We’re pricing the poor out of food in the UK – that’s why I’m launching my own price index



A collection of 700 pre-specified goods that includes a leg of lamb, bedroom furniture, a television and champagne seems a blunt and darkly comical tool for recording the impact of inflated grocery prices in a country where two and a half million citizens were forced by an array of desperate circumstances to use food banks in the last year.

The Smart Price, Basics and Value range products offered as lower-cost alternatives are stealthily being extinguished from the shelves, leaving shoppers with no choice but to “level up” to the supermarkets’ own branded goods – usually in smaller quantities at larger prices.

I have been monitoring this for the last decade, through writing recipes on my online blog and documenting the prices of ingredients in forensic detail. In 2012, 10 stock cubes from Sainsbury’s Basics range were 10p. In 2022, those same stock cubes are 39p, but only available in chicken or beef. The cheapest vegetable stock cubes are, inexplicably, £1 for 10. Last year the Smart Price pasta in my local Asda was 29p for 500g. Today, it is unavailable, so the cheapest bag is 70p; a 141% price rise for the same product in more colourful packaging. A few years ago, there were more than 400 products in the Smart Price range; today there are 87, and counting down.


I have been writing about these things for 10 years now. I have given evidence to multiple parliamentary inquiries, led numerous petitions, been consulted on the School Food Plan and the National Food Strategy, spoken twice at the Conservative party conference, and still the realities of the worst of our collective experiences are dismissed by haughty money men as not matching their theoretical lamb-and-champagne metrics.

So, along with a team of economists, charitable partners, retail price analysts, people working to combat poverty in the UK, ex-staff from the Office for National Statistics and others who have volunteered their time and expertise, I am compiling a new price index – one that will document the disappearance of the budget lines and the insidiously creeping prices of the most basic versions of essential items at the supermarket.

Author(s): Jack Monroe

Publication Date: 22 Jan 2022

Publication Site: The Guardian

Lego builds itself (back) up




Some of Lego’s basic colors, like black and white, seem to maintain their representation across the years. However, other classics like red, blue, and yellow decreased in the mid-2000s, opening up space for a wider variety of colors and shades. The last few decades came with an explosion of the number of colors, and also the creative possibilities.

Author(s): Edurne Morillo

Publication Date: 27 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Datawrapper

SALT change likely to be cut from bill, say Senate Democrats

Link: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/591378-salt-change-likely-to-be-cut-from-bill-say-senate-democrats



Senate Democrats say a proposal to raise the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, a top priority of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), is likely to be cut from the revised Build Back Better Act.   

Senate Democrats who were involved in negotiations over the bill before Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) blew it up last month say there’s simply not enough room for the expensive tax change, which Republicans argue would benefit wealthy suburban households in blue states.


Pulling the SALT fix out of the legislation also will make it tougher to pass the legislation through the House, where last week three Democrats from New York and New Jersey insisted they won’t support any bill that doesn’t raise the $10,000 cap former President Trump imposed on SALT deductions in 2017.   


“The problem that the Democrats have here is not only does SALT relief cost a lot of money, but it is extremely regressive,” Gleckman said. “We looked at a number of versions of this. We looked at an $80,000 cap, we looked at a $25,000 cap, we looked at a $400,000 phaseout … and there are real significant differences, but all of them are extremely distributionally regressive. All of them largely benefit the highest-income people, no matter how you do it.”  

Middle-income individuals and families hardly see any benefit because the vast majority of them do not itemize deductions.   

Author(s): Alexander Bolton

Publication Date: 26 Jan 2022

Publication Site: The Hill

2021 U.S. January-June Cause-of-Death Ranking Table




I don’t recommend simply doubling the numbers from the ranking table and comparing them to the 2020 table, especially for the COVID numbers. I know that won’t work, because of the overall 2021 mortality trend we saw:


However, I have been making estimates and projections, and I see some really worrying numbers for the ages 15-44 grouping, especially for external causes of death: suicide, homicide, and accidents. The worrying trend is that these may extend past the time COVID mortality wanes. It looks worse for 2021 than for 2020.

I will be doing posts looking at these three large categories, starting with suicide, in upcoming posts, by more detailed demographics than just age. Some of these trends have geographic components to consider as well.

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 27 Jan 2022

Publication Site: STUMP at substack

Amid SALT tax standoff, here’s where Illinois senators stand: The latest D.C. Memo



The Illinois congressional delegation is thus far standing firm in its bid to repeal the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions—albeit strictly along party lines.

It’s become a potentially divisive issue for Democrats—just as Republicans intended when the cap was instituted as part of the Trump tax cuts at the end of 2017. But it’s also proved to cut both ways.


2018 report issued by Chicago-area Democratic representatives, using data compiled by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, found that 500,000 metro households felt the pinch to some extent, including 71,000 of 170,000 homeowners in the 6th District, where Casten unseated Roskam and is now trying to hold off Rep. Marie Newman after redistricting.


But repealing the cap has threatened to open a divide between Democratic progressives and traditional liberals. For progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont it’s also a fairness issue, in that if he insists that the richest Americans pay more in taxes, that also goes for Democrats in that group. He’s suggested repealing the SALT cap only up to household incomes of $400,000, citing President Biden’s like-minded campaign pledge that he would not raise taxes on those earning up to that amount.

Author(s): Ted Cox

Publication Date: 26 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Crain’s Chicago Business

Mortality Nuggets: Videos on 2020 Death Rates by Cause of Death, Querying WONDER, and Actuarial News




Actuarial News is a website Stu created for me to use as a place to collect all the articles, websites, data sources, etc. that I like to use for my research and writing. I tend to develop ideas over long periods, and I prefer my selections over trying to use regular search.

As noted in the video, I used to use the old Actuarial Outpost (RIP) as a repository for my articles on public pensions and finance, but now I use Actuarial.News.

By the way, for any readers seeking actuarial discussion as once was provided by the old Outpost, check out goActuary. I have a thread on spreadsheet screwups and one on non-pandemic mortality, for instance.

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 25 Jan 2022

Publication Site: STUMP at substack


Link: https://sites.krieger.jhu.edu/iae/files/2022/01/A-Literature-Review-and-Meta-Analysis-of-the-Effects-of-Lockdowns-on-COVID-19-Mortality.pdf



This systematic review and meta-analysis are designed to determine whether there is empirical
evidence to support the belief that “lockdowns” reduce COVID-19 mortality. Lockdowns are
defined as the imposition of at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI).
NPIs are any government mandate that directly restrict peoples’ possibilities, such as policies that
limit internal movement, close schools and businesses, and ban international travel. This study
employed a systematic search and screening procedure in which 18,590 studies are identified
that could potentially address the belief posed. After three levels of screening, 34 studies
ultimately qualified. Of those 34 eligible studies, 24 qualified for inclusion in the meta-analysis.
They were separated into three groups: lockdown stringency index studies, shelter-in-placeorder (SIPO) studies, and specific NPI studies. An analysis of each of these three groups support
the conclusion that lockdowns have had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality. More
specifically, stringency index studies find that lockdowns in Europe and the United States only
reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average. SIPOs were also ineffective, only reducing
COVID-19 mortality by 2.9% on average. Specific NPI studies also find no broad-based evidence
of noticeable effects on COVID-19 mortality.
While this meta-analysis concludes that lockdowns have had little to no public health effects,
they have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted. In
consequence, lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy

Author(s): Jonas Herby, Lars Jonung, and Steve H. Hanke

Publication Date: January 2022

Publication Site: Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics

Insurance Companies – Heels or Heroes?



The insurance industry is far from the economy’s most-admired sector. A Forbes survey found insurance ranking low in popularity in the public eye. Three main reasons are responsible for insurers’ relatively poor rating. First is the intangible nature of the insurance product. Unlike a car one can drive home from the dealership, or a chocolate bar whose taste can be savored, purchase of an insurance policy does not lead to immediate physical gratification. To be sure, if there is no loss, one may never get a flavor of its value. Second, insurance is associated with life’s tragedies, its most physically, emotionally and financially distressing experiences—a home damaged by a storm, a car totaled, being sued, a death or dread disease, or a crippling workplace accident. Insurance payments can take away the sting with financial recovery, but loss remains painful, especially if one discovers the loss is not 100 percent covered. And third, the insurance industry has become an easy target for critics who regularly vilify it.


Why do we maintain that insurance, R Street’s inaugural research program, is fundamentally exciting? Three reasons.

First, insurance is the economy’s financial first responder. When the wind blows, the earth shakes and large-class action lawsuits are decided in plaintiffs’ favor, the insurance industry pays. 


Second, insurers are significant investors in the capital markets. They provide much of the financial muscle to power the economy. Property-casualty insurers hold $1.1 trillion in bonds, and life and health insurers hold another $3.6 trillion. Collectively, insurers hold $4.7 trillion in bonds, 10 percent of the U.S. bond market of $47 trillion.


Third, insurance is the grease in the engine of the economy. Without clinical trials insurance, pharmaceutical companies would not take the risk of developing vaccines. Without ocean marine or inland marine insurance, ships would not sail and trucks would not take the risk to carry loads. Airplanes would not fly, people would be afraid to drive, and inventors would not create new products for fear of lawsuits. 

Author(s): Jerry Theodorou

Publication Date: 22 Jan 2022

Publication Site: R Street

Here is the age when many Americans hope to retire



The youngest cohort, Generation Y — ages 25 to 40 — plans to retire at an average age of 59. For Generation X — now 41 to 56 — the average age is 60. Baby boomers — who range from 57 to 75 — indicated they plan to work longer, with an average expected retirement age of 68.

That’s as 83% of non-retired U.S. investors said they are confident they will be financially secure in retirement. That includes 88% of Gen Y, 82% of Gen X and 79% of baby boomers.

Author(s): Lorie Konish

Publication Date: 3 Jan 2022

Publication Site: CNBC

Facebook International Man Of Mystery And GoFundMe Fraudster Disrupt $115 Billion Ohio Pension Forensic Investigation



Who is Facebook international man of mystery Robert Parkle and why is he advising Ohio Public Employees Retirement System stakeholders not to follow through with an expert forensic investigation of their state pension? Why did Kasandra Ward from Aurora, Colorado create a fraudulent OPERS Forensic Investigation GoFundMe page apparently to divert funds from the real project? Our nation’s public pensions have never been more precarious and there are powerful interests working hard to keep pension stakeholders in the dark.  

Earlier this year, a forensic investigation of the $90 billion-plus State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio commissioned by the Ohio Retired Teachers Association and performed by my firm, was completed. The damning preliminary findings were reported to Ohio legislators, regulators and law enforcement in a 100-plus page report entitled The High Cost of Secrecy.


In conclusion, I won’t speculate who may be seeking to derail the proposed forensic investigation of the $115 Billion Ohio Public Employees Retirement System on behalf of pension stakeholders, or why. One thing is for certain: One or more persons is seeking to disrupt the investigation into potential mismanagement and malfeasance at the massive pension.

Stakeholders in all 5 Ohio public pensions, including OPERS, should be alarmed and securities regulators and law enforcement ought to investigate any apparent violations of law through social media.

Author(s): Edward Siedle

Publication Date: 20 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Forbes

The Looming Tipping Point of New Jersey’s Pension System



Andrew Biggs prepared a report for The Garden State Initiative that focused on the impact of more retirees than employees.

Notable excerpts:

Nationally, unfunded state and local government pension liabilities remained roughly stable at about $1 billion from 1975 through 1999, but accelerated rapidly in the following two decades, reaching $4.0 trillion in 2020. The combined unfunded liabilities of New Jersey public plans have increased significantly as well, from $58 billion in 2000 to $186 billion in 2019. (page 4)


In summary, federal government figures demonstrate that New Jersey lawmakers promised benefits to employees that were larger than lawmakers were willing or able to fully fund. The New Jersey pension systems instead relied upon returns on risky investments to make up the gap. But, as New Jersey’s investment experience shows, risky investments pay higher expected returns than safe investments precisely because they are risky, even over long periods of time. This leaves only more conventional solutions available, which are both financially and political difficult. All New Jersey pension stakeholders — including lawmakers, public employees and retirees, and taxpayers — must carefully consider how the costs and benefits of pension reforms will be borne. (page 33)

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 14 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Burypensions

California Public Pensions Are Major Fossil Fuel Investors



California’s climate-conscious policies aren’t matched by the investment choices of its largest public pension funds, according to a report from two environmental groups. 

Of the 14 top U.S. pension funds analyzed by Stand.earth and Climate Safe Pensions Network, California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as Calpers, and California State Teachers’ Retirement System, known as CalSTRS, were the largest investors in fossil fuel companies, with $27.1 billion and $15.7 billion, respectively, according to findings published Wednesday. 

The two combined hold about half the fossil fuel assets for the entire group, according to the study. Calpers also came first in fossil fuel holdings as a proportion of its total assets under management, at 6.9%.  


The New York State Teachers’ Retirement System had the second-largest share of its portfolio invested in fossil fuels, at 6.6%. 

Author(s): Robert Tuttle

Publication Date: 9 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Rigzone