Archive for June, 2011

Global Warming and acupuncture

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

It looks as though the sun is entering a new dormant period, similar to the Maunder Minimum which led to the Little Ice Age.

This will almost certainly end the global warming hysteria in a few years. The people who continue to cling to this sort of hoax, will be looking for the Next Big Thing. I don’t mean to imply that the earth did not warm over the past century. The Little Ice Age ended about 1850 so a warming trend is expected following such an event. The hoax is the contrived evidence that humans are responsible. I was skeptical about that from the first. The forces involved are too large. If humans affected climate, it probably began with the development of agriculture. Perhaps we have had no ice age in the past 10,000 years because of the effects of agriculture and forest changes. I have previously discussed this and nothing has changed my mind.

The next question is what will replace global warming as the religion of the bored classes ? There are signs that it may be “New Age” medicine. This sort of thing is common in certain circles and has considerable similarity to the global warming arguments.

The Center for Integrative Medicine, Berman’s clinic, is focused on alternative medicine, sometimes known as “complementary” or “holistic” medicine. There’s no official list of what alternative medicine actually comprises, but treatments falling under the umbrella typically include acupuncture, homeopathy (the administration of a glass of water supposedly containing the undetectable remnants of various semi-toxic substances), chiropractic, herbal medicine, Reiki (“laying on of hands,” or “energy therapy”), meditation (now often called “mindfulness”), massage, aromatherapy, hypnosis, Ayurveda (a traditional medical practice originating in India), and several other treatments not normally prescribed by mainstream doctors. The term integrative medicine refers to the conjunction of these practices with mainstream medical care.

Here we have what may become the replacement for AGW in the minds of the exquisite privileged class. It has all the requirements.
1. America is corrupt and inferior ? Yes.
2. Capitalism is corrupt and inferior ? Yes
3. Only the truly intelligent and sensitive can appreciate it ? Well.

You might think the weight of the clinical evidence would close the case on alternative medicine, at least in the eyes of mainstream physicians and scientists who aren’t in a position to make a buck on it. Yet many extremely well-credentialed scientists and physicians with no skin in the game take issue with the black-and-white view espoused by Salzberg and other critics. And on balance, the medical community seems to be growing more open to alternative medicine’s possibilities, not less.

That’s in large part because mainstream medicine itself is failing. “Modern medicine was formed around successes in fighting infectious disease,” says Elizabeth Blackburn, a biologist at the University of California at San Francisco and a Nobel laureate. “Infectious agents were the big sources of disease and mortality, up until the last century. We could find out what the agent was in a sick patient and attack the agent medically.” To a large degree, the medical infrastructure we have today was designed with infectious agents in mind. Physician training and practices, hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, and health insurance all were built around the model of running tests on sick patients to determine which drug or surgical procedure would best deal with some discrete offending agent. The system works very well for that original purpose, against even the most challenging of these agents—as the taming of the AIDS virus attests.

But medicine’s triumph over infectious disease brought to the fore the so-called chronic, complex diseases—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other illnesses without a clear causal agent. Now that we live longer, these typically late-developing diseases have become by far our biggest killers. Heart disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases now account for three-quarters of our health-care spending. “We face an entirely different set of big medical challenges today,” says Blackburn. “But we haven’t rethought the way we fight illness.” That is, the medical establishment still waits for us to develop some sign of one of these illnesses, then seeks to treat us with drugs and surgery.

A science blog states the case for scientific medicine.

Speaking of bad ideas, in contrast to his previous article, in which he managed at least to get the gist of what Ioannidis teaches but merely spun it in what I considered to be an annoying fashion, the entire idea behind Freedman’s new article channels the worst fallacies of apologists for alternative medicine. The whole idea behind the article appears to be that, even if most of alternative medicine is quackery (which it is, by the way), it’s making patients better because its practitioners take the time to talk to patients and doctors do not. In other words, it’s a massive “What’s the harm?” argument. Yes, that’s basically the entire idea of the article boiled down into a couple of sentences. Deepak Chopra couldn’t have said it better. Tacked on to that bad idea is a massive argumentum ad populum that portrays alternative medicine (or, as purveyors of quackademic medicine like to call it, “complementary and alternative medicine” or “integrative medicine”) as the wave of the future, a wave that’s washing over medicine and teaching us cold, reductionistic doctors to care again about patients and thus make them better. Freedman even contrasts this to what he calls the “failure” of scientific medicine. I kid you not. Worse, Freedman makes this argument after having actually interviewed some prominent skeptics, including Steve Salzberg and Steve Novella, in essence, missing the point.

I expect to see more and more of “alternative medicine” because it appeals to the science illiterate and it damns another traditional source of authority, scientific medicine. Global warming hysteria attacks capitalism and prosperity. Alternative medicine is also going to be useful to Obamacare as a way of cutting reimbursement for traditional care. That will be a powerful wind behind it.

Why I liked Coolidge and why we are not recovering

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

I spent the past six months reading about Calvin Coolidge. I was interested in why the 1920s were a period of great prosperity and why the severe recession/ depression of 1920-1921 was so short. At its peak, there was 25% unemployment. Gross domestic product dropped by 6.9% in one report.

The recession of 1920–21 was characterized by extreme deflation — the largest one-year percentage decline in around 140 years of data.[2] The Department of Commerce estimates 18% deflation, Balke and Gordon estimate 13% deflation, and Romer estimates 14.8% deflation. The drop in wholesale prices was even more severe, falling by 36.8%, the most severe drop since the American Revolutionary War. This is worse than any year during the Great Depression (adding all the years of the Great Depression together, however, yields more severe deflation). The deflation of 1920–21 was extreme in absolute terms, and also unusually extreme given the relatively small decline in gross domestic product.[2]

The Harding-Coolidge administration took office in March 1921 and the recession was over in months. Why ? Governments were smaller then and had less influence on the economy. The Wilson Administration has been widely described as the equivalent of a fascist regime with its war time controls and economic meddling. Again from the Wikipedia article:

Interpretations of the end

Austrian School economists and historians argue that the 1921 recession was a necessary market correction, required to engineer the massive realignments required of private business and industry following the end of the War. Libertarian Austrian School historian Thomas Woods argues that President Harding’s laissez-faire economic policies during the 1920-21 recession, combined with a coordinated aggressive policy of rapid government downsizing, had a direct influence (mostly through intentional non-influence) on the rapid and widespread private-sector recovery.[12] Woods argued that, as there existed massive distortions in private markets due to government economic influence related to World War I, an equally massive “correction” to the distortions needed to occur as quickly as possible to realign investment and consumption with the new peace-time economic environment.

Daniel Kuehn’s recent research demonstrates that Woods gets many of the facts of the 1920-21 recession wrong.[13] The most substantial downsizing of government was attributable to the Wilson administration, and occurred well before the onset of the 1920-21 recession. The Harding administration raised taxes in 1921 by expanding the tax base considerably at the same time that it lowered rates. Kuehn also points out that Woods underemphasizes the role the monetary stimulus played in reviving the depressed economy. Since the 1920-21 recession was not characterized by any aggregate demand deficiency, fiscal stimulus was entirely unwarranted.

I would tend to doubt the “recent research” that tries to include Keynes’ theories in the explanation. The issue of Fascism is more interesting. The National Recovery Administration was probably the most openly fascist bureaucratic organization that the US government ever instituted. It was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, prompting Roosevelt’s “court packing” scheme. (A very sympathetic version by PBS).

What then, led to the Depression and what is leading to the present frightening echo of 1933? Here is a very frightening chart.

Here is a chart showing the price/earnings ratios of cyclical stocks vs “defensive stocks.” What it shows is that cyclical stocks, that can be expected to respond to economic conditions, are very, very cheap. That looks like most people do not expect recovery any time soon. Why ?

This is a very frightening chart. It has been for months as no prior recession has shown this deep a fall in employment and this slow a recovery. Now, if you look at the end of the red line, you see that employment is not recovering at all. The line is flat.

Calvin Coolidge has been criticized in history for his pro-business sentiments expressed in words. He is alleged to have said, “The business of America is business.” In fact, that is not an accurate quote but the sentiment he expressed was similar. He was also quoted as saying something like “A man who builds a factory, builds a temple and those who work there, worship there.” He has been widely criticized for those statements, as if praising business was immoral.

What we have now is a president who makes statements like, “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

We have a president who tells would-be entrepreneurs that “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”

Does anyone still wonder why the economy under a president who seems hostile to business is failing while the economy under a president who supported it and wasn’t ashamed to say so, boomed.

Some have blamed Coolidge for the 1929 crash but it is pretty clear that the problem was similar to the problem of the real estate bubble in 2005. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates too low for too long. In 1928, Coolidge did not feel he had the right to intervene with the Fed and Benjamin Strong who was the president of the New York Fed died in October of that year. The Dow doubled in 1929. That was the speculative blow-off that ended in the crash. In 2005, Alan Greenspan still believed that a real estate bubble was preferable to a correction from the 1990 internet bubble. George Bush may have had more ability to intervene but all the safety mechanisms, which had not existed in 1929, still failed.

We are on the path to another Depression. One small indication. I do reviews of workers compensation claims. One would expect that, early in a severe recession, claims would go up as workers anticipate layoffs and try to file claims. There was a bit of that but it is over. Employment in California is down so far that the State Compensation Insurance Fund is laying off doctors and closing offices. Claims are way down because employment is falling rapidly. Workers may be afraid to file claims now.