Quotulatiousness

February 4, 2013

Argentina’s real inflation rate is a state secret

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Government, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:19

Argentina has lots of issues, but one of the biggest problems is that their official statistics fall somewhere along the spectrum between “a bout of wishful thinking” and “a tissue of lies”:

Argentina, the only country in the world that threatens private economists with jail terms for disputing the government’s obviously bogus inflation numbers, is now the only country in the world to be censured by the IMF for unacceptably bad economic statistics. In a rare move by the 24 member board of the world’s most prestigious financial institution, Argentina’s government was censured for failing to improve the quality of the numbers it uses to calculate things like GDP and, especially, the inflation rate.

The current president’s husband fired the professional economists in the statistical office in 2007. Ever since, the patent bogosity of Argentina’s statistics has undermined the government’s credibility at home and abroad. Inflation is a deadly sensitive subject in Argentina, where past bouts of hyperinflation have wiped out the savings of whole generations. Currently the government claims inflation is no higher than 11 percent; when the thought police aren’t watching them, private economists whisper that the real rate is more than 25.

This isn’t a new story: The Economist stopped using the official figures in their weekly economic summaries about a year ago. Argentina’s economic policies have become a valuable primer on “what not to do” for other countries. Argentina could be a South American version of Canada, but the political class ensures that will not happen.

CBS Sports fumbles during SuperBowl blackout

Filed under: Football, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:23

In the New York Daily News, Bob Raissman asks why CBS didn’t bother to do any actual “journalism” about the blackout:

The fans inside the Superdome were not the only ones left in the dark when half the building’s power went out in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII Sunday night. Viewers were left with unanswered questions as CBS Sports’ sideline reporters, and the rest of the cast, failed to go into a reporting mode.

There was no outrage, no questioning how a thing like this could happen on the NFL’s biggest night of the year.

At a time when they should have been aggressively gathering news, CBS’ crew was satisfied with the crumbs the NFL dropped on them. And they swallowed the scraps gladly. Not once during the 34-minute delay did a representative of the National Football League appear on camera to attempt to explain what caused half the Superdome to lose power. Why should they? No one from CBS put any pressure on them.

[. . .]

Think about it. CBS pays billions for the right to air NFL games. Much of that dough is shelled out to secure rights to the Super Bowl. So, on the big night, there is a major screwup and the NFL won’t put someone on the air — and CBS won’t push the league — to try to explain what’s going on? That’s mind-boggling.

But not quite as wacked as CBS’ laid-back approach to reporting this story, which will go down as one of the more unusual moments in Super Bowl history. All the players were on the field, waiting, stretching. Why not take a camera and microphone on the sidelines for an interview? If they blow you off, fine — at least viewers would have something worth watching.

A legal spectre is haunting the NFL

Filed under: Football, Health, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:12

In the wake of a vastly entertaining SuperBowl contest between the “San Francisco 50-1’ers”* and the “Baltimore Black Birds”*, Steve Chapman outlines the possibility that we won’t see too many more SuperBowl games:

Professional football is the most popular spectator sport in America, which is one reason yesterday’s Super Bowl was expected to draw 110 million viewers. With its famous athletes, storied franchises, and lucrative TV contracts, it’s an industry whose future appears limitless.

But football has a problem: the specter of mass brain damage among current and former players. So far, the steady trickle of disturbing revelations has had no apparent effect on ticket sales or TV ratings. What it has done, though, is more ominous: It has invited lawsuits.

If football falls into decline, it may not be the result of fans turning away, athletes avoiding it, or parents forbidding it. It may be from lawyers representing players who sustained chronic traumatic encephalopathy and expect to be compensated for the damage.

[. . .]

Walter Olson, a Cato Institute fellow, blogger (Overlawyered.com), and author of several books on liability, knows well how a tide of litigation can transform a landscape. And he has a bold prediction: “If we were to apply the same legal principles to football as we do to other industries, it would have to become extremely different, if not go out of business.”

“Seriously?” you may ask. A guy who made a good living engaging in high-speed collisions with 300-lb. blocks of granite can say he didn’t understand the risks involved? It may seem that case will be laughed out of court.

But Olson thinks not. “Courts have not been very friendly to this argument, particularly when something as grave as permanent brain damage is involved,” he told me. And it’s become apparent that while players were aware of the possibility of mangled knees, broken bones, and concussions, they didn’t grasp that repeated blows to the head could produce debilitating and irreversible mental harms.

* See the Samsung commercial in this post for explanation of the team names.

Everything is cyclical — Baby Boom to Baby Bust

Filed under: Economics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:56

In the Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Last looks at the demographic changes on tap for the United States as the fertility rate continues to drop below replacement:

The fertility rate is the number of children an average woman bears over the course of her life. The replacement rate is 2.1. If the average woman has more children than that, population grows. Fewer, and it contracts. Today, America’s total fertility rate is 1.93, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; it hasn’t been above the replacement rate in a sustained way since the early 1970s.

The nation’s falling fertility rate underlies many of our most difficult problems. Once a country’s fertility rate falls consistently below replacement, its age profile begins to shift. You get more old people than young people. And eventually, as the bloated cohort of old people dies off, population begins to contract. This dual problem — a population that is disproportionately old and shrinking overall — has enormous economic, political and cultural consequences.

For two generations we’ve been lectured about the dangers of overpopulation. But the conventional wisdom on this issue is wrong, twice. First, global population growth is slowing to a halt and will begin to shrink within 60 years. Second, as the work of economists Esther Boserups and Julian Simon demonstrated, growing populations lead to increased innovation and conservation. Think about it: Since 1970, commodity prices have continued to fall and America’s environment has become much cleaner and more sustainable — even though our population has increased by more than 50%. Human ingenuity, it turns out, is the most precious resource.

Low-fertility societies don’t innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care. They don’t invest aggressively because, with the average age skewing higher, capital shifts to preserving and extending life and then begins drawing down. They cannot sustain social-security programs because they don’t have enough workers to pay for the retirees. They cannot project power because they lack the money to pay for defense and the military-age manpower to serve in their armed forces.

Update: Kelly McParland on the plight of some older workers: “If they’d never worked at all, and gotten by on social assistance, they might still have a financial lifeline.”

It would be cruel (and maybe unfair) to say they made their own beds, but it remains the fact that a great deal of the trouble they face results from the refusal to brook a more prudent approach to public finances for so many years. Programs that were unaffordable were pushed through time and again, paid for by more and more borrowing. When crises developed, the borrowing increased while spending was only rarely curtailed. The curse of deficit financing is its snowball effect: annual shortfalls pile up, pushing up the carrying costs, creating a self-perpetuating ever-expanding spending crisis. When a recession inevitably arrives, there are no reserves to deal with it, and even more borrowing ensues.

After so many decades of pretending it could go on forever, without there being a reckoning, the generation that created it is discovering how wrong they were. Not only is it destroying the retirement dreams of so many near-seniors, it’s preparing a poisoned legacy to hand to the next generation, and perhaps the one after that, unless they recognize the need for greater discipline and finally accept the pain that will necessary to put the process back on a sustainable track.

Canada is fortunate that it faced up to its debt crisis 15 years ago and is still benefiting from that fact, but the public memory is short and there will always be pressure to turn a blind eye to debt, and legislate for today. No wonder people get more conservative as they get older. They understand the price that has to be paid for putting costs off to tomorrow.

University of Leicester confirms that the remains are those of King Richard III

Filed under: Britain, History, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:16

BBC News rounds up the details:

A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III.

Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family.

Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: “Beyond reasonable doubt it’s Richard.”

Richard, killed in battle in 1485, will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.

Mr Buckley said the bones had been subjected to “rigorous academic study” and had been carbon dated to a period from 1455-1540.

Dr Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist from the university’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, revealed the bones were of a man in his late 20s or early 30s. Richard was 32 when he died.

Battle wounds

His skeleton had suffered 10 injuries, including eight to the skull, at around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal.

One was a “slice” removing a flap of bone, the other caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull, a depth of more than 10cms (4ins).

Dr Appleby said: “Both of these injuries would have caused an almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed quickly afterwards.

“In the case of the larger wound, if the blade had penetrated 7cm into the brain, which we cannot determine from the bones, death would have been instantaneous.”

Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head.

Update: New Scientist still has concerns that the trail of evidence is not strong enough to constitute proof of identity:

Mitochondrial DNA is passed down the maternal line and has 16,000 base pairs in total. Typically, you might expect to get 50 to 150 fragments from a 500-year-old skeleton, says Ian Barnes at Royal Holloway, University of London, who was not involved in the research. “You’d want to get sequences from lots of those fragments,” he says. “There’s a possibility of mitochondrial mutations arising in the line from Richard III.”

“It’s intriguing to be sure,” says Mark Thomas at University College London. It is right that they used mitochondrial DNA based on the maternal line, he says, since genealogical evidence for the paternal lineage cannot be trusted.

But mitochondrial DNA is not especially good for pinpointing identity. “I could have the same mitochondrial DNA as Richard III and not be related to him,” says Thomas.

The researchers used the two living descendents to “triangulate” the DNA results. The evidence will rest on whether Ibsen and his cousin have sufficiently rare mtDNA to make it unlikely that they both match the dead king by chance.

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