Mortality Nuggets: NYT Misleads, COVID Deaths Down, and Car Crash Fatalities Up

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/mortality-nuggets-nyt-misleads-covid

Graphic:

Excerpt:

I want you to notice something — the blue bars are the “with COVID” portion of deaths, and the chartreuse bars are the ones “without COVID”. The bars are weekly counts of deaths when they occurred. Ignore the most recent weeks because they don’t have full data reported yet.

The red pluses indicate excess mortality, defined as exceeding the 95th percentile for expected mortality for that week (so it includes seaonality). You can see the excess mortality from the 2017-2018 flu season, which was bad for a flu season.

The non-COVID mortality has been in excessive mortality range for almost all 2020 after March. But since the beginning of 2021, it has dropped off…. and COVID mortality has also dropped off.

I think we may be almost in “normal” range soon. We shall see!

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 13 June 2021

Publication Site: STUMP at substack

National Public Pension Coalition vs. Truth in Accounting: Who is Accurate With Public Pension Unfunded Debt?

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/national-public-pension-coalition

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Excerpt:

NPPC, I recommend you think through what will actually inform and protect your members. The TIA folks are not distorting the message, except to the extent that state and local governments are undervaluing their pension and OPEB promises.

Complaining about TIA will not make the pensions better-funded. Complaining about TIA will not prevent the worst-funded pensions from running out of assets, which will not be supportable as pay-as-you-go, as the asset death spiral before that will show that the cash flows were unaffordable for the local tax base.

And don’t look to the federal government to save your hash. So far bailout amounts have been puny compared to the size of the promises.

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 9 June 2021

Publication Site: STUMP at substack

Net Interest: Lemonade

Link: https://www.netinterest.co/p/my-adventures-in-cryptoland

Excerpt:

Insurance is a peculiar business because customers don’t really want it, hence the adage, “insurance is sold, not bought.” As much as she’s a customer, she’s also a counterparty: what’s good for her (a claim) is not good for the company. There’s a zero-sum dynamic to the relationship, which means that the classic Amazon flywheel around customer experience and lower pricing doesn’t work. 

This concept got Lemonade tied up in knots this week. In a series of tweets, the company told of how its platform is getting better at “delighting customers”. One way it does this is, “when a user files a claim, they record a video on their phone and explain what happened. Our AI carefully analyses these videos for signs of fraud. It can pick up non-verbal cues that traditional insurers can’t, since they don’t use a digital claims process.”

It seems a strange way to “delight” customers by allowing AI to auto-reject their claims based on how their face looks or their accent sounds. The company realized its (PR) error, deleted the tweets and issued a denial. But this is what happens when your customers and your shareholders start mixing in an industry that doesn’t lend itself very well to that.

Author(s): Marc Rubinstein

Publication Date: 28 May 2021

Publication Site: Net Interest at substack

Not With a Bang, But a Whimper: Demographic Decline Undermines Public Finance

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper-demographic

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Excerpt:

The last time the Census Bureau did a population projection, the estimated population for even 2020 came in a little high. From March 2018: Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060 — they estimated a total population of about 332.6 million, and the apportionment Census results were 331.1 million. To be sure, this is a less than 0.5% difference, so no big deal.

This is the growth rate they projected, even in 2018:
2020-2030: 7%
2030-2040: 5%
2040-2050: 4%
2050-2060: 4%

Those are full-decade growth rates. That’s before the pandemic has shaved our numbers down a little.

Would you like to know the growth rates from prior decades?
2010-2020: 7%
2000-2010: 10%
1990-2000: 13%
1980-1990: 10%

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 28 May 2021

Publication Site: STUMP at substack

Global minimum tax

Link: https://allisonschrager.substack.com/p/known-unknowns-905

Excerpt:

Is it just me or are people obsessed with tax compliance lately? I suppose it is part of this fantasy that high earners and corporations have enough money to pay for all our new spending – we just have to force them to pay up.

You know what might be simpler than jacking up taxes and doubling the size of a government agency? A broader base and simplified tax system that doesn’t leave so much room for getting out of paying taxes. Take the idea of a global minimum corporate tax. Sounds sensible enough; after all, you can’t increase the corporate tax rate too much because it is so easy to send profits overseas where taxes are lower.

But anyone who studied public finance can tell you there’s the tax rate and there’s the tax base. Generally, it is better to have a broader base and a lower rate. You get more revenue that way, and it causes fewer distortions and enhances transparency. Maybe we can convince OECD countries to set a higher corporate rate, but that creates a new race to the bottom to degrade the base. Countries will compete to offer more loopholes and deductions. And that seems worse to me.

Author(s): Allison Schrager

Publication Date: 24 May 2021

Publication Site: Known Unknowns at substack

Mortality with Meep: On Excess non-COVID Mortality in 2020

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/mortality-with-meep-on-excess-non

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Excerpt:

All of the excess mortality for age 85+ can be explained by COVID, essentially

Very little of the excess mortality for those age 15-24 can be explained by COVID

There is a lot of excess mortality for those age 25-44 not explained by COVID

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 22 May 2021

Publication Site: STUMP at substack

Con of the Week: Greensill Capital

Link: https://taibbi.substack.com/p/con-of-the-week-greensill-capital

Excerpt:

In finance there regularly appears a character who stands on a soapbox and claims to have re-discovered the natural laws of the universe. Go ahead, jump: with 10 shares of Invest-O, you won’t come down! Alan Greenspan’s declaration in the middle of the first tech bubble that we might be in the middle of a “once-or twice-in-a-century phenomenon that will carry productivity trends to a new higher track” helped birth the “new paradigm” theory, which denounced caution before investing in companies without revenues or plans as anachronistic timidity.

Greensill prophesied a revolution in his erstwhile dull trade. He hammered the theme that “AI” and “Big Data” were bringing about a “tectonic shift,” described by one writer as “the biggest revolution in history.” 

Author(s): Matt Taibbi

Publication Date: 19 May 2021

Publication Site: TK News

TK Newsletter: Introducing “Racket of the Week”

Link: https://taibbi.substack.com/p/tk-newsletter-introducing-racket

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Excerpt:

In 2007, before the crash, Goldman, Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein even inadvertently paid tribute to one of the most ancient scams — the pig in the poke — when he ordered subordinates to start selling off the mortgage-backed “cats and dogs” on his company’s books. This detail, which came out in a Senate investigation of Goldman’s “Big Short,” let the “cat out of the bag” about the real value of mortgage-backed securities.

In 2021, we’re seeing a surge in con-like corruption cases once again, many involving old-school ripoffs. An economy puffed up by the steroid enhancement of Fed support has led to a great flowering of such creative grifts. Some are not terribly accessible to non-financial audiences at first glance, so to make it a bit easier to keep track of new cases coming in, I’m creating a new feature, “Racket of the Week.”

We had a cartoonist draw up icons for a key system, which will help explain how and if the story covered contains elements of common street rackets.

Author(s): Matt Taibbi

Publication Date: 7 May 2021

Publication Site: TK News

Mortality Nuggets: Global Excess Deaths, Memento Mori, and Mortality News Round-up

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/mortality-nuggets-global-excess-deaths

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Excerpt:

In particular, it is pretty clear to me that specifically in the U.S., the non-COVID excess mortality has been very high. I do not think that’s under-counted COVID deaths. I think it’s due to other causes. We’ve already seen that car accident deaths were up, even though total miles driven was down by a lot.

So yay for their statistics in grabbing the excess deaths, but boo for assuming all those excess deaths were COVID.

Now, results of COVID and COVID policies, sure, I’d go with that. But do you want to start digging into the stats of suicides, drug overdoses, “accidental” deaths, and more? How about deaths of neglect? I bet that is involved in a bunch of non-COVID elderly deaths.

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 18 May 2021

Publication Site: STUMP at substack

Mortgage Mayhem

Link: https://www.netinterest.co/p/mortgage-mayhem

Excerpt:

Studying successful entrepreneurs is great; I am looking forward to reading Brad Stone’s new book, Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire. But studying unsuccessful ones can be more enlightening. As Charlie Munger says, “All I want to know is where I’m going to die so I’ll never go there.” The trouble is that there are few books written about unsuccessful entrepreneurs. The next best thing is a parliamentary hearing. This week, Lex Greensill, founder of Greensill Capital, appeared in front of the UK House of Commons Treasury Committee to help lawmakers understand what went wrong.

The Chair of the Committee cited the piece Steve Clapham and I wrote back in July last year warning of problems at Greensill. Lex Greensill didn’t confirm if he’d read it but replied that he didn’t become concerned about the position of his business until December. His view is that the failure of his firm rests with the insurance company that denied him cover. He even used the opportunity to give the Committee a recommendation: “…one of the real lessons from the failure of my firm… is that a heavy reliance on trade credit insurance is dangerous. I urge you and the Committee to consider the manner in which that is regulated, because it is fundamentally counter cyclical in its behaviour.”  

No surprise that he would deflect. The firm failed because it was riddled with conflicts of interest, carried heavy customer concentrations and grew too fast. The problem with unsuccessful entrepreneurs is that they may be less than honest.

Author(s): Marc Rubinstein

Publication Date: 14 May 2021

Publication Site: Net Interest at substack

Never Trust a Clean Partisan Story

Link: https://polimath.substack.com/p/never-trust-a-clean-partisan-story

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Before [wrong]:

After [correct]:

Excerpt:

The biggest problem with this study is the fact that they made what is an elementary statistics error and it went all the way to publication and no one caught it.

The authors took the per capita COVID case and death numbers among the “red states” and “blue states” and ran an analysis on them. In doing this, they gave North Dakota the same weight as Texas and Hawaii the same weight as New York despite the obvious population differences. Their chart is tiny and unreadable, so I’ve roughly duplicated their work here.

At first glance, this looks like the authors at least have their data correct. It looks like, after the initial wave, states with red governors had consistently higher patterns of cases and deaths from the summer all the way through the winter surge.

However, what we’re seeing here is due to the fact that the authors weighted the death rates for small and rural states with the same weight that they applied to high population states. This is a statistics error that is so common it has its own name: Simpson’s Paradox. It is when you take the average of the averages instead of calculating the overall average based on the properly weighted data.

Author(s): PoliMath

Publication Date: 13 May 2021

Publication Site: Marginally Compelling at substack

Which Public Pension Funds Have the Highest Holdings of Alternative Assets? 2021 Edition

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/which-public-pension-funds-have-the

Graphic:

All the data for alternative allocation 2001-2020, with key percentiles plotted as lines

Excerpt:

What you see in that graph is a data point for each of the plans I know their asset allocation for, with the median, 25th percentile, and 75th percentiles marked out so you can see the allocations increasing.

That pattern does not make me feel good.

Allocating more to alternatives doesn’t seem to get asset managers higher returns. But the group is generally sliding upwards in their allocations, and I’m very unhappy about this.

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 11 May 2021

Publication Site: STUMP at substack