Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Heads up for tomorrow!

Heads up for tomorrow!

Tomorrow morning I have a very long post quoting about 20 medical articles at length, explaining (what we think we know so far about) the whole biochemistry of how the novel coronavirus attacks the body.

By the time you finish reading it, you will understand a lot about why the disease attacks the organs it does, why it progresses in the order it does, why it produces some extremely unusual complications in victims who otherwise feel perfectly healthy, why there are some special risk factors and possibly a couple of protective ones as well, and finally genetic identification posssibilites for people most or least at risk.

Heads up!

New Deal democrat

Comments (1) | |

Jobless claims still point to over 20,000,000 lost jobs in April, 15%+ unemployment rate

Jobless claims still point to over 20,000,000 lost jobs in April, 15%+ unemployment rate

As I’ve written in the past few weeks, the number of initial jobless claims correlates roughly with the number of net new jobs added or subtracted in any given month. Normally there is too much noise for it to be of much value, but with the huge spike in the past month, the signal will come through much more strongly.

Here’s what the crude correlation looks like between initial claims (blue, weekly) and jobs (red, monthly), in the past year through February:

After the leap is what the exact same correlation looks like since the beginning of March:

 

Comments Off on Jobless claims still point to over 20,000,000 lost jobs in April, 15%+ unemployment rate | |

The actual US coronavirus trajectory: “flattening the curve” at least until 2021

The actual US coronavirus trajectory: “flattening the curve” at least until 2021

“Flattening the curve” was not such an appetizing option either, because it meant that *everybody* got infected with the disease during the period of flattening, and so the death toll would still be horrifying, perhaps 1% to 3%. It also meant that the period that the infection would curtail society was extended to several years.

Shortly a much better alternative, based on the success of South Korea, was embraced. Described as “crush the curve,” it meant imposing firm lockdowns for a long enough period of time for thoroughgoing testing of the population, tracing contracts of those infected, and isolating the infected to be ramped up and in place.

Here’s what the three alternatives look like in a diagram:

Throughout the latter part of March and into early April, one by one all but a few, mainly rural, States imposed lockdowns, and the rate of new infections quickly plateaued. But, due to the intransigence of Donald Trump personally and key members of his Administration, the ability to test in the number required was never implemented. In particular, Trump resisted for weeks making use of the Defense Procurement Act for obtaining the necessary medical equipment quickly.  He has never given the slightest indication that he views doing widespread testing as either necessary nor (politically) desirable.

Comments (6) | |

Rates of testing, positive tests, and new infections by State

Rates of testing, positive tests, and new infections by State

So that I don’t lose them, I wanted to publish both the rates of testing (and positive tests) by State, as well as the (Rt) or rate of new infections for each. Both of these are as of last week.

Here is the rate of testing (pink) and rate of positive tests (red) for each State:

Figure 1

 

Comments Off on Rates of testing, positive tests, and new infections by State | |

Trends in US States compared by coronavirus response

Trends in US States compared by coronavirus response

I mentioned over the weekend that I wanted to break out and look at some different aspects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s the first: how are States at different ends of the restrictions and testing spectrums faring?

Seven States have never even mandated lockdowns. Let’s look at these, alphabetically:

Arkansas:

Iowa:

Figure 1

Comments (3) | |

Towards a modern “History of Republics”: a consideration of William Everdell’s “The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans”

Towards a modern “History of Republics”: a consideration of William Everdell’s “The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans”

In view of the horrific damage that the Trump Administration has done to the American Republic, during the past year I have done extensive reading of the histories of a number of the most successful or durable Republics over time. The reason has been to try to answer the question of whether there is an overarching narrative to the history of Republics: how they form and evolve over time, and whether they are ultimately doomed, as was Rome, to collapse into autocracy. As I briefly detail below, the answer to that last query, thankfully, appears to be a qualified and very hedged “no,” although maintaining one over the long term, as Benjamin Franklin quipped, is difficult. What has been missing is an overall “History of Republics.”

Americans generally are probably ignorant of the fact that Republics did not die during the 1800 years between Caesar crossing the Rubicon and the Declaration of Independence.  As I’ve written previously, Roman Emperors maintained many of the forms, if not the substance, of Rome’s republican offices, e.g., tribunes and consuls. After the Western Empire fell, a welter of small northern Italian city-states reconstituted Republics based more or less on the legacy Roman model. Subsequently the Swiss Cantons and the Netherlands also developed into republics, as did Great Britain briefly during its Commonwealth.

William R. Everdell’s “The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans” is a decent introductory level text exploring this issue. Each chapter is devoted to leading figures in historical republics: the prophet Samuel, Solon of Athens, two Brutuses at the beginning and end of the Roman Republic, the mythical William Tell of the Swiss cantons and John Calvin of Geneva, Machiavelli and medieval Florence, John Milton and Cromwell’s English Commonwealth, Robespierre of the revolutionary French first republic, Leon Gambetta and the founding of a parliamentary third French Republic, the Weimar failure, and John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thaddeus Stevens and several Senators over time in the US.

 

Comments (9) | |

Coronavirus dashboard for April 20: a few positive development

Coronavirus dashboard for April 20: a few positive development

Here is the update through yesterday (April 19)

As usual, significant developments are in italics. Yesterday saw the biggest number of daily tests, and ratio of total vs. positive tests so far, both positive developments.  The number and rate of daily infections and deaths also declined, but that may be a function of lower weekend reporting.

Here are yesterday’s numbers.

Number and rate of increase of Reported Infections (from Johns Hopkins via arcgis.com)

  • Number: up +24,499 to 759,786 (vs. 35,354 prior peak on April 17)

Comments Off on Coronavirus dashboard for April 20: a few positive development | |

Abbreviated coronavirus dashboard for April 18…In no way is the US ready to “open up” at all.

Abbreviated coronavirus dashboard for April 18

Here is the update through yesterday (April 17)

There are some extended comments I want to make about the pandemic, and some graphs comparing States, etc., that are best done separately, so this will be an abbreviated update.

Here are yesterday’s numbers.

Number and rate of increase of Reported Infections (from Johns Hopkins via arcgis.com)

  • Number: up +35,354 to 706,779 (vs. 35,219 prior peak on April 10)
  • ***Rate of increase: day/day: 5% (vs. 5% for the past week, and 5% on April 15)

Comments Off on Abbreviated coronavirus dashboard for April 18…In no way is the US ready to “open up” at all. | |

What the Index of Leading Indicators tells us about the 2020 Presidential election

What the Index of Leading Indicators tells us about the 2020 Presidential election

One of the better econometric models that I made use of back in 2016 was that by Prof. Robert S. Erickson of Columbia University and Prof. Christopher Wlezien of the University of Texas at Austria, entitled “Forecasting the Presidential Vote with leading economic indicators and the polls”

The model takes two steps. First, average the head-to-head heats by the two major candidates during the first quarter of the election year. Second, apply the result of the Index of Leading Indicators at the end of the first quarter to that average.

Put simply: if Incumbent Candidate A leads (trails) Challenger Candidate B at the end of the first quarter of the election year, and the Index of Leading Indicators forecasts that the economy will continue to improve (decline), then Candidate A will win (lose). If Incumbent Candidate A leads (trails) Challenger Candidate B at the end of the first quarter of the election year, and the Index of Leading Indicators forecasts a reversal of the economic trend will reverse from improvement to decline (decline to improvement), then the race will tighten, and the outcome might reverse from that predicted by first quarter polling.

 

Applying this econometric approach to the 2020 election is very unfriendly to Donald Trump, to say the least. In all of the recent head-to-head match-ups with Joe Biden, Trump trails.

But worse is – well, here’s a look at the Index of Leading Indicators as it stands after March’s figure of -6.7% – the worst monthly decline ever recorded – was reported this morning:

Even before the March catastrophe, only 3 of the previous 10 months had been positive numbers. Essentially the index was treading water. As of now, it suggests that the next 4 to 8 months of the economy are going to be the worst since the Great Depression.

Voters are not going to blame Trump for the existence of the coronavirus, or the necessity for at least briefly shutting down the economy in order to halt the virus’s exponential growth. But they certainly can blame him for not acting fast enough, for his incoherence, and for his interference with States’ actions to ameliorate the situation. More succinctly, one or two months of awful news due to a natural catastrophe might be tolerated by voters. But if the awful news continues into the 3rd and maybe even 4th quarter — and the LEI suggests that it will do so for the next few months at least — voters are going to be extremely unforgiving.

At a feral level Trump knows this. That’s why he is left with a “Hail Mary” pass, hoping that if the economy is “opened up” in May the virus will miraculously abate, and that if it doesn’t, he can blame others.

Comments (4) | |

March housing, latest weekly jobless claims slightly less apocalyptic than expected

March housing, latest weekly jobless claims slightly less apocalyptic than expected

If I were President, the one industry in the economy that I would be actively trying to prop up is housing. As I have repeated constantly over the past 10+ years, housing is a long leading indicator. The permit that is issued today means a house that is built over the next 4 to 12 months, means contractors being employed, mortgages being issued, and furnishings, appliances, and landscaping continuing to be bought for a year or two afterward.

In other words, if I could keep the housing industry going through the coronavirus pandemic, it would lay a solid basis for the return of the consumer thereafter. The bad news is, needless to say, that there is no such organized effort, whether by government or business itself. The less bad news is that permits and starts did not completely fall apart in March, but of course only the second half of March was really impacted by the coronavirus shutdowns.

Let’s take a look.

Comments (2) | |