Why Have Road Deaths Increased?

With the exception of one year in the mid-1960s, roadway fatalities per vehicle mile decreased each and every year from the 1920s until 2014. That trend was derailed in 2015 as fatalities increased by 7 percent. Now the results are in for 2016 and deaths increased by another 6 percent over 2015. In two years, therefore, highway fatalities have jumped by 14 percent. In some states, like Alabama, roadway deaths are up by a shocking 25 percent. Again, this recent spike in crash deaths has no precedent in roughly the last 90 years.

The reason for the increase depends on whom you ask. The New York Times, with its typically statist bias, claims that government is not doing enough to enforce safety laws.

Government officials and safety advocates contend, however, that more than anything else, the increase in deaths has been caused by more lenient enforcement of seatbelt, drunken driving and speeding regulations by authorities and a reluctance by lawmakers to pass more restrictive measures.

A patchwork of state laws leaves many areas where drivers can choose not to buckle up, with little likelihood of being stopped. Only 18 states have laws requiring seatbelts for both front and rear occupants and categorize not wearing them as a primary offense — meaning drivers can be pulled over for that alone. In 15 states, failure to wear a seatbelt in front seats is only a secondary offense — drivers cannot be given tickets unless they are pulled over for other violations.

“It’s still the same things that are killing drivers — belts, booze and speed,” Mr. Adkins said.

Well, I really doubt that people have in the last two years just decided to stop wearing their seat belts, but maybe there’s some truth to the ‘booze and speed’ part.

Quoting the insurance industry, a report by the Wall Street Journal (see below) emphasizes an increase in distracted driving due to smart phones. There’s not a lot of hard data, because nobody knows exactly what people do in their cars, but this is what the insurance industry is saying.

Personally, I have noticed while walking the dog around the neighborhood a shocking number of people looking down at their phones while driving. And these are people who are still driving within the subdivision, which means they are still only a block or two from home. People apparently hop into the car and immediately whip out the phone. If they had to make a call or send a text, couldn’t they have done so before leaving? It seems that people just can’t take a break from their phone addiction.

Another possible reason for the two-year increase in fatalities, however, is the drop in the price of gas. As gas prices fall, people drive more, especially young and sketchy drivers, and traffic density increases. Neither the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal had much to say about gas prices, but this effect needs to be accounted for.

For many months prior to the fall of 2014, the nationwide average gas price had fluctuated around $3.50. Then prices fell rapidly, and have until today fluctuated around about $2.30. That’s a drop of roughly 34 percent. Can this decrease in gas prices alone explain the 14 percent increase in fatalities?

Several years ago, Professor Guangqing Chi used data from Minnesota to estimate the impact of gas prices on the roadway death rate. He calculated that the elasticity of fatalities per vehicle mile with respect to the gas price was equal to -0.22. That means that every one percent drop in gas prices would be expected to increase fatalities per vehicle mile by 0.22 percent.

Multiplying this figure by the 34 percent drop in price yields a predicted increase in the fatality rate of 34(.22) = 7.5 percent. Using data from the Federal Reserve, I find that total vehicle miles in 2016, compared to 2014, were higher by almost exactly 6 percent. We therefore would expect an increase in total fatalities equal to [(1.075)x(1.06)-1]x100% = 14%. But 14 percent is exactly the increase observed. Remarkably, Professor Chi’s estimated elasticity predicts the increase in fatalities correctly to the exact percentage point.

I wish drivers would pay less attention to their phones, but Occam’s Razor suggests that the recent and unprecedented spike in road fatalities is essentially an unfortunate consequence of the significant drop in gas prices.

Beware Big Pharma

As I reported previously, considerable evidence suggests that the most common medications in America are crocs–they either don’t work, or cause more harm than good. Among the dubious classes of medications are anti-cholesterol drugs, anti-depressants, and antacids.

Apparently, I’m not the only one with a jaundiced view of the best-selling products of the pharmaceutical industry. Dr Peter Gøtzsche, a Danish physician and author, argues that medicines kill 200,000 people in the U.S. every year, with approximately half of those deaths occurring even though the medication is used correctly.

One of the drugs that Dr. Gøtzsche strongly argues against is NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) like ibuprofen. There’s actually quite a bit of evidence that use of ibuprofen–at least in the long-term–can significantly increase the risk of heart attack.

NSAIDs aside from aspirin, both newer selective COX-2 inhibitors and traditional anti-inflammatories, increase the risk of myocardial infarction and stroke.[30][31] They are not recommended in those who have had a previous heart attack as they increase the risk of death and/or recurrent MI.[32] Evidence indicates that naproxen may be the least harmful out of these.[31][33]

NSAIDs aside from (low-dose) aspirin are associated with a doubled risk of heart failure in people without a history of cardiac disease.[33] In people with such a history, use of NSAIDs (aside from low-dose aspirin) was associated with a more than 10-fold increase in heart failure.[34] If this link is proven causal, researchers estimate that NSAIDs would be responsible for up to 20 percent of hospital admissions for congestive heart failure. In people with heart failure, NSAIDs increase mortality risk (hazard ratio) by approximately 1.2–1.3 for naproxen and ibuprofen, 1.7 for rofecoxib and celecoxib, and 2.1 for diclofenac.

On 9 July 2015, the FDA toughened warnings of increased heart attack and stroke risk associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). Aspirin is an NSAID but is not affected by the new warnings.

Dr Gøtzsche argues that Big Pharma is putting profits ahead of people’s health, and that the industry basically has paid off everybody–doctors, researchers, regulators, politicians. Gøtzsche calls Big Pharma essentially a form of organized crime. That rhetoric seems a bit overheated, but I suspect it’s true that the pursuit of profit has caused drugs to be oversold, and that doctors often don’t fully understand the effects and interactions of the drugs they prescribe.

Why It Sucks to be Poor

Mae West said, “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” But why, exactly, does it suck to be poor in today’s America? In the post below, I noted that poor households do not generally seem to be lacking any of the typical amenities of modern life–food, shelter, appliances, gadgets, health care. I asked rhetorically, what is it that the poor lack the makes them poor?

Well, upon further reflection I would like to, as they say in Congress, revise and extend my remarks. The poor in America lack two important things: safety and schooling. Being poor in America often means living in a dangerous, crime-infested neighborhood. And living in such a neighborhood inevitably means having access only to a crummy, dysfunctional government school. Those are the two primary reasons why people work so hard to stay out of poverty and to afford a house in a decent community: safety and schooling.

Notably, safety and schooling are both services for which the government has assumed responsibility. The primary problems of America’s poor are therefore a direct consequence of government’s failure to fulfill its promise to provide safety and decent schooling. If only the government were effectively enforcing order on the streets and in the schools, being poor might not be so bad.

For most of history, being poor meant being relatively exposed to the hostile forces of nature: famine, flood, disease, the icy winds, and the wolf at the door. Now being poor means being relatively unable to protect yourself from the consequences of government failure. In the post-scarcity world, the remaining ‘hostile force of nature’ is government.

The problem with being poor is self-evidently the failure of government, but of course that won’t stop leftists from arguing that what the poor really need is even more government.

Defining Poverty Up

Online punditry seems to be getting more and more desperate for clickbait. Or at least, that’s the only way I can explain why forbes.com would publish a sweeping condemnation of capitalism. You heard that right, Forbes trashed capitalism.

The article contains all the usual bogus arguments that have been around for decades, if not centuries. Capitalism helps only the rich, not the poor. Capitalism pollutes the environment. Yadda, yadda. These arguments have been refuted so many times in both theory and practice that responding to them is really getting tiresome. (The folks at humanprogress.org offer a fairly thorough response here.) I mean, without capitalism, this guy wouldn’t even be posting his anti-capitalist screed online. He’d be wearing rags and working in a field somewhere, knee deep in mud.

I would like at this time to discuss, however, the following point made by the author.

[I]n the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census).

Ah, but virtually all of those Americans whom the government defines as ‘poor’ would not have been considered poor only a few decades ago. In most respects, today’s ‘poor’ enjoy a material standard of living that would have been considered middle class only three or four decades ago. The authors at humanprogress.org display the following table.

When one actually considers the goods that ‘poor’ Americans possess, their standard of living compares favorably to the middle class from the 1970s–which at that time was the envy of the world.

Many things that most ‘poor’ Americans now have–microwaves, cellphones, computers–almost nobody had in 1971. (By the way, the 83.3 percentage for refrigeration in 1971 is a typo. The actual figure should be 93.3 percent.)

I’m particularly astonished that roughly 80 percent of the poor have air conditioning, which only about 30 percent of Americans had in 1970. Personally, I never lived with air conditioning growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. And yet we considered ourselves middle class. The image of the air-conditioned poor is not one that Charles Dickens would have recognized.

Back in the day, my great-great grandmother Valerie Pelletier was widowed and left with virtually no income or assets. In 1940, she was living with her unmarried daughter in a room in a boarding house in downtown New Bedford, Massachusetts. They had just the one room, and no bathroom or kitchen of their own–they had to share facilities with the other residents. They also had just one bed; yes, my great-great-grandmother and her daughter had to sleep together in the same bed.

Now, the typical ‘poor’ household has air conditioning, television, a car, microwave, fridge, washer, computer, cellphone, stove. They can get health care through Medicaid and free clinics. They also apparently have access to adequate nutrition–even if they often suffer from unhealthy dietary choices–as evidenced by the fact that symptoms of malnutrition in children (underweight, stunted growth) are virtually non-existent in the United States.

At the risk of sounding callous, what are America’s ‘poor’ missing? What do they lack that makes them poor? Ski trips to Aspen?

Poverty sure ain’t what it used to be. Thanks to capitalism.

Does Generation Z Love Liberty?

Blogger “The Audacious Epigone” used data from the General Social Survey to produce a graph that shows increasing support, among people under 40, for censoring speech. I have taken the liberty of copying A.E.’s graph below.

Note that, back in the day, liberals were more supportive of free speech than were conservatives. But now, the reverse is true.

In any event, given the apparent long-term trend, A.E. comes to the pessimistic conclusion that “we’re a decade or two away from an outright majority opposing the first amendment.”

Well, maybe. Trends always continue–until they don’t. For a long time, young people have been getting more and more hostile to free speech, but some people are now claiming that the newest generation–Generation Z–is poised to reverse the trend.

Generation Z is the Post-Millennial generation, born after 1994, and so just coming of age right now.

Charlie Peters, a Gen Z’er and student at the University of Edinburgh, argues that Generation Z is embracing free speech as a reaction to political correctness and the censorious speech policies of university administrators and campus leftists.

With all of this book-burning and platform-denying madness sweeping up much of the media’s interest in campus culture, the gradual rise of another group of students has gone under-reported. British and American millennials and post-millennials – also known as ‘Gen Z’ – are warming to conservatism.

In the United States, college tours by speakers popular with conservatives such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Steven Crowder, Ben Shapiro and Christina Hoff Sommers have become huge events. There has been a spike in membership in conservative college clubs including Young Americans for Liberty, which boasts 804 chapters filled with 308,927 members.

In the United Kingdom, free speech societies have been started across the country.

‘Speakeasy’ groups have been founded at the LSE, Leeds, Queen Mary, Cardiff, Oxford, Manchester and at Edinburgh, where I study. In these groups, ‘unacceptable’ conservative thoughts are debated amongst liberally-minded (as all good conservatives are) students.

Moreover, some student unions have voted to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students (NUS).

Analysis from market research firm, The Gild, shows that ‘Gen Z’ is the most conservative generation since 1945. The research reveals that ‘Gen Z’ Britons are more likely to favour conservative spending, dislike tattoos and body-piercings, and oppose marijuana legislation.

The youth and student members of the British Left have given up trying to win arguments on principle, preferring to shut down the views of those they opponents. But ‘Gen Z’ live in the time of mass media where anyone’s political views can be shared worldwide at ease. By pushing a “you can’t say that” attitude, the young Left in the UK and the US are reducing their opportunity to respond to conservative ideas, and, as a result of this, conservatism is on the rise.

Nowadays, the only thing that is stopping a student from accessing a new idea is a censorious gag from a student union or NUS apparatchik. Whilst the student Left have historically campaigned in support of causes that the West’s youth have been favourable towards, such as the anti-war and anti-austerity movements, they are now picking on something that is dear to us: freedom of information.

Students of my generation have grown up in an era of mass-communication. Each year has brought new tools for the flow of ideas, conversation and media. The rapid expansion of affordable technology has been matched by the growth of the social media market. When it is common for students to be able to easily interact with anyone in the world via a portable computer that fits in their pocket, nothing seems more silly to us than cliquey calls for censorship.

That is why young people and students are becoming conservatives – they’re the only people making the case for a freedom that they love.

If Peters is right, the leftist establishment’s open hostility to free speech is backfiring in a big way. Let’s hope he is right, because nothing less than the survival of freedom is at stake.

It’s Washington’s Birthday, Not President’s Day

At the risk of sounding peevish, I want to take this opportunity to point out that the holiday today is George Washington’s Birthday, not ‘President’s Day.’ The holiday was created to honor the memory of the father of the country. It was not intended to honor each and every president who occupied the office of the presidency.

If you asked George Washington which date was his birthday he would have replied February 11 (but that date should have been February 22 according to a modern calendar). Because Washington’s birthday lies so close to that of Abraham Lincoln (February 12), some decades ago people started letting Lincoln share the holiday with Washington. Hence I remember as a kid in school adorning the classroom walls with pictures of both Washington and Lincoln.

I don’t have a big problem with letting the Great Emancipator share the holiday with the father of his country. But somehow over the years the idea has gained currency that the holiday is intended to honor other presidents or the presidency in general.

Yesterday on the radio I heard President’s Day described as the day we “celebrate presidents like John Quincy Adams.”

Yeah, there is much to admire about J. Q. Adams. But it’s not his holiday. Much less is it the holiday of creepy lowlifes who occupied the office, like Lyndon Baines Johnson and Bill Clinton. No way am I celebrating guys like that. And yet, I keep seeing the holiday depicted as a day for all presidents. Witness this morning’s Google homepage:

It’s not about 230 years of the presidency. It’s about a man, George Washington, who was universally revered during his era for his courage and integrity.

Bill Clinton, not so much.

Lab-Grown Meat is Coming

Just four years ago, a pound of lab-grown beef cost $325,000 to produce. Now, researchers have got the cost down to about $11. If progress continues, lab-grown meat might be commercially viable in less than five years.

Mark Post, whose stem cell burger created an international sensation in 2013, recently announced that his company, Mosa Meat, would be selling lab-grown beef in four to five years.

Memphis Meats is developing a way to produce meat directly from animal cells without the need to feed, breed or slaughter actual animals.

In theory, the stem cells could provide a lot of meat. Assuming unlimited nutrients and room to grow, a single satellite cell can undergo 75 generations of division during three months. That means one turkey cell could turn into enough muscle to manufacture over 20 trillion turkey nuggets.

Some animal lovers are welcoming lab-grown meat because it means that cows and pigs will no longer be slaughtered. It also means, however, that nobody will any longer have an incentive to raise them. The population of farm animals would undergo a complete collapse. The future of domesticated livestock might be the zoo, and those zoos might offer the only opportunity to save those animals from complete extinction.

By the way, the invention of lab-grown meat was foreseen some 85 years ago by none other than Sir Winston Churchill, who was ridiculed for his prediction. Churchill was just a little too optimistic about the time line, however, as he thought lab-grown meat would be viable by the 1980s.

Notable and Quotable

From Instapundit.

THEY TOLD ME IF DONALD TRUMP TOOK POWER, FASCIST VIOLENCE WOULD THREATEN CIVIL GOVERNANCE. AND THEY WERE RIGHT! Betsy DeVos being guarded by U.S. Marshals Service. “The last Cabinet member protected by marshals was a director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.”

So, basically, taking on the Education Cartel is as dangerous as taking on the Drug Cartels? Well, the former has more money and jobs at stake. . . .

The Most Irrational Law in America

The most irrational law in America might be…wait for it…The Endangered Species Act. Some people believe that ESA violates the rights of more Americans on a day to day basis than any other law on the books. You can have much of your life savings invested in land, and then some bureaucrat shows up and says you can’t use your own land because of an endangered rodent or toad. Most recently, the law was enforced against landowners even though the critter did not even live on the land in question.

A federal appeals court declined to rehear a case brought against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for designating private property as critical habitat for an endangered frog that hasn’t lived on those lands for decades.

FWS officials designated 6,477 acres as critical habitat for the endangered dusky gopher frog in 2012. About 1,500 acres of the critical habitat was private land in St. Tammany Parish, despite the fact no frogs had been spotted there for decades.

Landowners sued, but were rebuffed by federal circuit court judges in June. They appealed their case, arguing the government can’t designate land as critical habitat for an endangered species that doesn’t even live there.

In an 8-to-6 decision, judges declined to rehear the case. But lawyers representing the landowners said they planned on taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ESA actually hurts endangered species as well by undermining the incentive of landowners to protect wildlife. If the legal sanctions weren’t so draconian, many landowners might be persuaded to work with conservationists to protect endangered species. But because the law is so unreasoning and punitive, landowners have the incentive to go scorched earth. If you find a nest of a kangaroo rat, the incentive is not to preserve it, but to burn it quickly before the authorities find out and take control of your land.

Brian Seasholes, an ESA expert, said the current way the government designates critical habitats ends up hurting more species than it helps.

“Ironically, this decision will most likely end up harming the dusky gopher frog and many other endangered and at-risk species by causing more landowners take actions to avoid the Endangered Species Act’s draconian penalties,” Seasholes told TheDCNF.

Seasholes said landowners have taken drastic actions to keep endangered species off their lands, “including ‘scorched earth’ (destroying habitat), ‘shoot, shovel and shut-up’ (killing species), going silent, denying researchers and government personnel access to their land, and refusing to become involved in species conservation efforts.”

Furthermore, I confess that I don’t even understand the point of the Endangered Species Act. In all seriousness, what is the point of this law? Ostensibly it is to prevent species extinction, but extinction has always occurred since the beginning of life on Earth. Something like 99 percent of all the species that ever lived are extinct. Life on Earth is in a constant state of flux, with old species being replaced by new. To stop species extinction is simply not possible. So why even try?

Environmentalists argue that human activity has caused a dramatic increase in the rate of extinction. But the fact is that nobody really knows how much higher the extinction rate is now compared to the rate that prevailed prior to human civilization.

Some environmentalists claim that tens of thousands of species are going extinct every year.

In 1979, Berkeley ecologist Norman Myers published a book called “The Sinking Ark,” which claimed 40,000 species were disappearing each year. The next decade, a biologist who worked for the World Wildlife Fund predicted up to 20 percent of all species would disappear by the turn of the millennium. That didn’t happen, but the drumbeat of alarms continues: A much-publicized paper in 2004 warned that by 2050, climate change could put 1 million species at risk of extinction.

Stuart Pimm … published a paper this summer warning that species are currently dying off at 1,000 times the rate they were before the human era, and in the future are likely to perish at 10,000 times that rate.

These numbers, however, are just guesses and not based on documented extinctions. The amount of documented extinctions is comparatively tiny.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which keeps the most definitive list of extinct and threatened species, has counted just over 800 total confirmed animal extinctions since the year 1600.

So that’s an average of about two per year, not tens of thousands. And these are extinctions due to all causes, not just human activity. The late economist Julian Simon noted the following excerpt from a 1992 book written by two ecologists.

[F]orests of the eastern United States were
reduced over two centuries to fragments totalling 1-2% of their original extent…during this destruction, only three forest birds went extinct — the Carolina parakeet … the ivory-billed woodpecker … and the passenger pigeon …. Although deforestation certainly
contributed to the decline of all three species, it was probably not critical for the pigeon or the parakeet (Greenway, 1967). Why, then, would one predict massive extinction from similar destruction of tropical forest?
(Simberloff, 1992, p. 85)

Closer examination of the existing data on both well-and little-known groups, however, supports the affirmation that little or no species extinction has yet occurred (though some may be in very fragile persistence) in the Atlantic forests. Indeed, an appreciable
number of species considered extinct 20 years ago, including several birds and six butterflies, have been rediscovered more recently. (Brown and Brown, 1992, p.
128)

So 200 years of destruction and absolute devastation of the virgin forests of the eastern U.S. caused between one and three bird extinctions. That’s it.

Scientists don’t even know how many total species exist, as estimates range widely from 2 million to as many as 100 million. The claims of high extinction numbers are based on assumed species number near the high end of the range.

There’s a sense in which the big numbers, however, tend to work against the conservation argument. If there are 100 million species, and a huge number go extinct due to natural causes, why should humans bear significant costs in order to save just a few species here and there? Why should one frog make thousands of acres off limits to humans? Especially since that frog might be unlikely to survive the next glacial period, a few thousand years from now. Why should the timber industry be devastated because of the spotted owl?

And in any event, if we do care about insuring that these species do not disappear forever, we have the ability and technology to preserve their genetic line even if they can no longer live in the wild.

Don’t get me wrong; I like animals, and I’d be genuinely bummed if, say, rhinos or lions went extinct. I’m sure millions of other people feel the same way, and for that reason, it would be desirable to expend considerable resources to protect them.

The other consideration is how important the species might be to the broader ecosystem. So for instance, plankton dying out would be catastrophic because it would threaten whales and other marine animals.

It seems pretty clear, however, that trying to preserve any and every species with little or no regard to cost makes no sense. Yet that is essentially the mandate of the ESA, perhaps the most irrational law on the books.