction or mental illness; the police did not identify the 327 people in the analysis.

The victims are also concentrated: 18 department stores and seven chain pharmacy locations accounted for 20 percent of all complaints, the police said.

From the New York Times

14 April 2023

About Mayor Hancock

Denver's outgoing Mayor Hancock started out on a promising note, but Denver needs to new blood, including a new Mayor who will be selected in this June's municipal runoff election. For whatever the reason was Hancock's has really stumbled on multiple fronts, especially in the second half or so of his service. 

There are the corruption issues. But also there has just been a decline in bread and butter management of things from trash collection to contract management in connection with DIA to continued weak building code/zoning administration (especially in terms of just having the staff and processes that are capable of getting it done in a timely and careful fashion), to stumbling in terms of getting the police to behave, to failing to build a cohesive relationship with city council. 

His handling of the pandemic wasn't horrible but wasn't exemplary (like the liquor store closing fiasco, that at least he didn't dig in his heels about, and poor communications about what the city would do next or was doing in the present), and he's been a follower tugged in one direction and then the next without the leadership we need on homelessness. His handling of just defeated Denver ballot issue 2O, and the Park Hill golf course issue more generally, has not been politically astute. 

Yes, we're spoiled by having had a string of very good mayors from Pena to Webb to Hickenlooper who were supported by other good city level elected officials. Yes, the latest rounds of land use reforms have been a net improvements and some issues like drainage in North Denver have finally gotten addressed. Yes, we haven't had to deal with the clusterf**k that GOP controlled places have seen. Yes, he's done a decent job responding to the migrant influx of the last six months or so. 

No, his service as a whole has not been a total failure. But, he's run out of steam overall and the quality of his service has discernibly slipped. Four more years of Hancock would have been worse than his last four years. Term limits have been a good thing in this case.

13 April 2023

Leaked Documents Disclose Russian and Ukrainian Casualties

The data isn't fully authenticated but sounds very plausible.
According to an assessment collated by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Russia has suffered 189,500-223,000 total casualties, including 35,500-43,000 killed in action and 154,000-180,000 wounded.

Ukraine has suffered 124,500-131,000 total casualties, including 15,500-17,500 killed in action and 109,000-113,500 wounded in action, according to the document entitled "Russia/Ukraine - Assessed Combat Sustainability and Attrition."
Via Reuters (yesterday).

12 April 2023

Mexico Is Big

Mexico is geographically large, and its population of 126.7 million (as of 2021) isn't small either.

09 April 2023

More Efficient Chemical Engineering Coming Soon?

A general principle to make more efficient catalysts could have great economic implications. 

In an advance they consider a breakthrough in computational chemistry research, chemical engineers have developed model of how catalytic reactions work at the atomic scale. This understanding could allow engineers and chemists to develop more efficient catalysts and tune industrial processes -- potentially with enormous energy savings, given that 90% of the products we encounter in our lives are produced, at least partially, via catalysis.
From Science Daily citing Lang Xu, et al., "Formation of active sites on transition metals through reaction-driven migration of surface atoms." 380 (6640) Science 70 (2023) DOI: 10.1126/science.add0089

How Fast Can The Ice Sheets Melt?

If ice sheets melt faster than expected, then global sea levels should rise faster than expected. 

Ice sheets can retreat up to 600 meters a day during periods of climate warming, 20 times faster than the highest rate of retreat previously measured. An international team of researchers used high-resolution imagery of the seafloor to reveal just how quickly a former ice sheet that extended from Norway retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, about 20,000 years ago.

From Science Daily citing Christine L. Batchelor, et al., "Rapid, buoyancy-driven ice-sheet retreat of hundreds of metres per day." Nature (2023); DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-05876-1

Dog IQ

Everything you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask, about dog IQ.
Researchers from the University of Helsinki assessed the cognitive abilities of over 1,000 dogs from 13 breeds with ten tests. Border Collies scored at or near the top in social cognition, inhibitory control, and spatial problem-solving ability, while Labrador Retrievers scored near the bottom. While prior research has shown that a dog's breed isn't as predictive of its personality and behavior as many think, the present study suggests that there are noteworthy differences in certain cognitive abilities.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland put over 1,000 dogs from 13 distinct breeds through a battery of cognitive tests in perhaps the largest laboratory study of canine intelligence ever conducted.

Their findings were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.


The paper and its abstract are as follows:

The extraordinary genetic and behavioural diversity of dog breeds provides a unique opportunity for investigating the heritability of cognitive traits, such as problem-solving ability, social cognition, inhibitory control, and memory. Previous studies have mainly investigated cognitive differences between breed groups, and information on individual dog breeds is scarce. As a result, findings are often contradictory and inconsistent. The aim of this study was to provide more clarity on between-breed differences of cognitive traits in dogs. 
We examined the performance of 13 dog breeds (N = 1002 dogs) in a standardized test battery. Significant breed differences were found for understanding of human communicative gestures, following a human’s misleading gesture, spatial problem-solving ability in a V-detour task, inhibitory control in a cylinder test, and persistence and human-directed behaviour during an unsolvable task. Breeds also differed significantly in their behaviour towards an unfamiliar person, activity level, and exploration of a novel environment. No significant differences were identified in tasks measuring memory or logical reasoning. 
Breed differences thus emerged mainly in tasks measuring social cognition, problem-solving, and inhibitory control. Our results suggest that these traits may have come under diversifying artificial selection in different breeds. These results provide a deeper understanding on breed-specific traits in dogs.
Saara Junttila, et al., "Breed differences in social cognition, inhibitory control, and spatial problem-solving ability in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris)" 12 Sci Rep 22529 (December 29, 2022) (Open access). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-26991-5

07 April 2023

The Perils Of Valuing Loyalty Over Competence

One of the problems of absolute power is that you get it by valuing loyalty over competence, which means you don't have anyone in a position to dissuade you from making a disastrously bad decision. Often this means that sooner or later, you will make a disastrously bad decision.

It also would suggest that more secure autocrats, like hereditary monarchs, may be less at risk than insecure ones who need to maximize loyalty to stay in power.
Many, if not most, personalistic dictatorships end up with a disastrous decision such as Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union, Hirohito’s government launching a war against the United States, or Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Even if the decision is not ultimately fatal for the regime such as Mao’s Big Leap Forward or the Pol Pot’s collectivization drive, they typically involve both a monumental miscalculation and an institutional environment in which better-informed subordinates have no chance to prevent the decision from being implemented. 
We offer a dynamic model of non-democratic politics, in which repression and bad decision-making are self-reinforcing. Repressions reduce the threat, yet raise the stakes for the incumbent; with higher stakes, the incumbent puts more emphasis on loyalty than competence. Our theory sheds light on the mechanism of disastrous individual decisions in highly institutionalized authoritarian regimes.
Georgy Egorov and Konstantin Sonin, "Why Did Putin Invade Ukraine? A Theory of Degenerate Autocracy" Becker Friedman Institute Working Paper No. 2023-52 (April 5, 2023).

06 April 2023

Quote Of The Day

Pro tip: if you want to marry me, it helps if I know who you are first
From a single female Facebook friend who received an unsolicited package, shown above, without even a named sender (the gem is a real certified diamond and it fit).

04 April 2023

Age And Voting

The chart below shows voting turnout by age in Denver's municipal election. It isn't terribly atypical but it a deep problem with our electoral system that drives bad policy choices in our society.

The current (2022/2023) age breakdown in the City and County of Denver is as follows:

So, matching the brackets above to those in the voter turnout chart (with linear interpolation of the 15-19 age group):

Unhealthy Red States

Republican opposition to good health care is somewhat puzzling. Maybe it is opposition to "socialism" motivated in part by a racist desire not to help minorities. Maybe Republicans know instinctively that people who are poor, sick, afraid, and uneducated have a natural tendency to lean conservative politically and are exploiting that. Maybe it is a religion driving aversion to facts and science and modernity. 

But, it is hard to come up with a legitimate reason for their policies that drive down the life expectancy of their constituents. 

The Ohio example below, a state I left in May of 1992 after living there for all but about 15 months of my life from first grade through earning my undergraduate degree, which has deteriorated badly since I left, comes particularly close to home.

Last Friday the Medicare trustees released their latest report on the system’s finances, and it contained some unexpected good news: Expenditures are running below projections, and the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund won’t be exhausted as soon as previously predicted. But one important reason for this financial improvement was grisly: Covid killed a substantial number of Medicare beneficiaries. And the victims were disproportionately seniors already suffering from severe — and expensive — health problems. “As a result, the surviving population had spending that was lower than average.”. . . 

America experienced a bigger decline in life expectancy when Covid struck than any other wealthy country. Furthermore, while life expectancy recovered in many countries in 2021, here it continued to fall. 
. . . 

[O]ver the past four decades, our life expectancy has been lagging ever further that of other advanced nations — even nations whose economic performance has been poor by conventional measures. Italy, for example, has experienced a generation of economic stagnation, with basically no growth in real G.D.P. per capita since 2000, compared with a 29 percent rise here. Yet Italians can expect to live about five years longer than Americans, a gap that has widened even as the Italian economy flounders. . . . 

Life expectancy is hugely unequal across U.S. regions, with major coastal cities not looking much worse than Europe but the South and the eastern heartland doing far worse. . . .

Geographic health disparities have surged in recent decades. According to the U.S. mortality database, as recently as 1990, Ohio had slightly higher life expectancy than New York. Since then, New York’s life expectancy has risen rapidly, nearly converging with that of other rich countries, while Ohio’s has hardly risen at all and is now four years less than New York’s. . . . 

A 2021 paper published in The Journal of Economic Perspectives examined various possible causes, like the increasing concentration of highly educated Americans (who tend to be healthier than those with less education) in states that are already highly educated and the widening per capita income gaps among states. The authors found that these factors can’t explain more than a small fraction of the growing mortality gap.

Instead, they argued, the best explanation lay in policy: “The most promising explanation for our findings involve efforts by high-income states to adopt specific health-improving policies and behaviors since at least the early 1990s. Over time, these efforts reduced mortality in high-income states more rapidly than in low-income states, leading to widening spatial disparities in health.” . . . 

There is, in fact, a strong correlation between how much a state’s life expectancy rose from 1990 to 2019 and its political lean, as measured by Joe Biden’s margin over Donald Trump in the 2020 election — a correlation slightly stronger, by my estimates, than the correlation with income.

There are several reasons to believe that America’s death trip is largely political rather than economic. . . . some of the poorest states in America, with the lowest life expectancy, are still refusing to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would cover the bulk of the cost (and the failure to expand Medicaid is killing many hospitals). This suggests that they’re failing to improve health because they don’t want to, not because they can’t afford to. . . . since Covid struck, residents of Republican-leaning counties have been far less likely to get vaccinated and far more likely to die of it than residents of Democratic-leaning counties — even though vaccines are free.

All of this seems relevant to our current era of culture war, with many Republican politicians praising rural and red-state values while denigrating those of coastal elites. 

03 April 2023

Quote Of The Day

The jack of all trades is the master of none, but the master of one is the connector of none.
- Eric Weinstein

I understand the sentiment, which resonates with me as a jack of all trades who makes connections across disciplines personally. There is definitely something to it in modern academia. But, I'm not convinced it is empirically true because I can think of notable counterexamples of geniuses in one field who have very broad knowledge.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words In Crimea

Extensive Russian preparations for an invasion of Crimea suggest that they are taking the risk of that happening seriously. 

With Ukrainian leaders vowing to retake all of their territory occupied by Russia, Moscow has readied elaborate defenses, especially in Crimea, the peninsula it annexed illegally in 2014, which is now one of the most fortified in the war zone.

After weeks of digging, the area around the small town of Medvedivka, near a crossing to mainland Ukraine, is webbed with an elaborate trench system stretching several miles. The passages are cut into the earth at angles to give soldiers a broader range of fire. Nearby are other fortifications, including deep ditches designed to trap tanks and heavy vehicles.

Satellite images provided to The Washington Post by Maxar, a commercial space technology company, show that Russia has built dozens of similar defenses.

“The Russian military, apparently, understands that Crimea will have to be defended in the near future,” said Ian Matveev, a Russian military analyst.
From the Washington Post: "A web of trenches shows Russia fears losing Crimea"

Low Income Families With Kids Use Free Money To Care For Their Kids

How would something like a universal basic income affect low income families in a moderate income developed country like Spain?
While unconditional cash transfers have been studied extensively in developing countries, little is known about their effects in a wealthier context. Through a randomized controlled trial, we study the employment effects of a generous and unconditional transfer targeting low-income families in Spain. Two years into the program, subjects assigned to treatment are 20 percent less likely to work than subjects assigned to a control group. Assignment to an activation plan does not attenuate adverse effects; a more lenient transfer withdrawal rate does. It appears that effects are driven by subjects with children, suggesting substitution of labour for care tasks.
Timo Verlaat, Federico Todeschini, and Xavier Ramos, "The Employment Effects of Generous and Unconditional Cash Support" SSRN (2023).

Marginal Tax Rates Including Benefits In California

Consider these results unconfirmed but plausible. The benefit phase out for those transitioning from being poor to lower middle class is well known. It is also well known that the middle class tends to pay higher marginal rates than the upper/upper middle class, although the total combined rates for the middle class in this chart seem high.

It isn't clear to me what is driving the discontinuities at about $50,000 and about $70,000, although my first instinct is to suspect the Affordable Care Act's benefit phaseouts.

Via Marginal Revolution.

Old People And the Economy

Is this the real reason that Republicans want to crimp health care programs and discourage people from using COVID vaccines?
Population aging is expected to slow US economic growth. We use variation in the predetermined component of population aging across states to estimate the impact of aging on growth in GDP per capita for 1980–2010. We find that each 10 percent increase in the fraction of the population age 60+ decreased per capita GDP by 5.5 percent. One-third of the reduction arose from slower employment growth; two-thirds due to slower labor productivity growth. Labor compensation and wages also declined in response. Our estimate implies population aging reduced the growth rate in GDP per capita by 0.3 percentage points per year during 1980–2010.

A perhaps more plausible hypothesis is that the article has reversed cause and effect and that working age people tend to migrate away from places with weak economies, while people age 60+ year old stay.