I’m not going to claim that Japan is in great macroeconomic shape. In per capita terms, the country may not have peaked around 1990, but there certainly was a big kink in growth rates that occurred at that time. And Japan has been struggling with weak aggregate growth every since.
But, this is not the story you’ll here in the legacy media where comparisons of (national) debt to GDP are accepted without question. To these folks, Japan has the highest debt/GDP ratio of any developed country, and is headed for a crash. Here’s a common view:
To illustrate just how woeful Japan’s fiscal conditions are now, one merely has to look at how they were in March 1945. About half a year before Japan’s military-controlled government surrendered, Tokyo was borrowing at a feverish pitch to pay for its losing war effort and the Bank of Japan was furiously printing money to cover the soaring deficit.
The central government’s debt-to-gross domestic product ratio stood at 204% at the end of March 1945.
More than half a century later, this ratio–a key measure of a government’s ability to pay down debt–is already above that milestone. The Ministry of Finance estimates it will reach 227% by the end of March next year.
That’s from The Wall Street Journal, which is supposed to know better.*
Do note, before I go on, that this is the same argument by people who worry that the U.S. is in trouble because our national debt is about 100% of our GDP (both are around $17T, give or take).‡
The thing is, this is mostly nonsense. Innumeracy at a basic level is being demonstrated here. Specifically, you can always compare a stock variable to another stock variable, you can always compare a flow variable to another flow variable, but when you compare stocks to flows you get a rate, and you need to be very careful that your interpretation of that rate isn’t nonsense.
In this case, debt is a stock variable defined in yen. GDP is a flow variable measured in yen per year. Do the math: the correct figure is not 227% but 2.27 years. Reciting that it’s 227% is a scare tactic. Stating that it’s 2.27 years sounds like nonsense because it is. This measure that they’re crowing about means that if Japan devoted all of its national production to paying off national debt, it would take 2.27 years. Except that’s silly because all the residents of Japan would starve.
Appropriate alternative comparisons, which can still show that Japan is in bad shape but which rest on a foundation of numeracy, include comparisons of national debt to national wealth (both stocks) or GDP to interest payments on the national debt (both flows).
The amazing thing is that this article actually includes the former, but, it’s down at the bottom (where no ever reads), and it’s really small (because it doesn’t tell a story that the sky if falling that will sell newspapers):
If there’s one asterisk to put after the shocking comparative figures, it’s that the debt-to-GDP ratios don’t take into account Japan’s huge asset holdings. At the end of March 2012, Japan’s central government had assets totaling some Y600 trillion, roughly half of its total liabilities projected for next March, separate MOF data show. And those assets include Y250 trillion in cash, securities and loans. Critics often say Japan’s fiscal health could quickly improve if the government sells some of those assets …
Folks, they’ve just put an asterisk on the only part of the article that’s actually coherent. Pity.
* Economists know that the reporters for The Wall Street Journal are not particularly conservative/libertarian, and can’t be expected to be an improvement over most other legacy media outlets. It’s the editorial page that sets The Wall Street Journal apart, and which upsets so many progressives.
‡ If you are worried about the national debt, please worry about the present value of unfunded future obligations, which is about 13 times larger. The problem with (announced) debt is how you make the payments to your debtholders. This means that unfunded obligations are the exact same problem, just with a different name.
Here's a pop quiz the Berkeley Energy Institute gave to readers.
Which of the following two choices leads to more fuel savings:
(A) buying a 15 mpg Cadillac Escalade instead of a 12 mpg Chevrolet Suburban, or
(B) buying a 50 mpg Toyota Prius instead of a 29 mpg Toyota Corolla?
Read it carefully: it's decision making at the margin. Ceteris paribus conditions are provided for the readers. "Assume you would drive the same distances and speeds no matter which car you have." Thus the total fuel use will be the least with the Prius and the greatest with the Suburban.
I care about this because the misinterpretation of nonlinearity in this example is very close to the misinterpretation of nonlinearity in casual analysis of macroeconomic policy and events. For example, it's really easy for dim bulbs in the legacy media to claim the the Great Recession was comparable to the Great Depression if they don't log the real GDP data first.
It’s informative about what what’s causing death at the moment of death.
But, what I’d really like to see is a chart of how many days of premature death each disease causes.
For example, tuberculosis took people of all ages a century ago. But the critical thing is that tuberculosis prevented people from getting cancer: cancer is a disease of the old, and you have to get through all the others to have a chance at it. Not recognizing that is a form of innumeracy.
Disclaimer: I can be a bit of a conservation scold, so I have no problem with the intention of the literature … just with its stupidity.
Anyway, this was an 8 page flyer passed out to elementary school students. It’s written for kids, but I wonder if it was written by kids as well.
My biggest complaint is with this stunner:
First it tells you to total up your number of bulbs by type. Good, so far.
If I can go so far as to use spreadsheet labeling, you’ve just filled in A1 and A2, and summed them to get A3=A1+A2.
Then it tells you to multiply those totals by the annual cost of electricity per bulb. Still good. You now have your total cost of electricity for all bulbs of each type in your house.
Continuing the spreadsheet theme, you’ve just made D1=A1*C1 (and D2=A2*C2).
Lastly, it tells you to multiply the entries in column D by the total number of bulbs (line 3). Make no mistake about it: that’s a direction to multiply by A3. This means that you’ll have E1=(A1+A2)*A1*C1 (and something similar for E2).
Yes, you’re reading that correctly: they’re telling kids that the way to measure the cost of energy is to square the number of light bulbs they have.
BTW: Column B is pointless if they’re going to direct you to use Column C.
The rest is small beer … but it sure is fun.
Efficiency just must not be selling as a buzz word these days:
Why call it wattsmart if you’re already calling it efficient? And, if it’s such a big deal to call it wattsmart … wouldn’t you title the section that way? I mean … they titled the whole booklet with it:
I’d think this already puts wattsmart above energy efficiency in the pecking order. Perhaps putting both italics and bold typefaces into one word just addled the author’s brain.
This appears alongside a graphic showing windmills, solar cells, and dams:
Yes, we make a big stink about our renewable sources of energy, and then tell the kids that we don’t use anything renewable to make electricity. Perhaps this is a Freudian slip (if I can project that behavior onto a firm).
I do sort of get the point of this one: that we turn primary/natural resources into a secondary/useful resource:
But having said that, is it OK to call electricity a resource? And, if, say coal and the electricity from coal are both resources, aren’t you double-counting?
Here’s how to keep the heat out:
Most middle-schoolers know that once the infared radiation gets inside the window, it’s in for good. The blinds just keep it … on the other side of the blinds.
I don’t even know where to start with this one:
Hmmm. Using both crude and unrefined is repetitive. How is petroleum different from oil (again, remember the target audience)? Isn’t refined oil already a petroleum product? Is there any such thing as refined oil? Isn’t the whole point that most of it isn’t oil any more … thus the different names?
Now, I know we could quibble about this one:
But … do you know of any nuclear plants that don’t use uranium? Yes, they can use plutonium … but why not say that? Plus, to me the wording suggests that some nuclear plants might just be using coal. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a subsidy scheme in Europe that can make that a viable alternative.
This is really a disaster:
Hydropower is not “energy from water”. It’s the conversion of the potential energy of water at one altitude into kinetic energy by letting it drop to a lower altitude. In short, it’s capturing gravity with water.
From the department of redundancy department:
Read that one again: “Wind is energy from the wind”. Yes, it really does say that.
Now perhaps I’m a little nitpicky we these, but it seems to me if you’re going to give a bullet list under a heading, the first item shouldn’t be repeating or defining the heading:
I didn’t selectively edit those: reuse and recycle have one suggestion, but reduce only has an alternative definition.
Here’s how to save water (I can see that the power company might want me to save hot water, but not just any water):
That’s right! The glass is half-full with less water, and half-empty with more air.
You’re gonna’ love this one. They recommend you use CFL’s instead of incandescent bulbs. Fair enough … but we all know about the disposal issues, and they’ve go that covered:
Go ahead, click this link http://www.getenergysmart.org. It redirects an interested junior CFL recycler in the intermountain west to this New York State government site … with 355 words … not one of which is either CFL or disposal. If you put in “CFL disposal” into its search bar, you do get 3 links on the same site, and if you click through again … you get a map of places to safely dispose your CFL’s in New York. I’ll make sure to have the vXgirl bring any dead CFL’s I have in Utah when I visit Buffalo. Oh … one thing … where do I found out if it’s safe to bring a CFL in her Hello Kitty luggage?
And omigosh … it gets so much better. It shows a map of New York, and a text box where you can enter your zip code. And if you enter one that’s not in New York … it crashes!
And you gotta’ love the ending:
That’s right kids! If you fill out the survey about how to save energy, we’ll give you a nightlight to save less of it!
N.B. I wrote this a year ago, and am posting it now that my daughter is out of that grade and school.
Nation’s Math Teachers Introduce 27 New Trig Functions
All Graduating Students Must Master Gamsin, Negtan, Cosvnx, 24 Others
The vXboy is 14 now, and decent at math. A couple of weeks ago he asked me to explain triangulation. I started with “Have they taught you sine and cosine?” He’d never heard of them. I’m not sure he understands triangulation, distance estimation, depth perception, or any of the related topics.
As part of the same discussion, I asked him if he knew how to use a compass to determine a baseline. Nada.
FWIW: Several years ago I was told that my state’s math curriculum eliminated the topic of commutativity. You know, that 3 times 4 is the same as 4 times 3. This has repeatedly created problems for college students in my classes (in fact, a marketing professor down the hall felt that one of our “brighter” students actually became abusive because he was so certain that commutativity did not hold – that student later got an MBA from us).
This actually is a pretty good idea (and one that has also been made in different formats on the left and right). The difference is that the people on the left do the math wrong, and then run with it.
Then he quotes from a reader’s contribution about widespread innumeracy on the political left:
But, as our reader says, this kind of magical thinking on the Left is not unique to Ornstein. On the contrary, an inability to understand the most basic principles of arithmetic constantly dogs liberals. How else did we get Obamacare? Moreover, Ornstein was not alone. Didn’t National Journal have an editor who read the piece and said, “Whoa! $3,500 to $700,000 at 5%? Did you check the math?”
Please note that the current version of the linked article does acknowledge the math mistakes in a footnote.
It’s constantly in the news: some feature of widgets hit a new record today.
Vacuous former communications majors love this sort of headline for stock markets and government debt.
Here’s what you need to think about:
Just about any series that is trending upwards will set new records … constantly.
This includes, but is not limited to: GDP, GNP, income, personal income, disposable income, the number of unemployed and employed, the deficits, the debt, military spending, social spending, disability payments and recipients, nominal prices and price indices, all stock market indices, and most environmental measurements.
You need to put on your foil hat and recognize this for what it is: emotional button-pushing intended to get you to think less.
Cross-posted from SUU Macroblog, which is required reading for my macroeconomics classes.
The United States has a homicide rate … which is much higher than that of most Western European or Anglosphere countries …
Of course, it’s well-known that the U.S. has had higher homicide rates for centuries. Even so:
… the relationship between gun regulation and homicide is by no means straightforward: Gun-loving Switzerland has a lower rate of homicide than do more tightly regulated countries such as the United Kingdom and Sweden. Cuba, being a police state, has very strict gun laws, but it has a higher homicide rate than does the United States …
But still, guns lead to deaths, right:
We hear a lot about “gun deaths” in the United States, but we hear less often the fact that the great majority of those deaths are suicides — more than two-thirds of them.
You know what’s a popular way to commit suicide in western Europe? Overdosing on acetaminophen. Thus, reasonable comparisons of gun death would include some information about other forms of unnatural death. E-mail me when you find that legacy media article comparing gun deaths to Tylenol deaths.
And we worry about money running everything in D.C. Hardly:
… perhaps you have heard that the National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful and feared lobbies on Capitol Hill. What you probably have not heard is that it is nowhere near the top of the list of Washington money-movers. In terms of campaign contributions, the NRA is not in the top five or top ten or top 100: It is No. 228.
For my part, a real sign of innumeracy is the inability to recognize the problematic scale of the numbers in Washington: we worry about lobbyists spending millions to influence votes on decisions about thousands of millions. Worrying about this demonstrates your functional innumeracy.
Full Disclosure: I don’t own a gun. I fired them a few times in Boy Scouts. I’m not an NRA member, although I enjoy using the free stickers they send us once in a while. And … oh year … I’m not sure I believe in pressure cooker control either, but the argument for that is just as reasonable as that for gun control.
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