COVID-19 vs. The Flu: The Facts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 4:26am in

Trump has persistently minimized the seriousness of COVID-19 by falsely comparing it to the seasonal flu. Initially, he used the tactic to downplay the virus as it threatened the stock market. This denial and obfuscation squandered precious time, worsened the crisis, and may have cost a number of lives. Continue reading

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We’re all in the big numbers now

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/05/2020 - 3:00am in

It is the end of the affair. We are no longer at epidemic levels of covid19 prevalence in the UK (0.27% of the population infected, where 0.4% is the low end required to be “epidemic”), and all-cause deaths have slipped back below average.

Measuring the carnage

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 10/05/2020 - 9:08am in

When Trump promised to end “American carnage” in his inaugural address, he had no idea he’d end up presiding over mass death and economic collapse, but history can be a brutal ironist. Here’s a look at the bloodletting in the job market, which is central to most people’s economic well-being.

Most of the time, the monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is of interest mostly to econogeeks, but the April 2020 edition, released on Friday, May 8, was like no other since the end of World War II. The scale of job loss and the rise in unemployment had nothing even remotely like a precedent.

Employers axed 20.5 million jobs in April, making for a decline of 12.9% from a year earlier. That annual loss is a record by a wide margin. The previous record was -7.6% in September 1945, during the postwar demobilization. Total employment is back to where it was in February 2011, which was itself back to March 2004 levels, thanks to job losses in the Great Recession (a name that might have to be retired) and its aftermath. And that March 2004 level was the same as February 2000’s, because of the 2001 recession and the jobless recovery that followed it. So, employment now is the same as it was 20 years ago even though the adult population is up 48.3 million, or 23%. (See graph below.) We’re almost certain to see giant losses for May when the numbers are released on June 5.

Employment 1939–2020

Almost every sector and subsector lost jobs, and lots of them. Manufacturing lost 1.3 million; retail, 2.1 million; professional and business services, 2.1 million; education and health, 2.5 million (including 1.4 million in health care, a bizarre development during a massive health crisis); and leisure and hospitality, dominated by bars and restaurants, 7.7 million. Government was off almost a million, all of it at the state (-180,000) and local (-801,000) levels. It’s distressing that at a time when people need public services, they’re being radically shrunk, and a sector that is supposed to counter recessions by maintaining stable employment is acting instead as a downward accelerant. During the worst phases of the Great Recession, state and local government employment declined at an annual rate of around 1.5%; April’s level was off 4.5% from a year earlier. Austerity at the state and local level undermined the early Obama stimulus package, and continued as a drag on growth throughout the expansion.

Weirdly, average hourly earnings rose an eye-popping 4.6%—for the month, not the year, over 15 times the 2018–2019 average. The reason is that job losses are concentrated among lower-paid workers, which pushed up the average. It’s likely job losses will climb up the income ladder in coming months.

These figures come from a survey of employers, known as the establishment survey. The BLS also conducts a survey of people, known as the household survey. It was, if anything, even grimmer than its establishment counterpart. It found job losses a million higher (the two surveys often differ in the short term, though they always wind up telling the same basic story). The employment/population ratio, the share of the adult population working for pay, cratered, falling from 60.0% in March to 51.3% in April, an all-time low. (See graph below.) In the 1950s, before the mass entry of women into the labor force, it occasionally got as low as 55%. Its all-time high was 64.7% in April 2000. It never got anywhere near that high again, either in the early 2000s or in the 2009–2019 expansion, because of a mix of an aging population and weak economic growth. If people were employed at that rate now, there’d be almost 35 million more working.


Unemployment soared, the rate rising more than 10 points from 4.4% to 14.7%. As the graph below shows, that’s well above previous peaks since the end of World War II. It took almost two years after the 1929 stock market crash for unemployment to hit 15%; we’ve done it in two months.

Unemployment rate 1929–2020

The BLS reports a fairly obscure set of stats called employment flows, which measure moves in and out of employment and unemployment. They report that almost one in six people who were employed in March lost their jobs in April.

As sharp as the April increase was, it was partly masked by massive labor force withdrawal. You have to be actively looking for work to be counted as unemployed, and no doubt some people either saw no point in searching, or no way to do it with so much shut down, so they weren’t counted as unemployed. Also, as the BLS reported, many people who were actually laid off reported themselves as “absent from work.” Had they reported themselves as laid off, the unemployment rate would have been close to 20%.

The BLS also reports a broader measure of unemployment, called U-6, which includes people who are working part-time who want full-time work and those who’ve given up the job search as hopeless. That rose from 8.7% to 22.8%, shattering its previous record of 17.2%, set in April 2010. The histories of the headline unemployment rate, aka U-3 (the one discussed in the previous paragraph) and the broad U-6 rate are graphed below. Also shown is a predecessor of the U-6 rate, known as U-7, which was reported from 1970 through 1993. The pure verticality and magnitude of the April spikes read like a poke in the eye.

Unemployment varieties

Of course, employment and unemployment vary widely by demographic, as the graphs below show. While every category saw a sharp rise in unemployment and fall in employment, the white and educated started from better positions and remain there. But things stink for them too.

U & EPOP April 2019-2020

If you’re desperate to find a cheering note buried amidst all the red ink, almost all the unemployed report themselves as being on temporary layoff rather than as permanent job losers. Similarly, a Washington Post–Ipsos poll reports that 58% of laid-off workers think it’s “very likely” they’ll get their old jobs back, and another 19% say it’s “somewhat likely.” One hopes this is based on sound reasoning and not wishful thinking.

Judging from the behavior of the stock market, which has recovered much of the ground it lost in the sharp selloff in February and March—and which is actually slightly above where it was a year ago—Wall Street thinks this damage is a brief bit of unpleasantness that will soon pass and come fall, it’s back to the races. I don’t get this. Thousands, maybe millions, of small and mid-sized businesses won’t be able to survive months with no revenue, and so won’t be around to reopen. Second and/or third waves of viral attacks, which are quite possible, would make a quick rebound even less likely. We’re in lots of trouble, and no one in charge knows how to get us out of it.

Data note The monthly unemployment figures for 1929–1938 were assembled by the National Industrial Conference Board, predecessor of today’s Conference Board, a think tank and data shop. They’re available from the NBER. The modern employment statistics system originated in the late New Deal, as a project of the Works Progress Administration.

Scarfolk Death Statistics (1975)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/05/2020 - 10:46pm in

The fragmentation of federal expertise has enabled the politicisation of Covid-19 numbers in the USA

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/04/2020 - 7:55pm in

As in any emergency or disaster, institutional agreement over the statistics of the Covid-19 pandemic is incredibly important. During the crisis, President Trump has questioned federally requested research around the spread of the pandemic and the amount of equipment needed to tackle it. Philip Rocco writes on how Trump’s efforts to undermine a common understanding of … Continued

Tories Have Fiddled the Statistics on Coronavirus Deaths – Is Anyone Surprised?

Last Tuesday, 31st March 2020, Mike put up a piece reporting how the Office for National Statistics had caught the Tories fiddling the figures for the numbers of deaths from the Coronavirus to date. According to the government’s figures, the number of dead up to March 20th, the cut off date for the ONS figures, stood at 120. However, they achieved this figure by only counting deaths in hospitals. When the ONS factored these in, the real number of fatalities increased by 23.5 per cent or more, rising to 210. The official death toll at the time Mike put up his article was 1,408. But if the ONS’ estimation of the real figures is correct, then the real number of deaths was 1,739. This assumes that the proportion of deaths in hospitals has remained constant, but as Mike pointed out, it could be much higher.

Mike pointed out in his article that these stats are important, as they show that the government’s figures cannot be trusted. It also means that the government cannot be trusted when it claims that the spread of the virus is slowing. He was concerned that the government would be tempted to lift the lockdown prematurely, which would allow the virus a whole new lease of life.

Coronavirus: UK government death figures are FALSE

Mike wasn’t the only person smelling a rat with the government’s official Coronavirus stats. The previous Thursday, March 26th, Zelo Street put up a piece about how the government’s statistics had mysteriously changed as they altered the rules regarding how the deaths were counted. That Tuesday, the Department for Health and Social Care declared at 15.51 on Twitter that the number of people, who had tested positive for the virus, stood at 8,077 and 422 had died. But on Wednesday the situation appeared to change. At just past a quarter past two, the Department’s Twitter feed announced that the figures would be announced later that afternoon, but reassured readers that they were working hard to compile them. However, the figures were only released on Twitter at 2300 hours, after they had been given to the media. The number of people, who had tested positive was now 9,529, but there had been only 463 deaths in total.

Sienna Rogers of LabourList reported that it had been claimed that the government was changing the way it was releasing the death figures. The numbers of deaths reported may not be the same as the number of deaths that had occurred in the previous 24 hours, as family consent was now required to release the figures. Luke Cooper of the LSE called it what it looks like. He said that family consent was not required if the information was anonymised. This looked like the Tories were fiddling the stats. Chris Smyth of the Times then added that the low figure of the 28 new deaths that had been recorded wasn’t a piece of good news, but the opposite. There were now so many new deaths that the government had changed the cutoff time from 1 pm to 7.30 am. This was supposedly to give the government more time to inform the families and get the details on the locations of the deaths before releasing them. Zelo Street contrasted this with the situation in Italy and Spain, the two countries worst affected, where the hundreds of new deaths are freely reported to the media. The Street concluded that

‘We are told that there is bad news coming down the track; a new NHS facility is being built at the ExCeL centre in London’s Docklands; that facility, NHS Nightingale, has provision for thousands of beds and two morgues; individual reports of deaths are everywhere; TfL staff report scores of their colleagues falling ill from the virus; and the numbers dry up.

This is the stuff from which conspiracy theories spring. Government must come clean.’

This, alas, is too much to hope for. The Tories are a party of liars – always have been, always will be. Their record on the unemployment stats abundantly testifies to that. When unemployment under Maggie Thatcher shot up to over 3 million – an unheard of record at that time, the Tories immediately changed the way the unemployment figures were counted in order to make it smaller. And they’ve kept doing it. A few years ago, when Dave Cameron was the latest malign presence squatting in No. 10, it was revealed that they’d changed the way the stats were collected once again. The unemployment figures were based only on those currently claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Which meant that the peeps, who were unemployed but ineligible to sign on, or who had refused to do so because of the humiliating way they were treated by the staff and the infamous ‘work coaches’, who ring you up at home to harangue you into getting work, weren’t included.

This is a government that prefers to hide embarrassing statistics. The DWP under another malign presence, the utterly vile Iain Duncan Smith, fought tooth and nail to stop Mike and the other great disability bloggers from getting the statistics for the number of people, who had died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by the government assessor, outsourcing company Atos. They stonewalled, tried to claim that Mike’s request was vexatious, appealed against the Information Commissioner’s ruling when he ruled in favour of Mike, and, when they finally had no choice but to release the stats, interpreted Mike’s request to give him a slightly different set of figures than those he requested. But these were damning enough, even so.

And the subsequent Tory leaders, Tweezer and now Boris, really don’t like meeting the public. They run away and hide from unexpected meetings and questions from the media. Tweezer’s appearances on the campaign trail were carefully choreographed with selected groups and closed to the general public. So were Johnson’s, who fled when confronted by someone he didn’t expect. Remember how he disappeared into a fridge when he was visiting a dairy in order to escape questions from a TV journo? And then we had the unedifying spectacle a few months ago of Boris and Cummings trying to divide the media lobby into inner and outer groups. The inner – who were all their loyal supporters – were to be rewarded by being invited to a press conference on Brexit at No. 10. That attempt to control the media didn’t work, as all the media, even those that staunchly support the Tories, immediately balked at such overt, cynical manipulation and walked out in protest.

The Tories are congenital, irremediable liars. No-one should be surprised that they fiddled the stats. They tried to hide the number of deaths of disabled people, who had been falsely declared fit for work. They’ve falsified the unemployment figures. It should come as no surprise that, as they have shown themselves incompetent and out of their depth at handling the Coronavirus crisis, they should be fiddling those statistics too.

And Mike is right. They are a menace. Boris dithered and tried everything possible to delay imposing a lockdown until it was too late, because he was too worried about the economy at the expense of people’s lives. And a sizable proportion of the Tory party and their supporters, like the noxious Brendan O’Neil of Spiked, Toby Young of the Spectator, Trevor Kavanagh of the Scum, still believe that people should sacrificed for the sake of the economy.

There is therefore a very real danger that the Tories will use the falsified stats to justify lifting the lockdown prematurely, and so starting off a new wave of illness and deaths.

Miserable employment report

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/04/2020 - 6:55am in

This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 701,000 jobs disappeared in March. Economists had been expecting about a third that number. Hardest hit were bars and restaurants, accounting for 60% of the loss. Also hit hard: retail, temp work, and, shockingly, health care.

One reason job loss expectations were relatively low was that the survey of employers on which the count is based is done during the week containing the 12th—in this case, between March 8 and 14. (No one is expecting anything but a torrent of bad news in the coming weeks and months.) As the graph below shows, survey week came before the surge in applications for unemployment insurance from 282,000 in the week ending the 14th (survey week) to 3.3 million the following week and 6.6 million during the week ending the 28th. It also came before the wave of stay-in-place orders, which began on March 20. Within a week, 20 states and 4 cities issued such orders. (There’s a helpful timeline here.) It’s striking that employers began shedding workers ahead of the closures, not a good portent for the April numbers.

weekly claims 2020

Expectations are that the unemployment rate, which rose 0.9 to 4.4%, will rise by at least 10 points and possibly 20 or more over the next month or two. The broad measure of unemployment, U-6, which accounts for discouraged workers (those who’ve given up the job search as hopeless but have looked in the past year) and people working part-time who’d like full-time work, rose 1.7 point to 8.7%. There is just no precedent for this rate of job loss.

The monthly surveys of households, on which the official unemployment rates are based, began in 1948, so we don’t have good stats for the slide into the Great Depression. We do have highly unofficial monthly estimates of the unemployment rate assembled by the predecessor of today’s Conference Board, available from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Those are graphed below. At the time of the great stock market crash, October 1929, the jobless rate was 2.3%. A year later it was 9.0%. It took over two years to break 20%, finally peaking at 25.6% in May 1933. By some forecasts we’ll be there before summer.

Unempl 1929–42

The Things You CANNOT Say About Coronavirus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/04/2020 - 4:00am in

Pssst....You. Yeah, you. Are you interested in talking about...things? You know, the kind of things that we’re not allowed to talk about anymore? You know, since the...uhhh...“The Event“?

The hits keep coming

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/04/2020 - 8:18am in

Goldman Sachs attracted a lot of attention with its forecast that US GDP will be off 34% in the second quarter of this year. That is a very big number. It’s three-and-a-half times the worst quarter in US economic history since quarterly GDP stats began in 1947. (That quarter, by the way, was the first of 1958, the onset of a sharp recession, which featured, among other things, an “Asian flu.”) Here’s a little perspective on that number.

That 34% figure is annualized, meaning it’s what the total decline would amount to if the quarter’s rate were sustained for a full year. A 34% annualized decline works out to a 9.9% decline for the quarter alone.* Big, but at least it’s not a third.

Unless you’re a connoisseur of these things, though, you probably don’t know that we never fully recovered from the 2008–2009 recession. That point is made in the graph below. The line marked “trend” is based on the 2.1% average growth rate from 1970 to 2007, the year just before the Great Recession hit. The “actual” line is, as the name suggests, reported GDP per capita. The Goldman Sachs estimate for the second quarter is marked with the dot. If something like that forecast comes to pass, we will have undone the entire 2009–2019 recover/expansion cycle in a matter of months.

GDP gap

Note how from 1970 to 2007, the actual line bounces around the trend, rising above it in expansions (peaking around 1990 and 2000, for example), and falling below in recessions (like 1975 and 1982). Actual never strayed far from the trend—until taking a sharp tumble in 2008 and 2009, from which it never really recovered. Since 2009, the growth rate has averaged 1.6%. Last year, which Trump touted as the greatest economy ever, it managed to get back to the pre-2008 average of 2.1%, an average that includes two deep recessions (1973–1975 and 1981–1982).

At the end of 2019, actual was 13% below trend. At the end of the 2008–2009 recession it was 9% below trend. Remarkably, despite a decade-long expansion, it fell further below trend in well over half the quarters since the Great Recession ended. The gap is now equal to $10,200 per person—a permanent loss of income, as economists say. That doesn’t translate literally into a loss of $10,000 in personal income; there are lot of other things in GDP, like investment. And gains in personal income have been concentrated in the upper brackets for several decades, so that doesn’t mean the average American is $10,000 poorer than they would be had the economy recovered normally after 2009. It does mean we have a lot less in the way material resources than we should. And it suggested there were serious pathologies underlying a superficial and often strange “prosperity.”

That’s all gone now. Regardless of the exact number, we have almost certainly entered a very sharp downturn, one that could rival or exceed that of the early 1930s, though at a much faster tempo. We could experience in months what took three or four years to unfold after the 1929 stock market crash.

Goldman is expecting a rapid recovery later in the year. I find that hard to believe. A shock like covid-19 isn’t easily recovered from. Even if we find our footing in two or three quarters, we’ll probably see another permanent income loss, unless we undergo some serious structural reforms.

Yes, GDP is a flawed measure of material well-being. It says nothing about what the economy produces, at what human and ecological cost, or how it’s distributed. But GDP is a useful shorthand for the principles around which our society is organized. This analysis helps explain why things have felt so unsatisfying despite cheerful economic headlines for the last five or seven years. And it’s only going to get worse, and probably a lot worse.

*Normally, you can annualize a quarterly rate by just multiplying by 4, or “quarterize” an annual rate by dividing by 4. Such approximations are close enough with the small percentages associated with the ups and downs of US GDP. When the numbers get large, however, that trick doesn’t work because of compounding. The formula to compute the real quarterly rate from the annual one is ((1+-0.34)^(1/4))-1, which yields -9.9. Or, if you want to annualize -9.9, it’s ((1+-9.9)^4)-1, which yields -0.34. For simplicity’s sake I’ve omitted the percent sign.

Cartoon: The Dead Thatchers – Eton Uber Alles

Hi, and here’s another of my cartoons satirising the Tories and their utterly reprehensible politicos and other members. In this case, the cartoon takes the form of a sleeve image for a non-existent punk band, the Dead Thatchers, and an equally non-existent song, ‘Eton Uber Alles’. It shows David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson and George Osborne in front of the gates of Auschwitz, which bears the infamous slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ and the cartoon’s punchline, as you can see, is ‘You will row for the master race’. It’s a reference to the Eton boating song,which itself got poached and revamped in the 1980s by Paul McCartney into the Frog Chorus.

The cartoon’s inspiration is the American punk outfit, The Dead Kennedys, and their song, ‘Kalifornia Uber Alles’. As punks, the Kennedys really hated hippies, and so the song’s just a rant about how California is some kind of hippy Third Reich. I was never a fan of the Dead Kennedys, but I do remember the song had the lines ‘Hippy Nazis will control you, you will jog for the master race!’ Which in the context of a Britain dominated by Eton would obviously be boating.

Now there’s a lot that can be said about hippies both pro and con, but they definitely weren’t Nazis. There was, apparently, a Hippy Nazi party, but they were in Florida, and from their name sound like a rather tasteless joke. They sound like an attempt to wind up the straights, rather than any serious Fascist organisation. Unfortunately, with the way so many of the British ruling class were initially very sympathetic towards Nazi Germany, flocking to organisations like the Anglo-German Fellowship, it’s probably a fair bet that the fathers or grandfathers of many of the boys now at Eton really were Nazi sympathizers. Though I’m not, of course, claiming that those of the four depicted above were.

And there is a serious point for my placing them in front of the slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, and it’s the same reason people have scrawled it on the walls of Jobcentres and put up photoshopped images of the same. The pro-Israel fanatics and Tories attacked those images and graffiti as anti-Semitic, claiming that they were somehow turning the Holocaust into a joke. However, as Mike explained in his piece last Saturday about the appearance of the slogan on another Jobcentre, this certainly isn’t a case. The phrase translates into English as ‘Work Makes (You) Free’. According to Tony Greenstein, the slogan was on the gates of all the Nazi camps, including those housing gentile prisoners. It was not used exclusively for the Jews, and first appeared on a concentration camp for non-Jews. It’s been applied to the Tories and their administration of the DWP, particularly by Iain Duncan Smith, because they really do seem to have a very Fascistic attitude to the poor and disabled.

The Tories have a mantra about ‘making work pay’, and have deliberately adopted a policy of ‘less eligibility’ towards the disabled and the unemployed in order to deter and punish them for claiming benefit. It takes five weeks after someone has signed on before they receive their first payment under Universal Credit. This is also less than the amount they would have received under the previous, benefit systems. There is an extensive system of sanctions, in which claimants can be thrown off their benefits on the flimsiest of excuses. The disabled are subjected to work capability tests, in which a certain percentage are always found fit work, even when the poor souls are severely disabled and even in several cases terminally ill. Grieving relatives and friends have even found their loved one’s receiving letters from the DWP informing them that they have been found fit for work, and so no longer liable for incapacity and related benefits after they’ve died. It has also been revealed that Maximus, the organisation responsible for administering the tests, like its predecessor Atos, has regularly falsified the results in order to get claimants thrown off benefits.


Mike in his article on Sunday, 8th March 2020 put up this meme reminding everyone how IDS started an article for the online edition of one of the papers actually praising the slogan and defending it against its use by the Nazis. The offending paragraph disappeared soon after, but not before shocked and horrified people had taken screenshots of it and put them back up so everyone could see just how low Iain Duncan Smith is. Here’s the meme:

As one tweeter, Paula Peters, quoted by Mike in his article points out, the language used by the Tories about the disabled is very much the same the Nazis used in the Third Reich. They’re denounced as ‘useless eaters’ and scroungers. The term ‘workshy’, used to describe the long-term unemployed, is also taken from the Nazis. It’s the English translation of ‘arbeitscheu’. And the habitually or long-term unemployed were also branded ‘asocial’ and placed in the concentration camps.

The Tories do this because they have a fundamentally eugenicist view of the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. They are biologically inferior, ‘dysgenic’, who threaten the healthy purity of the rest of the human race and particularly the biologically superior. Who are naturally the rich, especially the heads of big business. Hence the Tory policy of forcing them off benefits, even if it means the deaths of hundreds of thousands. It’s estimated that about 120,000 people have been killed by Tory austerity. But there is no apology nor any attempt to alter or improve conditions despite continuing revelations of the hardship inflicted on millions of people. Instead the Tories merely double down, repeated their lies about how, under them, the economy was booming and more people were in work than ever before. As for the deaths, they have done everything they can to hide the figures and prevent disability rights activists and carers, like Mike, from obtaining them. Hence putting the Tories in front of that slogan is very appropriate.


Here’s the cartoon. As always, I hope you enjoy it. And please, don’t have nightmares. It’s only Iain Duncan Smith!