April 26, 2013 archive

Apr 26

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Apr 26

Busted!

You see, merely one op-ed in The New York Times will not sufficiently restore the reputation of Reinhart and Rogoff.  Unfortunately for them 2 won’t either.

Debt, Growth and the Austerity Debate

By CARMEN M. REINHART and KENNETH S. ROGOFF, The New York Times

Published: April 25, 2013

Our research, and even our credentials and integrity, have been furiously attacked in newspapers and on television. Each of us has received hate-filled, even threatening, e-mail messages, some of them blaming us for layoffs of public employees, cutbacks in government services and tax increases. As career academic economists (our only senior public service has been in the research department at the International Monetary Fund) we find these attacks a sad commentary on the politicization of social science research. But our feelings are not what’s important here.

Reinhart and Rogoff: Responding to Our Critics

By CARMEN M. REINHART and KENNETH S. ROGOFF

Published: April 25, 2013

Our critics seem to suggest that they can ignore everything else we have done because we are somehow going around placing great emphasis on one outlier estimate for growth. This is wrong. We have never used anything but the conservative median estimate in our public discussions, where we stated that the difference between growth associated with debt under 90 percent of G.D.P. and debt over 90 percent of G.D.P. is about 1 percentage point. See, for example, a Bloomberg Businessweek article from July 2011 that has been cited as evidence that we are fiscal hawks. In that article, we cite only the median.

Some have claimed that where we have really done damage is not in our public statements, but in what we say behind closed doors to policy makers. Some of those discussions have indeed leaked out over time, but they consistently show that our focus has been the median estimate.

We might add that when we give public opinions and especially when we give policy advice, we base our ideas on our entire experience and knowledge of the literature, never just on our own work.



(W)e view ourselves as scholars, though obviously given the prominence of book, and the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis, politicians will of course try to use our results to advance their cause. We have never advised Mr. Ryan, nor have we worked for President Obama, whose Council of Economic Advisers drew heavily on our work in a chapter of the 2012 Economic Report of the President, recreating and extending the results.

Reinhart and Rogoff Are Not Being Straight

Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research

Friday, 26 April 2013 04:32

Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, used their second NYT column in a week, to complain about how they are being treated. Their complaint deserves tears from crocodiles everywhere. They try to present themselves as ivory tower economists who cannot possibly be blamed for the ways in which their work has been used to justify public policy, specifically as a rationale to cut government programs and raise taxes, measures that lead to unemployment in a downturn.

This portrayal is disingenuous in the the extreme. Reinhart and Rogoff surely are aware of how their work has been used. They have also encouraged this use in public writings and talks. While it is unfortunate that they have “received hate-filled, even threatening, e-mail messages,” as one who works in the lower-paid corners of policy debates, let me say, welcome to the club.



In addition to misleading the public about the role their work has played in policy debates, they also are not quite straight about two strictly factual points. The first sentence begins by referring to the publication of their article in May of 2010. This might lead readers to believe that this is when their claims about high debt slowing growth first began to affect public debate on stimulus and deficits.

This is not right as I know since my first e-mail requesting their data was written in January of 2010. In fact, their work first made a splash in international debates when they put out a version of this article as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper in January, 2010. Their findings were already widely known by the time the paper was published in May, 2010.

The other point on which they mislead readers is the claim:

“Our 2010 paper found that, over the long term, growth is about 1 percentage point lower when debt is 90 percent or more of gross domestic product. The University of Massachusetts researchers do not overturn this fundamental finding, which several researchers have elaborated upon.”

Actually, their 2010 paper found that growth was 2.9 percentage points lower in countries with debt to GDP ratios above 90 percent than in the group with debt to GDP ratios in the 60-90 percent range.

Herr Doktor Professor-

Grasping At Straw Men

Paul Krugman, The New York Times

April 26, 2013, 8:53 am

OK, Reinhart and Rogoff have said their piece. I’d say that they’re still trying to have it both ways, on two fronts. They deny asserting that the debt-growth relationship is causal, but keep making statements that insinuate that it is. And they deny having been strong austerity advocates – but they were happy to bask in the celebrity that came with their adoption as austerian mascots, and never to my knowledge spoke out to condemn all the “eek! 90 percent!” rhetoric that was used to justify sharp austerity right now. Sorry, guys, but with so much at stake you have a responsibility not just to put stuff out but to make crystal clear what you think it implies for policy.

Evidence and Economic Policy

Paul Krugman, The New York Times

April 24, 2013, 8:03 pm

Henry Blodget says that the economic debate is over; the austerians have lost and whatshisname has won. And it’s definitely true that in sheer intellectual terms, this is looking like an epic rout. The main economic studies that supposedly justified the austerian position have imploded; inflation has stayed low; the bond vigilantes have failed to make an appearance; the actual economic effects of austerity have tracked almost exactly what Keynesians predicted.

But will any of this make a difference? The story of the past three years, after all, is not that Alesina and Ardagna used a bad measure of fiscal policy, or that Reinhart and Rogoff mishandled their data. It is that important people’s will to believe trumped the already ample evidence that austerity would be a terrible mistake; A-A and R-R were just riders on the wave.

The cynic in me therefore says that after a brief period of regrouping, the VSPs will be right back at it – they’ll find new studies to put on pedestals, new economists to tell them what they want to hear, and those who got it right will continue to be considered unsound and unserious.

The 1 Percent’s Solution

By PAUL KRUGMAN

Published: April 25, 2013

Economic debates rarely end with a T.K.O. But the great policy debate of recent years between Keynesians, who advocate sustaining and, indeed, increasing government spending in a depression, and austerians, who demand immediate spending cuts, comes close – at least in the world of ideas. At this point, the austerian position has imploded; not only have its predictions about the real world failed completely, but the academic research invoked to support that position has turned out to be riddled with errors, omissions and dubious statistics.



(T)he dominance of austerians in influential circles should disturb anyone who likes to believe that policy is based on, or even strongly influenced by, actual evidence. After all, the two main studies providing the alleged intellectual justification for austerity – Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna on “expansionary austerity” and Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff on the dangerous debt “threshold” at 90 percent of G.D.P. – faced withering criticism almost as soon as they came out.

And the studies did not hold up under scrutiny. By late 2010, the International Monetary Fund had reworked Alesina-Ardagna with better data and reversed their findings, while many economists raised fundamental questions about Reinhart-Rogoff long before we knew about the famous Excel error. Meanwhile, real-world events – stagnation in Ireland, the original poster child for austerity, falling interest rates in the United States, which was supposed to be facing an imminent fiscal crisis – quickly made nonsense of austerian predictions.



What is true, however, is that the years since we turned to austerity have been dismal for workers but not at all bad for the wealthy, who have benefited from surging profits and stock prices even as long-term unemployment festers. The 1 percent may not actually want a weak economy, but they’re doing well enough to indulge their prejudices.

And this makes one wonder how much difference the intellectual collapse of the austerian position will actually make. To the extent that we have policy of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent, won’t we just see new justifications for the same old policies?

Apr 26

Cartnoon

Apr 26

On This Day In History April 26

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

April 26 is the 116th day of the year (117th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 249 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident occurs at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Soviet Union. Thirty-two people died and dozens more suffered radiation burns in the opening days of the crisis, but only after Swedish authorities reported the fallout did Soviet authorities reluctantly admit that an accident had occurred.

The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian SSR (now Ukraine). An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Western Russia and Europe. It is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (the other being the Fukushima I nuclear incident, which is considered far less serious and has caused no direct deaths). The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles, crippling the Soviet economy.

The disaster began during a systems test on 26 April 1986 at reactor number four of the Chernobyl plant, which is near the town of Pripyat. There was a sudden power output surge, and when an emergency shutdown was attempted, a more extreme spike in power output occurred, which led to a reactor vessel rupture and a series of explosions. These events exposed the graphite moderator of the reactor to air, causing it to ignite. The resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive smoke fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area, including Pripyat. The plume drifted over large parts of the western Soviet Union and Europe. From 1986 to 2000, 350,400 people were evacuated and resettled from the most severely contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. According to official post-Soviet data, about 60% of the fallout landed in Belarus.

The accident raised concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry, as well as nuclear power in general, slowing its expansion for a number of years and forcing the Soviet government to become less secretive about its procedures.

(Click on image to enlarge) Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus have been burdened with the continuing and substantial decontamination and health care costs of the Chernobyl accident. Thirty one deaths are directly attributed to the accident, all among the reactor staff and emergency workers. A UNSCEAR report places the total confirmed deaths from radiation at 64 as of 2008. Estimates of the number of deaths potentially resulting from the accident vary enormously: the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest it could reach 4,000; a Greenpeace report puts this figure at 200,000 or more; a Russian publication, Chernobyl, concludes that 985,000 excess deaths occurred between 1986 and 2004 as a result of radioactive contamination.

Decommissioning

After the explosion at reactor four, the remaining three reactors at the power plant continued to operate. In 1991, reactor two suffered a major fire, and was subsequently decommissioned. In November 1996, reactor one was shut down, followed by reactor three on December 15, 2000, making good on a promise by Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma that the entire plant would be closed.

Even after the last reactor shutdown, people continue to work at the Chernobyl plant until reactor units 1, 2, and 3 are totally decommissioned, which is expected to take years. The first stage of decommissioning is the removal of the highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel, which is placed in deep water cooling ponds. However, storage facilities for this are not suitable for long term containment, and those on site do not have the capacity for all the spent fuel from units 1, 2 and 3. A second facility is planned for construction that will use dry storage technology suitable for long term storage and have the required capacity.

Removal of uncontaminated equipment has begun at unit 1 and this work could be complete by 2020-2022.

The remains of reactor unit 4 will remain radioactive for some time. The isotope responsible for the majority of the external gamma radiation dose at the site is Caesium-137 which has a half-life of about 30 years. It is likely that with no further decontamination work the gamma ray dosage at the site will return to background levels in about three hundred years. However, as most of the alpha emitters are longer lived, the soil and many surfaces in and around the plant are likely to be contaminated with transuranic metals such as plutonium and americium, which have much longer half-lives. It is planned that the reactor buildings will be disassembled as soon as it is radiologically safe to do so.

Apr 26

Muse in the Morning

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Abyss

Apr 26

Late Night Karaoke

Apr 26

Boston Marathon, How They Saved So Many Lives

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Last week I wrote about the use of tourniquets in a pre-hospital emergency to save someone from bleeding to death. Tourniquets were used very effectively in Boston and were a key factor in getting so many to the hospital alive. At the finish line there were two medical tents with cots, blankets and IV fluids to treat dehydrated, hypothermic runners. Both were staffed with doctors and nurses. An emergency-room physician from Georgia, Dr. Allan Panter, was waiting at the finish line for his wife. He was just 10 yards a way from the first explosion. He assisted with victims and after went to the tents to assist. He described the events:

While there was some initial chaos in a medical tent near the finish line, and some screaming and moaning by victims, it was generally an orderly scene, Dr. Panter said. He assisted others in wheeling in a female victim who died, he said. He described 20 to 30 cots in the tent with IV bags that had been intended for dehydrated runners.

At least eight doctors and what seemed to be 20 or more nurses were stationed in the tent. A man with a microphone stood in the center of the tent to coordinate medical care. Arriving victims were assessed and categorized as 1 for critical, 2 for intermediate, 3 for “can wait” and “black tag” for anyone who appeared to be dead, Dr. Panter said. An emergency medical technician outside the tent coordinated ambulance service to hospitals.

“All in all, it was a pretty controlled environment,” said Dr. Panter, who has been an emergency-room physician for 30 years. “I’ve seen a lot worse. They were without question ready – not ready for those type of injuries, but they were prepared.”

There usually aren’t those provisions or medical staff on site and this still required the actions of bystanders to help control bleeding and move patients to the tents and ambulances. The night after the bombings on MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” host Lawrence O’Donnell spoke with Dr. Lyle Micheli, the head physician at the finish line and Massachusetts General Emergency Room Nurse Meghan McDonald about their experience:

But what happened in the hospitals was even more critical. It wasn’t like the ER’s were empty and waiting for these patients. As Nurse McDonald described in the interview Massachusetts General hospital had 90 patients being treated, waiting for admission or discharge when the explosions happened. The other four other ER’s that would receive the bulk of the casualties were in not much better shape. Luckily they all have similar disaster plans in place and have frequent drills to keep the staff prepared. Prepared they were. Of the initial 170 patients the five level one trauma centers received that day only one patient, who arrived in cardiac arrest, died. The other two fatalities were pronounced dead at the scene. That is a quite a feat and a testament to the training and skills of the doctors, nurses and other support staff. This article in the New York Times describes how Massachusetts General Hospital handled the disaster:

The first priority for those who were severely injured was to prevent them from dying, often from bleeding to death. Many had tourniquets on their legs when they arrived at the hospitals. But that was just a temporary measure to slow the bleeding. They needed immediate surgery to get their bleeding under control and prevent muscles and nerves from dying for lack of blood. [..]

That requires a vascular surgeon to repair the torn blood vessels and restore blood to legs and feet that may no longer have a blood supply. To do those repairs, surgeons often sew in part of a vein from the other leg, if it is uninjured, or from an arm. Or they use a synthetic tube.

Meanwhile, an orthopedic surgeon must stabilize a bone that might be flopping because it is fractured in several places. Surgeons do that with a temporary solution – they drill into the bone from outside the leg and attach pins that they screw into a metal bar also outside the leg.

Plastic surgeons clean the wound. In this case, blast victims had BBs or nails or debris embedded in their legs and feet. Everything the surgeons took out of the wounds was placed in plastic bags for the F.B.I., said Dr. Samuel J. Lin, a plastic surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who helped care for blast victims.

“The crime scene extends to the hospital,” Dr. Lin said.

It’s definitely an art. It might appear chaotic to the casual beholder as everyone seems to be moving and talking at once. Each staff member has his or her job and is looking and listening so as not to miss details. Usually there is one coordinator, in situations like this there are some times more, as the ER is sectioned off into areas that depend on the patient’s status. Life threatening are first, then go back to treat and repair everything else. The decision to amputate a limb is not made lightly and is done most often to save a patient’s life. The other reason is that the bone, tissue and vascular damage is so severe there is no other option. The doctors in Boston had the luxury of having an immediate second opinion, it doesn’t always happen that way in combat zones or parts of the third world.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow saluted the thorough, professional and remarkably successful performance of the medical professionals who responded to the emergency injuries of the Boston Marathon Bombings and kept the public informed with honest straightforward briefings.

“Who ever came in alive, stayed alive.”

Dr. George Velmahous, Chief of Trauma Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital

Thank you to all. Well done.

Apr 26

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