Saturday, February 27, 2010

Life Expectancy in the Rich Countries

Living in a rich country helps to reduce your chance of dying from a natural disaster. One of the many reason life expectancy tends to be higher in rich countries.
Using a new data set on annual deaths from disasters in 57 nations from 1980 to 2002, this paper tests several hypotheses concerning natural disaster mitigation. While richer nations do not experience fewer natural disaster events than poorer nations, richer nations do suffer less death from disaster. Economic development provides implicit insurance against nature’s shocks. Democracies and nations with higher quality institutions suffer less death from natural disaster. The results are relevant for judging the incidence of a Global Warming induced increase in the count of natural disaster shocks.

More Misc Links

Here are some more miscellaneous good links from my new favorite blog:

1. Apparently I should stop being such a "debbie downer", it doesn't pass cost benefit analysis.

2. Turns out others might know you better than you know yourself. For my BUS 230 students what does this imply for surveys that require self reporting of intended behaviors?

3. So it looks like I'll need to incorporate this into my extra-marital sex paper. Keeping a romance secret doesn't make it more exciting.

4. What distinguishes women who have had a lot of sexual partners? Not childhood, attractiveness, or other "mate value" related things. They are just more like men in certain domains.

5. In a relationship, but want to boost your testosterone? Look to cheat.

Mastering Skills

From my new favorite blog, "barking up the wrong tree" we have this gem about the importance of experiencing stress while trying to improve ones competency:
Contrary to previous research, the study found that people who engage in behaviors that increase competency, for example at work, school or the gym, experience decreased happiness in the moment, lower levels of enjoyment and higher levels of momentary stress. Despite the negative effects felt on an hourly basis, participants reported that these same activities made them feel happy and satisfied when they looked back on their day as a whole. This surprising find suggests that in the process of becoming proficient at something, individuals may need to endure temporary stress to reap the happiness benefits associated with increased competency.
I think this explains why I'm so frustrated with how bad I suck at swimming right now. But it looks like there is a happiness payoff around the corner.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Economic Development Spam

Here is an email (read span) I recently received (here is a similar link):

DPC Special Report & Video | Promoting Travel and Tourism Will Create Jobs

Hello All, I wanted to alert you to the fact that the DPC has released a one-pager on the Travel Promotion Act (link and full text below), outlining the significance in passing this importance piece of legislation. As the Senate continues to debate a series of bills in the coming weeks that will create jobs for the American people that need it most, as part of its jobs agenda, it is important to keep in mind that this bill is a jobs bill—as the U.S. Travel Association projects it will create nearly half a million jobs. Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will reduce the federal deficit by $425million over the next decade. It is not often that we see both of these things accomplished, in one piece of legislation. I encourage you to take a look at this report, as it quite clearly lays out exactly what this bill will do. In addition, I have included a clip from Senator Dorgan, who has been very active on this issue. While speaking on the Senate floor, he focuses on the idea that by passing this bill and funding a national campaign that will promote travel to the U.S., it could ultimately strengthen America’s standing around the world—an idea that is truly tough to put a price tag on. As always,please be in touch if you would like to discuss in more detail. Many thanks.--Kati
Really? So If I travel to your state and spend 1,000 dollars that I would have spent in my own state, on something like home improvements, and you travel to my state and spend 1,000 you would have spent in your home state on home improvements, we will create jobs? Wow, that is literally the dumbest thing I have ever heard, its not even beggar-thy-neighbor. It creates ZERO net change in economic activity, thus it creates ZERO net jobs.Oh, but maybe this line gives us a hint as to who thinks its a good idea:
as the U.S. Travel Association projects it will create nearly half a million jobs...
And they don't care about the half a million jobs which will be lost in the home improvement sector. The fetish with gross "job creation" needs to end. If we care about jobs it is about NET jobs.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Yet More Happiness Research

The blogs are a flurry with happiness research of late. Here is another link on how to make yourself happy.

The authors hypothesized that thinking about the absence of a positive event from one's life would improve affective states more than thinking about the presence of a positive event
So if you want to be happy, don't think about how you met the love of your life, think about what life would be like had you not met them.

Update: Penelope thinks she overemphasizes happiness and has decided to dump it as a topic for posting. However if you read her here, you might get happy.

Other things you didn't know about happiness research here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Freedom Fighters

Education and Happiness

What makes you happy? The study of happiness is really picking up in economics. See for example, here and here. The NYT Economix blog recently had a post on the correlation between education and happiness.

But the variable they looked at that showed the strongest relationship with happiness was “human capital,” measured as the share of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher:

I think it probably works something like this. Education pushes ones intellectual maturity to a point where they realize and enjoy the complexity and diversity in the world. They understand happiness to be something different than those without the benefits of more education. The are happy because they are interesting and interested in the world around them, even if they can't control it or understand it. It isn't the trade-off that Penelope Trunk suggests. Of course since this is only a bivariate correlation, education likely also has effects through the other channels, like increases in income, marriage, better sex lives, etc.

More Health Links

Marginal Revolution has some more health related links.

1. A new book on the FDA.

2. Ezra Klein on the new push for health care.

3. Price Controls on Insurance.

Good Advice


The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is on version IV, but they are preparing changes for version V.  It turns out this manual is very important for diagnosing mental disorders, both to the clinician, and to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Given the money involved, you would expect economists to to be interested in the political economy of how disorders are defined. There is an excellent discussion of the changes being made to the diagnostic criteria for Autism here
5. The headline-making but most predictable--and most predictably responded to--change is the loss of Asperger's and PDD-NOS, which have both always been considered part of the autistic spectrum, as distinct-from-autism diagnoses. Whatever their shortcomings, the loss of these diagnoses is another signal that autism is, officially and more so than ever, merely a series of deficits in overt typical behaviour.

6. At the very least, the DSM-V strongly discourages any view of autism as an atypical cognitive phenotype involving relative (to nonautistics) cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

7. The changed criteria, which collapse the DSM-IV social and communication domains, overlook any role for manual and oral motor abilities in these two areas. And whose definition of the now-mandatory social reciprocity criterion will prevail? Here is John Constantino'sone-way-street definition:

Reciprocal social behavior refers to the extent to which a child engages in emotionally appropriate turn-taking social interaction with others.
The closer-to-equal time, so to speak, now granted the previously-relegated RIRB (restricted interests and repetitive behaviours) domain could be seen as progress, ditto the disappearance of the "nonfunctional" assumption. But autistics will no longer have DSM-IV unusually focused and intense interests (a strength), we will instead be pathologically fixated.
And here is a discussion of some suggestions that appear to be making it into the proposed changes being made to female sexual dysfunction (FSD). I received an email from the SSSS, looking for people to comment on the following proposals:

Currently the FSD subcommittee has proposed four changes from the DSM IV-TR as follows:

Change 1: deletion of sexual aversion disorder and capturing it as an anxiety disorder

Change 2: redefining female orgasmic disorder as delay in or absence of orgasm and/or markedly reduced intensity of orgasm that must be present for at least 6 months and experience on at least 75% of occasions of sexual activity that causes distress

Change 3: merging desire and arousal diagnosis into one entity, replaced by SIAD, sexual interest arousal disorder. SIAD would be defined as a lack of sexual interest/arousal for 6 month duration as manifested by at least 4 fo the following:
a. absent/reduced interest in sexual activity
b. absent/reduced sexual/erotic thoughts and fantasies
c. no initiation of sexual activity and not receptive to partner's attempts to initiate
d. absent/reduced sexual excitement/pleasure during sexual activation at least 75% of occasions of sexual activity
e. desire not triggered by sexual/erotic stimulous
f. absent/reduced genital or non-genital physical changes during sexual activity at least 75% of occasions of sexual activity
which causes distress and is not due to a physiological substance or general medical condition.

Change 4: merge vaginismus and dyspareunia into genito-pelvic pain disorder defined as persistent or recurrent difficulties for 6 months or more with at least one of the following:
This obviously increases the standards to get a diagnosis, thus reducing the demand or potential insurance coverage for those marginal patients. You can imagine who would be against this, those clinicians who serve the marginal patients. (By marginal here I mean the people that met the DSM IV criteria but will not meet the DSM V criteria.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chart Selection

As they suggest, it is both art and science.


Marginal Revolution channels Malcolm Gladwell who points us to some interesting research on drinking:

Put a stressed-out drinker in front of an exciting football game and he’ll forget his troubles. But put him in a quiet bar somewhere, all by himself and he’ll grow mare anxious. Alcohol's principal effect is to narrow our emotional and mental field of vision.

It causes, “a state of short- sightedness in which superficially understood, immediate aspects of experience have a disproportionate influence on behavior and emotion." Alcohol makes the thing in the foreground even more salient and the in the background disappear. That’s why drinking makes you think you are attractive when the world thinks otherwise: the alcohol removes the little constraining voice from the outside world that normally keeps our self-assessments in check. Drinking relaxes the man watching football because the game is front and center, and alcohol makes every secondary consideration fade away. But in a quiet bar his problems are front and center and every potentially comforting or mitigating thought recedes. Drunkenness is not disinhibition. Drunkenness is myopia.

But this article was more intriguing. Apparently drinking helps to reduce dissonance. In other words, you really can drink some troubles away. 

Many Wives

Many wives apparently reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.  

The story: Africans don’t have more sex than Americans; both have roughly the same number of partners in a lifetime. But Americans are more likely to be serial monogamists, while Africans are more likely to have concurrent partners (outside marriage). These networks allow HIV to spread more easily. Polygyny, it seems, is the exception.


Below is a graph on health related R&D. The punchline from the blog post is:
It appears that to some degree,  we have gambled our economy on the success of life sciences innovation.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Interesting or Happy?

Penelope Trunk says you are one or the other. I scored a zero. I guess I'm neither happy, nor interesting? Or maybe I'm balanced between the two? I did just read that planning a trip makes you happy so I think I'm going to make plans to head to the Caribbean and sit on the beach. Or maybe I'll head out west and climb a mountain. Or maybe I'll just plan a bunch of different trips and see who I can sucker in to joining me.

Medical Mistakes

Whoops. Did anyone see where I put that instrument? [Story]
It took five long months for a Czech woman to discover the reason for her pain: Doctors had left a foot-long medical tool inside her abdomen. This month, doctors at a clinic in the southeastern town of Ivancice discovered their colleagues had forgotten to remove a spatula-like surgical instrument from the woman following gynecological surgery in September.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


It takes a lot to shock me. A lot. However I had no idea abortion was as common as this data suggests. But it looks to be true. The CDC report and data are here. On average there are 236 legally induce abortions for every 1,000 live births. That of course doesn't count "back alley" abortions, which I would guess are relatively infrequent these days. Of course abortion can also occur naturally, it is then more commonly known as a miscarriage. It appears that about half of all fertilized eggs are terminated by spontaneous abortion. However many of those women never even know they are pregnant. About 15-20% of women who know they are pregnant miscarry. I guess this should make God a bigger target for the anti-abortion crowd than planned parenthood? On a related note, here is a good graph on global condom use, or should I say lack of use?

Budget Data

Visualizations of the federal budget from various sources:

The Washington Post.
The New York Times.
The Wall Street Journal.


I missed:
The Guardian.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Health Care Outcome Equality

Pulled from Marginal Revolution:
What will result from the intersection of two possible trends: insistence on a greater equality in health care outcomes, and the development of new technologies -- some at the genetic level for the individual -- which will lead to a greater inequality of health care outcomes?

Keeping Them Honest

Both sides of the political aisle are prone to exaggeration and convenient amnesia. Recent discussions of Obama's plan to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire have included references to socialism. Below you will find the historical top marginal income tax rates, color coded by party. Another take is here. [Data Source].

Monday, February 15, 2010

Wording Matters

Choice of wording matters.


BPS summarizes the state of knowledge of psych research for those looking for a Valentine. I must confess to apparently the wrong approach.
When wooing a woman, use chat-up lines that demonstrate your helpfulness, generosity, athleticism, ‘culture’ and wealth. Don't bother with jokes, empty compliments and sexual references.
I once went to Europe to ride my bike, and while there I helped an old lady get on the train. Does that count?

Andrew Gelman posts some nerdy V-day poems here. My favorites:
I'm aiming for a p-value less than .01
That you and me together could have lots of fun
The R2 of those before you were really quite poor
But the multiple comparisons problem we'll just ignore
I may know all things statistical
But how to win your love is far more mystical
I could derive and integrate with great flair
And we could make a perfectly correlated pair
H0: All is lost, our love is not mean to be
Ha: Oh happy day, you really like me
Our favorite test statistic says p=0.053
That's a little high but it's good enough for me
I've suffered through dates that were very extreme
When all I was hoping for was closer to the mean
Their knowledge of boring facts was encyclopedian
When it would have been better to be on the other side of the median
And eventually even their manners did erode
With scores for politeness nowhere near the mode
So I apologize for being so informal
But I'm so glad I finally found someone normal

Positive versus Normative

A false dichotomy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Relationship Scholar Dies

The academic community lost an important researcher, Caryl Rusbult. From her obit in Science News:
Caryl Rusbult was the queen of close relationships. For more than 30 years, and for the past six years at Vrije University in Amsterdam, she studied how some men and women form lasting, supportive marriages. Rusbult’s work led her to conclude that close partners are interpersonal artists, sculpting one another’s strengths and weaknesses so as to bring out the best in each other. She called this the Michelangelo Phenomenon, a reference to the great Renaissance sculptor who said that he used a chisel to release ideal figures from blocks of stone in which they slumbered.
And the discussion would have been lively. Shortly after meeting one another in the early 1980s, Reis and Rusbult got into a fierce debate at a psychology conference about what people really want in close relationships. Reis championed emotional intimacy. Rusbult insisted that partners want to coordinate their behavior so they can achieve goals that each holds dear.

“Ten years and much research later, I was convinced that she was right,” Reis says.
Real-life dating and married couples provided her team with glimpses of the Michelangelo Phenomenon in action. Time and again, romantic pairings succeeded if each partner detected the other’s self-reported dreams and aspirations and found ways to guide him or her toward those goals. This process hinged on identifying and working with a partner’s personal flaws, just as a sculptor incorporates irregularities in a block of stone into a masterpiece.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dating Markets

I've always said the sex ratio is an important aspect of any dating market. Here is an article from the New York Times on the ramifications of the shift to more females in college. It is clearly a better time to be in college than when I was there. Alex Taborrak discusses it here, and here he provides a good example of how small differences with large opportunity costs can dramatically alter the "power" in a relationship.

Casual observation here on campus suggests males would be wise to lock up their significant other with a ring now, because they won't be able to do better after school is out.  

More Misc Health Econ Posts

A series of links to video clips from a documentary on Money Driven Medicine. Yeah, its a money driven world. Medicine is no different. If only doctors could do less and get paid more, all the problems would be solved. Oh and those money grubbing insurance companies need to stop grubbing and give more to doctors.

The difficulties of finding evidence of Adverse Selection.

Does extending insurance reduce mortality? Two from marginal revolution. Here. Here.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Thursday, February 04, 2010


The Economist covers the temperance movement in the UK. Its not that surprising that British Pubs would push for a minimum price in an attempt to reduce competition from supermarkets. However I was shocked to see the different rates of cirrhosis and liver disease incidence across EU countries. See the graph below.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Health Subsidy

via MarginalRevolution:
James Kwak gives us his back-of-the-envelope estimate:
The median family household had income of $62,621 in 2008, which means it has a marginal tax rate of 15%. (We’re pretty close to the 25% threshold, so I’ll use 20% in what follows.) So without the exclusion, the typical family plan would cost about $16,000 in pretax dollars, not $13,000; the exclusion gives the median family a discount of 20%. Only about 60% of people get health insurance through an employer plan, so the average discount across the population is only 12%. Given that the price elasticity of health care is almost certainly a lot less than one (if you double the price, demand won’t fall in half), the overconsumption due to the tax exclusion must be less than 12%. Yet our per-capital health care expenditures are more than 60% above those of any other advanced country.
In other words it matters, but not as much as many people claim.