How to Exacerbate Inequality

At Bloomberg Adam Minter points out the grave inequality between blacks and whites in Minneapolis:

Just after dawn last Wednesday, the smell of smoke lingered over the intersection of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. It’s a major commercial thoroughfare, home to dozens of black-owned businesses. It’s also eight blocks from where George Floyd suffocated beneath a police officer’s knee and died on May 25. During the chaos that followed, dozens of Lake Street’s buildings and businesses burned.

It was a serious blow to a community that’s struggled for decades to achieve economic equality. In 2018, the median income for black households in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area was $38,200; for whites, it was $82,500. That’s a wider gap than for the U.S. as a whole, despite the area’s progressive reputation, a corporate community that’s renowned for its civic-mindedness, and a robust regional economy.

I’m certainly open to suggestion on how to remedy that situation, something lacking from Mr. Minter’s article. Something he might consider is demographics. Minneapolis has a population of 450,000 of which 20% are black, 90,000 in round numbers. 74,000 Somalis live in Minneapolis. As is the case in much of the Upper Midwest, a large percentage of Minneapolis’s adult white population has a college education. Probably 70% or more.

What could possibly explain the income disparity between blacks and white in Minneapolis? Racism is probably a factor but somehow I doubt it’s the only factor.


Practice Makes Perfect

The editors of the Wall Street Journal remark on the reduction in mortality rate due to COVID-19:

Doctors have observed that the coronavirus case-fatality rate seems to have decreased considerably since the early days of the pandemic. But a pre-publication study from Italian universities and local public-health authorities comparing the case-fatality rates in two provinces (Ferrara and Pescara) during March and April is the first to show this might be true.

After adjusting for age and comorbidities, the study found the overall death rate declined by some 40% from March to April with huge reductions in those over age 80 (from 36.3% to 16.1%), and subjects with hypertension (23% to 12.1%), diabetes (30.3% to 8.4%), cardiovascular disease (31.5% to 12.1%), COPD (29.7% to 11.4%) and renal disease (32.3% to 11.5%).

The study’s findings need to be confirmed by more studies of fatality rates over time in other places. But the researchers note that the decline in death rates is unlikely to be due to less crowded hospitals since infection rates were low in the two provinces and never exceeded the intensive care unit capacity. Hospital utilization could confound results in other hot spots.


We now know, for instance, that deaths among severely ill patients often result from an overreactive immune response known as “cytokine storms” as well as systemic blood clots. The Food and Drug Administration this week approved a new blood test by Roche that measures levels of the inflammatory-causing protein interleukin-6 and can help predict patients at risk for cytokine storms. Using drugs to break up blood clots and calm down the immune system earlier can prevent severe cases from turning deadly.

Doctors have also observed that some patients with fatally low oxygen levels aren’t gasping for air or losing consciousness and their symptoms resemble altitude sickness—dizziness, nausea and headaches—more than pneumonia or acute respiratory distress. As a result they are using less intensive ventilation such as nasal cannulas and sleep-apnea machines.

Mechanical ventilators can cause long-term brain and respiratory damage as well as secondary infections. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that a shockingly high 80% of those between ages 18 and 65 who were placed on ventilators in New York City died while just 2.4% were discharged alive during the study period. More targeted therapeutics can reduce the need for ventilators.

As experience in dealing with COVID-19 is gained, facility in treating the disease is likely to improve. The implication of this is that sharing of information and better communication among physicians treating the disease may be as or more important than a scientific breakthrough in treatment or a vaccine in coping with COVID-19. Those are “Hail Marys”. Gradual improvement based on experience is the way the best medicine works.


Nothing Has Changed

I wanted to pass this along. At least according to the Centers for Disease Control, the rate at which black people are being killed by police has declined substantially over the last half century. From the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice:

In the late 1960s, nearly 100 young black men under age 25 were killed by law enforcement every year. Even as the black youth and young adult population doubled over the last 40 years, police shootings of young black men fell to around 35 per year in the 2000s, a rate decline of 79 percent. While younger African Americans were the victims in 1 in 4 killings by police in the 1968-74 period and 1 in 7 in 1975-84, today, that proportion is 1 in 10.

Similarly, police killings of African Americans 25 and older have declined by 61 percent since the late 1960s. Still, the rates for younger African Americans remain 4.5 times higher, and for older African Americans 1.7 times higher, than for other races and ages.

You might wonder what has transpired since 2011. The rate at which black people have been killed by police has continued to decline. Some of the decrease might be due to the “Ferguson effect”.

Clearly, there is still room for improvement including in communication. I have already presented some ideas for improvement. “Defunding the police” might make a good slogan but that will also result in more black people dying at the hands of other black people. Since 2011 Baltimore, St. Louis, Chicago, and other cities with substantial black populations have seen increasing homicide rates, mostly young black men.

Let’s hope that the events of the last weeks will impel positive change. As the graph at the top of the page shows, little has changed over the last 30 years but as the graph also makes clear, there simply isn’t room for the dramatic improvement between the late 60s and the 80s. Frankly, I doubt that will be enough to satisfy the demonstrators.


The Surge That Didn’t Happen

At German Lopez thrashes like a fish on a gaff producing reasons that Georgia’s early reopening did not produce the surge in new cases of COVID-19 that some had predicted including:

  1. It’s too early

    Unless the statements about incubation periods are completely wrong after a month that doesn’t seem particularly likely.

  2. There might be some data manipulation

    He produces no evidence that has actually taken place. It might take place is about as much as one can say.

  3. People are staying home anyway

    I wonder how one would go about quantifying that?

  4. Masks, good hygiene, and other behavioral changes may make a difference

    Again, I wonder how one would go about quantifying that.

before lurching uncontrollably onto the obvious explanation:

  1. Maybe luck, or something else we don’t fully understand, is playing a role

I can think of any number of other possible reasons, presumably subsumed within that category. How about this one? Not everyone is equally susceptible to the virus and the most susceptible contracted it early.

I wouldn’t be surprised if all of the above were not factors in one degree or another but the fact remains that the feared surge has not happened. As we learn more about SARS-Cov-2 it will be interesting to see if we become better able to evaluate to what degree each of those factors actually explains what is happening.


Haemotological Effects

It’s interesting to see the potential haemotological effects and impact of COVID-19 being studied. From Bloomberg:

“We’ve been continuing to collect data on stroke patients and we’ve learned a lot more about the way Covid-19 is causing clots in other parts of the body,” says Johanna Fifi, a neuroendovascular surgeon at Mount Sinai Health System and an author of that article. The clots are also found in the lungs and kidneys. “Clotting seems to be a very prominent feature of this disease,” she says.

“This is causing more thrombosis than any other virus,” says Pascal Jabbour, a physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. “We’ve never seen that before.” Jabbour has also been collecting data on stroke patients and has found that Covid-19 positive cases are not only younger, but are also less likely to survive after the usual surgical treatment to remove clots. The mortality rate is about 43%, as opposed to about 5% in typical cases.

Schulman says evidence is growing that Covid-19 is affecting blood vessels in people with no obvious symptoms of stroke or blood clots. People with severe Covid-19 have an off-the-charts elevated blood marker, called D-dimer, which is associated with blood clots. Levels of about 500 signal a serious clot risk, but patients with severe Covid-19, he says, “show the highest numbers most of us have ever seen.” The D-dimer tests only measure levels up to 22,000 — and many patients are clearly beyond that.

It would be particularly interesting to know if there are other factors that impel this response or if these clotting effects are present in all patients with COVID-19.

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How Do You Draw the Line Between Demonstrations and Riots?

I also agree with law prof Barry Latzer’s assessment, from his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, which I have taken the liberty of quoting in full:

Though thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of cities across the nation to express their outrage over the death of George Floyd, many hundreds have engaged in mob violence and looting. Mr. Floyd’s tragic death is, for them, a pretext for hooliganism.

We’ve seen this before, back in the bad old days of the late 1960s, when rioting became a near-everyday occurrence. Economists William J. Collins and Robert A. Margotallied an extraordinary 752 riots between 1964 and 1971. These disturbances involved 15,835 incidents of arson and caused 228 deaths, 12,741 injuries and 69,099 arrests. By an objective measure of severity, 130 of the 752 riots were considered “major,” 37 were labeled “massive” in their destructiveness.

At the time, black radicals and some white leftists saw the riots purely as political protest. Tom Hayden, the well-known New Left leader, described the violence as “a new stage in the development of Negro protest against racism, and as a logical outgrowth of the failure of the whole society to support racial equality.”

This analysis ignored the observations of witnesses on the scene. Thousands of rioters in the 1960s and early 1970s engaged in a joyful hooliganism—looting and destroying of property with wild abandon—that had no apparent political meaning. In the Detroit riot of July 1967, one of the era’s most lethal (43 people died in four nightmarish days of turmoil), the early stage of the riot was described by historian Sidney Fine as “a carnival atmosphere,” in which, as reported by a black minister eyewitness, participants exhibited “a gleefulness in throwing stuff and getting stuff out of the buildings.” A young black rioter told a newspaper reporter that he “really enjoyed” himself.

Analysts of urban rioting have identified a “Roman holiday” stage in which youths, in “a state of angry intoxication, taunt the police, burn stores with Molotov cocktails, and set the stage for looting.” This behavior is less political protest than, in Edward Banfield’s epigram of the day, “rioting mainly for fun and profit.” We are seeing some of the same looting and burning today, often treated by the media as mere exuberant protest.

Analyses of the riots that pinned blame on white bias and black victimization buttressed the protest theory. Such explanations received official sanction in the report of the influential National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967, and headed by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner. The Kerner Report famously declared that “white racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.” While not explicitly calling the riots a justified revolt by the victims of white racism, the Kerner Report certainly gave that impression.

Today we have the Black Lives Matter movement, which claims that police racism is the heart of the problem and calls for “defunding” police departments. Its apologists ignore the pressing need to protect black lives in communities where armed violent criminals daily threaten law-abiding residents.

A seeming oddity of the disturbances of the late ’60s and early ’70s is that they failed to materialize in many cities. An analysis of 673 municipalities with populations over 25,000 found that 75% of them experienced no riots. Even within riot-torn cities it is estimated that 85% or more of the black population took no part in them. Although they’ve gotten little or no media coverage I expect we will see comparable enclaves of tranquility today.

One possible explanation for why some cities explode with violence and others don’t is contagion theory: the tendency of people to do what their friends are doing. Once the rocks and bottles start flying in a neighborhood, it becomes tempting to join in. Youths, who played a major role in the turbulence, are particularly susceptible to peer influence. Consequently, when teenagers and young men begin rampaging, the situation often quickly escalates. No one wants to miss the party. As more young people join in, what begins as a manageable event can rapidly spiral out of control.

Closely related to the contagion theory is the threshold—or, more popularly, the “tipping point”—hypothesis. Once a certain number of rioters have become engaged, this view holds, those who had preferred to stay on the sidelines will be motivated to jump in. While imitation plays its part here too, the size of the event in itself becomes the crucial determinant of the ultimate magnitude of the riot.

Of course, a peaceful situation can quickly descend into mayhem in the presence of provocateurs. Back in the ’60s, a new generation of young black militants, such as Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, traveled around the country making incendiary speeches, unabashedly endorsing black revolution. Today we have antifa and various anarchist groups using social media and encrypted messages to organize the violence effectively but anonymously.

Certainly, there are those who honestly believe that America’s police are racist and in need of fundamental reforms. They are mistaken, but they should have ample opportunity to express their views peacefully. There should be no confusing such protesters, however, with looters, arsonists and those who would kill police officers. They deserve a different name: criminals.

I don’t believe there’s any practical way of preventing a massive angry demonstration from changing into a riot with dizzying speed. All it takes is one “influencer” shouting “Let’s start looting!” Set aside “free speech zones” for demonstrations far away from tempting targets and be willing to enforce order. Even that won’t be enough.


What Happens to Bad Bosses

I think the editors of the Wall Street Journal have this about right:

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s denunciation of President Trump on Wednesday isn’t surprising, but it still looks like an important political moment. Mr. Trump’s polarizing and hyper-personal governance is catching up with him, as we and so many others warned.

Mr. Mattis, the former four-star Marine General, is a man of accomplishment and dedication to country. He made the decision to join Mr. Trump’s Administration despite the misgivings he must have had about the President’s foreign-policy views. He served loyally until he resigned on Dec. 20, 2018 after Mr. Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw troops from the Syrian border with Turkey after a telephone call with Turkey’s President.

But as he so often has, Mr. Trump couldn’t resist kicking Mr. Mattis as he was going out the door. His initial tweets were supportive, but within two days he was criticizing Mr. Mattis for not helping enough to dun allies for more cash for U.S. foreign deployments. “General Mattis did not see this as a problem. I DO, and it is being fixed!” he tweeted.

He told a cabinet meeting that “I wish him well. I hope he does well. But, as you know, President Obama fired him and essentially so did I.” Mr. Mattis said in his resignation letter he’d stay until Feb. 28, but Mr. Trump ordered him out on Jan. 1.

In his statement to the Atlantic, Mr. Mattis denounced in particular Mr. Trump’s threat this week to order the military to restore order amid riots in U.S. cities. He said this threatens the Constitution, which is overwrought given that George H.W. Bush and other Presidents have done this. Mr. Mattis also undersold the significant harm that riots have done in many cities (see nearby).

But the general’s real motivation here is to tell the public that Mr. Trump lacks the character to be President and should be defeated in November. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us,” Mr. Mattis said. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

There is a reason that presidents of the last 60 or more years have followed one of two paradigms: either they have been micro-managers like Clinton or Carter, “policy wonks” attempting to run every detail of the federal government themselves, or staff managers like Eisenhower or Reagan who appointed good subordinates, established the objectives, let the subordinates work out the details for themselves, and supported them. The reason is that those approaches can be made to work. What President Trump has been doing cannot, particularly when so much of the appointed and permanent civil bureaucracy disagrees with you or even despises you.


Weakening? Not So Much

There’s an ongoing debate about whether SARS-CoV-2 is becoming milder. At Bloomberg Max Nisen says that the preponderance of the evidence suggests it is not. However

If the virus isn’t shifting into a milder form, what else can explain why it doesn’t seem as bad in some places? The fact is, many other things could be at work. The virus may well appear weaker in areas on the other side of a peak because expanded testing and surveillance are catching people earlier in the course of their illness, as opposed to months ago when most were only tested if they got sick enough to brave a packed hospital. Clinicians also know more about how to treat people, and are no longer as overwhelmed.

A solid portion of those most vulnerable due to a weakened immune system or other factors have likely already been infected, especially in hard-hit areas in Italy. Those that haven’t are better protected by public health measures, a lower level of community spread, possible temporary seasonal effects, and at least some degree of acquired immunity in the population.

That last explanation sounds pretty credible to me. Another possibility is that the first cohort of people who contracted the disease were already pretty sick for other reasons. Now even those with serious cases of COVID-19 are stronger and healthier. Also, I suspect that the 1,001st case you treat doesn’t look nearly as bad as the first one did.

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Can They Both Be Right?

Today I have seen two dramatically conflicting political interpretations of events. In one interpretation the demonstrations and subsequent rioting and looting will benefit Democrats in November because of Trump’s racist, fascist response as exemplified by the “Battle of Lafayette Square”, culminating in Gen. James Mattis’s rebuke of President Trump. In this view such events always hurt incumbents and that is supported to some degree by the decline in Trump’s approval numbers.

The other interpretation is that Democrats are misreading the analogy to 1968 and the events of the last week will hurt Democrats in November due to the inability of Democratic mayors and governors to prevent the destruction being wrought on their cities. The notion here is that Nixon won in 1968 and again in 1972 in good measure due to a “law and order” stance that President Trump appears to be trying to emulate. Also note that despite everything that has transpired, according to the RCP Average of Polls, Trump’s approval rating is still one point higher than it was in October of 2019.

I think it’s quite possible that neither and both are right. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the November election were an anti-incumbent election. Most general elections tend to return 85% or more of incumbents to office. Could this time really be different and in which direction.

Also November is still a long time away. Who will be injured more by the events of the last several weeks may depend on what is remembered 5 months from now.


Climbing Back Up Will Take a Lot Longer Than Sliding Down

I thought I’d pass along this assessment from Robert Samuelson at the Washington Post:

The CBO responded to a request by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to compare its latest forecast with those prepared in January. The loss was a stunning $7.9 trillion over an 11-year period, with the figures adjusted to eliminate inflation. The main causes were the coronavirus and related lockdown, which caused a surge of joblessness.

That actually sounds light to me. $8 trillion over 11 years in a $21 trillion economy is not nearly as devastating as current conditions feel. He continues:

That’s about 3 percent of cumulative loss to gross domestic product over the same period, says the CBO. There may be more to come. Employment, car sales and housing starts could all take a hit when the CBO recalculates other changes since January. In particular, it hasn’t re-estimated changes in productivity — overall efficiency, which could result in significantly faster or slower economic growth.

Economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics believes that the CBO’s forecast may be too optimistic. “I don’t think the economy will ever fully get back to the GDP growth rate [before the pandemic], which CBO expects by the end of this decade,” he said in an email. He cited many factors that could slow growth: “diminished globalization — including less trade, immigration and foreign investment — and a much more precarious [budget] situation.”

The one word of advice that I can give is that we need to choose more wisely. Security demands that we bring supply chains closer to home. While that alone won’t satisfy the proponents of a “Green New Deal”, it would certainly be better from an environmental perspective than the status quo ante. And I think it would be much better for all parties to be more tightly interconnected with Canada, Mexico, and other Western Hemisphere countries than our present dependence on China.