The Covid19 death rate looks less bad in historical perspective

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(Part II of “Statistics and the Pandemic”)

May 30, 2021 — My preceding blogpost pointed out that excess mortality statistics show Covid-19 death rates to be much worse in most countries than are reported by official statistics.  In this sense, the pandemic is even worse than one thought.

But the news all around us is already depressing.  A consideration of longer-term history allows a more encouraging perspective on mortality — provided we handle the statistics properly.

A recent newspaper headline proclaimed that the 2020 jump in the US death rate (essentially excess deaths) not only was the worst in many decades, but supposedly surpassed even the global influenza of 1918 (“Record Jump in the US Death Rate Last Year,” NYT, 4/25/2021): “The U.S. death rate in 2020 was the highest above normal since the early 1900s — even surpassing the calamity of the 1918 flu pandemic.” read more

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Focus on official statistics makes Covid19 worse, but look better

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(Part I of “Statistics and the Pandemic”)

May 29, 2021 — Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  Too often, the pandemic has unnecessarily allowed scope for the sort of popular suspicions reflected in Twain’s bon mot.

Statistics are in fact a critical component of the fight against Covid-19.  Their use ranges from judging the efficacy of different vaccines to judging the performance of different governments.

But throughout the pandemic, comparisons across countries have focused too much on the wrong statistics. The problem is worse than impeding voters’ evaluation of governments’ performance.  The focus on the wrong metrics has given some political leaders a strong incentive to under-react to the pandemic, to suppress testing for example, and thus has arguably contributed to the loss of millions of lives. read more

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What Three Economists Taught Us About Currency Arrangements

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April 24, 2021 — A generation of great international economists is passing from the scene.  Richard Cooper died on December 23. An American, he was teaching his classes at Harvard until the very end. Robert Mundell, passed away on April 4.  Originally Canadian, he was a winner of the Nobel Prize in economics.  And John Williamson, on April 11. Originally British, he had been the first scholar hired by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

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