Saturday, April 22, 2017

Her Husband Got the Nobel But She's The Brains of the Outfit

Professor Anne Case (Princeton CV) is one of the sharpest (see CV) health economists out there, we have at least a half-dozen posts on the work they or she or he, hubby, Professor, Sir Angus Deaton, have done .
(did I get the pronouns right or should I go with 'ze'?) 

And now she talks with Cardiff Garcia.

From FT Alphaville:

Anne Case on mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century
This week’s episode is a long, absorbing conversation with economist Anne Case, author of a blockbuster trilogy of papers on mortality and morbidity in the US. (The papers were co-authored by Angus Deaton, a previous Alphachat guest.)

The first paper in the series was published in the summer of 2015, the second paper a few months after that, and the third paper was released just last month by Brookings.

This research is best known for the startling discovery that middle-age mortality for American non-Hispanic whites had started climbing at the end of the 1990s after decades of progress, among other pessimistic trends. But the work goes much deeper than that, with Case and Deaton offering a tentative theory of “cumulative disadvantage” to explain their disturbing findings. The authors also investigate why these trends are affecting America but not European countries with similar socioeconomic characteristics.

And finally, the work did lead to methodological disputes with other researchers and commentators, some more substantive than others.

Case and I discuss all this and much more, including her background in health economics, the benefits and disadvantages of arguing with bloggers, and her papers about the lasting effects of child circumstances, the usefulness of height as a variable in her work, and the South African economy.
Given the conversation’s length, we limited the podcast episode to the discussion of the three mortality and morbidity papers. We’ll release the rest of the chat in a brief bonus episode within the next week or two.

But we’ve included the entirety of the conversation in the transcript, if that’s your preferred format.
Click here for a pdf edition, or read all of it below.


Cardiff Garcia Anne Case, thanks for being on the show.

Anne Case My pleasure, good to be here.

Cardiff Garcia Great. Here’s what I thought we’d do. This is the roadmap I’d planned out for us and for our listeners.

We’re going to go through the big recent paper that’s generated all the attention and you’ve been talking about, but we’re also going to go through the two prior papers [in the series] that that third paper is a part of. In other words in 2017 you published this paper, just a few weeks ago, called Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century.

What our listeners may not be aware of is that actually the first paper in this series was called Suicide and Well-being: an Empirical Investigation, published in the middle of 2015.

And I note the little bit at the end, “an empirical investigation”, is doing a little bit of double-meaning work because it is also an investigation into the empirics of how this kind of economics is done.
So let’s start by talking about that [first paper of the three]. It looks at, first, whether or not there’s a relationship between suicide rates and self-reported well-being, and then it looks at whether or not either of those two is a useful indicator of overall societal well-being.

Anne Case That’s right. We started because we were looking for a benchmark for self-reported well-being. If you ask people on a scale from zero to ten how would you say your life is going at present, most Americans would give themselves about a seven. But we wondered, if we’re going to start to incorporate people’s sense of well-being into public policy, we wanted to know, does this actually pick up something meaningful?

We thought that suicide might give us, way out in the tail, a measure of just how unhappy people could become and so we wondered, is it the case that in those parts of the country – say county by county, where people report themselves as having poorer well-being – are those the parts of the country where people are killing themselves? Because we thought that might be the ultimate sign of not being well.

Just to answer that question first, the answer was no. Actually it turned out that there was no correlation between places where people said their lives were going poorly and areas where people were killing themselves.

But along the way what we found was – which we weren’t anticipating, although the [Centers for Disease Control] was writing data briefs on this – that suicide rates were going up in the States.
Then we wondered, relative to what… what is mortality doing overall? That’s when we realised that mortality rates for white non-Hispanics in the US had started to rise and that no-one had actually written about that.

So that was the impetus for the next set of papers that we worked on. We were very surprised when we saw that mortality rates among whites are rising and we really couldn’t believe that it wasn’t already in the literature.

So we took that work on the road and we showed it to people at various medical schools. we talked to demographers that we knew around the country and it did turn out that it had happened under the radar. So the first paper, which was the suicide and well-being paper, then gave way quite organically to work on what the heck is going on here: Why are whites dying in middle age?

Just to be more specific, the paper that followed the suicide paper looked at mortality rates for white non-Hispanics in the US. We focused on an age group of 45 to 54 because we thought we should be precise but not look like we were cherry-picking by picking an even smaller group than that. And we started to peel the onion to try to find out what’s going on.

Cardiff Garcia That’s interesting, that actually it was the process of conducting this more specific paper that ended up catalysing the research that you did in your later papers. I was going to save that question for later: how did you decide to investigate rising white mortality rates? But you just answered it in the process of talking about it. But I want to stay on this [first] paper for a bit, if you don’t mind.

Anne Case Sure.

Cardiff Garcia You mentioned that you couldn’t find a relationship between suicides and self-reported well-being geographically. But actually you also found that that relationship didn’t hold in other dimensions.

I’m going to give you a couple of examples here. One was that suicide rates continue rising with age for men, whereas their self-reported well-being follows a U-shaped curve where they’re happier when they’re young, it dips in middle age and then they get happier again when they’re older, so there’s no relationship there.

Life evaluation is the same throughout the week but actually suicides tend to be bunched up on Mondays. And there were other dimensions. I thought it was just very clever the way you guys looked at these patterns because you had all this data and then essentially eliminated the possibility of that relationship – or [reduced] the likelihood [of that relationship], I should say.

Anne Case Yes, I should say that one of the things that we thought was interesting was what you just mentioned, which is actually called a circaseptan rhythm, which is what happens over the days of the week. When economists tend to look at suicide they like to think, well, could it possibly be rational? “I’ve looked forward and I’ve made a decision that my life actually isn’t worth living and so when I look at the present, this value of all my future happiness or well-being, it’s just not worth me staying alive for.”

But if that were true, if people were making such a calculation, it’s really hard to believe that people would end up bunching up on Mondays, so the lowest day of the week for suicides would be Friday and the highest would be Monday, whereas self-evaluation of how life is going is flat over all those days of the week.

So we think – well, we know for sure that suicide is not well-understood and we think that the idea that people are making a complicated calculation is probably not going to be dispositive in their decision to pull out a gun....
...MUCH MORE, including audio.

"Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton shares 3 big ideas"
Yeah, so what's a Scotsman know about economics?
From the Financial Times...

Further Case-Deaton Plight O'White Folk (morbidity, mortality etc) and the Critics Thereof
Professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton's Follow-up Paper, “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century”, Is Out in Draft
Taking on the Nobel Prize Winner: An Update On That "Middle Class White Guys Are Dying" Report

And speaking of Alphaville and the toilers therein, a bit later this morning Izabella Kaminska directs us to an article that is now causing a bit of a dust-up between a famous global macro hedge fund guy on one side and a Fed vice-Chair and a noted quant theorist on the other.
Back in a bit.

UPDATE: "Paul Tudor Jones Apparently Hit A Nerve With His Dire Warning (Asness, Fischer et. al.)"