Category Archives: General Economics

BUHealth: New KFF/Urban Institute project on medical debt

I do not forward a lot of other people’s news reports, but this one from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) on medical dept is worth pondering. Here is a summary quote:

“more than 100 million people in the US – including 41% of adults – are now beset by health care debt”

Noam Levey’s email broadcasts are always insightful. Full KFF report on line is only about 20 minute read.

Readers from Europe can appropriately chuckle and sigh about our lousy insurance system.

Remarkably, US bankruptcies and credit card debt went DOWN during the pandemic but are now soaring. Total consumer debt is approaching $16 trillion. From a report in 2021: “8 in 10 Americans have some form of consumer debt, and the average debt in America is $38,000 not including mortgage debt.”

From: Noam Levey <>
Sent: Thursday, June 16, 2022 6:19 AM
To: Noam Levey <>
Subject: New project on medical debt

Good day,

It’s been a little while since I’ve written, but I wanted to alert you to a new project we’re launching this morning with NPR and CBS News called Diagnosis: Debt, which examines America’s medical debt crisis.

The first installment in our series, which draws on a new KFF poll conducted for the project and original Urban Institute research, reveals that more than 100 million people in the US – including 41% of adults – are now beset by health care debt, a number significantly larger than is generally realized. Today’s story looks at the awesome scale of this problem and how it is upending countless lives across the country. Accompanying today’s launch is a feature profiling a group of Americans burdened by medical debt, including a mother of twins in Chicago forced to work double shifts and borrow from family, a retired Virginia couple driven into bankruptcy and a medical student in Texas harassed for years by debt collectors for a $131 exam she was given after being sexual assaulted.

You can find the project here:

Future stories in the series will explore the burden of medical debt on people with cancer, how this debt is deepening racial disparities and how a burgeoning credit industry is feeding off patients’ inability to pay their bills. I hope you find this first installment interesting, and if so, you’ll consider sharing it with others. And I hope you’ll follow this ongoing project as we publish additional stories throughout the year examining this uniquely American affliction. Thanks, as always, for reading.

All best,


Noam N. Levey  /  Senior Correspondent

Kaiser Health News  /  Washington, DC / @NoamLevey / +1 202 247 0811

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is the newsroom at KFF (the Kaiser Family Foundation), producing in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of KFF’s three major operating programs. KFF is an endowed non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

Stay connected with: / email / twitter / facebook / email / twitter / facebook

Randall P. Ellis, Ph.D. (he/him/his)
Professor, Department of Economics, Boston University    +1 617-353-2741

Vaccinate, avoid unneeded risks, love the outdoors, be optimistic, work for positive change.

Randy’s favorite articles on COVID-19

July 20. 2020 Important update on superspreading events.

This article from the Washington Post provides a useful update about how superspreading events account for the vast majority of infection and are driving the pandemic. 3-5 minute read.

Washington Post Ariana Eunjung Cha July 18, 2020 at 1:58 p.m. EDT

‘Superspreading’ events, triggered by people who may not even know they are infected, propel coronavirus pandemic

I also enjoyed the very accessible video link on the science of COVID-19 which is linked on the first page of this article.  (4 minutes.) I could not copy just its link…

The novel coronavirus is a master of disguise: Here's how it works

All is well in my household. Wishing you the same. Randy

July 5, 2020 Hopeful news on speedy SARS-COV-2 testing!

The US federal government is doing a terrible job at tracking cases compared to many other countries. But if some of the fast, low cost technologies for individual testing mentioned in this NY Times Opinion piece actually work, it will make it a lot easier for individuals, schools, firms and motivated local governments to do so. The lead author is BU professor of economist. (5 minute read)

A Cheap, Simple Way to Control the Coronavirus

With easy-to-use tests, everyone can check themselves every day.

By Laurence J. Kotlikoff (BU) and Michael Mina (HSPH), July 3, 2020

June 20, 2020 COVID-19 recovery

Yale Medicine physicians describe the recovery path they’ve seen for patients experiencing 'mild to moderate' forms of the disease.

RE: I would have liked more details about the recovery of people who have more serious forms of COVID-19. This report from Kaiser Health News provides one such glimpse.

ICUs become a 'delirium factory' for Covid-19 patients

June 17, 2020 Honor roll of favorite COVID-19 web sites

I often blog about the most recent studies and news reports of interest, but usually it is worth focusing on the best ones. Below is my honor roll of favorite links on COVID-19, all from below.

Sources we're following. Updated weekly blog by Vivian Ho and staff at the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University

COVID-19: An illustrated scientific summary 8 minute video by a Yale graduate student gives an excellent overview.

The Risks - Know Them - Avoid Them, by Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D.

Tomas Pueyo's March 19 article in the Medium: Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance. Dance sequel articles, full of figures are linked here (warning: long, meaty reads).

The best up-to-date statistics on COVID-19 is daily updates and documented sources.

New York Times interactive figures are updated regularly for the countries of the world and individual US states and are still the best to me, using log scales. summarizes  raw data on COVID-19 for the US, and now includes a new tracking of cases and deaths by race.

July 17, 2020 Western Europe versus US

Just out from the New York Times.

NYTimes US Versus Europe COVID deaths, June 17 2020









June 17, 2020 Current trends in cases around the world.


Below are charts from 6/16 from for a set of countries I am tracking. Each figure has a story. You can decide for yourself which ones you like.

(Yes, I prefer tracking deaths, but there is also a bias to deaths as well, plus deaths lag reported cases by about two weeks (~12 days), and the last two weeks are informative in many countries, including the US and elsewhere. Rates of testing tend to change only slowly.)


germany italy

Note that unlike the above, the Taiwan cases is not in hundreds or thousands. (Population 23 million)







It is the start of winter in most of Brazil and Chile. Not a good omen for this fall in the North.








June 17, 2020 World War I and II comparisons

 Today’s Boston Globe features the news that COVID-19 deaths in the US  – currently 119,000  –  now exceed those in World War I. Of course the US population was much lower then. During World War II there were 407,316 service men who died (0.29 percent of the US population). Think of all those flags for WWII veterans you saw on Memorial Day recently.  It will take real determination and action to keep US deaths from COVID-19 – currently about 800 per day, or 24,000 per month – below the tragic WWII levels.

June 17, 2020 Be selfish and wear a mask!

Yesterday I ate dinner outside on the main thoroughfare (Moody Street) in Waltham which has been converted into a massive pedestrian way to allow people to eat outside while more than 3 meters apart. I was sad to see dozens of people on the streets not properly wearing masks. I thought of a good selfish reason why everyone should want to do so. Just as high altitude dwellers develop stronger and larger lungs in order to get enough oxygen, securely wearing a high quality mask that cuts off the air flow a bit and results in slightly less oxygen reaching your lungs enables low altitude people to develop stronger and larger lung capacity. The extra effort it takes to breath is no different from lifting more weights or running a bit faster, and builds up your lungs at a time when you may really need them to fend of COVID-19 respiratory failure. I don’t hear weightlifters or joggers complaining about their difficulties: they want the challenge. Wear a high quality mask for your own future health!

June 11, 2020 Words from Michael Osterholm, epidemiologist

I am sharing this informative interview with a very knowledgeable person, even though I disagree with his assessment on several important points.

I have added my comments at the bottom of this summary from the article, while striking out three statements asserted there.

COVID-19: Straight Answers from Top Epidemiologist Who Predicted the Pandemic

By Dan Buettner, Blue Zones Founder [Interview conducted on May 29, 2020. Published on June 6, 2020]

Below is the summary from within that article.

In short, Dr. Osterholm is arguably one of the most dependable, non-political sources for straight answers on what COVID-19 means to us and our world in the immediate future. In his 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy, he correctly foretells a global pandemic and offers the best strategy for fighting it now and avoiding it in the future.

Here are the highlights of our conversation. But if you really want to understand this disease, read the whole interview.  This disease may be the biggest event of our lifetimes.

  • 3 months ago, COVID-19 was not even in the top 75 causes of death in this country. Much of the last month, it was the #1 cause of death in this country. This is more remarkable than the 1918 Flu pandemic.
  • There is no scientific indication Covid-19 will disappear of its own accord.
  • If you’re under age 55, obesity is the #1 risk factor. So, eating the right diet, getting physical activity, and managing stress are some of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from the disease.
  • One of the best things we can do for our aging parents is to get them out into the fresh air, while maintaining physical (not social) distancing.
  • Wearing a cloth mask does not protect you much if you’re in close contact with someone who is COVID-19 contagious. It may give you 10 minutes, instead of five, to avoid contracting the disease.
  • We can expect COVID-19 to infect 60% – 70% of Americans. That’s around 200 million Americans.
  • We can expect between 800,000 and 1.6 million Americans to die in the next 18 months if we don’t have a successful vaccine.
  • There is no guarantee of an effective vaccination and even if we find one, it may only give short term protection.
  • Speeding a vaccination into production carries its own risks.
  • The darkest days are still ahead of us. We need moral leadership, the command leadership that doesn’t minimize what’s before us but allows everyone to see that we’re going to get through it.

I strongly disagree with his statement that wearing a cloth mask does not protect you much. It is true that if I were tending a COVID-19 infected patient, it would be highly inadequate, because of the duration of the exposure. But for ordinary activities, even briefly near someone who is infected, then universal mask wearing by both the infected and the rest of the population can bring down the rate of new infections below 1.0, and largely eliminate or drastically slow down exposure in a population. This is why New Zealand has had zero deaths over an extended period, and why rates are also extremely low in Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and certain other Asian countries. All of these countries have had nearly universal mask wearing, as well as excellent case identification and quarantining.

The research on masks shows that a simple, homemade cotton mask filters out about 70% effective at suppressing germ aerosols, particularly larger particles that can projectile the farthest from a sneeze, cough or singing. Masks also reduce touching your mouth, nose and eyes, even if they don’t eliminate any aerosol contamination. Better “surgical quality" masks can achieve over 95% protection with 99% claimed by N95 masks. (To some degree, the greater risk may be putting on and taking off high quality masks frequently to maintain their effectiveness…) There is no reason we could not all be wearing surgical quality masks when shopping or around others. This would greatly slow down transmission.

If a random COVID-19 contagious person without any PPE protection infects 3 people,  then even a 70% effective mask reduces the average number of people infected to .3*3 = .9 newly infected for each person contagious. That is less than 1! So the disease would gradually die out. With a 90% effective PPE, new infection rate would be cut to less than a third, and infections would die out even faster.

PPE is why in Japan millions of people are now commuting daily by public transport on crowded subways and buses with minor numbers of new cases: masks do work. We could do that if we all wore masks, testing was widespread, and we were willing to track cases and enforce quarantines.

I also disagree with the papers blind prediction that COVID-19 will necessarily infect 60-70 percent of the worlds population. The same experience from other countries show that careful testing quarantining, and mask wearing could keep rates below 60% of the population, particularly the at-risk population, for over a year, when hopefully a vaccine will be available for at least high risk people. Recall that until a few years ago flu vaccines were reserved only for older and higher risk segments of the population. This is what will be needed this time as well, when a COVID-19 vaccine is created, since we cannot immediately create 8 billion vaccines for the whole world.

The article starts with a really crazy statement:

“One of the things we have to understand is that this virus is operating under the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. It doesn’t in any way, shape, or form bend itself to public policy.”

If it were true that science drives everything and public policies do not matter, then why do we even need doctors and hospitals? Or why does physical distancing matter? Clearly public policy AND PRIVATE DECISIONS matter a lot, as the article goes on to highlight.

I agree that each country needs a leader like Franklin Delano Roosevelt who is unselfish and totally committed to leading the public sentiment in a positive direction. A few countries have been blessed with this, and we should be learning from their successes.

My own wish is that more attention would focus on the following facts.

  • The death rate is not some constant for each health care system, but rather it will go up if a health care system gets overcrowded and cannot keep up. It could be that with optimal treatment in a well-endowed health care system, the death rate is only 0.5% of those infected (across the whole population). But if there are not enough hospital beds, trained doctors, staff, ICUs and ventilators, then the death rate could be 5%. This is the great value of policies to slow down rates of infection.
  • A significant part of the burden of high rates of COVID-19 is the consequences of all the avoided preventive and curative treatment of OTHER diseases. Heart conditions, cancer, vaccine preventable infections.  This is another reason to want to keep the flow rate of new infections manageable.
  • While everyone is focusing on when there will be a vaccine, of greater likelihood is that we will develop treatment strategies that can further reduce mortality and serious illness. This is what is more likely in the near term.
  • I think it is too early  to tell whether death rates by the rest of the world are much better than in Sweden, which has encouraged private actions but not shut down and mandated self-quarantines. We have so far DELAYED infections and deaths meaningfully in the US and many other countries, but whether we have prevented them over say the next year will depend on what happens this fall and winter.
  • There is far too little effort and research discussing how to better target social distancing and public polices to people at greatest risk. Shutting down all businesses is a very blunt tool for doing this.
  • The findings that high altitudes have lower rates of infection is likely not the result of the virus not finding conditions less hospitable at low air density or humidity, but rather that at high altitude people develop larger lungs and stronger lung muscles that make them better able to fight off the virus. Working out hard can do much the same thing for many of us.
  • Obesity affects heart and circulatory diseases in part because the fat clogs up arteries and veins.  For COVID, a different mechanism may be that obesity increases the weight that the lung muscles have to raise and lower with each breath, which leads to faster respiratory failure and requires the really nasty ventilators that replace muscles and cause all kinds of problems of their own. We all know that repeatedly raising your arms while holding even a one pound weight soon wears your arms out. The same must be true for breathing with extra pounds of weight on your chest and stomach. The shrotness of breath symptom of COVID-19 can force you to breath hard for hours or days at a time.
  • There is evidence in JAMA just out from China that shoes spread around germs all over the floor when people walk in areas around infected people, even if those people are not showing any symptoms. Most of us don’t touch the floors much, but infants do. While symptoms are concentrated among the old populations, US studies show that infection rates are pretty uniform across all ages. Parents should not let very young children crawl on floors in public places.
  • Teens and college age students are especially prone to large gatherings  (sports, concerts, bars,…) in which people mingle with strangers, and many infected do not display symptoms. While serious cases are rare, they are also likely to be a very strong source of new infections.

Randy Ellis

June 8, 2020 More on Race and likely futures is an new source of raw data on COVID-19 statistics for the US, and now includes a new tracking of cases and deaths by race.

This source is the new standard being quoted by the media, including by the White House and CDC. I have not compared it to the NY Times and sources that I have previously linked.

I am not sure I agree with the consensus, but this survey out just today of epidemiologists by the NY Times gives a very sobering overview of when we might expect to return to a wide range of normal activities.

When 511 Epidemiologists Expect to Fly, Hug and Do 18 Other Everyday Activities Again

June 5, 2020 Repost of Austin Frakt's "An open letter to White people."

An open letter to white people

May 28, 2020

What’s the Risk of Catching Coronavirus From a Surface?

NY Times 5/28/2020

RE: This is a reassuring article to me. We should not become paranoid over the very low risk of contamination from touching surfaces, which is dealt with effectively by frequent hand washing. (Three minute read.)

May 21, 2020 more from the U Mass Dartmouth biology professor.

Erin Bromade PhD. has an excellent 4 minute CNN interview on outdoor barbecues, shared bathrooms for dinner guests, and swimming pools. With his Australian accent, it is a fun listen. Very specific. Watch it here.

May 21, 2020 Steps hospitals use to minimize COVID-19 and more

Excellent article by Atul Gawande in the NYTimes magazine. Probably a 20 minute read.

Health-care workers have been on the job throughout the pandemic. What can they teach us about the safest way to lift a lockdown?

Key takeaways for me:

"Is there any place that has figured out a way to open and have employees work safely, with one another and with their customers?" Yes.  Mass General Brigham,  ... seventy-five thousand employees—more people than in seventy-five per cent of U.S. counties. In April, two-thirds of us were working on site. Yet we’ve had few workplace transmissions. Not zero: we’ve been on a learning curve, to be sure, and we have no way to stop our health-care workers from getting infected in the community."

"Its elements are all familiar: hygiene measures, screening, distancing, and masks."

"The SARS-CoV-2 virus does not last long on cloth; viral counts drop ninety-nine per cent in three hours."

"Toughing it out is now a shameful act of disloyalty."

"Surgical masks are made of a melt-blown polypropylene fibre fabric, which, under magnification, looks like cotton candy. Most of the filtration this material provides isn’t from direct blockage but from an electrostatic charge applied to the fibre using a machine called, aptly enough, a corona charger. The static electricity captures viral particles the same way that a blanket in the dryer catches socks. This allows the material to breathe more freely. Cloth masks feel warm and smothering by comparison, and people tend to loosen them, wear them below their noses, or take them off more frequently. The fit of improvised masks is also more variable and typically much worse. A comparison study found that surgical masks did three times better than homemade masks at blocking outward transmission of respiratory viruses."

I also enjoyed the following link on the value of face masks. The comments on this are indicative of how a strong, well organized contingent in the US is arguing against masks.

As before, Vivian Ho's weekly  blog is full of many great links. Including recent work by Erin Bromage.

May 21, 2020  Sad humor: some governments are distorting with statistics.

See this post on Andrew Gelman's blog. Ten minutes. See if you can see what is wrong.

May 16, 2020 New Favorite overview of the Dance challenges

Way back on March 29 I recommended Tomas Puyea EXCELLENT, clairvoyant article

Coronavirus: The Hammer and The Dance (29 minutes).

That article is foundational and is still be essential reading for everyone.

I have been remiss in not revisiting and following Puyea's subsequent work, which contains an excellent Learning How to Dance series. He has just released Part 5. I recommend all of them, although there is some overlap, as there should be in any "Learning how to..." series.

Part 1: Coronavirus: Learning How to Dance (19 minutes)

Part 2: Coronavirus: The Basic Dance Steps Everybody Can Follow (18 minutes)

Part 3: Coronavirus: How to Do Testing and Contact Tracing (39 minutes)

Part 4: (not yet published)

Part 5: Coronavirus: Prevent Seeding and Spreading (31 minutes)

Key insights from all of this:

We should particularly avoid allowing very large gatherings such as sporting events, conconcerts, crowded churches, restaurants with no spacing, because these  are the worst hazards to the Dance.

Several countries have successfully quashed the infections, but will have to continue to restrict outside visitors and even regional travel.

Some countries and some US states have taken few precautions and will end up needing to get to herd immunity to stop the spread. This will take about two thirds of the population getting ill before infections quiet down, at a fatality rate of .5 to 1.5 this would kill 1 to 3 million Americans. there are many excellent figures and simulations that highlight all that can be done without totally closing down the economy

28 percent of infected people infect their spouses, 14% infect other people they live with, and 4% infect their children. Social distancing within the household is very challenging.

Opening schools while managing interactions to be only among smaller groups and having monitoring is proving successful in many countries.

South Korea never really shut down, but has extraordinary public effort, public information and intrusive quarantining.

International and even regional travel will likely have to be restricted for a very long time, such as until an effective vaccine.

There is still no guarantee that a vaccine or immunity will be effective for more than two years.

My own thoughts to add: There is very little in Puyeas work about the role of weather. Colder, drier areas do seem to have greater exposure.

I see a great need to highlight that even vacation travelers can stay in hotels and summer rental housing if they are willing to leave an interval of 3-4 days between guests.  Similarly mail, store purchases, and food, that has not been touched for a few days is inherently safe. Things stored outside in UV light including picnic tables and benches and rocks and trees are also extremely low risk because of this natural healing.

The findings discussed in Erin Bromage (see May 11 blog summary below) that only 0.3 percent of all infections have been traced back to someone getting infected outdoors speaks volumes to me.

We will have to give up not only handshaking, but also hugs, social kisses, and close encounters among family and friends. Italian and Spanish traditions, young people in clubs and others who believe in extensive close social contacting will need to change.

The latest antibody test in the city of Boston found that about ten percent of the population has been infected so far. So Boston is about 1/7th of the way to herd immunity.

COVID-19 antibody test results from Santa Clara (1.5% of population testing positive), and from Denmark (1.8%) taking antibody tests of random samples find that overall infections are approximately uniform by age. Children are just as likely be become infected as adults, but they are much less likely to show symptoms or become highly contagious.

Future costs of all the medical complications of people who recover from COVID could be very serious.

I can't resist including an extended quote describing Taiwan's response to COVID in March. This is taken from Part 1. All highlights were in the original article.  They have only had ~500 cases and 46 deaths so far. Population is 24 million, more than New York State (19 million). Enjoy.

"Taiwan’s level of preparedness is jaw-dropping. This is a list of over 100 measures they took before March. Here are some examples, from the list and other sources:

  • Early and strict travel bans, updated every day.
  • They centralized the management of mask production, starting at 2.4 million per day (twice their need of 1.3 million at the time).
  • They set the price to avoid profiteering, initially at USD $0.50 per mask.
  • The penalty for price gouging for masks and other key items became 1–7 years in jail and a fine up to USD $167,000.
  • The spread of fake news could be fined with USD $100,000.
  • Proactive detection of cases: They tested all people who had previously had flu symptoms but tested negative for flu, finding some coronavirus patients.

All of the above happened BEFORE Wuhan even shut down! Then, they continued:

  • Soldiers were mobilized to produce masks.
  • The official price of masks was eventually down to ~$0.20 by the end of February.
  • Eventually, they ramped up production to 10 million masks per day (for a population of 23 million) before the end of March. Masks were rationed and their export banned.
  • Travel and healthcare databases were connected, so healthcare professionals could know who was at a higher risk of being infected. The Taiwanese CDC could track what was happening on the field in real time.
  • It triaged travelers based on their risk, from free to enter the country with self-monitoring to mandated quarantines.
  • Quarantine support with food and encouragement.
  • Enforcement of the quarantine through people’s existing phone signals. If they don’t have a phone, the government provides them with one. An alert is sent to the authorities if the handset is turned off for more than 15 minutes.
  • Persons who were not compliant with home quarantine orders were turned over to law enforcement and tracked by police officers. A couple was fined USD $10,000 for breaking the 14-day home quarantine rule.

If the world was a class and each country was a student passing a coronavirus exam, Taiwan is acing the test. And it’s offering to help. If I were another student, I would take that offer.

That it for now.


May 13, 2020  Hopeful article about the search for effective drugs

By Published May 13, 2020

The article highlights the extraordinary level of cooperation internationally, as well as the dangers of the US claims that China is stealing US secrets. This is not a time for the US to interfere with science because of worries about who makes the billions of dollars a new drug will be worth.

May 13, 2020 A not so welcome reminder

The Last Coronavirus Taboo

New York Times Interpreter by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub

It reminds us that the successes of South Korea and China were "test, trace, and mandatory quarantine with fines" and not just "test and trace."

May 11, 2020 Hot off the presses from U.Conn., MIT-Sloan Harvard, and collaborators

Weather Conditions and COVID-19 Transmission: Estimates and Projections

Ran Xu, Hazhir Rahmandad, Marichi Gupta, Catherine DiGennaro, Navid Ghaffarzadegan, Mohammad Jalali

The attached paper was just posted today on SSRN with coauthors from UConn, MIT-Sloan and Harvard. It has over-the-top modeling of daily data from every county in the US, plus cities, states or countries worldwide rates of COVID-19 infection based on weather, humidity, air pressure, geography, wind, sunlight, and even the phases of the moon! (This last one has to be considered the werewolf effect, which they omitted from their final model even though statistically significant.) I saw the write up about it in the Boston Globe yesterday but the actual paper was only posted on May 11.

They do not forecast rates of disease but only relative rates of infectiousness and how they are affected by weather. They have only a few months of data from a wide range of worldwide cities.

They have a really cool graphics generated here, including the ability to generate weekly forecasts of relative rates of infectiiousness by city, county state and country worldwide. You can play with it to look at patterns by state, simulated by week across the year.

They get that favorable weather can reduce rates of infection by about 40 percent, or worsen it by about the same. Given that the rate is about 2 overall, then this means it will slow down in many parts of the US this summer, but then come back strong next fall or winter. It is worse in cold, dry areas.


May 11, 2020 Best overview of COVID infectiousness

I have read a lot of articles about COVID, but this paper, by a professor of biology of U Mass Dartmouth, is  the best so far at signalling how different activities and situations vary in their riskiness. I recommend it highly to everyone.

The Risks - Know Them - Avoid Them, by Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D.,

The paper emphasizes

Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time.

Shopping in an uncrowded large store for a short time is relatively safe, as is jogging and brief contact while social distancing. In contrast indoor in-person meetings, especially in small areas, parties, church gatherings, concerts or other large gatherings, or other events that last for an hour or more and include talking, singing, eating, exercising, or touching shared items are the most risky.

Here is the direct link. It is a 12 minute read. Do it now!

I especially like that this article is by an ordinary professor, who has just done an extraordinary synthesis of German case studies, epidemiology and other diverse scientific sources. It highlights that all of us can play a role in fighting this virus.

Also, I also recommend this article by the same author, which covers events in China, the origins of the virus, and descriptions of various tests and vaccines.

Where We Are Now

About the author:

Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Dr. Bromage graduated from the School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences James Cook University, Australia where his research focused on the epidemiology of, and immunity to, infectious disease in animals.

May 9, 2020 Good signs.

Today (Saturday) I ventured out out to a local hardware store to get a few gardening items and to CVS to pick up a few health items. Among the many encouraging signs were:

  • Everyone I saw in either place was wearing a mask,
  • Social distancing was marked on the floor and adhered to.
  • CVS was actually selling nursing quality masks (not N95, but at least with metal strips around the nose) for $2 apiece, limit of 4
  • The hardware store was selling hand sanitizer and bulk packages of 100 gloves at a normal price.
  • Everyone was friendly and happy.

There is hope for a more pleasant existence in our future together, even if things will remain different for a while now. Keep your hopes up!

May 8, 2020 Careful statistical model of COVID-19 fatality rates

Anirban Basu, an exceptional econometrician (with 9252 Google Scholar citations) at the University of Washington who is personally known to me, published an article that just appeared in Health Affairs yesterday.

Estimating The Infection Fatality Rate Among Symptomatic COVID-19 Cases In The United States

Using daily county-level data on deaths and new cases from the US up through April 20, 2020, he estimates Bayesian models of the infection fatality rate among symptomatic cases (IFR-S) which give a point estimate of 1.3% of all people with COVID-19 symptoms dying.

The Health Affairs article is heavy reading for a non-statistician. To give you a flavor, here is the key sentence about methodology: "The mean of this Binomial model, p_jt, represents the probability of death, and is expressed as a Bayesian random-coefficients exponential decay model within a logit link framework so that the predicted rates remain within 0 and 1."

Here are the first few sentences from the abstract.

"ABSTRACT: Knowing the infection fatality rate (IFR) of SARS-CoV andSARS-CoV-2 infections is essential for the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Using data through April 20, 2020, we fit a statistical model to COVID-19 case fatality rates over time at the US county level to estimate the COVID-19 IFR among symptomatic cases (IFR-S) as time goes to infinity. The IFR-S in the US was estimated to be 1.3% (95% central credible interval: 0.6% to 2.1%). County-specific rates varied from 0.5% to3.6%. The overall IFR for COVID-19 should be lower when we account for cases that remain and recover without symptoms."

This segment was also highly informative to me.

"Results from sero-testing from the Diamond Princess outbreak suggests that about 17.9% of infected persons never developed symptoms.10 Consequently, a reasonable estimate of the overall IFR would be about 20% lower than our estimated IFR-S."

In the conclusion:

"If we carry out a thought experiment where 35.5 million individuals would contract COVID-19 illness this year in the US (i.e., the same number as flu last year)19 then, in the absence of any mitigation strategies or social distancing behaviors and the supply of health care services under typical conditions, our IFR-S estimate predicts that there would have been nearly 500,000 COVID-19 deaths this year. To the extent that COVID-19 is more infectious than flu and does not have any protection from a vaccine or treatment, the number of infections, and hence the number of deaths, would be higher. Certainly, with mitigation strategies, the death toll will be lower."

My interpretation: The paper is very open about biases upward and downward. One bias not discussed is the number of deaths unreported in the data, which now appears to be significant. Death rates in the US are likely to be higher than in other countries, for many of the reasons discussed in the Boston Globe article linked here. Still, these are very sobering numbers for the US.

May 7, 2020 - EXCELLENT Boston Globe article on diet and its link to COVID-19.

The link between coronavirus deaths and those french fries

Many COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths could be prevented if Americans had a better diet and better metabolic health.
By Mark Hyman and Dariush Mozaffarian Updated May 7, 2020

Here are a few key sentences (with cites) from the article that resonate with me.

"Ninety four percent of deaths from COVID-19 are in those with an underlying age-related chronic disease, mostly caused by excess body fat."

"Only about 12 percent of Americans are metabolically healthy, without a large waist, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol."

"The sad reality is that 75 percent of Americans are overweight, and more than 42 percent are obese. Chronic disease affects 6 out of 10 Americans. Also 20 percent of normal-weight people have prediabetes. These shocking rates of poor metabolic health — with nearly 9 out of 10 American adults unhealthy — is a major reason the COVID-19 crisis is so much greater than it needs to be."

My interpretation: Just like a marathon race, winning against the coronavirus requires a strong immunity system, strong lungs, and a healthy heart. Americans, and particularly poor Americans, are compromised in all three with their diet, lifestyle and environment more than the rest of the world. I invite you to read the article.

Fortunately, for many of us with increased free time, the inconvenience of buying large quantities of food, and greater motivation, now is a good time to do something about it.

May 1, 2020   NY Times links below are useful for data updates.

As May begins, stay-at-home orders end

Governors of coastal states including California and Florida have faced particular pressure as they try to balance health concerns with growing demands for beach access as the weather heats up. Here’s a map of the varying restrictions across the U.S.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan reinstated a state of emergency on Thursday, even as protesters, some of them legally armed, gathered at the State Capitol.

Here are the latest updates from the U.S. and around the world, as well as maps of the pandemic.

For a detailed picture of the outbreak in the U.S., we’ve also compiled data from hundreds of metro areas.

May 1, 2020. Pessimistic forecast from Yahoo Finance, and my own thoughts.

Here is an insightful interview with El Erian on the monetary and fiscal responses to COVID-19:

His statements accord with my view. Pretty grim.

The most telling thing to me is the lack of confidence and incredibly negative consumer expectations. People are only buying necessities, and that will not fuel the economy. Even food production (meat, fresh vegetables) is now uncertain. On April 10, a poll of sports fans found that 72% would not plan to go to a sporting event even if they resume in September. (What about children in schools or universities or any public entertainment, or restaurants?) Even the workers getting government aid want to save it since they realistically fear that the worst is yet to come. The ridiculous epidemiological model from U. Washington predicting a nice bell-shaped declines in rates of infection with the shutdown are not even close to the persisting rates of new cases, and the very gradual, flat persistence. Deaths are being grossly undercounted, and we are still less than 10% of the way toward herd immunity. Reopening the economy fully will I believe likely cause many areas to overload their hospital capacity in about three weeks: the average time from new infections to death (two to three weeks) plus a week for a renewed doubling in cases because we still have high fundamental infection rates to start from.

I am not a macro economist, but we now have a shock where earned income has dropped about 40% (Ellis and Marcolongo, April 17, 2020, with a new draft out next week), and more in the most vulnerable occupations. Current PPP loans are not reaching the neediest, and $1200 per person will not last long. Cities and states will soon be going bankrupt and start having to lay off public workers unless the federal government acts very quickly, which they can’t. Even people who have income, like me, are perhaps spending less than half of what they would usually spend, hording food, but not spending anything on travel, transportation, other consumables or durable goods. We are just spending more on personal delivery services and internet services. Health care spending will be strong, however, given the resources spent on COVID, but offset by canceling most elective and preventive care. I can easily see a more than 50% decline in consumption spending in the economy. Something similar is happening in the rest of the world, plus trade is also collapsing. I don’t see why the stock market is still acting like we will come out of this quickly. (Remember, the Dow Jones lost 75% of its value in the Great Depression. We are a long way from that now.) The economy is so dreary that I have pretty much stopped blogging about my predictions in the last week.

I am enjoying bird photography, vegetable gardening, and baking bread. I recommend these activities highly to you. It is nice to fall asleep thinking about gardening or how to zoom about birds instead of about COVID-19.

The state of Maine started reopening as of today. Lets see what happens.

Have a good weekend!



April 23, 2020 Science article about COVID-19 effects

This Science article has an excellent overview about the complex medical challenges from COVID-19.

I recommend it to anyone interested in clinical manifestations, rather than economics or epidemiology.

How does coronavirus kill? Clinicians trace a ferocious rampage through the body, from brain to toes

April 22, 2020

The New York Times just updated their web site showing rates of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths by country, state, and city (MSA) which is updated daily. This is my go-to location for up to date rates. They are now using the most recent week of data (versus five days, previously) and recentered all their plots to start when a country or state had 200 cases (or 100 deaths) instead of ten.

There is an excellent overview of sources by Vivian Ho, Kirstin R.W. Matthews,  and Heidi Russell, from the Rice Baker Institute. I first learned about this from The Incidental Economist blog by Austin Frakt. I recommend you choose which sources you want to review for your update.

One anecdote reflecting my own experience is revealing:

Yesterday I spoke for 20 minutes with someone working closely with an estate attorney.  Several things surprised me. This person ("Jane") said that the lawyer in the Boston area was swamped by demands for living wills and do not resuscitate (DNR) orders (covering what to do when faced with the choice of being on a ventilator, for instance), updated wills, trust tax forms (no extension granted for these) and particularly assistance to households trying to get death certificates from the state.

Jane revealed two nursing homes in the area that have not yet gone public with the surge of deaths they have experienced because of fears over negative publicity.

Jane spoke of  several people who died in nursing homes who were not yet reported to the state because when a death occurs at home or in a minimal care nursing home a death certificate requires verification by a coroner, and coroners are overwhelmed just now. The coroner must decide whether an autopsy is needed, and what samples should be taken before determining the cause of death. This is causing a serious delay.  This leads me to believe that deaths in total and deaths attributed to COVID are being understate in some places in the US, and that more reliable estimates will want to look at deaths by age this year versus over past years.

These unreported deaths are consistent with recent reports in the media about new tests of samples from deceased bodies are turning up new cases of SARS-COV-2 not previously recorded.

April 22, 2020 Nursing home rates skyrocket.

Yesterday, April 21, the Boston Globe published a site for Massachusetts nursing homes that reporting confirmed cases by named. Unfort6unately they only have three tiers: <10, 10-30, and 30 or more. The results are stunning. A total of 228 Nursing homes are reporting cases of COVID, out of 338 in the state (56%). The data is to granular to calculate

My own calculations using the Massachusetts nursing home data as of April 22, 2020 posted on the Boston Globe web site suggests that among those reporting at least one confirmed COVID case, the average rate of confirmed cases is 15% or more of all residents, much higher than the population averages reported for older age groups.

I commend the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for publicly posting its rates of testing, new cases, rate of hospitalization, and deaths each day. Rates by race and  place of death are reported. Also interesting is the detailed PPE supplied by region. Rates of N95/KN95 and other masks still seem distressingly low in the state.

I will mention that the number of COVID tests done per day has remained constant at approximately  5,000 since March 24, and that the very high positive test rate  - average of 26% over the past five days - suggests that there remains a very large number of infectious cases not being identified at existing test levels.

April 22, 2020 Humor and misinformation

I was trying to track down a legitimate post mentioned on Facebook and had reason to view a variety of Facebook sites ridiculous postings. Some of the claims so outrageous as being hilarious. Here is one of my favorites:

"It will be extremely important for the truth about the events of September 11th, 2001 in New York to come out one day, including the truth about the use of a Directed Energy Weapon to "Dustify" the buildings. I hope and pray."

I was originally going to post several more ridiculous claims. but they were gone!

When I went back to Facebook to copy them, they had been removed. Plus, in two cases, I saw notices from Facebook that they had fact checked some consumer posts, and inserted a link to discuss why certain key statements were false. Hallelujah! Great to have Facebook start actually policing postings and repostings for accuracy.

April 21, 2o20

I was forwarded an interesting article about hypoxia in the NY Times that is worth a read.

The Infection That’s Silently Killing Coronavirus Patients: This is what I learned during 10 days of treating Covid pneumonia at Bellevue Hospital. By April 20, 2020

It describes how COVID19 induces hypoxia and recommends the use of a pulse oximeter as a low-cost route to early identification of COVID pneumonia. One of the striking findings in the article is that the normal signal of breathing problems (a build-up of CO2) doesn’t happen with COVID-19, so that hypoxia can progress quite far, without the person realizing that anything is wrong – hence the value of proactive monitoring of blood oxygen levels.

Widespread pulse oximeter testing could be very significant for our ability to manage COVID-19 during the ‘dance’ phase, by changing the ratios at several important points:

  • Reduced R: Earlier detection of COVID19 cases through early identification of hypoxia, even before other symptoms have developed  has the potential to increase the ability to isolate earlier and reduce the infection rate.
  • Reduced % of cases needing ICU beds or ventilators. Earlier detection of hypoxia would allow more routine treatment and less need for oxygen or intensive care, reducing the pressure on ICU beds and on ventilators.  The NYT article suggests that better treatments alone – e.g., better positioning of the patient for better breathing could reduce ventilator need  in the first 24 hours by 75%.
  • Reduced mortality rate.  The NYT article doesn’t speak to this directly, but it is suggestive that a major reason for the high mortality rates for individuals without other underlying conditions is that the hypoxia has progressed to dangerous levels before seeking treatment.  If so, avoiding dangerous levels of hypoxia might dramatically reduce mortality rates for otherwise healthy individuals without underlying conditions.


April 20, 2020 UK report on exit strategy

Interesting UK report from Ian Mulheirn, Executive Director and Chief Economist, Institute for Global Change.

PPT: Suppression Exit Strategies: Options for Lifting Lockdown Measures in the UK

Tradeoffs presented, but no mechanism for choosing. No discussion of ameliorating drugs (preventive, symptom control, treatment) prior to a vaccine.

April 20, 2020 Humor/Art

Covid video from an art historian

April 20, 2020 Masks

The US continues to be woefully unprepared for the volume of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed and is still totally failing to keep up with the urgent need. Here is one telling quote from Dr Steve Corwin President and CEO of New York Presbyterian Hospital speaking to CNN on April 6, 2020:

"We can't make that mistake again. I know the next crisis will be different than this one. But let me just give you a statistic, pre- crisis, we were using 4,000 masks a day of all sorts. Now we're using 90,000 masks a day."

Given that there are 2650, staffed beds at NY Presbyterian, that implies 34 masks per bed per day. Official guidelines are for hospital workers to put on a new mask each time you enter a patient's room, which is a lot of masks for each health care worker and each patient. Fortunately some areas have figured out how to sanitize and reuse some N95 masks, but the costs of doing this may exceed the costs of making a new mask, which with bulk production are fundamentally very inexpensive. The magnitude of the need is still unprecedented.

This following table calculates the magnitude of the mask problem for  New York state, Massachusetts, and the nation assuming the same rate of need as NY Presbyterian Hospital in early April, before the peak need in NYC.

NY Presbyterian hospital All New York state hospitals All Massachusetts hospitals  All US Hospitals
total staffed beds             2,650             53,000               15,193                924,107
masks per bed                  34                     34                      34                        34
masks per day         90,000      1,800,000            515,989         31,384,766
days per month                 30                  30                 30                       30
masks per month   2,700,000     54,000,000       15,479,660      941,542,981

Governor Cuomo has asked new York hospitals to add another 20,000 emergency beds, which increases the demand even more. These calculation suggest a need for more than a billion masks per month to meet the US hospital demand for masks.

Notice I am not talking about N95 masks, but "all sorts of mask", just like Dr. Corwin. This calculation ignores the additional masks needed for dozens of other occupations (police, firefighters, public health, pubic transport, food workers, pharmacy workers, and other essential workers). Given their numbers, this easily adds another billion masks per month. Then there are ordinary citizens: if each citizen wanted to use new three masks per month, that would add another billion face masks.  These uses quickly triple the number demanded nationally: 3 billion masks per month, or 100 million masks per day.

These levels of demand would require a thousand plants each producing 3 million masks a month, just for serving the US. While a charity event like the Boston Patriots owner flying home 1 million masks from China that were shared between hospitals in NYC, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, was helpful, achieving a day’s supply at best for the three regions, a much bigger concerted effort is needed. Masks are not expensive, this could be done for perhaps a billion dollars per month once scaled up. That is only $3 per American per month. We can do that.

Obviously a great deal of other PPE equipment is also needed. I need not make the calculations here.

We need the federal government to immediately use its emergency wartime powers to ensure that US industry is turned to producing these supplies at prodigious rates, not just rely in imports and voluntary private businesses to supply the need. After resisting the need for widespread mask wearing, it is time for the US to take this step before we consider partially reopening the economy.


April 19, 2020 COVID

It is clear that the US is not yet testing enough people for COVID-19 virus or antibodies. Here are two good links on the subject.

April 17, 2020 COVID

New BU working paper draft is posted here.


Randall P. Ellis and Giovanna Marcolongo

Boston University, Department of Economics

April 17, 2020

Key message: Early PPP funding does not target the occupations most affected by the COVID-19 shutdown

Figure 2 summarizes the key findings of a new poll of 13 labor and health economists from April 3 to April 10 conducted by the authors about rates of job and income loss of employees by occupation (including seasonal and less than full time workers).












Overall, we calculate that the two-month income losses from the pandemic are $485 billion and argue that the most impacted occupations may be least able to benefit from the PPP loan program.

See the short paper linked here for more.





I have shared a lot of articles and blogs on COVID-19. This BUHealth post puts them all in one place, with updating at the top.

Favorite links if you have not already viewed them.

Tomas Pueyo's March 19 article in the Medium: Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance.

The best source of up-to-date statistics I have found is on COVID19 is which gives daily updates and documents its sources.

COVID-19: An illustrated scientific summary 8 minute video

New York Times interactive figures are updated daily for the world and individual US states.

April 14, 2020 Herd immunity

Jeff Howe from the Boston Globe on April 11, 2020 summarized Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch modeling in a very direct, if unpleasant way. It is worth a read if you want to know what a top epidemiologist thinks.

The only way this ends: herd immunity

"This is the simple, scary math that Harvard epidemiologists Marc Lipsitch and his colleague Yonatan Grad have tried to convey in a series of recently published papers: If each person infected with COVID-19 disease in turn infects three more, as we now think, then in order to bring the disease to heel, Grad says, two of those people must already be immune."

Currently we are hunkering down with less than 3% of people ever infected everywhere.

The figures in the Boston Globe article are easier to interpret than the three linked academic papers. Worth a sobering read if you care to.

This opinion piece by Marc Lipsitch in the NYTimes on 4/13/2020 is on a similar vein, and also presents evidence on how well people acquire immunity from exposure. Immunity appears not to be complete but only 80 – 90%.

My own belief is that the epidemiologists are perhaps too pessimistic about the assumption and implications. My reading is that good masks (see earlier posts below on Stanford study) reduce infection rates by 70 to 95%, so if everyone wore masks routinely, and also washed hands regularly, the infection rate need not multiply as rapidly as modeled for much of the population, which they max out at a 60% reduction. This points to the importance of high quality, comfortable and hence widely worn, personal protective equipment (PPE).

The biggest short run hope is not vaccination, but PPE, physical distancing, crowd avoidance, and above all effective palliative and treatment drugs so that the infectiousness and death rates can be brought way down. As an analogy, we have never found a fully effective vaccine for malaria, and malaria is still a potential risk even in the US (and Spain and Italy), but we now have very effective prevention methods and treatments for it, so that rates of reinfection are low here and deaths and serious cases rare. The Jeff Howe 4/11 Boston Globe article mentions that 40 different drugs have been approved for clinical trials in the US. These are treatment drugs, not vaccines. If at least one of them is highly effective, then we would free up a lot of ICU beds, reduce pain and deaths, a make us all a lot less fearful of the disease.  By focusing on already existing drugs, we have a much better chance of one becoming available sooner. This give me hope, because the infection simulations and impacts on the economy do not look good without this.

Also giving me hope is that several health economists are coming out with behavioral models that may do a better job at building in feedback loops than the existing epidemiological models that I have seen.

Hope for a COVID-19 vaccine — a conversation with David Spiegel

April 11, 2020 Birdwatching in Newton

Today my wife and I took our dog for a walk at Brayburn Country club and saw eighteen species of birds. Most notable were a pair of bluebirds, a pair of green-winged teal, and two magnificent male wood ducks.  Also seen today were turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, mallard ducks, Canadian geese, chipping sparrow, house sparrow, grackle, starling, mourning dove, chickadee, robin, goldfinch, white-breasted nuthatch, red-bellied woodpecker, chestnut-sided warbler, and at our feeder pine warbler, two turkeys, (including a Tom on full display), cardinal, junco, blue jay, house finch, gray squirrel, and chipmunk.   Fun to see 20+ species on a casual day near home. Our winter viewings since COVID-19 quarantine is now 36 species.

April 10, 2020 Happy Holidays to all!

700 inspiring children's voices from Italy:

I pass along the holiday greetings of my friend Shuli Brammli of Israel

Dear Friends,

This week we are entering a period when the three religions are celebrating their spring holidays. One by one we celebrate Passover, followed by Easter and then by Ramadan Kareem of our brothers the Muslims. We don’t know much yet about the consequence of this Epidemic that we all experience. But one fact is undeniable. We all live in one small world and there is no other world for us. It is too small to be ignored. I hope that we will be smart enough to learn the lesson from this, and that we will be kinder to each other and compassionate, promote social support and mutual guarantee within our society as well as between our countries. I wish you all the best for you and your beloved ones.

Happy holidays


April 10, 2020 BU to Open Fenway Campus to Pine Street Inn homeless shelter employees

I was proud to see BU offering their empty dorms to the homeless shelter staff, some of whom are themselves homeless.

Now is a good time to give to Pine Street Inn (homeless shelter) and the Greater Boston Food Bank  (wholesale food pantry) donations or your own local shelters and pantries.

April 10, 2020 More on job impacts of COVID pandemic

There is an important article by Noam Levy at the LA Times that is worth a careful read.

Coronavirus already changing medical care in the U.S.

Here are a few sentences.

"Primary care doctors have seen a big uptick in telehealth visits — a move widely hailed by public health experts. However, the fees for these services are often lower than for office visits. Many physician practices have seen in-person patient visits drop 50% or even 75%. That has left physicians struggling to stay afloat and forced growing numbers to consider laying off staff or even closing their doors. Nearly 8 in 10 primary care clinicians in one recent survey reported their practice is under “severe” or “close to severe” strain due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Stunning survey results from a Seton Hall Sports Poll conducted on Thursday.

Vast majority of Americans would not attend games without coronavirus vaccine, poll says

"Seventy-two percent of Americans said they would stay away from a sports event if it were held before a vaccine is developed. Even if the seating arrangements allowed for social distancing, just 12 percent would be comfortable with that setup."

Also revealing was yesterday's Boston Globe report on tech industries in Massachusetts.

More job cuts hit Boston’s tech sector as coronavirus effects spread

A few selected quotes.

"Toast, the maker of popular software and systems used by the restaurant industry, said late Tuesday that it was laying off over 1,000 employees, reducing its workforce by about half through layoffs and furloughs. The company said that restaurant revenues have declined by 80 percent since state and local officials began shutting down businesses nationwide, and “our success is tightly coupled with the success of the restaurant industry."

", Zipcar, Hopper, and Wanderu have all cut back workers as travel restrictions have decimated the industry. At Logan Airport, the number of passengers fell by 93 percent between March 23 and 29, compared to the same period last year, according to the latest Massport data."

This NY Times article on inequality also speaks to the huge inequality of burdens.

April 8, 2020 JAMA Network Open paper published!

Although tangential to this COVID blog, the big news for me on April 8 was the appearance of my first first-authored paper in JAMA. It is worth a click if you understand the importance of disease tracking over time.

JAMA Network Open  (Open means it is free to all viewers)

Original Investigation Health Policy April 8, 2020

Diagnostic Category Prevalence in 3 Classification Systems Across the Transition to the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification

Randall P. Ellis, PhD; Heather E. Hsu, MD, MPH; Chenlu Song, MA; Tzu-Chun Kuo, PhD; Bruno Martins, PhD; Jeffrey J. Siracuse, MD, MBA; Ying Liu, MA; Arlene S. Ash, PhD

Question  Was the US transition from ICD-9-CM to ICD-10-CM in October 2015 associated with dramatic changes in diagnostic category prevalence in various classification systems?

Answer: YES. See the paper’s figures to see how much.

It has been a long time coming, but here it is! We didn’t like the title either, but JAMA insisted. This is the first publication from our ICD10 project. We use 1.2 billion data points for the figures, which are the best thing to look at.

April 8, 2020 Humor #2

Introverts and Extroverts

Humor #2 in figures.

Words of wisdom from Richard G Ellis:

Stay inside + Stay healthy = Stay Stealthy!

Interminable meetings.

April 7, 2020 Economic effects.

The Economist, March 25, 2020:

Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI), April 4, 2020:

McKinsey Insights:

April 6, 2020 pets can get infected

There is now significant evidence that pets, such as dogs and cats can become infected with SARS-CoV-2, however no evidence yet over whether they can infect humans through the air. But it seems likely. Here is the evidence from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). I personally will not stop petting our dog, and will consider her part of the family who is at risk of exposure if any of us become ill. We no longer let her get close to any other dogs or people, so she is like other members of our family.


April 6, 2020 Effectiveness of different types of homemade mask materials.

Stanford medical school site. Key figure.

Stanford Mask Effectiveness 2020

Adapted from Davies et al 2013


April 6, 2020. How to sanitize masks against viruses.

The link on the previous posting from Stanford includes advice for achieving medical quality sterilizatoin of N95 masks. Here is the key table.

Their key finding is don't use bleach or alcohol to sterilize masks since it can change how well they filter or the difficulty breathing. heating anything in an oven to 160 for 30 minutes will kill the virus.

My reading is that for cloth masks, where you want adequate but not surgical safety, any of the following should work

Running them through a load of wash, where the soap will remove the germs to practical levels.

Put them in a dryer at high temperature for ten minutes.

Put in hot or boiling (not recommended for many rubber or stretchy attachments, however).

Leaving things out in the direct sun for a half hour works because of UV light.

Or leaving them unused for a five days will also kill COVID germs (but not necessarily other germs).

The other key advice is not to reuse or handle used masks. Treat them as if they are used tissues. If you have been around anyone who is infectious, and your mask has done its job and filtered/caught any bad germs, then you don't want to be touching the germs or reattaching them to your face. best is to have several and just routinely use a different one once you have been out with one.

April 6, 2020 Sewing your own fabric mask from the NY Times

This requires having a sewing machine to make several well.You probably have a friend or neighbor happy to give or sell you one for a donation to a good cause.

In a pinch, the following simple technique could also be  effective if bulkier in areas where it is not too hot.

Find a 100% cotton T-shirt and a black binder clip. Put the whole T-shirt over your head and use the binder clip (or a safety pin) to shrink the size of the head hole to be snug around your nose and mouth, leaving the rest of the shirt just hanging around your neck. When done visiting the store, throw shirt in a plastic bag, wash your hands, and be sure to launder the t shirt before the next use.  Keep several T-shirts handy.

Any face mask will only work if you actually wear it... Half (?) of its effectiveness is probably from the reduced ability to touch your mouth and nose. Wear glasses or goggles to also reduce eye touching.


April 4, 2020

The media is full of predictions of the date on which rates of hospitalizations, and deaths will peak. Many of them are informed by the model from IHME, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which is led by Christopher Murray, a well regarded health economist and MD, now an adjunct professor at the University of Washington. He is best known for his work calculating the burdens of disease for WHO and the World Bank. IHME are updating their predictions for COVID-19 every few days.

COVID-19 projections assuming full social distancing through May 2020

There is a research paper in draft form linked here.

I think this comment below on that paper sums up well the weaknesses of this method. Murray uses a simple parametric model, and assumes that the rate of new infections will be a symmetric Gaussian sigmoid function. There is no evidence that the decline will be symmetric with the rise, and indeed the evidence from South Korea is that it does not return to a zero rate, but rather to a low, but still growing rate of growth. So I do not place a lot of faith in the predictions other than that in the short term we are in for some very difficult times. States that started lock down earlier will face less exposure. Those that have yet to start, could be in for a much higher mortality. For reasons discussed below, I do not believe the China rates of extremely low deaths recently are entirely reliable. There is reason to believe that they have been concealing deaths.



While it is easy to be critical, no one really knows what the right hand tail will look like, and I do not know any other model that is worried about short term forecasts as much as this one.

The bottom line of their model, as of today 3/4/2020 at 12:49 pm EST is that they forecast that the US hospital bed demand will peak on April 15, 2020

Resources needed for COVID-19 patients on peak date

All beds needed: 262,092beds  implying a Bed shortage of 87,674 beds

ICU beds needed: 39,727beds implying an ICU bed shortage of 19,863beds

Invasive ventilators needed: 31,782 ventilators

He forecasts that the number of deaths will peak one day later at 2,644 per day. With eventual deaths by August 4 of 93,531.

At his last update three days ago, he raised his estimated beds needed and deaths. the web site says that it will be updating its model and predictions today, April 4.


April 4, 2020

It is only a newspaper report, but the 3/4/2020 Boston Globe had an interesting article about funerals in China, which has been receiving some attention. China is making it hard to attend an count deaths through this normal means. So people have been using other methods.


Below is the relevant text to me. Two different estimation techniques both give much higher estimates of death. Note that the current death count in China is still only 3,326. Only slightly more than Iran, another country that people question: how could they be so successful?

“Long lines have been forming at funeral homes in Wuhan over the past two weeks, as family members have been informed they may collect their loved ones’ remains ahead of Tomb-Sweeping Day. Some waited six hours to collect an urn, then the ashes.

The Hankou Funeral Parlor’s crematorium was operating 19 hours a day, with male staff enlisted to help carry bodies. In just two days, the home received 5,000 urns, the magazine Caixin reported.

Using photos posted online, social media sleuths have estimated that Wuhan funeral homes had returned 3,500 urns a day since March 23. That would imply a death toll in Wuhan of about 42,000 — or 16 times the official number. Another widely shared calculation, based on Wuhan’s 84 furnaces running nonstop and each cremation taking an hour, put the death toll at 46,800.

Wuhan residents say the activities belie the official statistics. ‘‘It can’t be right . . . because the incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died?’’ a man, identified only by his surname of Zhang, told Radio Free Asia.

US intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded that China’s numbers are much lower than they are in reality.”

Let me note that these reports on urns and cremations might also be biased, reflecting misinformation. I won’t speculate on how or why.

I myself look at South Korea as the country most likely to have a reasonable trend. They are showing a reduction to less than new 100 cases a day, with deaths hovering around 10 per day. Even scaled up for the US, that is a level that buys us time until we get a virus. That seems credible to me.

April 3, 2020

This 8 minute video produced gives the best scientific overview of COVID19, and I am sending it out to my full set of BUHealth recipients. It is accessible and would be understood even by an intelligent child, although complex topic.

As before, I am posting my other updates on a single blog site to not overwhelm people

COVID-19: An illustrated scientific summary

COVID-19: An illustrated scientific summary

A Yale grad student explains the basic biology of COVID-19 infection and transmission — and why social distancing measures can flatten the curve.


April 3+, 2020 Humor

Links that will make you smile.

Two more fun links.

Horse with no name (30 seconds)

Testicles (30 seconds)

Two Facebook links:

Cute puppy. (2 minutes)

Italian pianist. (3 minutes)


April 3, 2020

Yesterday was a day of much bad news. First an Italian colleague and health economist stated and provided further support today, that there is evidence from Italy that health care workers who are believed to have had COVID and recovered, have become reinfected and showing new symptoms. This was also supported by news in the NY Times (source not provided) of reports coming in from Wuhan that an estimated 5-10 percent of people are becoming reinfected with the virus, after seemingly recovering.

The other bad news is that the articles in today's papers that the current COVID test used for current infections appears to have a 30% false negative rate. This is really bad because it means that after testing and sending people home, 30% may still have COVID.

More bad news is that two people I spoke with in our summer town in Maine thought that the presidents financial stimulus would not be of any value to them, for different reasons. So as I have worried, the very lowest income citizens may not be helped meaningfully by the measures taken to date.

My own "back of the envelope" calculations using my own guesses about rates of job loss and lost income suggest that US income during the shutdown may have fallen by 40%, with an even larger drop in spending. This is unheard of in previous recessions.


April 1, 2920

This posting from "TheLawyerBubble", which I do not know, focuses on cited quotes by Donald Trump over time which clearly show that Trump repeatedly lied to the US public and caused delay which is very costly to the US. It will mostly interest Americans, but highlights the importance of good leadership.

How many will die from Donald Trumps Lies?


March 31, 2020

John Burn-Murdock has been generating a series of excellent figures on COVID trends by country. There is a rich set in this series of Twitter feeds today. I recommend them to you.

This confirms what others have said, that there is no relation of infection rates to size of population across countries, at least for the low rates now. Ultimately population size will matter, but recall that even in the three countries with the highest rate of infections (Italy, Spain and Switzerland), the rate is only just over 150 per 100,000 which is .15%. So the saturation that slows down the rates of growth is not yet in effect. The US rate is only 39 per 100,000, which is .039%.

It is not the absolute levels that should make us scared but rather their rates of growth. If they double every 3 days, then in 30 days they will have doubled ten times and 2^10=1024. Multiply the above percentages by 1000 twice and you have everyone infected. Burn-Murdochs figures show no slowing down by population size, only by actions taken in some countries.

March 30, 2020

In case any readers are interested in doing your own empirical analysis of county rates of infectoin with COVID, the NYT might pick up if well done, they have just posted their entire dataset of county level cases and deaths from January 21 to at least March 29, 2020. Look here.

An article describing what has been posted is linked here.

Others have documented states and cities who have implemented guidelines and lockdowns. There are dozens of papers eventually to be written about all of this information.



March 30, 2020

These New York Times interactive figures and interpretation from today's Upshot are excellent.

It is clear that Korea and China have done something critical by slowing the doubling rate to once per month or less.

The US is now the laggard. But the disease always spreads faster when entering a new area and rates are low. So what will matter is how they look in areas where there has been time to respond. In a few states there is encouraging news in that the rate of doubling has slowed down to about once every month instead of every two days in the worst cases.


March 30, 2020 RE

I want to retract some of my enthusiasm in light of a link from a BU colleague.

While the news is on a larger sample of N-80, an article in today’s Science Magazine questions the reliability of the finding. It is still not a randomized controlled trial, and was done on a sample with a median age of 54, where a lower complication rate would be expected anyway.

My previous post is below.


March 30, 2020

Fabulous news just in from France. If validated, this could be a game changer for this COVID battle. N=80.

France Officially Sanctions Drug After 78 Of 80 Patients Recover From COVID-19 Within Five Days | The Daily Wire


March 30, 2020

There is also a key literature on the effects of hospital strikes on mortality. Cancelling all elective procedures and non-urgent care for COVID is a similar impact to a MD strike. This study from 2008 did a meta analysis of 156 studies of strikes from around the world, of which only 7 studies were considered high quality. These seven suggest that in every case an MD strike in the short run resulted in the same or lower overall mortality. They acknowledge that this is only the short run effect. But the cancellation of elective surgeries in the developed world tends to reduce other causes of death in the short run. Hard to build into models, but very real. Assuming zero or small negative change in the short run seems credible. More than a few weeks, who knows.'_strikes_and_mortality_A_review


March 30, 2020

Growing evidence that masks are key to containment. thank you BU alum Jing Guo for these links and text.

Wearing mask also helps us to dance well in the long run before we all can get effective vaccine. I'm glad to see more articles about wearing masks these days:


March 29, 2020

Everyone should be wearing masks when out of the home or around people at home who might be infected. Most of the west has been in error about not advocating their use.  Here is a good video.


Tomas Pueyo's COVID:Hammer and the Dance is the best overview of the issue from early this week.

The following University of Chicago article is also interesting and has much higher costs of the pandemic than some others. It does a cost effectiveness using the value of a statistical life.



The best source of up to date statistics I have found on COVID19 is

I visit it daily.

In WorldoMeter, I especially recommend the figures using the log scale on the vertical axis, so that you can quickly calculate the days before doubling or sadly the days before a ten fold increase.

As of March 27, the World is doubling every six days in terms of cases and deaths, while the US is doubling every 3.5 days. If this pattern continued for two months (60 days), then the cases and deaths from  COVID19 in the US would exceed the US's population. If we slow down to the world rate of increase the US rate would still increase by the multiple 2^10 = 1024. If the US continued at this rate, every American would be infected in 60 days (A 32,000 multiple). If we assume the US only slows down to the current world rate then the following numbers emerge. This is not a prediction, only a calculation.


World USA
Doubling time (T) in last week 6 days 3.5 days
Times doubled in 60 days (50/T) 10
Multiple after 60 days (2^(60/T))                                  1,024
today 60 days Today 60 Days
cumulative cases   596,366   610,678,784        104,126      106,625,024
cumulative deaths     27,345     28,001,280             1,696           1,736,704
Calculations based on extrapolating most recent growth paths for 60 days
Source: Worldometer

In all of World War II, there were only 405,000 American deaths.

For President Trump to assert that the worst is over and that we should reopen everything on Easter would be equivalent to announcing that WW II was over two months after the US entered the war.


Best humor.

On Mar 27, 2020, at 7:02 PM, Randy Ellis <> wrote:


I am impressed with how the Atlantic is publishing great overviews of this pandemic.

The four possible timelines for life returning to normal
The coronavirus outbreak may last for a year or two, but some elements of pre-pandemic life will likely be won back in the meantime. Read in The Atlantic:


There has been a lot of misinformation about how seasonal COVID19 is likely to be. We have no prior information, so many are looking to the seasonality of Influenza (the flu). But more informative may be that of pneumonia, since COVID mostly causes lower respiratory infections (pneumonia), not upper respiratory ones, like the flu. Some work I am doing with a team has looked at monthly diseases rates per 10,000 people on 1.2 billion US monthly observations. These four pictures tell an important story.



If it were in our data, COVID would likely be classified into this CCS disease category and are likely to have similar seasonality.



Age patterns of prior high cost pneumonia cases also display a pattern similar to COVID, and seasonality by age would be possible with our very large datasets. The following figure is based on old data, and shows rates per 100,000 people. Something similar could be done with our newer data. It would be even more interesting with All Payer Claims data, which we hope to have available for a sample of states already. Notice that older Americans have much higher rates of treated infection, and this is much more likely to be high cost when they are infected.

age1age2 age3

NY Times column: Men Call Their Own Research ‘Excellent’

This NY Times column 12/18/2019 summarizes a British Medical Journal article about bias in medical abstracts, but the same could be done for economics journals, I am sure. Worth the five minutes to read. Bottom line: Women should brag more, and editors and reviewers should get men to tone it down.

Men Call Their Own Research ‘Excellent’

Women do so much less often. And it’s not because their work isn’t as good.

by anupam b. jena, marc lerchenmueller and olav sorenson

Below is a key figure from the BMC article showing how much more likely men are to use 25 positive words.

Gender differences in how scientists present the importance of their research: observational study

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 16 December 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6573

Gender differences in positive presentation

Figure 2 ranks individual positive words in descending order in terms of prevalence and compares the proportion of articles using each word in which the first and last author were both women with the proportion of articles in which the first and/or last author was a man. The most commonly used positive word was “novel” (used in 44.8% of positively framed articles). Articles with a male first and/or last author used the word 59.2% (95% confidence interval 48.8% to 69.6%) more often than articles with female first and last authors.

Gender differences in positive presentation of clinical research articles according to specific positive words, based on 101 720 articles during 2002-17.

Guidance for a Constructive Culture of Exchange, plus two addenda

This blog contains the excellent advice of Nancy Rose to MIT faculty and students, along with my own two addenda on Etiquette and Advice to Presenters. Here is a pdf version if you wish to print and post or forward it.

Subject:           Some guidance for our upcoming seminars

Date:   Tue, 22 Jan 2019 10:11:02 -0500

From: Nancy Rose <>

To:       All faculty, visitors and graduate students


Dear Faculty and Student Colleagues,

Many of us have been thinking about how we can respond, individually and as a department, to concerns about the climate of the economics profession, and how best to affirm our mutual commitment to a supportive environment that empowers each of us to realize our full potential and contribute the best of our talents.

As one step in that ongoing effort, I am writing to share with you some guidance in advance of our department’s job market talks, which begin tomorrow.  These are not meant as rules written in stone.  But I hope they will prompt each of us to reflect on how we can ensure – in seminars and in our departmental interactions more generally – that MIT Economics combines intellectual vitality with an inclusive and respectful environment in which to exchange ideas and advance knowledge.

I hope that each of you will join me in making sure that our department’s seminar culture not only achieves our shared goals for job market seminars, but also serves as a role model for others.  I welcome feedback at the conclusion of our hiring season, as we continue our efforts to sustain a welcoming environment for all.

Thank you for your engagement on this important issue--

Guidance for a Constructive Culture of Exchange in MIT Economics Seminars

Research seminars are one of the highlights of our department’s academic life.  They provide opportunities for participants to learn about and probe the boundaries of new research, for presenters to gain the benefit of constructive feedback, and for students to develop skills as participants in research discussions.  All of these are best achieved when the seminar environment is respectful and inclusive, and when all participants keep these goals in mind.

Building on recent discussions at the AEA meetings and elsewhere on the culture of seminars in our profession, and informed by a number of conversations with our faculty and students, this memo shares some guidance for “best practices” to help ensure that department seminars promote an open and vibrant exchange of ideas within a positive environment for both presenters and participants.

1)    Allow presenters time at the beginning to frame their talk without interruption.  A “10 minute rule” has been successfully implemented in several field seminars, allowing only brief clarifying questions during this initial period. And as that leaves 70 more minutes, please don’t feel you must get all your questions in at minute 11!

2)    Share the floor. Please remember seminar time is a scarce resource.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the paper, please try to determine whether the paper addresses your question before you ask it.  If you have already asked several questions, you might consider allowing a bit of time and space to see if others wish to contribute.

3)    Raise your hand to indicate that you wish to ask a question or contribute to the discussion.  This gives the presenter agency to mediate the discussion by calling on audience members, and avoids interrupting the presenter mid-thought, a courtesy that may be especially appreciated in job talks.  If the presenter doesn’t see someone’s hand, the organizer can help by pointing that out.  A question or comment often leads naturally to some back and forth exchange with the speaker.  But if you continue to be dissatisfied with a response, please don’t hold the talk hostage.  Instead, allow the presenter to move on, and follow up offline.  Please make every effort not to interrupt or talk over the presenter or another participant.

4)    Avoid sidebar conversations with other participants.  Keep whispers to no more than a short (clarifying) question or response.  Anything more should be deferred or asked publicly; please raise your hand and share your question or concern for the benefit of all.   Even quiet sidebar conversations between participants rarely are as unobtrusive as intended, and distract the speaker and others in the audience.

5)    Strive for fair and equal treatment.  Many studies suggest that women are likely to be interrupted more often than are men in settings like this.  The same may be true for softer-spoken participants regardless of gender.  Resist contributing to that disparity!

6)    Organizers: Please be prepared to intervene in real time if necessary to call attention to someone whose raised hand has been overlooked, to return the floor to the presenter, or to remind participants of our norms of courtesy and respect.

Thank you!

Nancy L. Rose

Department Head and Charles P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics


MIT Department of Economics

The Morris and Sophie Chang Building, E52-318A

50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA  02142

(617) 253-8956



Addendum to Nancy Rose’s excellent email. Randy Ellis, March, 2019


Common Courtesies

7) Show up on time for the seminar.

8) Stay until the end of the seminar. If you must leave early, it is much more polite if you arrive early and privately tell the speaker that you have another commitment and will have to leave promptly at time X:XX.

9) Mute your cell phone. (If you are presenting, you could intentionally do this just before your talk, even if it was already mute, to signal to others that they should remember to do that as well.)

10) No answering phone calls in the seminar room. If you do answer a cell phone call (from vibrate mode!!!) never talk until you have left the seminar room. Mute or hang up and call back later, or make the caller wait ten seconds while you leave the room.

11) No email or web surfing in the front three rows. If you plan to be looking at your cellphone or laptop or read papers during a talk: a) try not to, or b) sit in the back of the room.

->I was at a seminar in Spain given by a woman, and every man in the room was checking their cellphone or laptop for messages, while only one of the ten women were. This was not a coincidence.

12) No napping. If you are prone to napping or had a bad night’s sleep, sit in the back of the room or don’t come.

13) Keep questions brief. Many professors think they are making brilliant comments, which others feel are bad or unnecessarily long. Err on the side of too few, and ask questions instead of giving advice.)

14) Write down your thoughts.  If you have a lot of comments or uncertainties about a presentation, write them down. Discuss or give them to the presenter at the end of the talk. Most presenters are delighted to get constructive comments after their talk.

->I have always been immensely grateful to Daniel McFadden, who instead of interrupting my job market paper presentation, gave me a page of very high-quality comments.

15) No questions during the final three minutes. Let the presenter summarize and conclude the presentation.



Randall P. Ellis, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Economics, Boston University     Off: +1 617-353-2741


Advice to presenters facing inappropriate, intrusive or awkward questions, by Randy Ellis November 2019

  1. Don’t recognize any hands up or intrusions when still on your introductory few slides or five minutes. Nod them away or if rude, say “Please let me finish my overview first.” Then finish your overview while trying to anticipate questions.
  2. Never interrupt your talk in the middle of a sentence to react to a person raising their hand. Finish your sentence.
  3. Nod at someone who has their hand up to recognize them and then return later (hopefully soon) to let them ask their question.
  4. Try to give succinct answers, saving your own time.
  5. It is OK to say “I don’t know” for a factual question. Just not too often. Avoid speculation.
  6. If lots of hands go up, try to choose someone who has not already spoken. Also, take it as a signal that you have just said something confusing and try to clarify it.
  7. Learn to distinguish a comment (or suggestion) from a question.
  8. Try to have the confidence to move on with a comment rather than a question. Just say “Interesting comment” or “Thank you.” Others who agree that the comment is a tangent or of secondary importance, or rude, will respect, not disrespect, you for this.
  9. Take the comments and questions of junior faculty and people in your field more seriously than those of old farts.
  10. Restate a question if it is unclear and answer your version. Also, restate it if it was said too quietly.
  11. Be willing to repeat something you have already said, in a slightly different way, to try to improve comprehension.
  12. Try to use specific examples to motivate concepts: Pizza rather than good Q, Bart instead of Agent J.
  13. Pick on someone in the audience if it will add humor and concreteness.
  14. Feel free to say “That is a good question. I will get to that in a few more slides. Ask again if I don’t.”
  15. If the question is tangential to the point you are making in your paper, consider saying “That is an interesting point, perhaps we can discuss it after the seminar.”
  16. Writing down new ideas is a good idea, but not if the point is something obvious you should have already thought of, which makes you look foolish. Even if you already know about the idea, acknowledging the idea, such as by writing down a single word, may be good.
  17. Ask a coauthor, colleague, or friend in the audience to take notes. Tracking your time on the intro/data/ methods/results/extensions/conclusions is also helpful.
  18. Don’t say too often: “That is a really good question.” If so, you should have answered it already.
  19. If someone else is giving a very long speech, and you think others will recognize that it is inappropriate or too long, be willing to interrupt or cut it short. “I think I get what you are saying…”
  20. Don’t allow faculty sitting in the front row to ask you private questions that everyone can’t hear or understand. Interrupt them and say “Could you please speak up so that others can hear you.”
  21. If you feel that the questions have interrupted you too much to finish your talk, say “I see my time is running short. I need the next few minutes to cover XXX (my methods or results or conclusions or whatever) without interruption and get back on track." You can do this before the final five minutes.
  22. Try not to be snarky, dismissive or rude. Strive to be gracious and open to suggestions.
  23. Assume you will have intrusions and plan a shorter talk with extra bonus slides if you have time.
  24. Assume you won’t have enough time to cover sensitivity analysis and extensions and plan accordingly.
  25. Always take your final three minutes without interruptions. Tell the audience you need to do that to finish your talk. Have a strong conclusion to use, even if you didn’t finish your results.
  26. Be sure your name is on the final slide. Don’t just show “Thank You,” but rather show your name. affiliation and paper title, as on your first slide. If you end on your conclusions, include your name. It is the single most important thing you want people to remember.
  27. Pay attention to other strong presenters (men and women) and try to imitate them.

Randall P. Ellis, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Economics, Boston University     Off: +1 617-353-2741

Recognizing Mentoring

A colleague W. David Bradford wrote the following article about me for the "Great Mentors" series they are running in the ASHEcon Newsletter, which is published by the American Society of Health Economists. Flattering, and very satisfying. Perhaps it will inspire more people to become great mentors.

Great Mentors: Randy Ellis

The full newsletter is here.

Joining ASHEcon is also a good idea. Only $40 a year for students. $95 for everyone else, and it includes a free AJHE subscription!

I hope to see you at the next ASHEcon conference in St. Louis, June 7-10.

Congratulations on BU’s 66 presentations/coauthorships/chairs/discussants at 2020 ASSA in San Diego

Dear colleagues, students, alumni, and friends.

The preliminary program is out for the Allied Social Sciences Association (ASSA) meeting to be held in San Diego California this January 3-6, 2020, commonly known as the AEA meetings (American Economics Association). As I have done each recent year, I tabulated all of the current BU faculty, graduate students and alumni (that I recognize) who appear in the program using their name and affiliations. This count includes authors and coautors, chairs and discussants. I apologize for inevitably missing some people, particularly alumni. Let me know and I will correct on the on line versions that appear on my web blog.

This year, despite being held in just about the most remote location possible in the continental US, BU people appear 66 times, down from last year with 87 in Atlanta. This comprises 50 appearances on the program as an author or coauthor, 6 as chairs, and 10 as discussants. The winner this year with the most appearances on the program is perennial activist Pascual Restrepo with 4 appearances, followed by a three way tie between Adam Guren, Shulamit Kahn (Questrom), and Steven Terry. There were sixteen alumni I identified who presented, which is almost certainly an undercount.

This year there are 48 distinct names appearing on the program, comprising 28 faculty, 16  alumni, and four Ph.D. candidates. Of the faculty there are 16 from CAS Economics faculty (down from 21 last year), ten from Questrom School of Business, 1 from Law, and  1 from Pardee School of Global Studies.  The growth of the Questrom faculty to ten names continues its impressive recent trend, up from 8 QSB faulty last year.

Information about the 2020 San Diego conference and registration is located here.

Employer Hotel Suite Reservations open on Tuesday September 10th 2019 at 11:00am EDT, and

General Attendee ASSA Registration and Hotel Reservations open on Thursday September 19th 2019 at 11:00am EDT.

Preferred hotels usually are booked within the first ten minutes!

If you are in the area (even if you do not attend the ASSA) you are invited to the Boston University Economics Department Reception

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM  Marriott Marquis San Diego, Mission Hills City View

It is not too early to begin planning your paper submissions to the next two ASSA meetings, which are much more convenient and likely cheaper than San Diego:

January 3-5,  2021 Chicago, IL

January 7-9, 2022 Boston, MA


In the summary below I only show the authors affiliated with BU, without showing the other authors on papers. The ASSA does not distinguish the presenter from the list of coauthors. BU alumni have a non-BU affiliation shown.

Session: Central Banking 
Friday, Jan. 3, 8:00 AM, Marriott Marquis San Diego, Point Loma Pool View
Central Bank Policies and Financial Markets: Lessons from the Euro Crisis
(co-)author Ashoka Mody, Princeton University
Session: Education and Religion 
Friday, Jan. 3, 8:00 AM, , Marriott Marquis San Diego, Balboa City View
Discussant: Samuel Bazzi, Boston University
Human Capital and the Persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany
(co-)author Sharun Mukand, University of Warwick
Session: Empirical Research on Automation and “Smart” Technologies 
Friday, Jan. 3, 8:00 AM, Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marriott Grand Ballroom 10
Chair:  James Bessen, Boston University
Competing with Robots: Micro Evidence from France
(co-)author Pascual Restrepo, Boston University
Automatic Reaction – What Happens to Workers at Firms that Automate?
(co-)author James Bessen, Boston University
Session: Gender in the Innovation Economy 
Discussant: Jeff Furman, Boston University
Session: Gendered Effects of Social Norms and Institutions 
Friday, Jan. 3, 8:00 AM, Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marriott Grand Ballroom 2
Evaluating Teen Options for Preventing Pregnancy: Impacts and Mechanisms
(co-)author Dara Lee Luca, Mathematica Policy Research
Session: Innovation, Productivity and Regulation 
 Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM , Marriott Marquis San Diego, San Diego A
Declining Business Dynamism: Sources and Productivity Implications
(co-)author Jonathan Willis, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City
Session: Promoting Female Participation in Undergraduate Economics 
Friday, Jan. 3, 8:00 AM, Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marina Ballroom G
Discussant: Kasey Buckles, University of Notre Dame
Session: The Effect of Immigrants on Economic and Political Outcomes in the United States 
Friday, Jan. 3, 8:00 AM, Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marina Ballroom D
Discussant: Daniele Paserman Boston University
Immigration, Innovation and Growth
(co-)author Tarek Hassan, Boston University
(co-)author Lisa Tarquinio, Boston University
(co-)author Stephen J. Terry, Boston University
Session: Mutual Funds: New Perspectives
     Friday 10:15am; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Seaport F; Hosted By: American Finance Association
The Allocation of Talent across Mutual Fund Strategies
(co-)author: Andrea Buffa, Boston University
(co-)author: Apoorva Javadekar, Indian School of Business
Session: Real Estate and Housing Finance
     Friday 12:30pm; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Coronado A; Hosted By: American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association & American Finance Association
Discussant: Adam Guren, Boston University
Session: Advances in Measuring Firm-Level Uncertainty
     Friday 2:30pm; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Coronado Room; Hosted By: American Economic Association
Firm-Level Risks and Effects of Brexit
(co-)author: Tarek Hassan, Boston University
Session: New Approaches to Measuring Technology and Innovation
     Friday 2:30pm; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Presidio 1 - 2; Hosted By: American Economic Association & Committee on Economic Statistics
Discussant: Pascual Restrepo, Boston University
Session: Provider Decision-Making and Productivity in Health Care
     Friday 2:30pm; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marriott Grand Ballroom 4; Hosted By: American Economic Association
What Does Health Care Billing Cost, and Why Does It Matter?
(co-)author: Adam Shapiro, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
Path Dependency in Physician Decision-Making
(co-)author: Han Ye, National University of Singapore
Session: Econometrics of Networks
     Friday 2:30pm; Marriott Marquis San Diego, La Costa Water View; Hosted By: Econometric Society
Nonlinear Factor Models for Network and Panel Data
(co-)author: Mingli Chen, University of Warwick
(co-)author: Ivan Fernandez-Val, Boston University
Session: Fertility in a Changing Environment: Climate Change, Migration, and Social Networks
     Saturday, 8:00am; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Mission Beach A; Hosted By: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association
Social Networks and Women’s Reproductive Health Choices in India
(co-)author: Mahesh Karra, Boston University
Session: Achievement Tests I: On the Validity of Comparisons across Cohort, Grade, and Subject
     Saturday, 8:00am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Rancho Santa Fe 2; Hosted By: American Economic Association
Chair: Kevin Lang, Boston University
Is Intervention Fadeout a Scaling Artefact?
(co-)author: Timothy N. Bond, Purdue University
(co-)author: Kevin Lang, Boston University
Session: Identification in Macro-Finance: Recent Advances
     Saturday, 8:00am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marina Ballroom F; Hosted By: American Economic Association
What Do We Learn from Cross-Sectional Empirical Estimates in Macroeconomics?
(co-)author: Adam Guren, Boston University
Session: Asset Valuation in Economies with Production
     Saturday, 8:00am; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Seaport B; Hosted By: American Finance Association
Discussant: Stephen J. Terry, Boston University
Session: Networks, Connections, and Firms
     Saturday, 8:00am; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Harbor A; Hosted By: American Finance Association
The Network of Firms Implied by the News
(co-)author: Hannan Zheng, Boston University
(co-)author: Gustavo Schwenkler, Boston University

 Session: Current Topics in Health and Public Economics
     Saturday, 8:00am; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Cortez Hills C; Hosted By: Chinese Economic Association in North America
Chair: Ching-to Albert Ma, Boston University
Changing Preferences: An Experiment and Estimation of Market-Incentive Effects on Altruism
(co-)author: Undral Byambadalai, Boston University
(co-)author: Ching-to Albert Ma, Boston University
Session: Gender and Careers
     Saturday, 8:00am; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Harbor E; Hosted By: Labor and Employment Relations Association
Information Provision and Gender Differences in Negotiation: Evidence from Business Majors
(co-)author: Patricia Cortes, Boston University
Session: Wage Structure, Covenants Not to Compete, and Nonwage Benefits
     Saturday, 8:00am; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Harbor F; Hosted By: Labor and Employment Relations Association
Discussant: Shulamit Kahn, Boston University
Session: Interventions to Close Gender Gaps – What Works and What Can Backfire
     Saturday, 10:15am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marriott Grand Ballroom 3; Hosted By: American Economic Association
Banning Negotiation: Is Wage Dispersion Maintained When Left to Manager Discretion?
(co-)author: Rania Gihleb, University of Pittsburgh
Session: Real Effects of Non-Rational Expectations
     Saturday, 10:15am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marriott Grand Ballroom 13; Hosted By: American Economic Association
Real Credit Cycles
(co-)author: Stephen J. Terry, Boston University
Session: R&D, Patents, and Innovation
     Saturday, 10:15am; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Seaport H; Hosted By: American Finance Association
Benchmarking United States University Technology Commercialization Efforts: A New Approach
(co-)author: Arvids Ziedonis, Boston University
Session: Labor Share
     Saturday, 10:15am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Catalina Water View; Hosted By: Econometric Society
Automation and New Tasks: How Technology Displaces and Reinstates Labor
(co-)author: Pascual Restrepo, Boston University
Session: Cash Holdings, Investment, and Firm Dynamics
     Saturday, 10:15am; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Ocean Beach; Hosted By: International Society for Inventory Research
Customers and Retailer Growth
(co-)author: Raviv Murciano-Goroff, Boston University
Session: Economics of Payments
     Saturday, 2:30pm; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Del Mar Water View; Hosted By: American Economic Association
Chair: Marc S. Rysman, Boston University
Session: Is United States Deficit Policy Playing with Fire?
     Saturday, 2:30pm; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marriott Grand Ballroom 3; Hosted By: American Economic Association
Chair: Laurence Kotlikoff, Boston University
Leveraging Posterity's Prosperity
(co-)author: Laurence Kotlikoff, Boston University
Session: The Race between Education and Technology Revisited
     Saturday, 2:30pm; Marriott Marquis San Diego, San Diego B; Hosted By: American Economic Association
Automation, New Tasks, and Inequality
(co-)author: Pascual Restrepo, Boston University
Session: Structural Models of Credit Risk
     Saturday, 2:30pm; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Harbor A; Hosted By: American Finance Association
A Unified Model of Distress Risk Puzzles
(co-)author: Dirk Hackbarth, Boston University
Session: Housing and Financial Stability
     Saturday, 2:30pm; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Cardiff Water View; Hosted By: Econometric Society
The Effect of Foreclosures on Homeowners, Tenants, and Landlords
(co-)author: Adam Guren, Boston University
Session: Experimental Evidence: From the ACA to New Drugs
     Saturday, 2:30pm; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Solana Beach AB; Hosted By: Health Economics Research Organization & American Economic Association
Nudging Take-up of Subsidized Insurance: Evidence from Massachusetts
(co-)author: Keith Ericson, Boston University
(co-)author: Tim Layton, Harvard University
Session: Labor Force, Productivity, and Mobility
     Saturday, 2:30pm; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Harbor F; Hosted By: Labor and Employment Relations Association
The Structural Decline in Job Turnover since 2000: Disequilibrium or New Normal?
(co-)author: Shulamit Kahn, Boston University
(co-)author: Yeseul Hyun, Boston University
Session: Changes in Occupations and Jobs
     Sunday 8:00am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Presidio 2; Hosted By: American Economic Association
Occupational Mobility in a Changing Labor Market: Upward Climbs or Crooked Paths?
(co-)author: Shulamit Kahn, Boston University
(co-)author: Yeseul Hyun, Boston University
Session: The Economics of Privacy
     Sunday 8:00am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marriott Grand Ballroom 12; Hosted By: American Economic Association
The Deadweight Loss of Social Recognition
(co-)author: Robert Metcalfe, Boston University
Session: Macroeconometrics
     Sunday 8:00am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Catalina Water View; Hosted By: Econometric Society
Using Arbitrary Precision Arithmetic to Sharpen Identification Analysis for DSGE Models
(co-)author: Zhongjun Qu, Boston University
(co-)author: Denis Tkachenko, National University of Singapore
Session: Testing in Incomplete and Complete Models
     Sunday 8:00am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, La Costa Water View; Hosted By: Econometric Society
Chair: Hiroaki Kaido, Boston University
Robust Likelihood-Ratio Tests for Incomplete Economic Models
(co-)author: Hiroaki Kaido, Boston University
(co-)author: Yi Zhang, Jinan University
Session: Economic Consequences of Immigration Policy
     Sunday 10:15am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Santa Rosa; Hosted By: American Economic Association
Discussant: Patricia Cortes, Boston University
Session: Gender Differences in Career Progression
     Sunday 10:15am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marriott Grand Ballroom 3; Hosted By: American Economic Association
Discussant: Robert Metcalfe, Boston University
Session: Labor Unions in the United States
     Sunday 10:15am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marriott Grand Ballroom 1; Hosted By: American Economic Association
The Effects of Union Membership on Political Participation: Evidence from Michigan Teachers Unions after Right to Work
(co-)author: James Feigenbaum, Boston University
Session: Minimum Wages, Taxes and Low Wage Labor Markets
     Sunday 10:15am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Marina Ballroom D; Hosted By: American Economic Association
The Effects of Minimum Wage on Firm Practices and Management
(co-)author: Dara Lee Luca, Mathematica Policy Research
(co-)author: Michael Luca, Harvard Business School
Session: Entrepreneurial Finance: Risk and Return
     Sunday 10:15am; Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, Seaport F; Hosted By: American Finance Association
Entrepreneurial Experimentation and Duration
(co-)author: Jianjun Miao, Boston University
Session: Stochastic Choice and Experiments on Decision Making
     Sunday 10:15am; Marriott Marquis San Diego, Del Mar Water View; Hosted By: Econometric Society
Hard-to-Interpret Signals
(co-)author: Larry Epstein, Boston University
6 chairs
50 coauthors
10 discussants
66 appearances


End of summer reading list

Happy end of summer!

Even though the summer is winding down, it is not too late to sneak in a book or two or even keep reading them in coming weeks! Below are a few of the ones I have most enjoyed reading this summer. I recommend them all to you.

I have been relatively inactive on blogging and sending out emails this year so far, but I will have a lot more to share this fall with exciting new research and events in progress. Wishing you all well.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. Lori Gottlieb. 2019. I loved this book! It is written by a woman who started out as a script writer for Grey’s Anatomy, who started shadowing an MD in the emergency room to better write script, who went to medical school but then dropped out when she realized she really liked the personal interaction which is rare in our health care system, who then became a psychological therapist! The book blends her own therapy with discussions of many of her clients. I liked the insights about therapy and what it is trying to achieve. It will capture you and is a good one to recommend to and discuss at a book group.

Educated. Tara Westover. 2018. This memoire written by a lifelong Mormon growing up in Idaho under unimaginable living conditions who overcomes it to become a PhD success was voted the Amazon Editors' #1 Pick for the Best Book of 2018. I need not say anything more.

Becoming. Michelle Obama. 2018. I am probably the last person among my book reading friends to finally read this book. Fascinating. I really like Michelle and think she is not yet done having a big impact on the US.

Interesting article and book

I just saw the abstract below to a review article by someone I know and regard highly (Rachel Kranton) in the March 2019 Journal of Economic Literature.

I took a look at the full article(14 pages) and then bought the book on line. Then I finished reading the article (15 minutes with pondering).

The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens


(6) The Devil Is in the Details: Implications of Samuel Bowles's The Moral Economy for Economics and Policy Research
Rachel Kranton
All economists should buy and read The Moral Economy by Samuel Bowles. The book challenges basic premises of economic theory and questions policies based on monetary incentives. Incentives not only crowd out intrinsic motivations, they erode the ethical and moral codes necessary for the workings of markets. Bowles boldly suggests that successful policies must combine incentives and moral messages, exploiting complementarities between the two. This essay argues that to achieve this objective, economists must study the local institutions and social context and engage untraditional data to uncover the interplay of incentives and identity.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

The JEL article is free at the Full Text access link, or here.


The book came out in 2017, but I had not read a review. I am looking forward to reading the book.

Congratulations on BU’s 87 presentations/coauthorships/chairs/discussants at 2019 ASSA meetings

As I have done in previous years, I tabulated the names I could find from BU faculty, students, and alumni on the preliminary ASSA (Allied Social Science Associations) program for the Atlanta AEA (American Economics Association) meetings, the largest annual US gathering of economists.

BU set a new record for its presence at the 2019 ASSA/AEA (American Economics Association) meetings with BU faculty, students or alumni names appearing 87 times. This is up 22% from the 71 times in 2017 in Philadelphia, and surpases the count for the 2015 ASSA meetings, which were held in Boston, (83 appearances, with a home field advantage).

Of those 87 appearances there are

60 presenters or coauthors (up from 43 last year!) (ASSA does not differentiate coauthors from presenters in the ASSA program.)

21 discussants

6 session chairs.

Of those 87 appearances:

27 are by CAS Economics Department faculty (21 distinct economics faculty names are on the program– one more than last year!)

18 are by Questrom School of Business faculty (8 distinct names)

1 is from the BU SPH faculty

1 is by a PhD student who submitted a paper while still a student

1 is by a former MA student (poster presentation) who submitted while still a student

40 are by BU Ph.D. Alumni (Up from 22 last year!) These are clearly undercounted since it is hard to recognize all of their names.)

The busiest BU participant at the ASSA this year will be alumnus Kristopher Gerardi, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta with four roles.

Many people will be very busy at ASSA this year with three roles each Pascual Restrepo (BU Econ), Andrea Vedolin(Questrom), Evgeny Lyandres (Questrom), Keith Marzilli Ericson (Questrom),Robert Metcalfe (Questrom), Francisco Pino (U. Chile) and Jonathan Hersh (Chapman U.)

Recall that these numbers count chairs, discussants and coauthors equally. Questrom factulty were particularly active this year at getting on the ASSA program.

I apologize for any names that I have inadvertently missed, but creating this list requires looking through about 10,000 names of authors, chairs and discussants for familiar names. If you send corrections to me, I will at least correct them on my blog posting of this email, which is linked here.

The BU reception will be Saturday, January 5, 2019 from 6 to 8pm at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, room International C..All are welcome, even if you are not registered for the conference.

A detailed list of papers and names that may help with planning your travel, learning what your colleagues are up to or making corrections are below. They are sorted chronologically by time.

It is not too early to begin planning which papers you want to present at the ASSA 2020 (January 3-5, 2020 (Friday, Saturday, & Sunday)
San Diego).

Also note that the AEA registration and housing reservations will open on September 12th at 11 a.m. EDT. Link is here.

Randy Ellis

Go to to view the preliminary program.

Boston University faculty, students, and identified alumni are in bold.

Censorship (D8, O3) Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 3 Hosted By: American Economic Association

  • Chair: Francisco Pino, University of Chile
  • The Economic Effects of Catholic Church Censorship During the Counter-Reformation
  • Sascha Becker, University of Warwick
  • Francisco Pino, University of Chile
  • Jordi Vidal-Robert, University of Sydney

Bringing Economic Research into Public Policy Discussions Paper Session  Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 8 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Reforming Non-competes to Support Workers

Matthew Marx Boston University


Topics in Economic Theory I Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Intra-household Earning Distribution and Marriage Durability

Chiara Margaria, Boston University

Andrew F. Newman, Boston University


Uncertainty and Financial Markets  Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, M304 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Uncertainty, Financial Frictions, and Investment Dynamics

Simon Gilchrist, Boston University

Jae W. Sim, Federal Reserve Board

Egon Zakrajsek, Federal Reserve Board


Asset Pricing: Implications of Financial Constraints Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Hilton Atlanta, Grand Ballroom A Hosted By: American Finance Association

Model-Free International Stochastic Discount Factors

Paula Mirela Sandulescu, University of Lugano & Swiss Finance Institute

Fabio Trojani, University of Geneva and Swiss Finance Institute

Andrea Vedolin, Boston University


Macroeconomics and Housing Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Hilton Atlanta, 305 Hosted By: Chinese Economic Association in North America

Housing Wealth and Consumption: New Evidence from Household-Level Panel Data

Kristopher Gerardi, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Kyle Herkenhoff, University of Minnesota

Paul Willen, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Individual and Social Decisions Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, L507 Hosted By: Econometric Society

Chair: Bart Lipman, Boston University

Technology, Productivity, Growth, and Jobs Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A706 Hosted By: Society of Policy Modeling & American Economic Association

The Threat of Reshoring: Industrial Automation and Growth in the Emerging World

Daron Acemoglu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Pascual Restrepo, Boston University

Applications of Machine Learning in Microeconomics for Public Policy Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM  Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 7 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Cell Phone Coverage and Traffic Accidents: New Evidence Using Cell Phone Towers

Bree Lang, University of California-Riverside

Matthew Lang, University of California-Riverside

Jonathan Hersh, Chapman University

What Determines Labor Market Re-attachment? A Machine Learning Approach

Jonathan Hersh, Chapman University

Benedikt Herz, European Commission


Bree Lang, University of California-Riverside

Benedikt Herz, European Commission

Jonathan Hersh, Chapman University

Matthew Harding, University of California-Irvine

Steve Cicala, University of Chicago-Harris

Financial Innovation in Developing Countries: How Novel Savings and Loan Products Relax Liquidity Constraints and Improve Welfare Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 9 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Relaxing Borrowing Constraints in Savings Groups

Alfredo Burlando, University of Oregon

Jessica Goldberg, University of Maryland


Household Finance Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 3 Hosted By: American Economic Association

The Economic Consequences of Bankruptcy Reform

Tal Gross, Boston University

Ray Kluender, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Matthew Notowidigdo, Northwestern University

Jialan Wang, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign


Macro-Finance: Collateral and Currency Markets Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 8 Hosted By: American Economic Association


Adrien Verdelhan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NBER

Dongho Song, Boston College

Ozge Akinci, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Andrea Vedolin, Boston University


Social Norms, Female Labor Supply and the Family Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A706 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Social Norms, Labor Market Opportunities, and the Marriage Gap for Skilled Women

Marianne Bertrand, University of Chicago

Patricia Cortes, Boston University

Claudia Olivetti, Boston College

Jessica Pan, National University of Singapore


What Role (If Any) Should Economic History Play in the Training of an Economist? Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 4 Hosted By: American Economic Association

The Economic History Requirement: Past, Present, Future

Robert Margo, Boston University


Market Power and Firm Strategies in Health Insurance Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM  Hilton Atlanta, 304 Hosted By: American Society of Health Economists

Multimarket Contact in Health Insurance: Evidence from Medicare Advantage

Haizhen Lin, Indiana University

Ian McCarthy, Emory University

How Important Is Price Variation Between Health Insurers?

Stuart Craig, University of Pennsylvania

Keith Marzilli Ericson, Boston University

Amanda Starc, Northwestern University


Blockchain and Tokenomics Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, L508 Hosted By: Econometric Society

A Theory of ICOs: Diversification, Agency, and Information Asymmetry

Evgeny Lyandres, Boston University


Zhiguo He, University of Chicago

Evgeny Lyandres, Boston University

Sabrina Howell, New York University

Jiasun Li, George Mason University

Brett Green, University of California-Berkeley


Methodological Advances in IO Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International C Hosted By: Econometric Society

How Do Physicians React to Patient Costs?

Michael Dickstein, New York University

Jihye Jeon, Boston University

Eduardo Morales, Princeton University


Public Utilities II Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Hilton Atlanta, 303 Hosted By: Transportation and Public Utilities Group

Long-Term Transportation Electricity Use Considering the Effect of Autonomous-Vehicles: Estimates & Policy Observations

Peter Fox-Penner, Boston University

Will Gorman, University of California-Berkeley

Jennifer Hatch, Boston University


Gender and Identity in Developing Economies  Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 12:30 PM - 2:15 PM Hilton Atlanta, 313 Hosted By: Association for the Study of Generosity in Economics & International Association for Feminist Economics


Selim Gulesci, Bocconi University

Rebecca Thorton, University of Illinois

Alicia Adsera, Princeton University


Applied Machine Learning Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Marquis Ballroom A Hosted By: American Economic Association

Causal Impact of Democracy on Growth: An Applied Econometrics Perspective

Ivan Fernandez-Val, Boston University

Victor Chernozhukov, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Cultural Practices and Women's Lives Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A708 Hosted By: American Economic Association

The Impact of Education on Female Genital Cutting

Giulia La Mattina, University of South Florida

Elisabetta De Cao, London School of Economics

Intentional and Unintentional Effects of Safety Net Programs Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 7 Hosted By: American Economic Association


Amanda Kowalski, University of Michigan

Samuel Bazzi, Boston University

Adriana Lleras-Muney, University of California-Los Angeles


New Data and New Facts for the Global Economy Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A707 Hosted By: American Economic Association

United States Exporters: New Evidence

Stefania Garetto, Boston University

Lindsay Oldenski, Georgetown University

Nitya Pandalai­‐Nayar, University of Texas-Austin

Natalia Ramondo, University of California-San Diego


Finance and Development Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Hilton Atlanta, 205-206-207 Hosted By: American Finance Association

Capital Destruction and Economic Growth: The Effects of Sherman's March, 1850–1920

Filippo Mezzanotti, Northwestern University

James Feigenbaum, Boston University

James Lee, Cornerstone Research


Affordable Housing Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Hilton Atlanta, 215 Hosted By: American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association


Tim McQuade, Stanford University

Andrew Haughwout, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Chandler Lutz, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Kristopher Gerardi, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta


Urban and Labor Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Hilton Atlanta, 218 Hosted By: American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association

Geography and Employer Recruiting

Russell Weinstein, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign


Advances in Modeling Human Capital and Education Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, L503 Hosted By: Econometric Society

The Determinants of Teachers’ Occupational Choice

Kevin Lang, Boston University

Maria Palacios, Boston University

Affordable Care Act Issues in the Trump Era Paper Session Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Hilton Atlanta, 303 Hosted By: Health Economics Research Organization

The Trade-off between Extensive and Intensive Margin Adverse Selection in Competitive Health Insurance Markets

Timothy Layton, Harvard University

Michael Geruso, University of Texas-Austin

Mark Shepard, Harvard University


Advances in Dynamic Mechanism Design Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 2 Hosted By: American Economic Association


Juan Ortner, Boston University

Rahul Deb, University of Toronto

Christopher Sleet, Carnegie Mellon University

Xianwen Shi, University of Toronto


Corporate Borrowing Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Hilton Atlanta, 205-206-207 Hosted By: American Finance Association


Joao Santos, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Konstantin Milbradt, Northwestern University

Heather Tookes, Yale University


Central Banks’ Corporate Bond Purchases: Impact and Channels Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 8 Hosted By: American Economic Association


Andrea Vedolin, Boston University

Thomas King, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

Ralf Meisenzahl, Federal Reserve Board

Filip Zikes, Federal Reserve Board

Vacancies and Recruitment Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Grand Hall East A Hosted By: Labor and Employment Relations Association

Recruiting Intensity over the Business Cycle

Eliza Forsythe, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign

Russell Weinstein, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign


Gender in the Economics Profession I Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A706 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Does Economics Make You Sexist?

Valentina Paredes, University of Chile

  1. Daniele Paserman, Boston University & NBER

Francisco Pino, University of Chile


New Perspectives on Risk Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM  Hilton Atlanta, Grand Ballroom B Hosted By: American Finance Association

Firm-Level Political Risk: Measurement and Effects

Tarek Hassan, Boston University

Stephan Hollander, Tilburg University

Ahmed Tahoun, London Business School

Laurence van Lent, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management


The Economics of Child Health and Other Aspects of Childhood Development Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Hilton Atlanta, 309-310-311 Hosted By: International Health Economics Association


  1. Vincent Pohl, University of Georgia

Eeshani Kandpal, World Bank

Ana Balsa, University of Montevideo

David Bishai, Johns Hopkins University


Credit Markets Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, M105 Hosted By: American Economic Association

The Origins of Aggregate Fluctuations in a Credit Network Economy

Levent Altinoglu, Federal Reserve Board


Investors and Firm Market Power: Does the Source of Capital Matter? Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM  Hilton Atlanta, 209-210-211 Hosted By: American Finance Association

Common Ownership Does Not Have Anti-Competitive Effects in the Airline Industry

Patrick Dennis, University of Virginia

Kristopher Gerardi, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Carola Schenone, University of Virginia



The Value of Culture Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Hilton Atlanta, 203 Hosted By: Association of Financial Economists & American Economic Association

The Impact of Socioeconomic and Cultural Differences on Online Trade

Daniel Elfenbein, Washington University

Ray Fisman, Boston University and NBER

Brian McManus, University of North Carolina


Sovereign Debt, Capital Flows and Sudden Stops Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, L406 Hosted By: Econometric Society

Sovereign Debt Overhang, Expenditure Portfolio, and Debt Restructurings

Tamon Asonuma, International Monetary Fund

Hyungseok Joo, Wayne State University


Topics in Empirical Industrial Organization: A Structural Approach Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 2 Hosted By: Korea-America Economic Association


Ami Ko, Georgetown University

Jihye Jeon, Boston University

Myongjin Kim, University of Oklahoma

Boyoung Seo, Indiana University


Economics of Transportation II Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Hilton Atlanta, 303 Hosted By: Transportation and Public Utilities Group

Sources of Gain in Airline Merger: Evidence from China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines

Chun-Yu Ho, State University of New York-Albany

Patrick McCarthy, Georgia Tech University

Yanhao Wang, Indiana University



Preparing Undergraduates for Application to Graduate School Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 12:30 PM - 2:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A707 Hosted By: American Economic Association


Gautam Gowrisankaran, University of Arizona

Navin Kartik, Columbia University

Martin Boileau, University of Colorado Boulder

Wojciech Olszewski, Northwestern University

Daniele Paserman, Boston University


Contributed Papers in Health Economics Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 12:30 PM - 2:15 PM Hilton Atlanta, 303 Hosted By: Health Economics Research Organization

The Impacts of CMS Public Reports of Hospital Charge Data

Kathleen Carey, Boston University

Avi Dor, George Washington University
The preliminary program is now available on the website. Go to to view the preliminary program. Check your session(s) for accuracy. Email changes to by September 28th. When adding or changing participants in a session, please provide the participant's affiliation and email address.
Are Men and Women Different Economic Agents? Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A705 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Gender Differences in Job Search Behavior and the Gender Earnings Gap: Evidence from Business Majors

Patricia Cortes, Boston University

Jessica Pan, National University of Singapore

Laura Pilossoph, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Basit Zafar, Arizona State University


Automation, Jobs, and Productivity: Aggregate and Micro Evidence

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 5

Hosted By: American Economic Association

Demographics and Automation

Daron Acemoglu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Pascual Restrepo, Boston University


Seth Benzell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Devesh Raval, Federal Trade Commission

David Dorn, University of Zurich

Kristina McElheran, University of Toronto


Financial Instability and the Macroeconomy Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 8 Hosted By: American Economic Association


Alejandro Van der Ghote, European Central Bank

Monika Piazzesi, Stanford University

Simon Gilchrist, Boston University

Alberto Martin, CREI


Impacts of Family-Friendly Workplace Policies Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A707 Hosted By: American Economic Association


Betsey Stevenson, University of Michigan

Justin Wolfers, University of Michigan

Kasey Buckles, University of Notre Dame

Melissa Kearney, Universty of Maryland


Institutional Persistence and Change Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Hanover D & E Hosted By: Association for Comparative Economic Studies

From Weber to Kafka

Gabriele Gratton, University of New South Wales

Luigo Guiso , EIEF and CEPR

Claudio Michelacci, EIEF and CEPR

Massimo Morelli, Bocconi University and CEPR


Economics of Altruism: Evidence from the Field Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Hilton Atlanta, 301 Hosted By: Association for the Study of Generosity in Economics

The Welfare Effects of Social Recognition: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment with the YMCA

Luigi Butera , University of Chicago

Robert Metcalfe, Boston University

Dmitry Taubinsky, University of California-Berkeley

Economics of Altruism: Evidence from the Field Paper Session Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Hilton Atlanta, 301 Hosted By: Association for the Study of Generosity in Economics

The Welfare Effects of Social Recognition: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment with the YMCA

Luigi Butera , University of Chicago

Robert Metcalfe, Boston University

Dmitry Taubinsky, University of California-Berkeley


AEA Poster Session  Poster Session (Various times) Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Marquis Ballroom CD Hosted By: American Economic Association

Community Networks and the Growth of Private Enterprise in China (O4, L1)

Ruochen Dai, Peking University

Dilip Mookherjee, Boston University

Kaivan Munshi, University of Cambridge

Xiaobo Zhang, Peking University and IFPRI


Women's Suffrage and Political Polarization (N4, D7)

Liu Zhang, Boston University


Economic Issues Involving Race Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, M303 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Symptoms Before the Syndrome? Stalled Racial Progress and Trade in the 1970s and 1980s

Mary Kate Batistich, Purdue University

Timothy N. Bond, Purdue University

Health Care Response to Prices and Reimbursment Policies Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 4 Hosted By: American Economic Association


Seth Richards-Shubik, Lehigh University

Michael Darden, George Washington University

Haizhen Lin, Indiana University

Christopher Whaley, RAND Corporation


House Prices, Mortgages, and Monetary Policy Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A706 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Rental Markets and the Effect of Credit Conditions on House Prices

Adam Guren, Boston University

Dan Greenwald, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Finance and Resource Allocation over Space and Time Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Hilton Atlanta, Grand Ballroom A Hosted By: American Finance Association


Kumar Venkataraman, Southern Methodist University

Jawad Addoum, Cornell University

Holger Mueller, New York University

Evgeny Lyandres, Boston University


Big Data, Consumer Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 6 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Dynamic Electricity Pricing: Smart Consumers for Smart Pricing

Mar Reguant, Northwestern Univeristy

David Rapson, University of California-Davis

Natalia Fabra, University Carlos III of Madrid


Smart Thermostats, Social Information, and Energy Conservation: Distributional Evidence from a Field Experiment

Alec Brandon, University of Chicago

John A. List, University of Chicago

Robert Metcalfe, Boston University

Michael Price, University of Alabama


Development and Financial History

Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, A707 Hosted By: American Economic Association


Nancy Qian, Northwestern University

Robert Margo, Boston University

Hilary Hoynes, University of California-Berkeley

Efraim Benmelech, Northwestern University



Is it Labor Supply or Labor Demand? Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 5 Hosted By: American Economic Association


Markus Poschke, McGill University

Pascual Restrepo, Boston University

Marianna Kudlyak, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Till Von Wachter, University of California-Los Angeles


Networks Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 2 Hosted By: American Economic Association

  • Chair: Marc Rysman, Boston University


Impact of Health System Reforms Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Hilton Atlanta, 309-310-311 Hosted By: International Health Economics Association

The Effects of Social Health Insurance Expansion and Increased Choice on Perinatal Health and Health Care Use: Lessons from the Uruguayan Health Care Reform

Ana Balsa, University of Montevideo

Patricia Triunfo, University of the Republic


Marika Cabral, University of Texas-Austin

Randall P. Ellis, Boston University

David Ridley, Duke University


Determinants of Academic Persistence and Success Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM \Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 10 Hosted By: American Economic Association

Nutritional Aid Disbursement and SAT Performance

Timothy N. Bond, Purdue University

Jillian B. Carr, Purdue University

Analisa Packham, Miami University

Jonathan Smith, Georgia State University


Economics of Fertility Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 1 Hosted By: American Economic Association

  • Chair: Kasey Buckles, University of Notre Dame

Healthcare and Household Finance Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 6 Hosted By: American Economic Association

  • Chair: Keith Marzilli Ericson, Boston University

Liquidity Constraints and the Value of Insurance

Keith Marzilli Ericson, Boston University

Justin Sydnor, University of Wisconsin

Health Insurance and Housing Stability: The Effect of Medicaid Expansion on Evictions

Heidi Allen, Columbia University

Tal Gross, Boston University


Macroeconomic Implications of Debt Contracts Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Marquis Ballroom A Hosted By: American Economic Association

Housing Market

Adam Guren, Boston University

Arvind Krishnamurthy, Stanford University

Timothy McQuade, Stanford University

Borrower Behavior, and Mortgage Losses Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Hilton Atlanta, 215 Hosted By: American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association

Villains or Scapegoats? The Role of Subprime Borrowers in Driving the U.S. Housing Boom

James Conklin, University of Georgia

Scott Frame, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Kristopher Gerardi, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Haoyang Liu, Federal Reserve Bank of New York


Nonstandard Inference Methods Paper Session Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Atlanta Marriott Marquis, L503 Hosted By: Econometric Society

Inference on Winners

Isaiah Andrews, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Toru Kitagawa, University College London

Adam McCloskey, Brown University

Each person on your program that is attending the meeting must register for the meetings and pay the registration fee. The 2019 ASSA Registration and Housing is scheduled to open on September 12th.

Randall P. Ellis, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Economics, Boston University     Off: +1 617-353-2741


From: Julia Merry []
Sent: Monday, August 20, 2018 12:43 PM
To: Ellis, Randall P
Subject: [ASSA] 2019 Preliminary Program


Dear ASSA Program Participant:

The preliminary program is now available on the website. Go to to view the preliminary program. Check your session(s) for accuracy. Email changes to by September 28th. When adding or changing participants in a session, please provide the participant's affiliation and email address.

Each person on your program that is attending the meeting must register for the meetings and pay the registration fee. The 2019 ASSA Registration and Housing is scheduled to open on September 12th.

All sessions will be equipped with a projector and screen for your presentation. ASSA does NOT provide computers. Microphones will be available in the larger rooms.

Julia Merry

Congratulations to BU’s Class of 2018 Economics graduates!

I have been on sabbatical, and hence am late to do this calculation and blog. Alas my sabbatical has come to an end.

Please celebrate the BU students who earned 590 degrees in Economics at Commencement this May!

This year the program honors:

18 Ph.D. recipients

231 Master’s degree recipients (MA, MAPE, MAEP, MAGDE MA/MBA, BA/MA)

341 BA recipients (including BA/MA)

This total of 590 degrees is up from 556 (6%) since 2017, following a 12% increase in 2017.

These numbers may undercount the total for the year since they may exclude some students who graduated in January.

In 2018 there were 18 PhDs, 231 Master’s degree recipients, and 341 BA recipients

In 2017 there were 14 PhDs, 215 Master’s degree recipients, and 327 BA recipients

In 2016 there were 22 PhDs, 203 Master’s degree recipients, and 273 BA recipients

In 2015 there were 22 PhDs, 155 Master’s degree recipients, and 305 BA recipients.

In 2014 there were 17 PhDs, 207 Master’s degree recipients, and 256 BA recipients.

Altogether 19 Ph.D. students agreed to be shown as obtaining jobs on our placements web site this year (versus 13 in 2017 and 23 in 2016). Not all graduates choose to be listed.

To see the Ph.D. placements visit the web site linked here.

The department’s  website now lists 38 regular faculty (down one from last year) with titles of assistant, associate or full professors, a number which is 3 below the number of professors in 2014 (our peak year) as listed on the commencement programs. Here are the recent counts of faculty.

2018: 38 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 4 are women (10%); 12 non-TT faculty, of which 3 are women (25%); 50 total faculty, of which 7 are women (14%). Of the TT faculty, there are 11 assistant (2 women), 7 associates (1 woman), and 23 full professors (1 woman)

2017: 39 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 3 are women (8%); 12 non-TT faculty, of which 3 are women (25%); 51 total faculty, of which 6 are women (12%)

2016: 38 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 5 are women (8%);  7 non-TT faculty, of which 1 are women (14%); 47 total faculty, of which 6 are women (12%)

2015: 40 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 5 are women (12%); 7 non-TT faculty, of which 2 are women (29%); 47 total faculty, of which 7 are women (15%)

2014: 41 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 6 are women (15%); 4 non-TT faculty, of which 1 is a woman (25%); 45 total faculty, of which 7 are women (16%)

Congratulations to all!

Medicaid recipients are already working, fraud in SNAP is 1%, and Medicare would be cut

It is nice while on sabbatical to avoid the fray of politics, but our president’s recent attack on Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps) and Medicare makes me want to share the following three sets of links.

The bottom line of the Medicaid video (4:52) summary of two studies is that “able bodied” eligibles represent only about 3% of Medicaid recipients – about the same as the unemployment rate.

The bottom line of the September 5, 2017 press release from the US Department of Agriculture study of fraud in the SNAP program is that fraud remains at about one percent of payments, where it has been since 2006-2008. Less than most public OR private activities.

The bottom line on Trump’s own budget report is that he is lying and yes they are asking for major cuts to Medicare.

Here are the links.


Healthcare Triage News: But, But, Medicaid Recipients Are Already Working

Posted: 15 Feb 2018 05:24 AM PST

Recently, the Trump administration put forward plans to force all the able-bodied lazy people with Medicaid coverage to finally get jobs. The problem with this is that pretty much all the Medicaid recipients who can work already have jobs. So, how’s all this going to work?


SNAP program fraud.


This is from a Press Release dated September 5, 2017 on the US Department of Agriculture web site.


The DOA examines and reports on fraud regularly. The latest report summarizes it as  "approximately one cent on the dollar". This is very low compared to most public or private activities.

Here is a longer quote.
"The report indicates that the vast majority of trafficking – the illegal sale of SNAP benefits for cash or other ineligible items – occurs in smaller-sized retailers that typically stock fewer healthy foods. Over the last five fiscal years, the number of retailers authorized to participate in SNAP has grown by over 40 percent; small- and medium-sized retailers account for the vast majority of that growth. The rate of trafficking in larger grocery stores and supermarkets—where 82 percent of all benefits were redeemed—remained low at less than 0.5 percent.

While the overall trafficking rate has remained relatively steady at approximately one cent on the dollar, the report attributes the change in the rate to 1.3 percent primarily to the growth in small- and medium-sized retailers authorized to accept SNAP that may not provide sufficient healthful offerings to recipients.



I looked over the Trump administration’ budget proposal. My own view is that some of it is reasonable, but much of it reflects the usual politically infeasible projects that will never be approved by Congress but will distract voters and news coverage from the more substantive problems with the budget, such as the increased defense spending, the Wall, the lack of infrastructural investment, and the ridiculous tax cuts. It will be viewed as a victory when congress agrees NOT to cut Medicare.  But it will be a hollow victory. There is no way around the fact that it cuts certain Medicare benefits as many others have noted  - take your pick (Reuters, Bloomberg, CNBC, ThinkProgress) and violates his promises in 2016. Or if you prefer fantasy you can just listen to Fox News that reports “Trump would again spare Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare as he promised during the 2016 campaign.”


Three great books to read

While on sabbatical this year, I have been enjoying some extra reading. I have just added two new books and one old one to my favorites list on my web site. I recommend them all highly to you.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds Michael Lewis Dec 6, 2016 This remarkable and easy to read book is written as a biography of two Israelis, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, but along the way covers a long list of their remarkable insights and experiments. I highly recommend it to people who tried to read the original, dense book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Kahneman and Tversky, two pioneers of behavioral economics.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Mar 26, 2013. This is more of a how-to book for business managers and anyone about ways of making better decisions, but along the way it has a nice overview of the many biases and irrationalities in our thought process. First example: when asked to choose between A and B, don't. Instead figure out how to do A+B or something else even better. Lots of anecdotes and brief research summaries.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Malcolm Gladwell 2007. I read this book a long time ago, but added it here since it remains a very powerful and important book. I recommend and have read almost all of Malcolm Gladwell's work (See especially Outliers and The Tipping Point). His work gives important insights into how people actually make decisions, which are often based on simple heuristics and very little information compared to how decisions are typically modeled by economists.

Holiday cheers, congrats to BU, and a psychedelic BU alumni site from 1970-1997!

Today, the first day of Hanukah and two weeks before Christmas and Kwanza, I am writing to wish my colleagues and my BUHealth blog readers a peaceful and happy holiday, whatever your faith background. I am loving my sabbatical at Boston College this fall and looking forward to our stay in Barcelona starting in mid-January. I feel fortunate to be healthy and happy in my warm home.

In case you missed it, you may be happy to hear that BU moved up even further in the Times Higher Education ranking, to become sixth in the world for “employability”.

The quotes and discussion by BU president Bob Brown are excellent and emphasizes BU’s recent history. But I think another strong reason BU is so well-known internationally is our long history of training top leaders from all over the globe, particularly PhD students in economics. The following link is not up-to-date nor is it BU supported, but this web page created by BU emeritus professor Oldrich Kyn in the late 1990s shows how successful BU was at creating world leaders and scholars all over the globe back then. Check it out when you have ten+ minutes to explore your favorite countries or track down a country-mate BU alum in your own home country. It is interesting to see the remarkable achievements of BU alumni in an era when South Asian, African and Latin American PhD students outnumbered the East Asian and Europeans. Even then, Americans were a modest minority in the PhD program, as they are today. You get to decide how you like Oldrich’s psychedelic colorizing of mostly old black and white images…

Arranged by country, type of job and alphabet:


Performance Timer is excellent App

I was at a conference last week and learned about a terrific timer for my iPhone called Performance Timer. It counts down your specified time, and then changes from green to red as you go over.

What makes it superior to the default iPhone timer is its large font, there is no alarm when time is up, and your screen never goes blank, so you can read it for your entire talk. Really easy interface for the stressful time that you are setting it up. Or, if you are the timekeeper for someone else, they will be able to read it from 20 feet.

It is free in the Apple App store.  I looked but did not find the Android version.

Here is a review from the web.

Performance Timer on the App Store - iTunes - Apple

Rating: 5 - ‎9 reviews - ‎Free - ‎iOS - ‎Utilities/Tools


Performance Timer is a large-display countdown timer developed to be used to monitor the time remaining in a performance, presentation, etc. Performance Timer does not sound an alarm when the time runs out. Rather, when the timer reaches zero, the numbers turn red and the timer starts counting up so that you can see how long you've gone over your target time. The time can be set from 1 to 99 minutes.

Excellent articles about machine learning and replication

There is a wonderful article about Machine learning in the spring 2017 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, and there is also a series of four fine articles in the AER May 2017. I decided to share as a BUHealth blog to all.

Whether you are curious, newly interested or an expert working in the area, I recommend the JEP one to you. The AER series is for more serious work. Here are the links (They should all be free to access, since they are all at the AEA.) Also see below for links on replication.

Machine Learning: An Applied Econometric Approach

Download Full Text PDF


Machine Learning in Econometrics (May, 2017)

Double/Debiased/Neyman Machine Learning of Treatment Effects

Victor Chernozhukov, Denis Chetverikov, Mert Demirer, Esther Duflo, Christian Hansen and Whitney Newey

(pp. 261-65)

Testing-Based Forward Model Selection

Damian Kozbur

(pp. 266-69)

Core Determining Class and Inequality Selection

Ye Luo and Hai Wang

(pp. 274-77)

Estimating Average Treatment Effects: Supplementary Analyses and Remaining Challenges

Susan Athey, Guido Imbens, Thai Pham and Stefan Wager

(pp. 278-81)


The series in the AER on Replication in microeconomics will also be of interest.  This article title speaks for itself.

A Preanalysis Plan to Replicate Sixty Economics Research Papers That Worked Half of the Time

Replication in Microeconomics

Assessing the Rate of Replication in Economics

James Berry, Lucas C. Coffman, Douglas Hanley, Rania Gihleb and Alistair J. Wilson

(pp. 27-31)

Replications in Development Economics

Sandip Sukhtankar

(pp. 32-36)

Replication in Labor Economics: Evidence from Data, and What It Suggests

Daniel S. Hamermesh

(pp. 37-40)

A Proposal to Organize and Promote Replications

Lucas C. Coffman, Muriel Niederle and Alistair J. Wilson

(pp. 41-45)

Replication and Ethics in Economics: Thirty Years after Dewald, Thursby, and Anderson

What Is Meant by "Replication" and Why Does It Encounter Resistance in Economics?

Maren Duvendack, Richard Palmer-Jones and W. Robert Reed

(pp. 46-51)

Replication and Economics Journal Policies

Jan H. Höffler

(pp. 52-55)

Replication, Meta-analysis, and Research Synthesis in Economics

Richard G. Anderson and Areerat Kichkha

(pp. 56-59)

A Preanalysis Plan to Replicate Sixty Economics Research Papers That Worked Half of the Time

Andrew C. Chang and Phillip Li

(pp. 60-64)



Congratulations to BU’s Class of 2017 Economics graduates!

Please celebrate the students who earned 556 degrees in Economics at Commencement this May!

This year the program honors:

14 Ph.D. recipients

215 Master’s degree recipients (MA, MAPE, MAEP, MAGDE MA/MBA, BA/MA)

327 BA recipients (including BA/MA)

This total of 556 degrees is up from 498  (12%) since 2016.

These numbers may undercount the total for the year since they may exclude some students who graduated in January.

In 2017 there were 14 PhDs, 215 Master's degree recipients, and 327 BA recipients

In 2016 there were 22 PhDs, 203 Master's degree recipients, and 273 BA recipients

In 2015 there were 22 PhDs, 155 Master’s degree recipients, and 305 BA recipients.

In 2014 there were 17 PhDs, 207 Master’s degree recipients, and 256 BA recipients.

Altogether 13 Ph.D. students obtained jobs this year (versus 24 last year).

To see the Ph.D. placements visit the web site linked here.

The department’s  website now lists 39 regular faculty (up one from last year) with titles of assistant, associate or full professors, a number which is one below the number of professors in 2012 (five years ago) listed on the commencement programs. Here are the recent counts of faculty.

2017: 39 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 3 are women (8%); 12 non-TT faculty, of which 3 are women (25%); 51 total faculty, of which 6 are women (12%)

2016: 38 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 5 are women (8%);  7 non-TT faculty, of which 1 are women (14%); 47 total faculty, of which 6 are women (12%)

2015: 40 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 5 are women (12%); 7 non-TT faculty, of which 2 are women (29%); 47 total faculty, of which 7 are women (15%)

2014: 41 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 6 are women (15%); 4 non-TT faculty, of which 1 is a woman (25%); 45 total faculty, of which 7 are women (16%)

Congratulations to all!

#stupideconomics and Healthcare Triage on the AHCA

Two interesting links related to the recent Republican health care proposal called the AHCA.

The first is a serious but also humorous Forbes article by my BU colleague Larry Kotlikoff in his series about Stupid Economics, this one targeting Tom Price and the AHCA bill. (A 3-minute read.)

Tom Price's Liver And 'The Coverage They Want'

The second is an excellent Youtube summary of the CBO forecasts (called “scoring”) of the effects of the AHCA by pediatrician Aaron Carroll.

Healthcare Triage: Results Are In! Congressional Budget Office Scores the American Health Care Act

Posted: 17 Mar 2017 06:09 AM PDT  Text of the report here.

(Broadcast is eight minutes.)

$147 Billion: The Economic Cost of Trump Racism

Bottom line:

Trump’s racism predicted to cost US households $147 billion in extra payments to the rest of the world.

Like many people, I am appalled by president Trump’s recent executive order banning refugees - and even US legal immigrants  - from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country. In the process, Trump has also angered most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, comprising about 23% of the global population. Many of these countries (e.g,. OPEC members) hold major financial assets in the US. President Trump has also been active about insulting Mexico and China, two other huge financial partners with the US.

Since Trump is a businessman, I am going to focus on why this racism is a really bad idea for the US economy.

According to US Treasury, US national debt held by the public as of last Friday, Jan 26, 2017 was 14.4 trillion dollars.  That is over $42,000 borrowed on your behalf per US resident. Last year (2016), the interest paid on that debt was $432 billion, or over $3,456 per American household  per year. (US census numbers estimate 125 million households currently). Of that total debt, about 34% is owned by international Investors, and we are paying them the interest on their holdings. So that is $1,175 per US household being paid out to foreigners last year before Trump became president.

Although my good colleague Larry Kotlikoff worries that this level of debt, particularly to foreigners, is not sustainable, that is not what I want to focus on here. I want to focus instead on the CHANGE in these debt payments to foreigners that can be attributed to scary Trump’s racism. According to the current US Treasury documents, the long term interest rate has increased by more than a half percentage point since Trump was elected. Look at the figure yourself. The increase when Trump was elected was immediate. Even faster than the stock market advance.

Increasing the interest rate on the national debt from 2 percent to 2.5 percent costs Americans an extra $294 per household EVERY YEAR until our debt is paid off, which will probably be never.

Now imagine that OPEC, or the Chinese, or the Mexicans decide that they are not so happy with the US anymore and decide to start dumping their $6.8 trillion of US debt. We should all expect that  Trumps racist policies will cause federal interest rates to increase to 4% per year, up another 2% above its rates before Trump. This doubling of US debt interest rates will result in an additional $1,175 per US household per year being paid out to foreigners. Or another $147 billion in total interest paid out to the rest of the world for our debts.

That is my prediction of what will happen if Trump does not change his racist policies.

Notice that I did not have to do any calculations based on the effects of Trump’s racism on foreign tourism in the US ($168 billion in 2012), spending on US universities by foreigners ($30 billion in 2015), or US exports to China  ($113 billion in 2015) or Mexico ($267 billion in2015).  Trump’s tax cuts and deficit spending policies are also likely to increase interest rates. It would be easy for much larger estimates to be generated.

Take home lessons:

  • Racist policies are bad ethically and bad for our economy.
  • There is a real danger of serious interest rate increases that will cost everyone a lot of money.
  • Bond prices are likely to fall and long term bonds seem like a poor investment choice.
  • It helps with your arguments if you use facts and citations instead of making things up.
  • So far, instead of having Mexico pay for Trump’s Stupid Wall, Trump's racist policies are making Americans pay more to Mexico and China and Iran and Saudi Arabia, and....




Read this posting on Stupid Economics

I invite you to read this Forbes posting on Stupid Economics by Laurence Kotlikoff.


I don’t always agree with my dear colleague, Larry Kotlikoff, but this posting at Forbes is one that I can really get behind.

Our president needs to start listening to serious economists instead of acting solo as an autocrat.


This article is a two minute read that will make you smile regardless of whether you agree with all of the sentiments.


Larry is a serious scholar, of course, and his credentials include not only nineteen books, but also a stint on the Council of Economic Advisors under president Reagan.


From: [] On Behalf Of Laurence Kotlikoff
Sent: Thursday, January 26, 2017 1:10 PM
To: faculty-econ-list; phd-econstudents-list
Subject: This may be of interest.



Let me know if I'm being unfair. But I think it's time to call this for what it is.


best, Larry



Laurence J. Kotlikoff

A William Fairfield Warren Professor, Boston University
Professor of Economics, Boston University
270 Bay State Rd.
Boston, MA 02215

President, Economic Security Planning, Inc.
cell  617 834-2148
work 617 353-4002

Facts about Tom Price, HHS nominee

Health economists and every concerned citizen should disseminate the facts in this NEJM article about Donald Trump’s nominee of Tom Price to be the next secretary of HHS.
Coauthor Richard Frank is also a BU Ph.D. alum!

Randy Ellis


Care for the Vulnerable vs. Cash for the Powerful — Trump’s Pick for HHS

Sherry A. Glied, Ph.D., and Richard G. Frank, Ph.D.

New England Journal of Medicine

December 21, 2016DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1615714


Since there is no abstract, here are the first two paragraphs.

Representative Tom Price of Georgia, an orthopedic surgeon, will be President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services (HHS). In the 63-year history of the HHS Department and its predecessor, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, only two previous secretaries have been physicians. Otis Bowen, President Ronald Reagan’s second HHS secretary, engineered the first major expansion of Medicare, championed comparative effectiveness research and, with Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, led the fight against HIV–AIDS.1 Louis Sullivan, HHS secretary under President George H.W. Bush, focused his attention on care for vulnerable populations, campaigned against tobacco use, led the development of federally sponsored clinical guidelines,2 and introduced President Bush’s health insurance plan, which incorporated income-related tax credits3 and a system of risk adjustment. In their work at HHS, both men, serving in Republican administrations, drew on a long tradition of physicians as advocates for the most vulnerable, defenders of public health, and enthusiastic proponents of scientific approaches to clinical care.

Tom Price represents a different tradition. Ostensibly, he emphasizes the importance of making our health care system “more responsive and affordable to meet the needs of America’s patients and those who care for them.”4 But as compared with his predecessors’ actions, Price’s record demonstrates less concern for the sick, the poor, and the health of the public and much greater concern for the economic well-being of their physician caregivers.

Since the NEJM full article  requires a subscription, here is a summary what they document:

Price has sponsored legislation that

  • supports making armor-piercing bullets more accessible
  • opposes regulations on cigars
  • Repeals and replaces the ACA (see details below)


  • Against the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
  • Against regulating tobacco as a drug
  • Against the Domenici–Wellstone Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act
  • Against funding for combating AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis
  • Against expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • In favor of allowing hospitals to turn away Medicaid and Medicare patients seeking nonemergency care if they could not afford copayments
  • Against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act
  • Against legislation prohibiting job discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people
  • Against enforcement of laws against anti-LGBT hate crimes.
  • Against expanding the NIH budget
  • Against the recently enacted 21st Century Cures Act

Price stated views:

  • Favors converting Medicare to a premium-support system
  • Favors changing the structure of Medicaid to a block grant program
  • Favors amending the Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage
  • Opposes stem-cell research
  • Inconsistent in supporting investments in biomedical science.

His proposal for repealing and replacing the ACA is H.R. 2300, the Empowering Patients First Act,5 which would

  • Eliminate the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and
  • Replace ACA subsidies with flat tax credits based on age, not income
  • Be regressive, with larger subsidies for high than low incomes.
  • Credits would pay only about one third of the premium of a low-cost plan
  • Credits proposed are smaller than those proposed by President Bush in 1992, and will not be sufficient to get most people to buy health insurance
  • Eliminate the guaranteed-issue and community-rating requirements in the ACA, with ineffective substitutes.
  • Withdraw almost all the ACA’s federal consumer-protection regulations, including limits on insurer profits and requirements that plans cover essential health benefits.
  • Allow the sale of health insurance across state lines, effectively eliminating all state regulation of health insurance plans
  • Fund his plan by capping the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance at $8,000 per individual or $20,000 per family, caps that are lower than the unpopular Cadillac tax in the ACA, which Price himself has voted to repeal, and hence is unlikely to ever be approved
  • Directly advance physicians’ economic interests by permitting them to bill Medicare patients for amounts above those covered by the Medicare fee schedule and allowing them to join together and negotiate with insurance carriers without violating antitrust statutes.
  • Oppose strategies for value-based purchasing and guideline development,
  • Oppose the use of bundled payments for lower-extremity joint replacements and
  • Propose that physician specialty societies hold veto power over the release of comparative effectiveness findings.

Consider what you can do to make sure that these facts are widely known. Perhaps ask your legislators which of these views they support.