“Differences in and Consistency of Excess Mortality Estimates in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria”

From Sandberg, et al. (July 2019) in Epidemiology:

Now compare against shoot-from-the-hip comments on Econbrowser, such as this from Steven Kopits on 5/31/2018:

Excess deaths in PR through year end, those recorded by the Statistics Office, numbered only 654. Most of these occurred in the last ten days of September and the whole of October. While the power outages there were exacerbated by the state ownership of PR’s utility, a large portion of the excess deaths would likely have occurred regardless, given the terrain and the strength of the hurricane. Thus, perhaps 300-400 of the excess deaths would have occurred regardless of steps anyone could have made to fix the power supply. The remainder can be attributed essentially to the state ownership of the power utility.

I would note that excess deaths fell by half in December. Thus, the data suggests that the hurricane accelerated the deaths of ill and dying people, rather than killing them outright. I would expect the excess deaths at a year horizon (through, say, Oct. 1, 2018) to total perhaps 200-400. Still a notable number, but certainly not 4,600. [emphasis added-MDC]

Mr. Kopits’ updated (6/4) analysis concludes, even with updated data:

Thus, the year-end excess death toll of 1,400 may be treated as a firm number in practice.

I think “firm” is an adjective to be avoided in these situations. Here is a graph presenting selected estimates, from this April post.


Figure 1: Cumulative excess deaths from September 2017, for simple time dummies OLS model (blue), OLS model adjusting for population (green), and Quantile Regression model adjusting for population (red), Milken Institute point estimate (black square) and 95% confidence interval (gray +), Santos-Lozada, Howard letter (chartreuse triangle), Cruz-Cano and Mead (pink squares), Kopits (teal triangle). Not pictured: Kopits estimate of 300-400 for October 2018. Source: author’s calculations, Milken Institute (2018)Santos-Lozada and Howard (2018), Cruz-Cano and Mead (2019), and Kopits (2018).

32 thoughts on ““Differences in and Consistency of Excess Mortality Estimates in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria”

  1. Moses Herzog

    @ Menzie
    Did our comments section Idiot-in-Residence have numbers accounting for population displacement?? I wouldn’t ask but it seems you have already taken on the extra burden of reading the buffoon’s website, so…..

  2. Steven Kopits

    Not much new here. Again, you’re reproducing retracted data, now for the ninth time. Don’t know why.

    Meanwhile, we’re getting some nice traction on the Republican side for market-based visas and are now beginning to ping the Democrats.

    Obviously, the father-daughter tragedy crossing the river would not have happened in a market-based system.

    We would not have ten of thousands of children in custody in a market-based system. We would not have hundreds of thousands of migrants trudging up Mexico with children in tow in a market-based system. We have a positive message and are doing our best to move it forward.

    By contrast, almost everything you’re writing today is a counter-punch to Trump. Why are you defining yourself as a reflection? Do you not have an independent voice, a better world that you care to show us?

    If you’re wondering why I am not commenting, it’s partly because I just don’t think Trump-is-bad posts are that interesting. And secondly, your comments are now dominated by Moses and pgl. I am not interested in bitterness and vitriol, and frankly don’t really like seeing my name on the same page as theirs. You’ve let the weeds take over your garden.

    1. pgl

      “the father-daughter tragedy crossing the river would not have happened in a market-based system.”

      You are a disgusting little boy. OK – you won’t to self promote whatever but THE reason this tragedy occurred is that the Trump Administration is violating our asylum rules with its metering mess.

      Have some decency and SHUT UP!

    2. pgl

      “I am not interested in bitterness and vitriol, and frankly don’t really like seeing my name on the same page as theirs.”

      You are not interested in reality either. You are clearly interesting only in some self promotion intellectual garbage. So if you don’t want your disgusting name here then (at the risk of repeating myself) SHUT UP!

    3. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Steven Kopits: I repeat because you seemingly have not learned or amended your ways. First you say unequivocally no more than 400. Then you give a “firm” number of 1400. When will you learn that you should not, as a self-purported policy analyst, say such definitive things, especially when you are not familiar with the data.
      But yet, you keep on defending yourself and your estimates as “firm”. So, as long as you do, I will continue to highlight the errors of your ways.

      1. Steven Kopits

        Based on the 2018 actuals, look like that 400 number might just hold up through year end, assuming that the 2015-2017 trend line is correct, ie, that PROMESA brought increased deaths starting in 2016.

          1. Steven Kopits

            I’ll re-check and post the numbers tomorrow, but as of right now, it looks like the excess deaths through year end 2018 are around 400, yes, at least if I assume PROMESA has increased the underlying rate of mortality and that that trend continues into 2018.

        1. Steven Kopits

          “But yet, you keep on defending yourself and your estimates as “firm”. So, as long as you do, I will continue to highlight the errors of your ways.”

          I did not defend my estimate as firm. I conceded the point more than a year ago:

          We had earlier stated that we believed excess deaths would settle around 200-400 at the one year event horizon, that is, as of Oct. 1, 2018. This was based on a misinterpretation of the December tally issued on January 2nd as ‘preliminary’ rather than ‘as of’ — a classic analyst mistake for which the responsibility is entirely ours. As a result, the December figure was revised higher than we expected. It is not yet impossible that deaths settle in our expected range, but given that a firm peak is not yet visible, excess deaths are likely to be higher than our expectation, and possibly materially so.


          You’ve read that, what, half a dozen times? Yes, I thought the PR official numbers were better than they were. When I found out I was wrong, I issued a correction and an apology.

          Have you nothing better to do? I have lots of analyses on the blog. Here are a few to take a shot at, since you seem to have so little to do:

          A Principal-Agent Framework for Ideology

          Migrants raise American Wages

          Demand Impact of Legalization on the Migrant Population

          1. Menzie Chinn Post author

            You could write: “… it is inappropriate to make definitive statements about death tolls when there is actually a wide range of plausible estimates”

          2. Steven Kopits

            4645 was not a plausible number. GW Feb number of 2975 is not supportable.

            Other numbers are plausible. GW at 2100 for Dec is high end of plausible, but not impossible. Most of the other estimates are plausible.

          3. Moses Herzog

            It doesn’t seem to “piss you off” when wealthy white men employ the immigrants though does it?? “Princeton”Kopits, when are you going to hone those great lecturing skills and anger you have to immigrants on the white men and American corporations that employ them?? Why is it you are silent on that topic “Princeton”Kopits?? Is it because they are white Republicans who employ those “dirty” immigrants you hate so much??

            Has the idea ever occurred to you “Princeton”Kopits that if the white men who employ illegal immigrants were sitting in a federal prison right now with millions in paid fines paid directly into a border patrol fund that the stream of immigrants might slow down quite a bit (as it did under President Obama)???

            Stevie, I think what most likely “pisses you off” during most of your awake hours, is the fact there are tons of Stephen Moore types in America selling the exact same type packages of xenophobia and hate you are, which makes you a very un-special and boring guest for anyone other than FOX news or someone you paid to have your “editorials” placed with.

            OPEN QUESTION for you “Princeton”Kopits: Have you ever paid Yahoo or CNBC to have your writing placed on their platforms?? It’s a YES or NO question “Princeton”Stevie.

          4. Steven Kopits

            Moses –

            I have never paid to have any article placed in any publication. Most of the pieces I write qualify as commentary or op-ed, and most publications have a capacity to publish op-eds from non-employed contributors. An exception to this is The Hill, with whom I have a frame contract in place. But the pay is nominal, something like $0.02 / view. A good article will have maybe 5,000 views +/- 2500. On the other hand, the headline on Drudge of a couple of weeks ago was probably worth hundreds of thousands to maybe a million views, but that was off a Washington Examiner piece by Paul Bedard, which is good for the Examiner, but has no impact on me. Too bad it wasn’t with The Hill — it would have been worth real money!

          5. Steven Kopits

            “It doesn’t seem to “piss you off” when wealthy white men employ the immigrants though does it??”

            Black markets — including black market in migrant labor — are presumed to be demand-determined, if you like, by wealthy white men employing migrants in this case. On the other hand, if you have purchased milk or US dairy products, chicken, beef, pork, fresh fruits of vegetables, stayed in a hotel or eaten in a restaurant, had your lawn cut or house cleaned, or needed construction services of any sort, then you are probably an indirect — or even direct — consumer of undocumented migrant labor. So it’s not just rich guys, it’s almost all of us.

            I have stated, I believe here in the comments of Econbrowser as well, that demand-suppression — cracking down on those ‘white men’ — actually works. That was the history of Arizona as I understand it. There is, however, remarkably little appetite on the right for this sort of thing. As it stands, Americans by a margin of 60/40 oppose building a wall and deporting the undocumented en masse. When conservatives find out that cracking down on employers means losing jobs for American citizens, raising the prices of key consumed commodities, and exporting much of our ag sector, enthusiasm for deportations evaporates there, too. This is one of the key problems facing anti-immigration think tanks like CIS or FAIR — that when push comes to shove, Americans by perhaps a 4:1 margin oppose kicking migrants out, because those migrants are actually providing critical services to the economy.

            Our proposal does not kick anyone out. It operates under the assumption that, while demand for labor exists, supply will find a way to serve it, in the most recent tragic case, by a migrant father and child crossing the river to get into the US. The deaths in the river are the direct result of the contradictions in US policy, that we are attempting to prevent illegal immigration by supply suppression, which has never worked, when we are unwilling to engage in demand-suppression, which would work, just as you point out.

            In light of this, we are proposing to end illegal immigration using both theory and practice which has proved unambiguously successful in the past: moving to a legalize and tax model, as we have for alcohol, gambling and marijuana. This acknowledges underlying labor demand and accepts it as inherent — just like the demand for alcohol. We try to manage the system around the equilibrium level, by creating a legal and open channel to allow labor to flow in and out of the country and we can ‘tune’ the level to an extent by raising or lowering the prices of associated visas.

            Thus, the Salvadoran man who died with his child in the river would instead have been able to get a background check and source and contract his labor while in El Salvador at a known US wage, visa price and US food and lodging costs. There would have been no need to bring the child, and he simply could have hopped a Delta flight out of San Salvador, transferred through Atlanta to his final destination and worked however long he desired for whomever he wanted to. But that will be $20 / day to Uncle Sam, thank you.

            This is no different than the quota v tariffs argument for goods, just applied to services. Menzie, I would imagine, has lectured on this topic probably a hundred times, and he knows exactly what I mean. This is not a deep insight.

      2. Moses Herzog

        Menzie, I’ve been meaning to discuss this with you for a long time now, but due to my overall feeling of timidity on the keyboard, it kept getting put off. Don’t you hate those individuals who bogard comments?? I mean, really man!!!! Where are their social graces?? Do you feel my pain??

        I just can’t relate to these type individuals. [ Looks around the room blankly ]

  3. pgl

    “Differences in and Consistency of Excess Mortality Estimates in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria”

    My apologies for repeating the title here but this post is about the needless deaths in Puerto Rico which is a very different issue from the abuse of children at our southern border. Ah yes – Princeton Stevie boy conflates the two in one of his sick self promotion schemes. I guess all Hispanics are alike to this Trump troll. And of course Hispanics are not worthy unless they confirm to his market based scheme. Whatever!

  4. pgl

    “Steven Kopits
    June 28, 2019 at 2:21 pm
    If we were using a market-based system, these people wouldn’t be dead.


    You think that pisses me off?

    You’re right.”

    Spare us all you pompous and dishonest self promoting piece of garbage. See my 11:47am comment. Your “market-based system” does not have a damn thing to do with why these two people died. And if you had an IQ above the teens – you would know that. So yea – your self promotion is based on your lies here as well as your sick ego.

    Please take your self promotion somewhere else as it is incredibly insulting.

  5. Moses Herzog

    I have to say, outside of Steven Kopits’ comments on Puerto Rico Hurricane excess deaths, this is my all time favorite:

    No word yet on when exactly the peasants will be ransacking Zhongnanhai and dipping Xi Jinping in formaldehyde. I have some cheese flavored puffed rice cakes and some high caffeine soda all set for Kopits’ Fantasyland Day all set. Kopits says he can’t control the timing of this prediction, so I may switch over to Twinkies and coffee around the year 2030 so I don’t have to keep restocking.

    1. pgl

      “outside of Steven Kopits’ comments on Puerto Rico Hurricane excess deaths”.

      Now remember – if we had adopt his market based visa system, there would have been zero deaths in Puerto Rico. After all his vaunted system would have made this hurricane non-existent.

    2. Steven Kopits

      I stand by the comment. China is withdrawing from international markets. That’s what tariffs do. The trade war, I think, is not about trade. It’s about security. Do you see some overwhelming desire in the US for a deal? I don’t. I think US sentiment is moving to a position that China represents an existential threat and we should diversify our sources of supply and do our best to isolate China.

      I said now four years ago that China’s policy in the South China Sea was a bad idea. It’s still a bad idea. Sooner or later, that policy was likely to bring us to this point.

  6. Moses Herzog

    This is something I wanted to share, because I feel it’s an important issue with many states and across the national level. This is what many of these “voucher” schools or “private” schools are doing. They are sucking off funds and resources from public schools. Meanwhile they are cutting deals with local/state level legislators offering campaign funding in exchange for taxpayer funding of “private” schools. How “private” are they when they have to bribe officials and do unethical things in order to be funded?? The whole idea of “private” is they are supposed to survive in a natural way in which market demand provides the funds based on an equal value of services rendered—not on introducing a middle man (similar to “HMOs” in the late ’80s and ’90s) that suck funds off the system. Meanwhile they get local TV stations to praise them as “charter” schools throw large advertising dollars their way and they find any excuse to to “weed out” borderline kids from poor family backgrounds who need the spark they would normally get from public school teachers.

    Parents across this nation need to wake up, your local public school infrastructures and apparatus are being completely destroyed by this corruption which is eating out local public school systems like an aggressive cancer. All these “vouchers” are is kickbacks from Republican legislators after they get their campaign coffers filled by the “charter”/”private” schools which cannot call themselves private when they are funded by tax dollars—they are nothing of the kind..

  7. Barkley Rosser


    I am not going to get involved in your debate with Menzie over Puerto Rican deaths.

    However, regarding your claim that if we had a market-based system for allowing entry this would have prevented this tragic event of this father and daughter drowning in the Rio Grande, I beg to differ. The problem is very simple unfotunately: what if the price for entry determined by the market exceeds what this father could pay? He and his daughter might still end up as they did.

    As I have previously noted, and I think you accepted, I am not against using such a system, but not as the whole ball of wax, rather more as a supplement such as how Canada used such a system for a long time. Again, while the system is not unreasonable, I think you have regularly oversold what it can achieve in your discussions of it here, including regarding this unfortunate example of how bad things can get.

    1. Steven Kopits

      Dead wrong, Barkley.

      Market liberalizations inevitably show that black market goods disappear. When was the last time you bought bootleg liquor? I don’t even know where I could source it. When was the last time you went to the back room to shoot craps like in ‘Guys and Dolls’? It’s ‘Vegas, baby’, nowadays. Or online betting or Draft Kings. (Not sure I like it, but it’s legal.) So history shows that consumers prefer documented and ‘branded’ products when they are available. If it’s easy to get a background check and buy a visa, why would I employ someone without one?

      Now, there are a couple of caveats.

      1. You have to cover the domestic market. If you have a Mexican migrant who paid $7000 to work here alongside an undocumented resident paying zero, then the incoming migrant may decide to ‘go dark’ and allow his visa to lapse. So you need to provide visas to resident undocumented workers.

      2. You are not entirely in control of the market clearing level. You have to issue enough visas to prevent the black market from returning. That means you’re setting visa prices off of Border Patrol apprehension data (among others). You have to issue enough visas to materially close the border. You can shape that number with the visa price, but you’re not one hundred percent in control of the clearing volume. This is a concern, for example, of CIS, that legalization would lead to a big surge in demand for migrant labor. I have prepared an analysis — specifically for CIS — which shows this should be a manageable number. Right now, we’re on track to see 740,000 migrants enter the country this year — far, far worse than anything a market-based program would produce. And again, I am not against US employers using migrant labor to the extent it does not materially reduce US unskilled wages or employment levels, is safe and not a nuisance to the community, and does not affect the political culture of the US adversely (ie, I don’t want to import the governance of Venezuela or Argentina).

      If the market is materially covered by visas near the equilibrium point, then there is very little opportunity to find employment by undocumented migrants. If the HR manager at Tyson Foods can hire legal labor, they will. There is no upside to management there for taking personal and professional risks to break the law.

      Second, if we reduce illegal crossing by 95% — which should be entirely doable — then you’ll have 15,000 border patrol agents arrayed against 150 crossers per day. Even today, some experts think the apprehension rate is 70%. I tend to use 55-60%, and that’s based on, say, 2500 crossers per day. So your odds of being stopped at the border with a 100:1 ratio of agents to crossers is going to be may be 90%. If you are caught coming across illegally, you’ll be barred from the visa program. That is a huge disinective, if the domestic market is materially covered with visas.

      3. The visa price is set in the market. Therefore, if the quantities are adequate, all those purchasing visas should have a consumer (assuming we treat migrants as consumers of US visas) surplus. The economics may not be quite as attractive, but no one’s going to drown in a river, either — and wage theft, worker exploitation, existential insecurity, the inability to conduct daily business, and the disincentive to invest in one’s skills — all goes away. As will the cartels, the kidnapping and extortion, forced prostitution and labor (human trafficking), sexual assault and death — including death in the river.

      I am not overselling anything. The system will deliver as promised. The risks are on the legislative side. There you are correct. What comes out of the sausage mill in DC may not work as I have advertised. But that is not what we are discussing.

      I would add that I have made clear that this system is not suitable for permanent residency. No price-based system is. But then again, I have not promised it, either.

      Otherwise, the impacts of lifting prohibitions are well-documented and well-understood. If you have a specific objection, by all means list it, and I’ll walk through how the system would handle it. If you can find the weakness, I am happy to acknowledge it.

      1. Barkley Rosser

        Overdoing it, Steven. As a mattrer of fact I have had moonshine reasonably recently. Franklin County, VA is still the moonshine capital of the world and still producing the good stuff.

        I will grant that if you are willing to just supply as many visas as are demanded, well, then maybe you can make the black market disappear, but the price in that case is going to approach zero, if not get all the way there. The more you restrict that supply, the higher the price will be, and the more the black market will persist. I do not think you have fully got this dealt with, although I would grant your scheme would reduce the size of the black market.

        So, no, not dead wrong. I have not drowned yet, and your scheme as presented will not guarantee no more drownings, even if it reduces their likelihood.

        1. Steven Kopits

          Let’s start with pathology. You can see the anticipated reductions by predation category on the tab “Expected Results” on the Migrant Victimization spreadsheet, here:

          In general, liberalization is associated with a 95% drop in pathology, historically speaking. For example, marijuana smuggling across the unsecured southwest border, as measured by seizures, is down 95% from its 2009 peak, and down 80% since President Trump took office. And this is with legalization in only 11 states and a still emerging supply chain.

          For some categories, the reduction would be higher, for others, it would be lower. For example, if you can buy a visa and come and go as you please, then not a lot of people are going to drown in the Rio Grande. Sexual assault of women should be reduced from epidemic levels to near zero, at least with regards to the crossing itself. On the other hand, some migrants will still come by bus, and some of those will be robbed, assaulted and kidnapped. But still, the reduction should be massive compared to today’s levels.

  8. joseph

    Remember, by Kopits’ impeccable logic, there are no excess deaths. There are only slightly premature deaths. Everyone dies someday, so how could there be an excess. The logic is irrefutable.

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