Monday, August 17, 2009

End-of-life taking center stage ... because ...

Today Ross Douthat presents a very thoughtful look at the debate over health insurance reform, pointing out that scaring Medicare beneficiaries with dire warnings of rationing at the end of life is an extremely effectively political tool. Also a dangerous and potentially disastrous one. He underscores the well-known point that entitlement spending is going to soar in future decades, and the financing burden simply cannot be addressed without reassessing how Medicare funds are spent.

It takes a strong voice to shout in the wilderness, especially when the party whose current methods you're impugning is your own. Unfortunately it seems that Democratic monopolization of "Rubinomics" (which Paul Krugman recently dissed) is correlated with Republican monopolization of a high spending, low taxes road to fiscal oblivion.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Obesity, health costs, and taxes

The Times's David Leonhardt writes about obesity, health costs, wages, and taxation. It seems hard to believe his statistics on the real price inflation of healthy foods over time versus the deflation of the price of soda, but I'll believe his fact-checker. (I would have imagined both probably were falling; maybe the issue is a transitory uptick in the former muddies the comparison.) But he certainly makes a nice case for a tax on obesity-inspiring food products like soda, given how the tobacco tax is typically used these days.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fertility and economic cycles

An article in the Times discusses fertility during the recession, finding that it may have fallen. In theory, there are two competing effects that may be countervailing. For any couple, the recession probably brought about a drop in the male's income, which should translate into a pure negative income effect on optimal family size, reducing it. But the female's market earnings probably also fell, which has an ambiguous effect. Kids cost the mom's time in addition to costing money, and it isn't immediately clear which way the effect should naturally wash out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Recent trends in high-income fertility

Today's issue of Nature includes an article showing a reversal in trend fertility for high-development countries around something like 1990. A Times commentary is here. And my advisor/collaborator Shripad Tuljapurkar has a commentary piece in the same issue of Nature.

The latter points out that the effect on the world total fertility rate is circumscribed. One of the concerns is whether human population growth may not be in fact heading toward a stable 9 billion. "Stable" and "9 billion" sound like conflicting concepts, don't they!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Statisticians are cool?

Part of the issue must be that data analysis can largely be complete drudgery, but I also buy into the notion that statisticians may be increasingly in high demand as Hal Varian, quoted as the chief economists at Google, seems to believe. We have certainly seen a revolution in the availability and breadth of public microdata, and Google has a boatload more stuff, public and not. But grad students should probably still keep in mind that the trick is to have the vision in addition to the skills: be able to develop the ideas that specify what questions to ask with the data, not just be able to use the data convincingly.

I've probably just self-identified with that remark, but so be it!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Recessions and shocks to wages

My friend Till von Wachter is quoted discussing his research on the long-term effects of mass layoffs on earnings in this NYT article. Scary stuff indeed. If you manage to avoid getting laid off by leaving work voluntarily, which is something high-education, high-earnings workers might be able to do, would the shock be less persistent perhaps?