Data, Info and News of Life and Economy

Daily Archives: June 5, 2022

Charts: Case-Shiller Home Price Index Up in March 2022

Source : Bloomberg

Chart: U.S. Housing Inventory Rose in May 2022

Source : Realtor.com

Humour: News in Cartoons

What It Means When Epidemic Prevention Becomes a ‘War’

Yang Zheng wrote . . . . . . . . .

In her book “Illness as Metaphor,” Susan Sontag explores the various ways society has sought to understand diseases through metaphoric expressions, and how those metaphors are translated into a politics that governs the lives of the ill. One of the most common metaphors she analyzes has been all but inescapable during the current pandemic: illness prevention and treatment as a kind of “warfare.”

This language isn’t limited to COVID-19. As Sontag found after being diagnosed with breast cancer, the spread of cancerous cells through the body is often likened to a process of “invasion” and “colonization”; the purpose of treatment is to “kill” the invasive pathogens or tumors. “When a patient’s body is considered to be under attack, the only treatment is counterattack,” she writes.

The widespread use of these metaphors can be traced to the popularization of germ theory in the late 19th century. At the time, scientists understood their work as identifying “evil” pathogens that invade the body and cause illness. Their job was to “defend” the body, “counterattack,” and “destroy” the intruder.

Warfare as a metaphor for illness long predates the 19th century, however. In traditional Chinese medicine, illness is frequently likened to a kind of assault. “The Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor,” compiled more than 2,000 years ago, states that diseases are caused by a series of invasions by “external evil.” Over the centuries, military metaphors became entrenched in TCM theory and practice, often expressed through binary opposites like “internal righteousness” and external evil.

In the first half of the 20th century, the gradual influx of Western medical knowledge introduced new military metaphors for disease to China, where they gradually combined with their TCM counterparts to create an attitude of militant hostility toward illness. Medical workers became frontline “soldiers,” the immune system was seen a kind of fortification, and drugs were humanity’s weapons in the fight against disease.

After the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, military metaphors were almost de rigueur in Chinese mainstream media coverage of illness, especially during times of political turmoil or epidemics. In an analysis of articles on disease published in the People’s Daily between 1946 and 2019, I found the use of military metaphors peaked during both the Cultural Revolution and the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak. I also found that the use of aggressive language, such as calls to “eliminate” or “battle” a disease, were more common than expressions like “build lines of defense” or “resist the epidemic.” Military metaphors of all kinds were accompanied by collective subjects — “we,” “everyone,” and “all the people” — that emphasized the masses over the individual.

This tendency has carried over into the current pandemic. Facing an outbreak of unprecedented scale, China has relied on militarized language to mobilize public opinion and secure people’s cooperation in epidemic prevention work. In COVID-19 articles published on the official Weibo social media account of the People’s Daily, military metaphors were second in importance only to terms directly describing COVID-19 itself. The purpose of these metaphors is clear: uniting the Chinese people and improving national morale in the “battle” against the coronavirus.

But the overuse of military metaphors can also bring about social problems. As Sontag notes in a later essay, “AIDS and Its Metaphors”, “Military metaphors contribute to the stigmatizing of certain illnesses and, by extension, of those who are ill.” The excessive use of military metaphors can lead people to see patients, as well as diseases and pathogens, as enemies who need to be isolated and “eliminated.” It can also lead to unnecessary levels of stress in society, as people grapple with the pressure of a protracted “war” against an illness or pathogen. This may negatively impact pandemic prevention work in the long term.

Source : Sixth Tone

Chart: The Internet Crime Business is Booming

Source : Statista

‘Everything Is Terrible, but I’m Fine’

Derek Thompson wrote . . . . . . . . .

In May, the Federal Reserve published a report on the economic well-being of American households in 2021. This survey is infamous for revealing, in 2013, that half of Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency with spare cash. An Atlantic magazine cover story called it “The Secret Shame of the Middle Class.”

In 2021, the findings were surprisingly positive, especially given the relentless heartrending punishment that is the 2020s news cycle. Self-reported financial well-being increased to the highest percentage in the nine-year history of the survey. As for that $400 emergency payment, more than two-thirds of adults now say that they can make it. This key measure of financial security improved 40 percent, during a pandemic.

Now here’s where things get weird. The Fed also asked Americans how they felt about the local and national economy. And though the number of Americans who said that they personally were “doing at least okay” actually rose slightly from 2019 to 2021, their evaluation of the national economy plummeted in that time frame. If this graph were a bumper sticker, it would read: Everything is terrible, but I’m fine.

So what’s going on here? Why is the gap between “how I’m doing” and “how America is doing” so dramatic?

One answer is that the Everything is terrible but I’m fine philosophy is something close to human nature. At least, people all over the world tend to be individually optimistic and socially pessimistic.

Here’s a concrete example. Ipsos, a global market-research company, has a survey called Perils of Perception, which asks people in dozens of countries to report their own happiness and guess the average happiness of their fellow citizens. In every country they survey, people self-report much higher happiness than they guess other people feel. At the extreme are South Koreans, who estimate that 25 percent of South Koreans are happy, whereas nearly 90 percent say that they are themselves “very happy” or “rather happy.” The perception gap in the U.S. is smaller and closer to the international average: Americans estimate that 50 percent of other Americans are happy, but about 90 percent of them say that they’re actually happy.

But there’s one obvious problem with this explanation: It doesn’t capture change over time. Look at that Federal Reserve graph again. The divergence between “own financial well-being” and “national economy” started rather large—and then, in 2020, it became absolutely humongous.

Yes, there was a pandemic. Yes, people were locked in their houses, reading news about a deadly virus. Yes, they were alerted to the closure of thousands of businesses and the flash-freezing of the U.S. economy, even as the federal government bailed out firms and households with loans, eviction moratoriums, suspended student-debt payments, and several rounds of checks. But then the economy improved in 2021, and Americans got even more pessimistic. This shift can’t be explained by the fact that evaluations of the national economy are highly partisan, and that Republicans, for example, lost confidence in the economy when their guy left office. No amount of Democratic optimism made up the difference.

Something deeper is happening. Even outside economics and finances, a record-high gap has opened up between Americans’ personal attitudes and their evaluations of the country. In early 2022, Gallup found that Americans’ satisfaction with “the way things are going in personal life” neared a 40-year high, even as their satisfaction with “the way things are going in the U.S.” neared a 40-year low. On top of the old and global tendency to assume most people are doing worse than they say they are is a growing American tendency to be catastrophically gloomy about the direction of this country, even as we’re resiliently sunny about our own household’s future.

This has some interesting implications for White House officials wondering why their popularity imploded even as the American consumer got stronger. Checking accounts bloomed, but our spirits soured. It might also provide a subtle warning for politicians who want to push Americans to a radically new place on policy. Sure, voters like to hate things at the national and abstract levels, which seems to open the door for bold change. But because most Americans say they’re personally fine, they might resist too much experimentation. This creates a confusing voting bloc, which is constantly angry about the state of things, but also fundamentally conservative about any change that overturns their “rather happy” life and “at least okay” finances.

I have a final theory of what’s going on here. With greater access to news on social media and the internet, Americans are more deluged than they used to be by depressing stories. (And the news cycle really can be pretty depressing!) This is leading to a kind of perma-gloom about the state of the world, even as we maintain a certain resilience about the things that we have the most control over. Beyond the diverse array of daily challenges that Americans face, many of us seem to be suffering from something related to the German concept of weltschmerz, or world-sadness. It’s mediaschmerz—a sadness about the news cycle and news media, which is distinct from the experience of our everyday life. I’m not entirely sure if I think this is good or bad. It simply is. Individual hope and national despair are not contradictions. For now, they form the double helix of the American spirit.

Source : The Atlantic

Chart: A fridge in the US Consumes More Energy in a Year Than an Individual in Many Countries

Source : Vox