(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘policy

“Infant mortality and life expectancy are reasonable indicators of general well-being in a society”*…

… and in the U.S., as Adam Tooze explains, we’re doing not so well of late…

In August America’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) published a set of data that ought to have brought political, economic and social debate to a standstill. If there is one question that should surely dominate public policy debate, it is the question of life and death. What did the Declaration of Independence promise, after all, if not “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. But on that score the CDC in 2022 delivered alarming news. In the last three years, life expectancy in the United States has plunged in a way not seen at any point in recent history.

America is inured to bad news about its health. Life expectancy in the United States has stagnated since 2011, a trend which separates the United States not just from rich peer countries but from most other countries in the world, rich or poor.

Given economic growth and advances in medicine for life expectancy to stagnate requires serious headwinds. In the United States those headwinds include, homicides and suicides, the opioid epidemic (so-called deaths of despair) car accidents and obesity. As John Burn-Murdoch shows in the FT, without those factors the US would have tracked its peer societies much more closely…

But stagnation is one thing, the collapse since 2019 is a phenomenon of a different quality. It is a full measure of the disaster that was the COVID pandemic in the United States. Over a million Americans died of COVID, one of the worst outcomes on the planet.

…it is not only China that has overtaken the United States based on this metric. In 2021 Cuba has a higher life expectancy than the US. So does Albania.

In a society marked by inequality as deep as modern America’s, to speak in terms of national averages is not very meaningful. The circumstances of life and health outcomes are vastly different…

Source: BMJ

…One might think that faced with these stark facts all other subjects of political debate would pale into insignificance. Whatever else a society should do, whatever else a political system promises, it should ensure that its citizens have a healthy life expectancy commensurate with their nation’s overall level of economic development. An ambitious society should aim to do more, as Japan does for instance. Judged by this basic metric, the contemporary United States fails and for a substantial minority of its population, it fails spectacularly. And yet that extraordinary and shameful fact barely registers in political debate, a silence that is both symptom and cause.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? How China, Cuba and Albania came to have higher life expectancy than the USA,” from @adam_tooze. Eminently worth reading in full.

For an example of the ways in which these wounds are self-inflicted: “The Human Psyche Was Not Built for This.”

* P. J. O’Rourke

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As we ponder priorities, we might recall that it was on this date in 1892 that the first diagnostic public heath laboratory in the U.S. was founded by New York City (as its “Division of Pathology, Bacteriology and Disinfection”). Spurred by the cholera epidemic of the time, it soon took on the diagnosis and tracing of diphtheria and tuberculosis; in 1895, it began production of a smallpox vaccine.

The New York City public health laboratory became a model for other cities’ public health departments. Within a few years, similar labs had become essential components of an effective health departments across the nation.

“The Cholera Invasion,” from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, by West B. Clinedinst, 1892. National Library of Medicine.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 9, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”*…

The number of American university students selecting history as their chosen four year degree has been on the decline since the 1970s…

Tanner Greer (@Scholars_Stage) considers four possible reasons– and what they portend: “The Fall of History as a Major–and as a Part of the Humanities.”

(Image at top: source)

* George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905

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As we ponder the practicality of the past, we might we might celebrate a major contribution to the study of history; it was on this date in 1799 (or close; scholars agree that it was “mid-July” but disagree on the precise day) that a French soldier in Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign discovered a black basalt slab inscribed with ancient writing near the town of Rosetta, about 35 miles north of Alexandria.

The stone contained fragments of passages written in three different scripts inscribed by priests of Ptolemy V in the second century B.C.– Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Egyptian demotic.  The Greek passage proclaimed that the three scripts were all of identical meaning– so allowed French Egyptologist Jean Francois Champollion to decipher the hieroglyphics… and opened the language of ancient Egypt, a written language that had been “dead” for nearly two millennia.

Rosetta Stone (the most-visited exhibit that the British Museum)

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“Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience”*…

Regulation often addresses real public needs/concerns. But the costs of compliance often favor the largest players in a regulated market– which can lead to consolidation. From the Oxford Martin School, a current example…

Exploiting the timing and territorial scope of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), this paper examines how privacy regulation shaped firm performance in a large sample of companies across 61 countries and 34 industries. Controlling for firm and country-industry-year unobserved characteristics, we compare the outcomes of firms at different levels of exposure to EU markets, before and after the enforcement of the GDPR in 2018. We find that enhanced data protection had the unintended consequence of reducing the financial performance of companies targeting European consumers. Across our full sample, firms exposed to the regulation experienced a 8% decline in profits, and a 2% reduction in sales. An exception is large technology companies, which were relatively unaffected by the regulation on both performance measures. Meanwhile, we find the negative impact on profits among small technology companies to be almost double the average effect across our full sample. Following several robustness tests and placebo regressions, we conclude that the GDPR has had significant negative impacts on firm performance in general, and on small companies in particular…

Privacy Regulation and Firm Performance: Estimating the GDPR Effect Globally,” from @oxmartinschool via @benedictevans

[Image above: source]

* Adam Smith

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As we seek balance, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that the U.S. officially withdrew $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 bills from circulation, pursuant to an executive order by President Richard Nixon. The larger bills had been used by banks and the government for large financial transactions, but had been rendered obsolete by the electronic money transfer system.

Those large-denomination bills were last printed on December 27, 1945 and are still considered legal tender. Indeed, (a version of) the $500 is still used in the game of Monopoly.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 14, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese”*…

Unintended consequences…

The year was 1981, and President Ronald Reagan had a cheese problem. Specifically, the federal government had 560 million pounds of cheese, most of it stored in vast subterranean storage facilities. Decades of propping up the dairy industry—by buying up surplus milk and turning it into processed commodity cheese—had backfired, hard.

The Washington Post reported that the interest and storage costs for all that dairy was costing around $1 million a day. “We’ve looked and looked at ways to deal with this, but the distribution problems are incredible,” a USDA official was quoted as saying. “Probably the cheapest and most practical thing would be to dump it in the ocean.”

Instead, they decided to jettison 30 million pounds of it into welfare programs and school lunches through the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program. “At a time when American families are under increasing financial pressure, their Government cannot sit by and watch millions of pounds of food turn into waste,” Reagan said in a written statement. The New York Times declared that the bill would “give poor Americans a slice of the cheese surplus.”

But the surplus was growing so fast that 30 million pounds barely made a dent. By 1984, the U.S. storage facilities contained 1.2 billion pounds, or roughly five pounds of cheese for every American. “Government cheese,” as the orange blocks of commodity cheese came to be called, wasn’t exactly popular with all of its recipients

The long, strange saga of ‘government cheese’: “Why Did the U.S. Government Amass More Than a Billion Pounds of Cheese?,” from @DianaHubbell in @atlasobscura.

See also: “How the US Ended Up With Warehouses Full of ‘Government Cheese’,” from @HISTORY (source of the image above).

* G.K. Chesterton

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As we chew on it, we might recall that it was on this date in 1916 that Joseph L. Kraft was grated a United States patent for processed cheese… the very process used to create ‘government cheese.”

Kraft had become curious about an issue that plagued his industry: cheese went bad, very fast, especially in the summer. He hypothesized this was caused by the same bacteria that produced the cheese in the first place. He began experimenting with different heating techniques to destroy the bacteria while preserving the cheesy flavor and consistency; he perfected the process in 1914 and patented it two years later.

Though the cheese industry condemned Kraft’s creation as an abomination, by 1930, 40 percent of all cheese consumed in the United States was made by Kraft.

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“Got a big dream, from a small town”*…

Aerial view of John Day, Oregon

Take one isolated, High Desert town (John Day, Oregon), add an abused river, a dying timber industry, and a hotter, drier climate. Then mix in a local leader’s grand, out-of-the-box ideas about rural sustainability. What do you get?

One day in October of 2021, a handful of city leaders in John Day, a small town in rural Oregon, gathered to watch a crane operator set a new bridge. Fashioned from a repurposed railroad car, the bridge spans the John Day River, just blocks from downtown.

Not much else was there that day, aside from some heavy equipment, a freshly poured sidewalk, and piles of concrete and crushed mining tailings. But to the small group that came to watch, the bridge forged connections both physical and symbolic. It was a small piece of a grand vision called the John Day Innovation Gateway—an uncommonly ambitious, multimillion dollar blueprint for a town of just 1,750 residents.

The plan, several years in the making, aimed to restore the river, revive the town’s riverfront, and rebuild the local economy. In doing so, town leaders hoped, the Innovation Gateway would propel John Day into the 21st century with a resilient infrastructure that anticipates the massive changes and challenges brought by climate disruption.

For John Day and many other communities in the western U.S., those challenges include hotter, dryer summers, more intense heatwaves, and dwindling snowpacks, so crucial for water supplies during dry months. These trends are already worsening. In fact, a recent study found that the West’s 22-year “megadrought” is making the region drier than it has been in the last 1,200 years.

To prepare itself for this future, the city of John Day has acquired $26 million (and counting) for its various projects—a staggering amount for a town so small it doesn’t even have a traffic signal. A local newspaper article from 2019 listed no less than 23 projects in various stages, from sidewalk and trail upgrades to plans for a new riverfront hotel and conference center.

All of this activity has excited hope among many John Day residents. Others, however, have been alarmed at the scale of the changes afoot, and the way they’ve been handled. And, as projects have moved from the drawing board to groundbreaking, the protests are growing louder…

Trying to reconcile process with action, the present wrestles with the future; in the middle it all, a determined small town City Manager: “The West’s Rural Visionary,” by Juliet Grable (@JulietGrable) in the always-illuminating @CraftsmanshipQ.

* Lil Wayne

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As we face the future, we might send foresightful birthday greetings to Vilhelm Bjerknes; he was born on this date in 1862. A physicist turned meteorolgist, he helped found the modern practice of weather forecasting. He formulated the primitive equations that are still in use in numerical weather prediction and climate modeling, and he developed the so-called Bergen School of Meteorology, which was successful in advancing weather prediction and meteorology in the early 20th century.

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