Fragility and Transparency

When the OECD released their 2015 Fragility Report I remember looking at the penta-Venn Diagram of the different states of fragility and wondering why Afghanistan was not fragile in institutions, which was supposed to capture corruption among other governance issues. This question eventually led to a Monkey Cage post on my attempt to replicate their measures of fragility.

The 2015 OECD Fragility diagram with my edits

The OECD responded in a comment to the initial posting pointing out some problems with my replication while admitting certain errors. However, after a revised replication that incorporates those edits, all up on Github, I still get very different results.

I look forward to seeing OECD’s 2016 report as they have discussed some interesting revisions to their measure of fragility. Hopefully along with substantive improvements they will also incorporate improve their methodology especially by way of transparency. As the OECD continues to work with this data in order to provide a public good, the greatest good will come from being as public as possible.

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University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro

Freakonomics, Princeton Hospitals, and Healthcare Costs

The latest Freakonomics episode, “How Many Doctors Does It Take to Start a Healthcare Revolution?” Jeffrey Brenner, executive director and founder of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, uses Princeton, NJ as an example of over active hospital financing. The Coalition is currently working JPAL on an RCT of an care management program targeting healthcare system “super-utilizers” identified by healthcare “hotspotting”.  From the transcript:

BRENNER: One of the problems is that we have a giant economic bubble underlying this where we have hospital financing authorities underpinning, that are run by states that help hospitals float bonds. And we have this giant bond market called the hospital bond market that’s considered very secure, very safe, good investment. And you know, that bond market has floated too much hospital capacity and created and brought online too many hospital beds, far more hospital beds than we need in America. So you know, the most dangerous thing in America is an empty hospital bed.

In the center of New Jersey, near Princeton, a couple years ago, we built two brand-new hospitals. These are two $1 billion hospitals, 10 miles apart, very close to Princeton. So one is called Capital Health, and the other is Princeton Medical Center. I don’t remember anyone in New Jersey voting to build two brand-new hospitals. But we are all going to be paying for that the rest of our lives. We’ll pay for it in increased rates for health insurance. And, boy, you better worry if you go to one of those emergency rooms, because the chances of being admitted to the hospital when there are empty beds upstairs that they need to fill are going to be much, much higher than when all the beds are full–whether there’s medical necessity or you need it or not. So I’d be very worried if you live in Princeton that there are now two $1 billion hospitals waiting to be filled by you.

The RCT is fascinating, but also interested me since I spent two years volunteering with Princeton First Aid and Rescue on the ambulance taking patients to the $520 million Princeton Medical Center, opened in 2012.I do not recall taking anyone to the Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell, opened in 2011, but Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton was our go to trauma center.  To get an idea of the layout, the map below shows the Regional Medical Center in red, the two new hospitals in green, and the old Princeton Medical Center in Orange.2  

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Seven Survey Results Where Afghanistan Outperforms the USA

Alternative internet tabloid title: “7 Ways Afghanistan Kicks America’s Butt!”

Unemployment, insecurity, and corruption, are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan according to the ASIA Foundation’s 2014 survey. The fraud allegations and controversial recount of the presidential run-off election might have made the list, but the survey ran before the preliminary vote totals were released.

Even before the elction though, pessimism was on the rise. The survey found that 40% of Afghans believe the country is moving in the wrong direction, a new high since the ASIA Foundation began surveying in 2004. If you are keeping up with US politics however, that number doesn’t look so bad.  Throughout 2014, over 60% of Americans have reported that the country is headed down the wrong track.

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Ebola and Conflict addendum: rainfall and HIV/AIDS

In mid-November the international community was still seriously concerned about Ebola and its effects on West Africa. Some prominent figures even called Ebola a threat to international peace. My realist/cynical side figured the calls might simply be an attempt to raise awareness and aid, but I was intrigued by the question, has disease ever led to war?

In my Foreign Policy piece (USIP mirror) I examine the literature on how disease could directly or indirectly lead to war. The short answer is that disease does not lead to war, but depending on the exact effect of an epidemic and government’s response, disease could lead to other forms of conflict.

Two sections were cut for the final version of the article. First, we cut out the research on whether economic shocks lead to conflict using rainfall as an instrumental variable. This growing body of literature launched by Miguel, Satyanath and Sergenti is fascinating, but trying to explain instrumental variables proved unwieldy in such a compact article.

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Why the Afghan Election Still Isn’t Over

That was the title of my article on the Washington Post Monkey Cage blog. The article was a response to repeated calls by pundits and politicians for the candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, to end the election crisis for the sake of democracy. Often, the implication was that Abdullah should accept the initial results that Ghani won the vote since it seemed impossible that Abdullah could make up the million vote difference.

However, if in reality the outcome was determined by fraud, then from Abdullah’s point of view his resistance could be for the sake of democracy. The conventional wisdom was that Abdullah would have to be crazy to believe he had actually won the legitimate vote, but as I show it is actually quite easy to believe Abdullah Abdullah won. It only takes two assumptions, neither of which were unreasonable.

Now, six months later, the coalition government seems somewhat stable, but progress has been slow. Unfortunately, fast and politically difficult electoral reform is needed to prevent the September parliamentary election from as being tumultuous. Without a current population census, a complete voter registration, or accurate polling before or after the election, there is no ground truth to compare vote counts to, threatening the legitimacy of the elections. As it currently stands, it is not the candidates but the election process itself that threatens Afghanistan’s democratic future.

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UCDPtools – R package for the Uppsala Conflict Data Program

I’m happy to introduce UCDPtools, an R package for accessing data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP). UCDPtools includes UCDPindex that makes it easy to move around the websites and codebooks for the 15 UCDP datasets and the function getUCDP() that loads the datasets into R and fixes obvious errors and variable names.

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Disaster Optimism: Phailin vs. Haiyan

In exploring the GDELT dataset around disasters, I found an interesting trend around the tragic Typhoon Haiyan.  Looking at events geolocated in the Philippines before and after the typhoon, I found a steep rise in the number of optimistic comments, clearly overtaking a rise in the number of pessimistic comments.

Haiyanloc_dailycountbycode

 

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Fire Catastrophes and Meteorology

Last month the NFPA released several reports on fire losses in 2012. The report Catastrophic Multi-death Fires in 2012 covers the seventeen incidents that had five or more deaths.  These incidents make up .001% of the total fires for the year and 2.9% of the total deaths.

The incident with the single largest loss-of-life was not any of the usual suspects such as a building collapse or a gas explosion. It was a series of car accidents due to low visibility from a brush fire near a highway. On January 29th, on Interstate 75 near Gainesville, Florida, 25 vehicles were involved in six crashes that left 11 people dead. The helicopter footage of the aftermath is harrowing but tenable given the visibility captured in the photograph (via Daily Mail UK).

The timeline of that day’s events as fascinating as it is tragic:

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Violence and NGO Attention with GDELT

I recently attended the PSU GDELT Hackathon where I got a chance to contribute to the R package GDELTtools. The experience inspired me to clean up and share my own explorations of GDELT. My colleague Anna Schrimpf presented a research plan looking at the incentive structure that NGOs like Amnesty International face when choosing which issues to focus on. I found her research agenda fascinating and wondered if it could be applied to different types of conflict.

To check, I took the three UCDP datasets on annual casualties from (1) battles related to civil or interstate war, (2) one-sided government attacks on civilians, and (3) violence between non-state actors from 1989 and 2011 and plotted total fatalities against the count of Media-reported NGO actions using GDELT. For each country-year, I count the number of actions by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, or the Red Cross that target an actor of that country in that year. The resulting plot below contains 2500 points spread across 170 countries.

NGOoutliersmed

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Syria and Resolution 2118: Chapter VII Bankruptcy

The title is hyperbolic, but it gets to a shortcoming of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2118 on Syria’s chemical weapons passed last week.  It was inspired by reported responses to the resolution.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power – This resolution makes clear there will be consequences for noncompliance.

US Secretary of State John Kerry – Progress would be reported to the Council, he said, stressing that non-compliance would lead to the imposition of Chapter VII actions.

It is not clear whether Ambassador Power and Secretary Kerry actually believe what they are saying, but to be clear, they should not.

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