An audacious communications campaign from Democrats in Washington is currently underway that is attempting to convince the public that:
As strange as these claims sound to anyone with even the most casual grasp of reality, it is a testament to the post-factual world we now occupy that the Biden Administration is able to attempt, let alone succeed in, putting out such monumental fantasies.
The campaign began late in July when the Biden team attempted to redefine the word “recession.” While the left has always tried to redefine words (think “racism” or “gender”), it has never attempted it so spontaneously with such a technical definition. Typically, they let new definitions germinate in academia or policy think tanks before trotting them out for public consumption. That was the playbook that helped change the meaning of the word “inflation” (from its original understanding as an expansion of the money supply, to its current definition tied solely to rising prices). But the inflation campaign unfolded over decades and did not require the public to completely surrender its critical capacities.
I’ve been publicly commenting and writing about the economy for almost 30 years (and talking about it for essentially my entire six decades on the planet). Over that time, the technical definition of “recession” has never been in dispute. Of course, I’ve had many arguments over what caused any given recession, why recessions may be necessary to purge an economy from excesses and malinvestments caused by artificially low interest rates, what government responses should be to recessions, or why things were better or worse than a particular political party claimed them to be. But in that time, I never encountered anyone who quibbled with the accepted technical definition of “recession” as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. What would be the point? Recessions affected both political parties. Why change a definition when the original definition may suit you down the road?
But that’s what the Biden Administration did when they claimed that the Second Quarter GDP Report, which showed a .9% annualized decline in GDP, following a 1.6% annualized decline in the First Quarter (Bureau of Economic Analysis), did not mean we were in a recession.
What? That’s been the textbook definition for…like forever. If Biden wanted to put a happy spin on the data, which is what sitting Presidents do, he could have said, “while technically it’s a recession, the current period shows many signs of strength that are not typical in recessions, leading us to believe we are in much better shape than the GDP headlines suggest, and that the recession will be shallow and over quickly.” I would have disagreed with that, but it’s fair game. But his approach wasn’t just to move the goalposts, it was to take them down entirely.
What’s even worse is that the very next day after the Biden Administration first floated its idea that “two negative quarters are not a recession,” the point was repeated by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell at his FOMC press conference on July 27. If nothing else, this proves just how ridiculous claims of “Fed independence” have been over the years. Economists like to claim that the Fed acts independent of political control. Would they have us believe the Fed spontaneously changed its definition of recession precisely after the administration did? Clearly, the Fed is taking its marching orders from the White House.
The sad part is that outside the typical sources of right-of-center news, the media just ran with the new definition. My favorite was the Associated Press headline that ran after the GDP numbers were announced, “U.S. Economy Shrinks for a Second Quarter, Raising Recession Fear.” (7/28/22) Up until two seconds ago that would have been reported as the official start of a recession, not something that would simply “raise fears,” of a future eventuality. This redefinition of terms would have been impossible when journalistic standards were higher and institutional memory more entrenched.
In George Orwell’s 1984, the totalitarian State of Oceania, where the action takes place, is always at war with another empire. Sometimes against Eurasia, and sometimes against Eastasia. But when the antagonists switched positions, as they often did, it served the government’s interest that the public forget that any other enemy ever existed. It required citizens to say, “We have always been at war with Eurasia,” even if that war just started yesterday. In the same vein, a recession has never been defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth!
Following up on this easy rhetorical victory, the Biden team decided to keep the ball rolling by claiming that there was “zero inflation in America in July.” That may come as a surprise to a select group of Americans, say those who have shopped at stores in the past month, but the claim went largely uncriticized in the press.
To tell this whopper, Biden had to talk only about month-over-month inflation, and ignore the year-over-year data, which still shows a hefty 8.5% inflation rate in July (down slightly from the prior month). (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) In all my years following economic news, I can say with extreme certainty that I never saw anyone hold up a month-over-month number as proof of anything. So yes, gas prices came down in July, possibly as a result of the release of millions of barrels of oil in the U.S. Strategic Reserve (though food, rent, and service prices continued their relentless rise). But oil prices could very well be up in September. Should we expect Biden to place great weight on that eventuality as well? Don’t hold your breath. In reality, after so many months of blistering price increases, a cooler month should be expected. The trend lines remain unbroken.
This “zero inflation” claim, repeated by Administration spokespeople dozens of times, is the kind of huge lie that would have elicited waves of head-smacking coverage during the Trump Administration. But Biden is getting a pass, he’s even being congratulated for his rhetorical boldness and courage in standing up to the “right-wing spin machine.”
But the best piece of doublethink comes with the Democratic Party’s passage of the 2022 “Inflation Reduction Act.” In the long history of misnamed pieces of legislation, this title might be the most egregious. Nothing in the gargantuan Bill was conceived with the aim of reducing inflation and nothing in the Bill will actually accomplish that goal. In truth, many of the plan’s provisions will make inflation even worse.
On some level, you must admire the audacity. The Democrats took a bunch of terrible ideas that they couldn’t pass in the Build Back Better Bill (either in the original $3 trillion version or the slimmed down $1.3 trillion version) and jammed it into a new package which they rebranded the Inflation Reduction Act. It didn’t bother them that all the elements of the Bill were conceived before inflation was considered a major national priority and were not designed with inflation reduction in mind. They know that inflation is a high priority to voters, so they want to look like they are doing something about it.
The Bill, which will pass both Congressional houses without a single Republican vote, proposes $764 billion of new revenue (including new taxes and greater enforcement of existing tax law, and savings resulting from lower prescription drug prices paid by Medicare) and $517 billion in new spending, with the difference going toward Federal deficit reduction. Unfortunately, the variety of healthcare, environmental and social welfare spending, combined with new taxes and beefed-up IRS enforcement, will hamstring the country’s economic vitality, and tend to increase both budget deficits and inflation. And as a result, the plan will do far more harm than good. Let’s look at the contents:
The Bill looks to raise revenue by:
$265 Billion – Allowing Medicare more leverage in negotiating lower drug prices paid to pharmaceutical companies. This is the government’s primary example of the Bill’s anti-inflationary bona fides as it intends to lower costs for consumers. But this type of price control has a very poor track record in fighting inflation. The government will mandate lower prices, which may limit supply of current drugs and discourage the research and development of new drugs. The savings will likely be far smaller than the government expects.
$222 Billion – Minimum 15% corporate tax for companies with more than $1 billion in annual income. As with all such provisions, this policy does not take into account how corporations will alter their structures and practices to avoid the tax. As a result, the take will be lower than the government expects. Also, companies will deal with higher tax and accounting burdens by reducing output, raising prices, and cutting salaries. This is not anti-inflationary. Worse, money that is paid in taxes is not available to finance capital investment. The result will be a reduction in supply, putting greater upward pressure on prices.
$204 Billion – Increased tax revenue through greater enforcement. – This is the most controversial aspect of the Bill. This nightmarish provision more than doubles the size of the Internal Revenue Service and adds 87,000 new agents specifically to increase the number of taxpayer audits. While the Biden administration is pretending that the agents will only go after the ultra-wealthy and the large corporations (who are limited in number and who can afford to hire accountants and lawyers), in truth the typical target will likely be small businesses and members of the burgeoning “gig” economy. The added fear of IRS scrutiny will cause these business owners to spend more time and money on accounting and legal fees, devote less time and money into growing their businesses, and invest less in increasing capacity. All of this will cut into output and profits, thereby putting upward pressure on prices and downward pressure on wages. This will not help curb inflation.
$74 billion – Imposition of a 1% excise tax on stock share buybacks. This provision is likely the least destructive of the revenue provisions, but it will do nothing to lower inflation. However, any money a corporation pays in taxes is money it no longer has for capital investment. So, this reduces supply, the opposite of what is needed to fight inflation.
The Bill will spend new money on:
$369 Billion – Energy Security and Climate Change – This is the boondoggle portion of the Bill where the government will shower funding on a variety of Democrats’ Climate Change pet projects. My feeling is that most of these investments will be on inefficient energy sources that the public doesn’t want, and which are unable to meet our energy needs. While the Bill does have a few provisions that will encourage domestic fossil fuel production, most of these programs will mandate the use of more expensive and less efficient energy. Misallocation of resources will make inflation worse by limiting the supply of energy and increasing its cost.
$64 Billion – A three-year extension on subsidies for Affordable Care Act health insurance premiums. Originally offered through the 2021 Covid-inspired American Rescue Plan, this extension is just another step backwards toward a permanent entitlement of subsidized health care. This will do nothing to actually lower the cost of health care, but simply change who gets the bill. It is not anti-inflationary. If anything, it will have the opposite effect, as the more involved government gets into any industry, the less efficient it becomes, and increasing the cost of its goods or services.
$80 billion on IRS Funding – This is the spending that will supposedly enable the government to collect $200 billion in revenue, so the net benefit to the Treasury is $120 billion. But the government will be spending real money to go after hoped-for money. The resulting numbers may be far less equitable for the government and provide massive anxiety to taxpayers.
So, there you have it, the government apparently takes inflation head-on. Except that it doesn’t. The best way to fight inflation is to reduce government spending, thereby leaving more investment capital in the private sector, and to reduce regulations, allowing businesses to increase the supply of goods and services so that prices can fall.
Instead, we are currently in an environment where government policies are artificially suppressing labor force participation and piling new taxes and regulation on businesses, all the while keeping the floodgates of fiscal stimulus wide open. This is a recipe for higher, not lower, prices.
It is not accidental that earlier this month the Labor Department reported that worker productivity fell 2.5% from a year earlier, the largest yearly decline since 1948. At the same time, despite deceptively low rates of unemployment, the actual number of people in the labor force continues to shrink. These trends come as a direct result of misguided government policies and regulations that disincentivize work and increase the burdens on business. A shrinking and less productive labor force does not lead to the expansion of the supply of goods and services needed to bring down inflation. The provisions in the Bill will add to these inflationary problems.
Also, the continuation of deficit spending far more than pre-pandemic levels means the Fed will come under increased political pressure to monetize the shortfall. That pressure will become particularly intense once the recession we are pretending does not exist gets much worse. Since quantitative easing is just a euphemism for inflation, a bill to increase deficit spending is a bill to increase inflation.
Given the drift of the data and of government messages, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are soon told that any “quantitative” attempt to measure inflation is misguided, and that the phenomenon can only be understood in qualitative subjective terms. How we feel about the products and services we are buying means far more than what we are actually paying. Just wait, it’s going to happen.
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Meat-Giant Tyson Foods Reveals New Insect Plant In 2025
Meat-Giant Tyson Foods Reveals New Insect Plant In 2025
Tyson Foods Inc. is buying a stake in insect-protein company Protix BV. The two companies…
Tyson Foods Inc. is buying a stake in insect-protein company Protix BV. The two companies will collaborate to establish a manufacturing facility in the US to produce bug-based meal and oil, typically used in fish feed and dog food.
The American meatpacker said Tuesday that it agreed to buy a stake in Dongen, Netherlands-based Protix BV to help fund its expansion. The companies will also form a joint venture to build and operate a US facility that will produce bug-based meal and oil, which are typically used in fish feed and dog food. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. --Bloomberg
"It's a multibillion-dollar industry opportunity that has tremendous growth potential, and we see Protix as being a leader there," Tyson CFO John Tyson said in an interview.
Tyson said, "In the long run, insect-protein inclusion in animal-feed diets can be a real thing that exists and can be one that is good for people, planet and animals."
Protix already supplies insect-based protein to pet food makers Nestle SA and Mars Inc. The company was established in 2009, and the partnership with Tyson will expand operations internationally.
"It is definitely a huge way to establish ourselves into an international context," Protix CEO Kees Aarts said. He added the deal with Tyson is a "tipping point we have been working for."
Aarts said the US plant will not be ready until 2025. He said the new facility will be four times larger than its existing facility in the Netherlands.
Slowly but surely, the World Economic Forum and major corporations appear to be resetting the global food supply chain. WEF has been very vocal about how the masses must give up beef because cow farts are polluting the air and, instead, eat insects.
Corporate media has been trying to convince the masses...
In Europe, an additive made out of powdered crickets has already made its way into pizza, pasta, and cereals.
Tyson's foray into bug production for animal food is an ominous sign that the meat giant could also be planning edible insects for human consumption.
Green Movement Still Steamrolling Rational Resistance To Climate Chicanery
Green Movement Still Steamrolling Rational Resistance To Climate Chicanery
Authored by James Varney via RealClear Wire,
After years as a…
After years as a federal agent helping the Drug Enforcement Administration hunt drug lords across Central Asia, and years more teaching in Maryland classrooms, Robin Shaffer anticipated a quiet retirement watching the deep swells roll across the Atlantic and crash on to the broad Jersey Shore.
Instead, he finds himself embroiled in a fight. As a leader of a grassroots group, Protect Our Coast NJ, Shaffer, 53, is taking on an international company and politicians in Trenton backing Ocean Wind 1, a $10 billion proposal to line the Jersey Shore with 98 wind turbines whose 722-foot propeller whirls would dwarf the Washington Monument and Statue of Liberty.
It’s been an uphill battle, with the group “taking in nickels and dimes” and “selling T-shirts and magnets.” The local press seems indifferent to their cause, he said, noting that no outlets covered a public meeting he held at a pub, perhaps fittingly, with “Cheers” and "Frasier" actor Kelsey Grammer, one of Hollywood’s few prominent conservatives.
“There’s this argument made that we must be bought off, sort of, ‘Why fight the Green Revolution? Don’t you care about the environment?’” Shaffer said. “But we don’t have any corporate sponsors or major funding. It’s very much a David vs. Goliath kind of thing.”
Protect Our Coast NJ, an all-volunteer outfit with a budget of less than $100,000, is one example of an overwhelming disparity that has emerged in the debate over the aggressive push for renewable energy in response to what President Biden calls the “existential threat” of climate change. While once upon a time there may have been scrappy environmentalists combating the corporate might of Big Oil, major fossil fuel producers and conservative philanthropies provide little supporting research challenging climate change, Shaffer and other people interviewed for this article said. As a result, the money and the muscle and the lawyers are now aligned with what they call Big Green.
Government largesse, shot into the stratosphere by hundreds of taxpayer billions President Biden shoveled to green energy companies and backers through the Inflation Reduction Act, is just the crest of this wave of momentum on behalf of a “climate emergency.”
Powering the apparent juggernaut are philanthropists who have donated billions, corporate sponsors of environmental groups that look like a who’s who of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, attorneys at white-shoe firms and Ivy League law schools, prosecutors paid privately but operating under a district attorney’s umbrella, along with media and academics who hammer the narrative home.
“This whole movement is pushed by a small but very powerful elite that controls Washington and the media, but not the way your average American thinks,” said William Happer, an emeritus physics professor at Princeton University who founded the CO2 Coalition in 2015 to advance the argument that global warming is not an existential threat.
“You think, ‘What can you do?’” Happer said. “They have the media under control, they have politicians, professional and scientific groups and publications are controlled by them, and it’s all driven by money.”
The corporate sponsors of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), for instance, include titans of tech and private enterprise such as Amazon, Google, Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Meta and others. Google is also working with the Sierra Club, while the Environmental Defense Fund lists General Electric and DuPont as allies on its website.
Liberal billionaire Michael Bloomberg pledged another $500 million to kill the coal industry in September, a massive injection of cash that brings to more than $1 billion the amount he has committed to his Beyond Carbon launched in 2019. Another $1.1 billion was pledged by liberal venture capitalist John Doerr to build a climate change school at Stanford University, and Tom Steyer, like Bloomberg a former Democrat presidential candidate, has put millions of his billions behind similar global warming initiatives.
Shaffer said Protect Our Coast is hiring attorneys he hopes “will do a good job,” but powerful lawyers are already aligned with the “climate emergency” camp. Since 2009 Columbia University Law School has had a Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, while the venerable New York firm of Shearman & Sterling, with 850 attorneys, is partnered with ACORE.
Whether Shearman & Sterling offers ACORE anything beyond financial backing is unclear; neither responded to a request for comment from RealClearInvestigations. Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center, says its attorneys do not see themselves as activists working on behalf of environmentalists but rather partners in the push for a renewable energy future.
“The Sabin Center conducts legal analysis and supports strong action on climate change,” Gerrard said. “The Sabin Center does not file lawsuits, but it often files amicus briefs and comment letters.”
In all cases, he noted, the center is “in support of such [renewable energy] facilities, and opposing those who are against such facilities – typically municipalities, and sometimes NIMBY groups.”
A Who's Who of Wall Street and Silicon Valley
The David vs. Goliath dynamic is compounded by government funding. Academic grants, scientific funding, and now, through the Inflation Reduction Act, U.S. taxpayer money for the environment go almost exclusively to what advocates characterize as green energy projects. Ultimately, the Inflation Reduction Act, which supporters predicted would cost taxpayers $391 billion, will likely cost some $1.2 trillion, according to an analysis by Goldman Sachs.
Just how much the U.S. government spends on global warming research is nearly impossible to calculate, since money comes from so many different departments. The Government Accounting Office, which conducts research at the behest of members of Congress, has not looked at the subject since 2018, when it calculated the cost had been $13.2 billion in the previous decade.
That money flows almost exclusively to those who support the climate emergency argument.
"It's real. If you were to submit a proposal to the federal government – whether it's NSF, NOAA or NASA – that was challenging the narrative, you would not have much chance at all of getting funded,” said former Obama energy official Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist and engineering professor at New York University. “Whereas if you wrote a proposal that supported the narrative, you're in."
RCI sought comment from all three of the federal agencies Koonin mentioned. Only NASA acknowledged receipt of the questions; none has responded.
Judith Curry, a prominent skeptic of apocalyptic warnings regarding climate change and a former professor at Georgia Tech, looked at academe’s politicization and dependence on government financing in her book, “Climate Uncertainty and Risk.”
“Power politics by activist scientists to advance a clear political agenda has inflamed and polarized the climate change debate within the community of climate scientists,” Curry told RCI. “Calls for proposals from the federal funding agencies implicitly assume the dominance of human-caused global warming. Hence scientists have little motivation to work on anything else. The end result is research that analyzes the results of climate model simulations to infer dire societal consequences.”
Tarred as Shills for Big Oil
Despite the disparity in funding and resources, climate emergency skeptics are often dismissed as shills for energy companies. Yet the CO2 Coalition, for example, includes Happer, a member of the National Academy of Science; John Clausen, who won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics; and Patrick Moore, a co-founder and former director of Greenpeace.
A cursory web search on the Coalition turns up multiple stories of how it once received $1 million from ExxonMobil and articles about Happer’s brief stint with the Trump administration, all couched in language suggesting the Coalition’s work is biased.
Regardless of where the grant originated, $1 million is a paltry sum in the context of global warming largesse. In September alone those pushing the idea that global warming presents an existential threat stood to get 2,000 times that amount just from Bloomberg and a pledge from the liberal Rockefeller Foundation to spend $1 billion “to advance climate solutions.” Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and owner of The Washington Post, has pledged up to $10 billion for his Earth Fund.
In addition, the big energy companies appear to have largely stopped funding research challenging the climate emergency narrative, in some cases bending to the prevailing winds – or solar rays or what have you – of political expediency.
“Where is this oil money people talk about? I wish I could get some,” said Anthony Watts, who runs the Watts Up With That website. “ExxonMobil hasn’t the faintest idea who I am. The notion energy company money has corrupted any of the findings that run counter to the approved narrative on global warming is a fallacy designed to support the tribalism in the field.”
RCI reached out to numerous major energy companies. ExxonMobil asked for specific questions, which a spokeswoman did not answer, and the others did not respond.
Watts has run his site, which dubs itself “the world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change,” since 2006. In that time, the issue of global warming has gone from a computer model theory to “settled science” to a “climate emergency,” and the money and power has grown accordingly, he said.
“I thought, when I started, if I demonstrated biases in the temperature readings – significant biases – there would be a correction, because it’s science, there would be this ‘we got this wrong, let’s fix this,’ thinking,” he said. “But it has morphed from its infancy of studying numbers and data to some big business conglomerate.”
Watts has experienced firsthand how social media helps frame global warming as a looming catastrophe. Despite his site’s viewership, he says, it was “demonetized” by WordAds, which enables ads to be run on WordPress websites. There was no specific post cited for violating any terms, according to Watts, but WordPress notified him the fees would no longer be collected after Google announced “they were removing ad services from all climate skeptic cites.”
Wildly Inflated Numbers
“The truth is, we are essentially a grassroots movement of people who don’t believe a crisis exists, certainly not one worth destroying the economy of the world,” he said.
The uneven playing field marks a change. Almost a decade ago, progressives such as New Yorker writer Jane Mayer – author of “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” – were warning of secret networks funding climate change denial. There is no database aggregating funding for such groups, though progressive scholars have published research highlighting what they admit are wildly inflated numbers. A 2018 paper published in the journal Climactic Change, titled "Obstructing Action: Foundation Funding and U.S. Climate Change Counter-movement Organizations,” reports billions in grants between 2003-2018, though its authors note “we cannot ascertain that any particular grant supports activities directly related to climate change unless specifically stated on the grant records.” Instead, they add the gross totals of all contributions to conservative organizations they consider climate skeptics, such as Americans for Prosperity, the Reason Foundation, the Federalist Society, and the Manhattan Institute.
Conservative groups mentioned in the article, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Foundation, continue to publish critiques of global warming alarmism. But representatives noted their budgets are divided among many policy silos and they do not have the corporate backing enjoyed by the climate emergency camp. In 2023, Heritage said its budget grew to $100 million as part of a major fundraising initiative, but in the past it has usually operated with around $80 million annually.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of energy, climate and the environment at Heritage, noted that it gets “less than 5 percent of its money from corporate sponsors and no company contributes more than 1 percent.” And that money is spread out over various departments so that only a fraction of it is devoted to combatting the alarmist global warming narrative, she said.
Climate skeptics says such figures are laughable.
“We have comparatively few dollars while the other side now literally has trillions,” said Steve Milloy, who operates the Junk Science website, pointing to money that European countries, the U.N., and other bodies have given for global warming research or to prop up green energy companies with loans and tax credits.
Others in the trenches, more or less, echoed Shaffer’s experience in New Jersey.
“We are up against sleazy lawyers and lobbyists and a fancy propaganda campaign every time,” said Kevin Emmerich, whose grassroots Basin and Range Watch has gone up against major solar projects in Nevada. “The big solar and wind projects that end up being the ones we fight are all being proposed by the companies who have the most money. They have the money to lobby congress and pay big lawyers. They also tend to buy out little towns.”
As lone laptop warrior operations like Milloy’s and Watts’s attest, whatever money that flows to skeptical camps to tar the other side is slight. The same appears to be true on the international scene, as the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a group that seeks to counter the notion that wrenching changes to Western economies are needed to combat global warming, reports an annual budget of roughly $475,000 in 2022. The Sierra Club alone had a budget of $151 million that year.
Companies have to a large extent begun to infuse environmental activists with cash as a form of “greenwashing,” said Furchtgott-Roth. The alarmist camp has become so hostile and flush that is simply easier for corporations to avoid potential problems.
“It’s no longer just an ideological fight where one group of people may have the better view,” she said. “This has become a matter of theological importance, they see this as a matter of good vs. evil.”
For now, the role of scrappy opponent, once held by environmentalists, has switched to opponents of massive “green” energy projects. Small players like Protect Our Coast NJ take some solace in the rising costs of such projects which has delayed the launch of Ocean 1 until 2026. The group drew more than 100 people – but only one reporter – to a recent event marred by a downpour. Shaffer, pointing to polling that shows support for the project has plummeted in New Jersey, vows to keep up the fight.
“Despite obvious attempts by the Fourth Estate to ignore the efforts of thousands of New Jerseyans to protect the marine ecosystem and the Jersey Shore, our message is getting out,” he said.
That message will win in the end even with the lopsided nature of the debate, Happer predicted. He compares the current landscape to what prevailed with the eugenics movement a century ago.
“Every little town had its ‘Eugenics Society,’ decent white ladies got together to drink tea and discuss it, the presidents of Harvard and Princeton, the scientific journals – the whole ‘Establishment’ believed in eugenics,” Happer said. “It was all nonsense, of course, and ended when Germany took eugenics to its logical conclusion. Now, some unfortunate county or state will implement all this and the people will rise up in fury, the policies are so crazy people will simply rebel. It happens again and again in human history when something seems invincible.”
Deaths Of Despair Afflict More Cohorts Than Case-Deaton Originally Found
Deaths Of Despair Afflict More Cohorts Than Case-Deaton Originally Found
Authored by Yves Smith via NakedCapitalism.com,
At the risk of over-hoisting…
At the risk of over-hoisting from an important piece of analysis, below are some of the key sections from Anusar Farooqui, who writes as Policy Tensor, on the extent of the “death of despair” catastrophe. His piece, Yes, High-School Graduates Are Dying of Despair, is important because he demonstrates that the rising death rates over time extend even into those with some college education.
Farooqu got in an argument with Matt Yglesias on Twitter over the body of work by Ann Case and Angus Deaton on so-called deaths of despair, in which they found what they called an AIDS-level surge of mortality among less-educated whites in middle age. Not only have Case and Deaton refined their analysis, but other studies have identified an increase in early deaths from suicide and addiction in other groups.
For background, from our first post in 2015 on Case-Deaton findings:By Pressreach
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The authors found that from 1999 to 2013, the death rate among non-Hispanic whites aged 45 to 54 with a high school education or less rose, while it fell in other age and ethnic groups. This is an HIV-level silent epidemic: AIDS killed an estimated 650,000 from the mid-1980s to present, while an estimated close to half-million died in half that time period who would have lived had their mortality rates fallen in line with the rest of the population. It is hard to overstate the significance of these findings. From the New York Times:
“It is difficult to find modern settings with survival losses of this magnitude,” wrote two Dartmouth economists, Ellen Meara and Jonathan S. Skinner, in a commentary to the Deaton-Case analysis that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This cross-country comparison from the study shows how extreme an outlier these middle aged whites are:
The big culprits are linked to despair, namely “poisoning” which is opioid abuse first and alcoholism second, and suicides. Case and Deaton dug into the underlying statistics, and found distressingly high levels of pain and impaired health in this age group, so pain and physical impairment may well be bigger culprits than economic distress:
And the rise in death rates took place among men and women, in all of the four major regions of the country the authors examined, and obesity rates were not a driving factor.
These pathologies have been showing up in other demographics. For instance, the Wall Street Journal reported in May 2023 that death rates in the 1 to 19 year old age group had risen at an unprecedented rate from 2019 to 2021 due to guns, suicides, car accidents, and drugs.
Now to the immediate discussion. Farooqui took issue with a claim by Matt Yglesias, bolstered by Eric Levitz, that the Case-Deaton data was less significant that it might seem because it lumped together those with no high school degrees with high school diplomas. Yglesias and Levitz argued that the “deaths of despair” were only taking place among high school dropouts and so the white working class was not in as terrible shape as it might seem.
Farooqui pointed out that Case and Deanton had shown that death rates among the middle aged were rising, albeit relatively modestly, even among those with some college education. But then he turns to the crux of the disagreement:
However, they [Case and Deaton] do not distinguish between [less than] HS and HS, and therefore do not address the specific issue highlighted by Levitz: “… it is actually an acute crisis of mortality of the bottom 10%.”
This is an empirical question. We attack this problem using CDC data collated by Wharton. They have age-specific mortality rates by educational attainment. The ordinal categories are
In order to obtain a more representative graph, we use age-specific population weights to combine age-specific hazard ratios. The next graph displays the population-weighted average of hazard ratios for our age-specific cohorts. By construction, this weighted average of hazard ratios is not confounded by any increase in average age within discrete age brackets. And, as explained above, because we’re looking at hazard ratios, it is also not confounded by the common component. This is as kosher as it gets in this business.
We can see that the upward trend in hazard ratios is not confined to high-school dropouts. It is true that the trend is most pronounced for them. But the upward trend is also significant for high-school graduates and those with some college under their belt. The all-cause hazard ratio has increased by 3.28 for high-school dropouts, 2.08 for high school graduates, and 1.27 for those with some college. The upshot is that, on the wrong side of the diploma divide, despair goes very far up indeed.
And then he drives the point home (I’ve omitted the charts in this section, but Farooqui showed he has the goods):
All-cause mortality has a very strong signal. But the evidence for American working class despair is not confined to mortality. Prime-age labor force participation contains the same signal of despair: four out of every nine Americans with only a high-school diploma are not even looking for a job. It’s not like high-school graduates can survive on one pay-check! These are obviously discouraged workers in despair.
Take family reproduction—perhaps the most important factor in human well-being. Following the Sixties revolution in behavioral norms, the rate of family reproduction stabilized for college graduates by the 1990s. But it has continued to fall for high school graduates. See my note from three years ago. And if you’re interested a deeper dive, see Andrew Cherlin’s work.
Or, take divorce rates. For college graduates, 29.7 percent of first marriages end in divorce by age 46. For high-school graduates, 48.2 percent of first marriages end in divorce. (The table’s from here.)
We can keep going. The truth is that American working-class despair is such a robust, large-scale pattern that one can recover the signal from practically anything we care to measure—mortality, morbidity, BMI, labor force participation, marriage rates, child-out-of-wedlock rates, you name it.
So, I stand by my challenge to Matthew Yglesias.
Well-off Americans are so removed from these cohorts, usually encountering them in various service, as in servile, positions where they have to put on a good face as a condition of getting paid, that they can pretend that the lesser orders aren’t suffering in financial and emotional terms.
One proof is despite Case’s and Deaton’s landmark work, there’s no interest in what to do to alleviate this personal and collective disaster. Our version of “Let them eat cake” has gone from “let them learn to code” to “Deprogram them all”.
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