Suicide ain’t painless IV: What is going on in the Americas?

In the first installment of this series, we have looked at the situation in the ex-Warsaw Pact. The spike we saw in the suicide rates during the 1990s could be explained by the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, some of the other trends are a little harder to interpret. To see what we mean, let us look at some graphs.

Regional graphs

We have already discussed the post-Warsaw pact situation, so here we will touch on the other regions.

Africa The African numbers are very low, but also quite rapidly increasing. A quick look at the data shows that essentially 100% of the numbers for Africa are the numbers for (the Republic of) South Africa, and our statistics (which start 1996 for that region coincide roughly with the African National Congress (ANC) rule in the country. It should be noted that ANC, despite the very good press it has received in the West is an avowed Communist and racist organization, and the economy of the country is being destroyed systematically. As for the numbers being low in absolute terms – this seems to be a phenomenon of the entire sub-Saharan Africa — apparently, suicide is more-or-less foreign to the culture (though violence is most certainly not).

Asia The Asian numbers are largely those for South Korea and Japan, and these are quite heavily concentrated among the older (75+) cohort. This author’s guess is that there are a number of factors that enter:

  • Life expectancy is very high in South Korea and Japan (and getting higher), so these cohorts are quite large (and growing larger with the low birth rates and the consequent aging of the population.
  • There has been considerable social change in these generally very traditional societies. This change is particularly hard to countenance by older people.
  • In Japan particularly, there has been the much-discussed economic stagnation, so it is possible that more older people feel themselves a burden on their family.

Middle East A look at the data shows that the suicide rates (and absolute numbers) in the Muslim countries is extremely low, and so the Middle Eastern numbers are dominated by Israel. Here, the period considered is (with exceptions, which, ironically, coincide almost exactly with the flattening of the graph) dominated by Binyamin Netanyahu, both as Prime Minister and as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance under Ariel Sharon – Netanyahu had adopted a more muscular stance vis-a-vis the Palestinians, as well as had reformed the previously heavily Socialist Israeli economy, the latter providing a considerable boost to the Israeli economy and the former helping Israelis out of their previously uncertain and guilt-ridden state of mind, which led many (even patriotic) Israelis to question the long-term survival of the country. No more.

Europe The Europe rate decline before 2006 seems a mystery, but as we shall see, it is not so hard to explain: the answer, in two words is: “East Germany”. Indeed, while the population of Germany grew but some 3% between 1990 and 2007 years, the number of suicides dropped by 4000, and the suicide rate declined from 18.5 to 11.5. The 4000 drop is responsible for about 70% of the drop in the total number of suicides in Europe. The remaining 30% is entirely due to France, and I really cannot tell why.

The Americas We now get to the most interesting (or depressing, if you prefer) region. The suicide rate in the Americas was dropping until around 2000 and then started growing rapidly. Now, the absolute number (9.2 at the peak) is not that high, but let us look at some representative countries:

Suicide rates in the Americas

First we note the continued rise (off a rather low base) in Mexico and Brazil. Both countries have been woefully misgoverned during this period, with increasing Socialism in both. The most spectacular graph, however, is the one for the United States. Suicide rate was falling slowly until 2001, at which point it rose, first slowly under George W. Bush then rapidly under Barack H. Obama’s leadership. A closer look shows that the suicides have been particularly prevalent in the middle age white men cohort.This author sees two reasons for this. The first is the quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has led to a high number of combat veterans (the suicide rates of which is two-to-three times that of general population). The other is the much-documented “war on white men”, and the hollowing out of the traditional US heartland (for popular references, see Tucker Carlson’s “Ship of Fools”, and Victor Davis Hansen’s “The case for Trump”). Since these groups were instrumental in getting Donald J Trump elected President, the hope is that the numbers have started declining again (they had not in 2017).

Suicide ain’t painless III: Equality will make you happy (not)!

After my last post, some social justice minded readers asked about the relationship between unhappiness (as measured by suicide rates) and inequality, as measured by the GINI index (recall that the GINI index ranges from 0 to 100, the former corresponding to communist paradise, and the later to ancient Egypt). Luckily, the World Bank, in its munificence, has the requisite data, and so the results were not long in coming.

Suicide rate vs GINI index

The reader can see that the least egalitarian countries have the lowest suicide rates. Before we yield to temptation of using this study to yet again condemn socialism, we should note, as before, that correlation does not imply causation, and the countries with the higher GINI all tend to be in South America, and the ones with the lowest in central Europe, so there are many factors. Still, the numbers are what they are. What is particularly interesting is that the GINI index is negatively correlated with the GDP per capita, since the countries with the highest GINI index are essentially feudal, so what we have here are three quantities which are pairwise negatively correlated (not a mathematical surprise, exactly, but still fairly unusual).

Gini vs GDP

Suicide ain’t painless II: Does money buy happiness?

We continue our study of the suicide data. The next question we ask is whether the level of per capita income affects the suicide rates. It should be noted that the GDP data in the suicides database is not the right data – it is not adjusted for inflation, which makes it less than useful. Instead, we merged the Kaggle data with the World Bank Data on GDP per capita Purchasing Power Parity in constant 2011 US Dollars. Without any further ado, here is the graph:

Suicide rate per 100000 vs GDP (in constant 2011 USD)

We see that while money might not be able to buy happiness, it does seem to alleviate the misery considerably. We should give the usual warning that correlation does not imply causation, since, for example, suicide rates in sub-Saharan Africa (represented here mostly by South Africa) are low, as are the incomes, while suicide rates in East Asia (Korea, Japan) are relatively high, as are the incomes, so there are underlying cultural reasons responsible for both x- and y- coordinates. Still, the relationship could not be clearer. An interesting companion graph is one where only the women’s suicides are counted (since the suicide rates among men are much higher, the similar graph for me is essentially identical to that for general population):

Womoen’s suicide rates

It seems that the situation for women is much more “binary”. There is high “unhappiness” rates until around $50K, but once that boundary is crossed all is well. This author will leave it to the sociologists to explain this phenomenon.

Suicide ain’t painless I – or how is a cold war like a hot war.

This project started innocently with me showing my students around Kaggle and its treasure trove of datasets. The first dataset which struck me as at all interesting was the dataset of suicide rates (by year/country/sex/age/generation) – the dataset does not cover the whole world, but does cover the “developed” world with some additions. Anyway, ever curious to see how much more (or less) despair we are faced with, the first graph I created was that of suicide rates by year (over the whole “world”). What I got was the graph below:

I was naturally quite surprised by the spike in the mid-nineties, and after doing the “obvious” (sorting in descending order by number of suicides), the truth came out:

The top five in descending sorted order.

It became clear that the spike in suicides was due entirely to the spike in the countries of the ex-USSR and of the Warsaw Pact, and the next plot confirms this (future installments of this series will analyze the other graphs on this plot):

Historical Suicide Rates per Region

The astute reader will see that no other region exhibits the mid-nineties bulge. The data further shows that the most affected group was men from 35-54 (which, in turn, shows that the numbers are gross underestimates – the traditional suicide method in Russia has been, and remains, drinking oneself to death, and this is not reflected here at all). Even the underestimates show that the “excess” number of suicides during the 1990s were around a staggering one million people (mostly men in the prime of life). Life expectancy during this period dropped from 68 to 65 years. The population of the Russian Federation is shown in the graph below:

Population of the Russian Federation in 100s of millions

(For some black humor, consult the song below):

We see a 4% peak to trough decline (the rise from 1990 to 1996 can be explained by immigration from the republics of the Soviet Union, where nationals of Russian descent were persecuted), or a decline of some 5 million people (mostly men).

At the same time, GDP per capita (in constant 2010 US dollars [this data courtesy of the WorldBank) dropped by almost exactly a factor of two, and even now, it is only 10% higher than in 1990:

Russian GDP per capita in constant 2010 USD

While the US GDP per capita has gone up by 50% in the same period:

To summarize, an alien from Mars who did not know that the war was “cold”, would never guess it – the effects suffered by Russia were about as bad as they would have been as a result of a “real war” – millions dead, more millions leaving the country, economy in shambles. To this day, the population of women in the Russian Federation greatly exceeds that of men (just as it did for almost all of the twentieth century, due to the two world wars and an even more bloody civil war, and the “repressions”) – there was even a song about this in the sixties:

The (more or less) upward slope of the GDP and the flattening of the population curve (at least it is not collapsing), and the continuing decline of the suicide rate (which is still very high, but not 20x the US rate), interestingly coincide more or less with the reign of V. Putin. While some might argue that this is a coincidence, correlation is not causation, and so on, it should be easy to see that Putin is far from unpopular in Russia, because he is seen as having taken the country away from the brink. It should be noted while the second world war (or, as the Russians know it, the Great Patriotic War) resulted in far greater (but, note, comparable) destruction of people and property, it did NOT have the soul-destroying (and suicide promoting) aspect of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin collapse.

Polybius on Kim Foxx

In recent days there has been some interest in the Jussie Smollett debacle – not the actual act, but the gross incompetence with which the matter was handled by the State Attorney’s office under the leadership of Kim Foxx. To summarize, Smollett was charged with 16 felonies. All charges were then dropped, in return for Smollett’s forfeiture of a $10000 bond and two days(!) of community service. The case was sealed. There was much outrage, whereupon it was claimed that the case was sealed “by mistake”, and was now being unsealed. Meantime, Ms Foxx, who had been (at the instigation of Michelle Obama’s chief of staff) talking to the Smollett family, and claimed to have recused herself from the case for that reason, now explained that she did not recuse herself “in the legal sense. What is shocking about all this is not just the stench of corruption emanating from the affair, but also the shocking level of incompetence of Ms Foxx and her office (I suppose we should be grateful if corruption is incompetent).

Here we point out that this sad state of affairs was foretold by Polybius some 2400 years ago. Polybius’ text (from Book 6 of his Histories) is included in its entirety below, but his main point is that democracy inevitably degenerates into mob rule (“ochlocracy”) and the only system that has any hope of stability is a constitutional republic (or monarchy), as practiced a little before his time by Sparta, and during his time by Rome. The founding fathers of the US understood this, but the big urban cities (including, very visibly, Chicago) are governed by, essentially, democracy in its pure form, and this is now visibly morphing into ochlocracy – Ms Foxx is clearly unqualified for her job, which is, ironically, as guardian of the law (judged paramount by Polybius). Her job is an elected one, and she was elected by what Polyibus would call “rabble”. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Here is Polybius’ text (ironically lifted from a University of Chicago web site):

II. On the Forms of States

3 1 In the case of those Greek states which have often risen to greatness and have often experienced a complete change of fortune, it is an easy matter both to describe their past and to pronounce as to their future. 2 For there is no difficulty in reporting the known facts, and it is not hard to foretell the future  p273 by inference from the past. 3 But about the Roman state it is neither at all easy to explain the present situation owing to the complicated character of the constitution, nor to foretell the future owing to our ignorance of the peculiar features of public and private life at Rome in the past. 4 Particular attention and study are therefore required if one wishes to attain a clear general view of the distinctive qualities of their constitution.

5 Most of those whose object it has been to instruct us methodically concerning such matters, distinguish three kinds of constitutions, which they call kingship, aristocracy, and democracy. 6 Now we should, I think, be quite justified in asking them to enlighten us as to whether they represent these three to be the sole varieties or rather to be the best; 7 for in either case my opinion is that they are wrong. For it is evident that we must regard as the best constitution a combination of all these three varieties, since we have had proof of this not only theoretically but by actual experience, Lycurgus having been the first to draw up a constitution — that of Sparta — on this principle. 9 Nor on the other hand can we admit that these are the only three varieties; for we have witnessed monarchical and tyrannical governments, which while they differ very widely from kingship, yet bear a certain resemblance to it, 10 this being the reason why monarchs in general falsely assume and use, as far as they can, the regal title. 11 There have also been several oligarchical constitutions which seem to bear some likeness to aristocratic ones, though the divergence is, generally, as wide as possible. 12 The same holds good about democracies. 4 1 The truth of what I say is evident from the following considerations.  p275 2 It is by no means every monarchy which we can call straight off a kingship, but only that which is voluntarily accepted by the subjects and where they are governed rather by an appeal to their reason than by fear and force. 3 Nor again can we style every oligarchy an aristocracy, but only that where the government is in the hands of a selected body of the justest and wisest men. 4 Similarly that is no true democracy in which the whole crowd of citizens is free to do whatever they wish or purpose, 5 but when, in a community where it is traditional and customary to reverence the gods, to honour our parents, to respect our elders, and to obey the laws, the will of the greater number prevails, this is to be called a democracy. 6 We should therefore assert that there are six kinds of governments, the three above mentioned which are in everyone’s mouth and the three which are naturally allied to them, I mean monarchy, oligarchy, and mob-rule. 7 Now the first of these to come into being is monarchy, its growth being natural and unaided; and next arises kingship derived from monarchy by the aid of art and by the correction of defects. 8 Monarchy first changes into its vicious allied form, tyranny; and next, the abolishment of both gives birth to aristocracy. 9 Aristocracy by its very nature degenerates into oligarchy; and when the commons inflamed by anger take vengeance on this government for its unjust rule, democracy comes into being; and in due course the licence and lawlessness of this form of government produces mob-rule to complete the series. 11 The truth of what I have just said will be quite clear to anyone who pays due attention to such beginnings, origins, and changes as are in each case natural. 12 For he alone who has seen how each form  p277 naturally arises and develops, will be able to see when, how, and where the growth, perfection, change, and end of each are likely to occur again. 13 And it is to the Roman constitution above all that this method, I think, may be successfully applied, since from the outset its formation and growth have been due to natural causes.

5 1 Perhaps this theory of the natural transformations into each other of the different forms of government is more elaborately set forth by Plato and certain other philosophers; but as the arguments are subtle and are stated at great length, they are beyond the reach of all but a few. 2 I therefore will attempt to give a short summary of the theory, as far as I consider it to apply to the actual history of facts and to appeal to the common intelligence of mankind. 3 For if there appear to be certain omissions in my general exposition of it, the detailed discussion which follows will afford the reader ample compensation for any difficulties now left unsolved.

4 What then are the beginnings I speak of and what is the first origin of political societies? 5 When owing to floods, famines, failure of crops or other such causes there occurs such a destruction of the human race as tradition tells us has more than once happened, and as we must believe will often happen again, 6 all arts and crafts perishing at the same time, then in the course of time, when springing from the survivors as from seeds men have again increased in numbers 7 and just like other animals form herds — it being a matter of course that they too should herd together with those of their kind owing to their natural weakness — it is a necessary consequence that the man who excels in bodily strength and in courage will lead and rule  p279 over the rest. 8 We observe and should regard as a most genuine work of nature this very phenomenon in the case of the other animals which act purely by instinct and among whom the strongest are always indisputably the masters — 9 I speak of bulls, boars, cocks, and the like. 9 It is probable then that at the beginning men lived thus, herding together like animals and following the lead of the strongest and bravest, the ruler’s strength being here the sole limit to his power and the name we should give his rule being monarchy.

10 But when in time feelings of sociability and companionship begin to grow in such gatherings of men, than kingship has struck root; and the notions of goodness, justice, and their opposites begin to arise in men. 6 1 The manner in which these notions come into being is as follows. 2 Men being all naturally inclined to sexual intercourse, and the consequence of this being the birth of children, whenever one of those who have been reared does not on growing up show gratitude to those who reared him or defend them, but on the contrary takes to speaking ill of them or ill treating them, it is evident that he will displease and offend those who have been familiar with his parents and have witnessed the care and pains they spent on attending to and feeding their children. 4 For seeing that men are distinguished from the other animals by possessing the faculty of reason, it is obviously improbable that such a difference of conduct should escape them, as it escapes the other animals: 5 they will notice the thing and be displeased at what is going on, looking to the future and reflecting that they may all  p281 meet with the same treatment. 6 Again when a man who has been helped or succoured when in danger by another does not show gratitude to his preserver, but even goes to the length of attempting to do him injury, it is clear that those who become aware of it will naturally be displeased and offended by such conduct, sharing the resentment of their injured neighbour and imagining themselves in the same situation. 7 From all this there arises in everyone a notion of the meaning and theory of duty, which is the beginning and end of justice. 8 Similarly, again, when any man is foremost in defending his fellows from danger, and braves and awaits the onslaught of the most powerful beasts, it is natural that he should receive marks of favour and honour from the people, while the man who acts in the opposite manner will meet with reprobation and dislike. 9 From this again some idea of what is base and what is noble and of what constitutes the difference is likely to arise among the people; and noble conduct will be admired and imitated because it is advantageous, while base conduct will be avoided. 10 Now when the leading and most powerful man among the people always throws the weight of his authority on the side of the notions on such matters which generally prevail, and when in the opinion of his subjects he apportions rewards and penalties according to desert, they yield obedience to him no longer because they fear his force, but rather because their judgement approves him; and they join in maintaining his rule even if he is quite enfeebled by age, defending him with one consent and battling against those who conspire to overthrow his rule. 12 Thus by insensible degrees the monarch becomes a king, ferocity and force having yielded the supremacy to reason.

 p283 7 1 Thus is formed naturally among men the first notion of goodness and justice, and their opposites; this is the beginning and birth of true kingship. 2 For the people maintain the supreme power not only in the hands of these men themselves, but in those of their descendants, from the conviction that those born from and reared by such men will also have principles like to theirs. 3 And if they ever are displeased with the descendants, they now choose their kings and rulers no longer for their bodily strength and brute courage, but for the excellency of their judgement and reasoning powers, as they have gained experience from actual facts of the difference between the one class of qualities and the other. 4 In old times, then, those who had once been chosen to the royal office continued to hold it until they grew old, fortifying and enclosing fine strongholds with walls and acquiring lands, in the one case for the sake of the security of their subjects and in the other to provide them with abundance of the necessities of life. 5 And while pursuing these aims, they were exempt from all vituperation or jealousy, as neither in their dress nor in their food did they make any great distinction, they lived very much like everyone else, not keeping apart from the people. 6 But when they received the office by hereditary succession and found their safety now provided for, and more than sufficient provision of food, 7 they gave way to their appetites owing to this superabundance, and came to think that the rulers must be distinguished from their subjects by a peculiar dress, that there should be a peculiar luxury and variety in the dressing and serving of their viands, and that they should meet with no denial  p285 in the pursuit of their amours, however lawless. 8 These habits having given rise in the one case to envy and offence and in the other to an outburst of hatred and passionate resentment, the kingship changed into a tyranny; the first steps towards its overthrow were taken by the subjects, and conspiracies began to be formed. 9 These conspiracies were not the work of the worst men, but of the noblest, most high-spirited, and most courageous, because such men are least able to brook the insolence of princes. 8 1 The people now having got leaders, would combine with them against the ruling powers for the reasons I stated above; kingship and monarchy would be utterly abolished, and in their place aristocracy would begin to grow. 2 For the commons, as if bound to pay at once their debt of gratitude to the abolishers of monarchy, would make them their leaders and entrust their destinies to them. 3 At first these chiefs gladly assumed this charge and regarded nothing as of greater importance than the common interest, administering the private and public affairs of the people with paternal solicitude. 4 But here again when children inherited this position of authority from their fathers, having no experience of misfortune and none at all of civil equality and liberty of speech, and having been brought up from the cradle amid the evidences of the power and high position of their fathers, 5 they abandoned themselves some to greed of gain and unscrupulous money-making, others to indulgence in wine and the convivial excess which accompanies it, and others again to the violation of women and the rape of boys; and thus converting the aristocracy into an oligarchy aroused in the people feelings similar to those of which  p287 I just spoke, and in consequence met with the same disastrous end as the tyrant. 9 1 For whenever anyone who has noticed the jealousy and hatred with which you are regarded by the citizens, has the courage to speak or act against the chiefs of the state he has the whole mass of the people ready to back him. 2 Next, when they have either killed or banished the oligarchs, they no longer venture to set a king over them, as they still remember with terror the injustice they suffered from the former ones, nor can they entrust the government with confidence to a select few, with the evidence before them of their recent error in doing so. 3 Thus the only hope still surviving unimpaired is in themselves, and to this they resort, making the state a democracy instead of an oligarchy and assuming the responsibility for the conduct of affairs. 4 Then as long as some of those survive who experienced the evils of oligarchical dominion, they are well pleased with the present form of government, and set a high value on equality and freedom of speech. But when a new generation arises and the democracy falls into the hands of the grandchildren of its founders, they have become so accustomed to freedom and equality that they no longer value them, and begin to aim at pre-eminence; and it is chiefly those of ample fortune who fall into this error. 6 So when they begin to lust for power and cannot attain it through themselves or their own good qualities, they ruin their estates, tempting and corrupting the people in every possible way. 7 And hence when by their foolish thirst for reputation they have created among the masses an appetite for gifts and the habit of receiving them, democracy in its  p289 turn is abolished and changes into a rule of force and violence. 8 For the people, having grown accustomed to feed at the expense of others and to depend for their livelihood on the property of others, as soon as they find a leader who is enterprising but is excluded from the houses of office by his penury, institute the rule of violence; 9 and now uniting their forces massacre, banish, and plunder, until they degenerate again into perfect savages and find once more a master and monarch.

10 Such is the cycle of political revolution, the course appointed by nature in which constitutions change, disappear, and finally return to the point from which they started. 11 Anyone who clearly perceives this may indeed in speaking of the future of any state be wrong in his estimate of the time the process will take, but if his judgement is not tainted by animosity or jealousy, he will very seldom be mistaken as to the stage of growth or decline it has reached, and as to the form into which it will change. 12 And especially in the case of the Roman state will this method enable us to arrive at a knowledge of its formation, growth, and greatest perfection, and likewise of the change for the worse which is sure to follow some day. 13 For, as I said, this state, more than any other, has been formed and has grown naturally, and will undergo a natural decline and change to its contrary. 14 The reader will be able to judge of the truth of this from the subsequent parts of this work.

10 1 At present I will give a brief account of the legislation of Lycurgus, a matter not alien to my present purpose. 2 Lycurgus had perfectly well understood that all the above changes take place  p291 necessarily and naturally, and had taken into consideration that every variety of constitution which is simple and formed on principle is precarious, as it is soon perverted into the corrupt form which is proper to it and naturally follows on it. 3 For just as rust in the case of iron and wood-worms and ship-worms in the case of timber are inbred pests, and these substances, even though they escape all external injury, fall a prey to the evils engendered in them, so each constitution has a vice engendered in it and inseparable from it. In kingship it is despotism, in aristocracy oligarchy, 5 and in democracy the savage rule of violence; and it is impossible, as I said above, that each of these should not in course of time change into this vicious form. 6 Lycurgus, then, foreseeing this, did not make his constitution simple and uniform, but united in it all the good and distinctive features of the best governments, so that none of the principles should grow unduly and be perverted into its allied evil, but that, the force of each being neutralized by that of the others, neither of them should prevail and outbalance another, but that the constitution should remain for long in a state of equilibrium like a well-trimmed boat, kingship being guarded from arrogance by the fear of the commons, who were given a sufficient share in the government, and the commons on the other hand not venturing to treat the kings with contempt from fear of the elders, who being selected from the best citizens would be sure all of them to be always on the side of justice; 10 so that that part of the state which was weakest owing to its subservience  p293 to traditional custom, acquired power and weight by the support and influence of the elders. 11 The consequence was that by drawing up his constitution thus he preserved liberty at Sparta for a longer period than is recorded elsewhere.

12 Lycurgus then, foreseeing, by a process of reasoning, whence and how events naturally happen, constructed his constitution untaught by adversity, 13 but the Romans while they have arrived at the same final result as regards their form of government, 14 have not reached it by any process of reasoning, but by the discipline of many struggles and troubles, and always choosing the best by the light of the experience gained in disaster have thus reached the same result as Lycurgus, that is to say, the best of all existing constitutions.

In the long run…

John Maynard Keynes had famously said that in the long run we were all dead. The point of the current note is not to argue with the great man, but to add that, apparently, in the long run, economic policy is, in some ways, irrelevant. Our evidence for this is the observation in I. Rivin’s recent paper.

What is looked at is the (dividend-reinvested) return of the Standard and Poor’s 500 stock index for the last 150 years not adjusted for inflation. Here is the graph:

Natural logarithm of the size of a $1 investment in the S&P 500, with dividends reinvested.

The graph above uses monthly data, as provided by Robert Shiller on his very helpful site.

Now, the graph above looks an awful lot like a straight line. To see how much like a straight line it is, there is a regression analysis in Rivin’s paper, and the trend accounts for 99% of the variance! (for the curious, the annualized slope of the line is 0.1035, in other words the expected gain (again, not adjusted for inflation) is 10.9% a year.

The main question this leads to is the obvious: Why is the trend so strong?

The main takeaways are:

  • Go long when the curve goes below trend, go short when below.
  • Since (for the third time) the graph is not inflation adjusted, inflation is the real return killer.

To make the last point clearer, let’s now plot the “deflated” returns of the S&P 500 (also in the referenced paper):

Log of an inflation-adjusted $1 invested in the S&P 500 (with dividends reinvested).

The graph is much less straight now (correlation is now “only” 90%, vs 99.5% before), and one can see long flat sections.

A remark on the biology of gender or, why do women menstruate?

Many have wondered: why is it that women menstruate every month? This seems like rather poor design, but upon reflection, this is really user error.

Indeed, until very recently, women had their menarche (onset of menses) at around 16 years old, and generally had their first child by their early 20s. After that, women had children as frequently as biologically possible (every two years) until the onset of menopause (which was earlier then than it is now). Of course, many of these children did not survive to adulthood (even in upper class families), and death in childbirth was the leading cause of death among women. Still, the effect of this was that, by and large, only young women menstruated, greatly impeding the marketing of female hygiene products (not coincidentally, the industry exploded in the middle of the twentieth century).

Aside from menstruation (or lack thereof), the lateness of childbirth leads to other problems:

  • Generation gap. Much has been made of the disconnect between parents and children. This has many causes, but one of them is the great difference in age.
  • Parenting difficulties. In the days of yore, women transitioned from being mothers (pre-menopause) to being grandmothers at around the age of forty to fifty, and helped their children bring up the grandchildren, which almost eliminated the “what the hell do I do now???” phenomenon all too well-known to modern parents.
  • Empty nest syndrome. In the past (and in many traditional societies, such as those in India and the Middle East today), there is no such thing as the empty nest: several (anywhere from three to five) generations live together, and older people are never alone, and are always there to help with the youngest generations.
  • Birth defects. These increase dramatically with mother’s age (incidence of Down’s syndrome, for example, goes from 1 in 1500 at maternal age of 20 to 1 in 44 at maternal age of 40).
  • Demographic collapse All the advanced Western societies (with the notable exception of Israel) are reproducing at below replacement level. This is quite obviously due in large part to starting later (also to women working, which is closely related, see below).

To summarize, although it is not the goal of this author to judge, it seems clear that from the standpoints of both mental and physical health, the feminist revolution has been a disaster. The question is, then, who benefited from it? Not the women (though many women will surely disagree). Instead, the ingestion of women by the workforce was the first (and most expensive) example of (onshore) outsourcing:

Indeed, technological advances made it possible for women to work outside the home, and back in an age when families survived quite reasonably on one salary, it was reasonable for women to use their spare time to make a couple extra bucks. They (remember, all statements here are statistical) did not care so much about pay parity with men, and were just looking for a bit of pocket money. For industry, it was an opportunity to get high quality labor at a low price. Of course, the process snowballed with disastrous effects. Not just those described above, but also economic. Indeed, look at the following chart of inflation-adjusted household income (by the way, the government is known to underreport inflation):

Inflation adjusted household income

Since in 1968 most households had a single earner, and in 2018, the vast majority have two earners, we see that (look at the “median” line) that the there has been no economic benefit to household from having both adults work. In other words, we have all been sold a bill of goods, and have had our societies destroyed by demographic collapse and family dysfunction.

Nothing like progress (yes, this state of affairs is absolutely nothing like progress).

Cultural Appropriation

I have been reading Polybius’ histories lately – these are in many ways centered on the Punic Wars (which were a defining conflict of the day), and thus on the illustrious Barca family: Hamilcar Barca, his son Hannibal and Hannibal’s brothers (Hasdrubal and Mago). Now, what can we tell about these people: The word Barca is the same semitic word as Barak. Hamilcar means “brother of Melqart”, the latter being the patron god of Tyre (the word is again Semitic, and composed of Melekh (king) and qart (which still means City in Hebrew).
. The word for brother is exactly the same as the modern Hebrew word.  The word Hannibal means “Grace of Ba’al” (the word Ba’al still meaning “master” in Hebrew to this day). Hannibal’s name would be Yohanan (so, John) in Hebrew – “Yo” (for Yahweh) replaces “Ba’al” , the rest of the name is the same. Hasdrubal is the mangling of AzruBa’al (God Helps), which is the exact analog of Azariah (with Ya again replacing Ba’al – another cognate is Ezra). Finally,  Mago means the same as Matisyahu (Matthew) – God’s gift. The also sound similar. Let us now look at the pictures of some of these gentlemen (Mago’s countenance seems to not have been preserved for posterity). It appears that Hannibal, Hasdrubal, and their dad were immortalized in coinage, as follows. First, Hamilcar:


Now, Hasdrubal:


And finally, Hannibal:


All of these gentlemen look like close relatives – Hamilcar and Hasdrubal look like my granfather Израиль Борисович (Israel ben Baruch), Hannibal like my cousin Daniel. I am sure any other Jew reading this can find similar resemblances, while any anti-semite will find a close resemblance between the schnozzes of the Barcas and those of the caricatured money-grubbing Jews.

Interestingly, the resemblance does not end at the Schnozz. It seems that, apart from the general staff, the Carthaginians outsourced their fighting to Numidians (Berbers), Spaniards, Celts, and other such, preferring to concentrate on business themselves. This did not work out in the end, because the completely unwarlike denizens of Carthage itself were easy prey for the Romans (this was their undoing in all three Punic Wars). Interestingly, this methodology was used  by Jews, off-and-on for two millenia, with variable success (the most famous, though not the most important, being the Jewish leadership of the Khazars).

You would think that at this point it will be clear that the Carthaginians (and in particular the family of Hannibal) were a Semitic people, culturally close to their cousins the Jews (this may, perhaps, explain why the Romans took their struggles against the Jews two-to-three centuries later so seriously).

But no. There seems to be a bizarre appropriationist streak trying to claim Hannibal was a Mandingo warrior.

Another reference, in addition to strange ethnological claims (about which see below) flying in the face of all evidence, points out that there is not one but two movies coming out about Hannibal, one starring Denzel Washington, another Vin Diesel.  Neither of these gentlemen bear any ethnic resemblance to the Barcas whatever (this, in addition to the other minor detail that Hannibal was in his late twenties at the beginning of the second punic war, so some forty years younger than Washington, and about thirty years younger than Diesel. But we will let that slide, because, well, acting. Anyway, this continued attempt to steal other people’s history is about the most pathetic display of racial insecurity I have seen…

Ethnological claims This claims that Phoenicians (and Canaanites in general) were black negroid people. This claim stems from the biblical story of Noah, where Canaan is a son of Ham. However, the Bible at no point claims that Ham was black, and his blackness was a much later uneducated invention (designed to justify black slavery). For more on this (and the Caucasian aspect of the Hamites) see the ever-trusty Wikipedia.

A follow-up to the follow-up

In my recent post I discussed  Alessandro Strumia’s CERN talk, where he provided statistical evidence for discrimination in favor of women in Physics (except in China, where women are, apparently, discriminated against). Curiously, the very next day more anecdotal support came for Strumia’s thesis. The Nobel Prizes in Physics were announced, and this year they were awarded 1/2 to Arthur Ashkin and 1/2 to Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland, the third woman in history to receive the award. It was immediately noted that Strickland was, at the time of the award (though obviously not for much longer) an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo Physics department. There was immediate wailing, gnashing of teeth, and talk of glass ceilings.

However, the truth is, in a way, much worse. The standard metric in the hard sciences (less so in pure mathematics, which is a much smaller field) is the h-index. The h-index of a researcher equals N if he has N papers each of which has at least N citations (so, notice that the number of citations thus counted is equal to the square of N). Typically, prominent scientists (in physics and chemistry) have h-index in the forties and above. This year, Ashkin has an h-index of 52 (a little low, but then, but he is an industrial physicist), Mourou has an h-index of 110. Other relatively recent Nobel prize winners have h-index at least in the sixties. Dr. Strickland has an h-index of 15 (all numbers according to the Web of Science), which is consistent with still being an associate professor in a decent department. I have no expertise in photonics, so I don’t know the extent of Strickland’s contribution to her joint work with Mourou, but recent comments by the Nobel  Prize committee about the insufficient number of female Nobelists cannot help but come to mind.

Remark: Of course, the citation numbers in Mathematics (while less relevant) are also interesting: most recent Fields medalists have h-index around 16. The two notable exceptions are the late Maryam Mirzakhani (9) and C. Birkar (suspected by some as a political medal, being a refugee from the middle east) (also 9) [note, this is according to MathSciNet, since the Web of Science makes a mess of mathematics journals). Make of this what you will.


After what seemed to be a civil exchange of opinions on Lior Pachter’s blog post concerning Ted Hill’s paper (OK, Pachter was not civil, but I tried to be as civil as possible), I was amused (and a little shocked) to find that a fatwa was proclaimed against your humble author. And not only me, but all those who have anything to do with me. In other words, some people who I actually respected (at least as mathematicians) have decided to excommunicate me and the journals I was editorializing for (in perpetuity – even employing me once is deemed a mortal sin). Enjoy, but ponder that this is what we have come to.