Review “Making Sense Out of Dollars” by Brian Shellabarger

This is a very good, simple, short economics tutorial. There are a number of simple examples that will help a general reader understand supply and demand, the value of money, inflation, debt, trade deficits, and bubble economics. The author writes primarily about the US economy from a conservative perspective. Here are a couple of passages I found useful:

“Now that we know what inflation actually is, we should probably spend a few minutes at least trying to understand what causes it. Make sure you’re sitting down before I give you the answer to this one, because you’re not going to believe it…….   Are you ready?  The answer is:  We don’t really know. ….
There are a few things, however, that we know for sure will cause inflation.  We’ll talk about two of the big ones:  printing money and trade deficits.”

“Hyperinflation is a huge problem because of what we talked about above – inflation is only okay if you can keep wages in-check with the increasing prices of goods. If hyperinflation is occurring, this is impossible, and resources, such as gasoline or food, become very scarce, or very expensive (usually both).”

The author is a realist; not an alarmist. He also isn’t trying to preach a particular set of answers. His closing section was my favorite:

“I would encourage you to always ask yourself the question of “why” when someone in power makes a decision. Why are they doing this? Who will benefit? Are there other possible motivations they may not be talking about? If you don’t understand something, often times asking yourself these questions will lead you to an answer.”

There are some problems with this book. I read the Kindle version and the graphics were quite difficult to read. Also, this book was written in 2010 and I read it in 2021 so some of the material is dated. It would be great to see a revised copy.  Overall, I would still highly recommend “Making Sense Out of Dollars” to readers who are trying to make sense of economics in 2021. There’s a lot of complexity in the US economy but the fundamental issues discussed by author Brian Shellabarger are still highly relevant.

Which is the best place for hiking?

Me at the snout of Carbon Glacier, Mount Rainier, 2012

For me, it’s Mount Rainier National park, a large volcano of the Cascade volcano chain in North America. Why?

  1. I have been hiking here for 43 years, since I was a teenager. I have seen changes occur over the years: ice caves have closed, floods have occurred, roads have closed.
  2. My family and friends have had many great days on this mountain. I’ve never had anyone regret spending time here.
  3. Next, I have spent a good chunk of my life learning the flora, fauna, geology and ecology of this mountain region. There’s always something new to learn here.
  4. It’s also fairly easy for me to access. In fact, the local Cascade and Olympic mountains are why I live near Seattle, Washington.
  5. Exploring here is never boring. I have spent much of my time exploring the alpine areas above 2000 meters. There are also dense forests. fast moving rivers, lakes and many wonderful places. While not a mountaineer, I climbed the heavily glaciated 4392 meter summit in 2011.
  6. Finally, it’s just a place I love.

For each of us the answer’s going to be different. How would you answer this question?

PS – This was an answer I wrote on Quora, slightly edited, to this question:

Running my town

I did an interesting project in April, 2020 to keep in shape while staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. I ran and walked every street and a few trails in my town of Lake Forest Park, Washington.

I ended up doing 15 runs over 22 days for a total of 159.8 miles. My shortest run was 4 miles and the longest was over 21 miles. The average was about 7.2 miles. Our town has a few hills; my elevation gain was 10,730 feet (about the height of Mount Baker). For every run, I knew the area I wanted to explore but not the detailed path. The first thing I had to do was hike up the hill of our street and decide whether to go right or left?

Which way should I go today?

Along the way, I discovered lots of interesting places in my town and visited areas I’d never been to. I talked to a number of great people (from a distance), discovered some great views, enjoyed the spring beauty and had a lot of fun. Here’s a few images, there are more in my Run LFP 2020 album on Flickr.

The biggest little library I’d ever seen, I found my kind of book!
Creative idea
Wonderful place

The animation shows each days run, the details can be found on my Run LFP 2020 project log.

COVID-19 infection rate is slowing down in King and Snohomish county

Here’s some reasonably good news, the rate of spread of COVID-19 is decreasing significantly in King and Snohomish County, Washington. Here’s a plot that illustrates the reduction in spread based on new cases.

Figure 1: Logarithm of cumulative COVID-19 infections in King and Snohomish County, Washington versus time (11 March, 2020) to 7 April, 2020

The yellow, circular data points are a count of the actual cases as reported by King and Snohomish County Department of Health. The blue, red and green lines with constant slopes represent the exponential increase in COVID-19 infections predicted using an exponential model with doubling times that were altered to estimate the effectiveness of social distancing.

The blue (baseline) slope predicts the number of infections based on a doubling rate of 6.2 days; this is the case if no social distancing methods were employed. The actual cases (yellow) closely tracked the blue slope from 11 to 17 March, 2020. In the next week interval (18-24 March, 2020) the slope of the actual cases deviated from the blue line towards the red line which was an estimate of social distancing becoming more effective; that is manifest as a 25% increase in the doubling time to spread the virus.

In the last few days (28-30 March, 2020), the number of actual cases appears to be flattening out again. If that trend continues, that’s very good new for King and Snohomish County as it indicates significant reduction in the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Update 31 March 2020

Here’s a different way to look at the data, suggested to me by my colleague Luis. This visualization based on a a trajectory method developed by Aatish Bhatia and Henry Reich using average weekly data plotted against cumulative data. [3] This is a lagging indicator, so I expect it to be delayed in signaling a downturn. That said, it’s likely to be a strong, positive signal.

Notes and References

[1] I derived my simple model as described in my post using results originally developed by a team from the Institute for Disease Modeling with some partners: Klein, D., Hagedorn, B., Cliff Kerr, H. H., Bedford, T., & Famulare, M. (2020). Working paper – model-based estimates of COVID19 burden in King and Snohomish counties through April 7, 2020Institute for Disease Modeling.

[2] Here’s a link to the underlying data and model I am using. Updated Covid19 Data SnoKing J Brew I will be updating this daily until 7 April 2020

[3] I encourage listening to Henry Reich’s Minutephysic’s YouTube video

and Aatish Bhatia’s website