Dead Wrong: Visualizing How Perceived Causes Of Death Differ From Reality

The saying goes that nothing in this world is certain except for death and taxes.

And rightfully so, the inevitability of death is a prominent fear for many humans around the world. After all, death is universal, mysterious, immutable, and sometimes sudden – and it can shake up life in ways that no other event can.

But, as Visual Capitalist’s Jefff Desjardins asks is how we perceive death, along with its common portrayal in media, something that is accurate?


Like anything that is shrouded in mystery, death has accumulated its fair share of myths and half-truths that get baked into our stories, perceptions, and societies.

Even further, high-profile and tragic events like terrorist attacks, murders, and suicides dominate many aspects of the news cycle. As a result, the causes of death that media outlets are the most fixated on couldn’t be further from actual causes of human death as shown through statistics.

The following animation, which comes from Aaron Penne, compares three data sets to show that our worries and media coverage have become quite disproportionate from the actual data. The animation looks at the following:

  • Which causes do we worry the most about? (Google Search data)
  • Which causes are talked about in the media? (NYT and Guardian headlines)
  • What are actual causes of death in the U.S.? (CDC data)

And as you’ll see, the data is quite different for each source.

We worry about cancer 10x more than we worry about heart disease, but in reality both diseases kill roughly the same amount of people. Meanwhile, the media is fixated on terrorism, homicides, and cancer, but heart disease – which kills more than all put together – receives almost no coverage.


Actual causes of death are quite different from personal and media perceptions, but this data is not absolute either. After all, how someone may die depends greatly upon other factors like age.

Here are causes of human death in the U.S. graphed by age group:

The data shows that accidents are the leading cause of death for most ages up until 45 years old, at which case cancer and heart disease take over.

While the topic of death is grim, the above data and statistics can arguably help provide a more realistic outlook regarding one of life’s certainties. It also shows that humans and media are not necessarily rational about this topic, so it’s important to think about it independently if at all possible.

Bitnation, Liberland, And Other Micronations Are Gaining Independence Via Crypto, But Crypto Alone May Not Be Enough

Authored by Simon Chandler via,

Ever since the “decentralised borderless voluntary nation” Bitnation was founded in July 2014, a slowly growing raft of startups and organisations have been attempting to seize cryptocurrencies as an opportunity to build entirely new nations from the ground up.

image courtesy of CoinTelegraph

Whether it be the landlocked Liberland or the seaborne Floating Island Project, they’ve taken cryptocurrencies and blockchains as the basis for a new way of organising how people live, interact and work. And even if they’ve approached the same fundamental task from varying angles, they all regard the decentralisation of crypto as a potential liberator from the top-down control of central governments, and from their inefficiencies and corruptions.

However, despite the evangelical fervour with which many of these projects have pursued their missions, almost all of them have encountered similar obstacles. Not only have the limitations of blockchain technology held them back, but they’ve also suffered from the unsurprising resistance of national governments, which are perhaps less-than keen on being usurped by crypto-states.

Funding, products and services

The Floating Island Project is the most recent would-be crypto-state to have garnered press attention. Initially announced in 2013 by the Seasteading Institute (itself launched in 2008 and boasting Peter Thiel as an early investor), it aims to found an indefinite number of floating cities in and around French Polynesia, with the target-year for the establishment of its first city being 2022.

In May, further details on the project were revealed, with the Seasteading Institute (SI) revealing that its inaugural island would accommodate 300 houses and be making use of its very own cryptocurrency, named Varyon (VAR).

Nicolas Germineau, the co-founder and MD at Blue Frontiers (a Seasteading Institute offshoot which oversees the token) told Cointelegraph:

“Varyon is a payment token which will initially generate revenues to fund the last steps of the pilot project and kickstart the ecosystem of Seasteads in French Polynesia. It will also be used widely afterwards as we build seasteads in more locations and establish relevant partnerships.”

While Blue Frontiers’ planned attempts “to establish Varyon as a useful currency in and around the Seasteads” might imply that VAR will form the essential bedrock of the Project’s financial system and economy, Germineau affirms that VAR won’t in fact be the only accepted currency on the island and its eventual siblings.

“It should be noted that we will not be forcing third parties to transact in Varyon among themselves, even within our SeaZone,” he says. “It is important to us to establish Varyon on its own merits and the onus is on Blue Frontiers to make it widely accepted, easy to use, and generally compelling enough to become a premier medium of exchange.”

Cryptocurrencies, interference, and taxation

In other words, cryptocurrency isn’t actually of indispensable importance to the day-to-day workings of the Floating Island Project, which could still theoretically operate without VAR. Instead, it’s using the digital currency in order to kickstart and boost its funding in a way that wouldn’t be possible via traditional investment, something which is common to certain other ‘crypto-state’ projects.

For example, Liberland is a crypto-state lying on a 7km2 patch of land situated between Serbia and Croatia. It’s because of a territorial dispute between the two Balkan countries (stemming from the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s) that the micronation’s founder, Vit Jedlicka, was able to lay claim to its small slither of territory in April 2015. But ever since, Croatian authorities have hounded the former Czech politician and the citizens of his new nation, with ‘President Jedlicka’ himself being arrested and fined in May 2015 for attempting to enter the newborn country.

Given the Croatian establishment’s persecution of Liberland (which is recognised by no other nation), it’s unlikely that receiving taxation (which is voluntary) and other funds in a fiat currency such as the Croatian kuna would be a good idea, with the harder-to-seize nature of cryptocurrencies being considerably more preferable.

Something broadly similar applies to Sol, also known as Puertopia. This is a (somewhat informal) ‘crypto-utopia’ settlement founded at some point in late 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico by child actor-cum-crypto entrepreneur Brock Pierce and a number of his fellow crypto-tycoons. According to a highly cited profile of Sol published in The New York Times, much of the attraction of “Sol” (or rather Puerto Rico) is its extremely lenient tax regime, with the US territory imposing no capital gains tax and no federal income tax.

As such, hugely wealthy investors such as Pierce can reside in Sol without having to hand much (or any) money to a central government, something which indicates that their plans to establish a self-enclosed economy revolving around Bitcoin is perhaps an extension of this principle.

As Reeve Collins, a resident of Sol and the founder of ‘blockchain app store’ BLOCKv, said in February’s profile:

“No, I don’t want to pay taxes […] This is the first time in human history anyone other than kings or governments or gods can create their own money.”


Of course, the desire to avoid paying tax or to evade the jurisdiction of an existing, larger nation can point to a deeper principle than simply wanting to hold onto money and/or achieve fiscal independence. For most of the projects mentioned above, libertarian political values play a guiding role, and while the merits of such values are open to debate, they regard a minimal state, fiscal sovereignty and free trade as the greatest goods a nation can attain.

Starting with the Floating Island Project, aside from receiving early funds from libertarian Peter Thiel and being founded by fellow traveller Patri Friedman (grandson of economist Milton Friedman), the Seasteading Institute’s managing director Randolph Hencken has gone on record as saying:

“The underlying philosophy is rooted in a belief that we can do better with technology and innovation rather than ideology, politics and argumentation.”

Comparable views have been expressed by Liberland’s Vit Jedlicka, who said in February:

“For many years, I worked for lowering taxes and regulations in the Czech Republic, but I suddenly realised that it would be easier to start a new country than to fix an existing one.”

And much the same goes for the Free Society Foundation, announced in September 2017 by libertarians/crypto investors Roger Ver and Olivier Janssens. Its openly avowed aim is to “establish a rule of law based on libertarian principles and free markets,” and while it hasn’t outlined how it might harness the power of cryptocurrencies in order to realise this aim, Ver had hinted that an ICO was in the offing. He said in an interview given at the time:

“Thanks to cryptocurrencies, now there is a way to fundraise for people all over the world who are interested in this.”

Government resistance

However, mention of the Free Society Foundation’s potential ICO leads to the obstacles such projects have faced, since Ver admitted in the same interview:

“We were planning to have an ICO, but the regulators have kind of gotten in the way of that at the moment.”

Regulators – or rather governments – may have also gotten in the way of the Foundation’s primary aim, which was to pay a sovereign government for the piece of land on which it would establish the “world’s first libertarian country.” Despite stating in September that “[government] interest was much higher than initially anticipated,” there has so far been no update on whether it’s actually made any progress in purchasing land, with our requests for comment from the Foundation being ignored.

Aside from the persecuted Liberland, government hostility or indifference (call it what you will) may end up impeding the progress of the Floating Island Project. Despite signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with French Polynesia in January 2017, the French dependency distanced itself from the project this February, when it noted in a Facebook post that the validity of the MoU expired at the end of last year. As a result, it will no longer be collaborating with the Seasteading Institute on the development of a “special governing framework” for any floating islands, and may end up resisting plans to launch such islands altogether.

Another issue crypto-states will encounter is a familiar one for any blockchain project: scalability. However, they’re optimistic that this challenge can be met, even if some of them – e.g. the Floating Island Project – operate on such blockchains as Ethereum’s, which was infamously backlogged by a video game last year, for instance. Nicolas Germineau tells Cointelegraph:

Scalability is a challenge faced by the entire Ethereum community. Many initiatives, from proof of stake to off-chain settlement mechanisms, are going to make this less challenging moving forward. We have a lot of faith in the Ethereum development community and their ability to innovate, and we are confident they will solve these challenges.”

Peaceful transition?

Scalability aside, one crypto-nation that may not suffer so much resistance from vested governmental interests is one that doesn’t lay claim to any particular territory: Bitnation. Launched in July 2014 as the “world’s first Decentralised Borderless Voluntary Nation” (DBVN), it provides a range of blockchain-based governance services (e.g. public notaries, IDs, marriages), and ultimately aims to create a competitive global marketplace for such services that would make central governments redundant.

While its COO James Fennell Tempelhof warned Cointelegraph last year that the “nation state will not give up [its power] easily” to blockchain-based alternatives, it’s interesting to note that Bitnation won the Grand Prix at UNESCO’s Netexplo Forum in May 2017 for its Refugee Emergency Response project, which began registering refugee IDs on the Bitcoin blockchain in September 2015.

If nothing else, this glowing award from a UN agency reveals that the world’s governments do see at least some place for blockchain-based platforms to assume certain functions of theirs. And if they permit enough wriggle room to such crypto-state projects as Bitnation, these projects may end up claiming even more, with (Bitnation CEO and spouse of James) Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof affirming in 2016, “we need to outcompete national governments at their original core function: security and jurisdiction.”

For sure, such a transition is no doubt a long way away if it’s even possible, but with rumours that a certain crypto-exchange is planning its own micronation, the future of experimental blockchain-based states could end up being very interesting. These will have to compete with the enduring power of nationalism and patriotism, and they’ll also have to face up to questions concerning the real-world scalability of blockchains, but the variety of forms they’ve taken in recent years would indicate that they may throw up plenty of ideas and innovation along the way.

Morgan Stanley Is Wrong: Goldman Warns China’s Credit Impulse Collapse Will “Drag On Growth” This Year

Just over a month ago – in what seemed to be an effort to keep the dream of a global synchronous recovery narrative alive – Morgan Stanley attempted to show that the link between China’s (declining) credit impulse and the global economy (which we are constantly told is ebullient) has now been severed and all is well in the world.

Their Chief Asia Economist Chetan Ahya began by confirming that “if you had been able to reliably pick the key global macro variable over 2012-16, China’s credit impulse would have been your choice” and explains why (this should be obvious to regular readers): 

The incredibly tight link between the credit impulse and China’s growth cycle, emerging markets (EMs) exports, global growth and commodity prices meant that it would have accurately predicted the direction of almost all other global macro variables that mattered, with about six months’ lead time.

He further explains the “simple” – in retrospect of course – reason behind this observation:

China’s credit impulse – or its leverage cycle – was the only game in town back then. With global aggregate demand weak as developed markets (DMs) were deleveraging and EMs were adjusting, the change in China’s credit impulse was the most significant driver of the global economy

However, in a striking claim which breaks with precedent and which, if correct suggests a historic change in the relationship between China’s credit creation and its impact on global markets and economies, the Morgan Stanley economist then writes that the link between China’s credit impulse and the global economy “has now been broken” and justifies his answer as follows: 

China’s tightening has not had a material impact on the growth cycle either in China or globally, even though its credit impulse began to weaken about 24 months ago. As deleveraging and adjustment headwinds recede, the recoveries in domestic demand in both DMs and EMs have emerged as additional global growth engines.

Ahya used the following chart to prove his thesis…

However, Goldman Sachs disagrees, warning that things are aboutto get a lot more problematic for that global synchronous recovery narrative as China’s collapsing credit impulse wriggles its way thru the economy…

Since 2008, there have been two and half distinct cycles in China credit. We see these cycles more clearly in the chart below, which plots net credit flows from lenders to borrowers against nominal IP growth in China.

Lower net credit flows from lenders to borrowers weigh on future activity growth

We can visually see how peaks/troughs in net credit flows from lenders to borrowers tend to systematically predict growth outperformance/ underperformance over a short period of time, but then growth underperformance/ outperformance over a longer horizon. For example, the peak in net credit flows from lenders to borrowers in late 2009, early 2013 and mid-2016 was systematically followed by peaks in nominal activity 2-3 quarters after, and then – in the case of peaks in 2009 and 2013 – a trough in nominal activity growth 2.5-3 years after. In our empirical estimations, we attempt to measure this predictable lag between peaks in net credit flow from lenders to borrowers and nominal activity growth.

Credit boost to China activity peaked in mid-2017 and has declined since. With the results of our modeling exercise in hand, we can simulate the net impact of changes in the net credit flow on past and future activity growth. Armed with the stylized impact of shocks to credit flow on activity growth, we can sum up the effects from the historical path of changes in the net credit flow to generate an “aggregate growth impact of net credit flow” for every period. The results of this exercise for nominal growth are shown in the chart below.

Net credit impulse to activity growth likely to decelerate over the coming year…

This suggests that net credit flows were a substantial drag on growth in late 2014 and 2015, as new borrowings decelerated and debt service costs rose. Thereafter, as net credit flows rose in mid-2015 as new borrowings accelerated and debt service costs fell (maturity extensions and falling interest rates), this provided a meaningful boost to activity growth. The positive credit impulse on nominal activity peaked in mid-2017 , about a year after the peak in net credit flows and has declined since. Results for real activity growth are very similar.

The credit impulse should continue to push activity growth modestly weaker in our base case of a stabilization in new borrowings at current levels. What can we expect for activity growth going forward? While the pre-specified path of debt service already bakes some impacts in the cake, we evaluate some scenarios on the future path of new borrowings in the economy, to estimate the net activity impact going forward (chart below).

In our base case, where new borrowings stabilize at current levels, net credit flows would gradually decline as debt service costs rise, dragging nominal growth lower by 70bp (from +30bp above trend to -40bp below trend) and real growth lower by 20bp (from +5bp above trend to -15bp below trend) over the next 12 months. In practice, this scenario is in line with our expectation on the policy stance – i.e. that the government will continue to tighten policies in targeted areas (such as on shadow banking products, local government irregular borrowings etc) while keeping the broad monetary policy accommodative and lowering interest rates to offset some of the targeted tightening effect. The growth impacts in our base case are broadly in line with our current forecasts of modestly slower nominal and real GDP growth over the next year.

… with more negative impacts on activity should new borrowings continue to decelerate at the same pace since mid-2016. In a bearish case, new borrowings continue to decelerate at the same pace they have done since mid-2016, and net credit flows decline more sharply than in our base case. In practice, this case could emerge if the government overtightens on shadow banking products or local governments’ irregular borrowings and does not sufficiently substitute these borrowings with other standard credit. In this base case, we would expect the drag on nominal growth to increase to 140bp and real growth to 40bp, over the next 12 months. Even in a more optimistic case in which new borrowings gradually increase to offset rising debt service costs over the next year, stabilizing net credit flows at current levels vs. GDP , real and nominal activity growth should decelerate although more modestly than our base case.

The key takeaway from this exercise is that, barring meaningful increases in new borrowings over the next year, activity growth in China is likely to decelerate, as the credit impulse to activity growth fades and debt service costs rise.


Mattis: Withdrawing US Troops From Syria Would Be A “Strategic Blunder”

Authored by Jason Ditz via,

Speaking at NATO headquarters of Friday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated his opposition to the idea of withdrawing US troops from Syria. He said any withdrawal before progress was made would be a “strategic blunder.”

“In Syria, leaving the field before the special envoy Staffan de Mistura achieves success in advancing the Geneva political process we all signed for under the UN security council resolution would be a strategic blunder, undercutting our diplomats and giving the terrorists the opportunity to recover…”

James Mattis

Mattis’ position reflects those of a lot of top US cabinet officials, who have resisted President Trump’s talk of a quick withdrawal. He argues that the UN peace plan necessitates an ongoing US military presence.

On the one hand, Mattis suggests leaving too soon could give “the terrorists the opportunity to recover.”

On the other hand, he also says that leaving would be exploited by the Assad government and its supporters.

This again sets out the US position that the UN plan necessitates regime change in Syria, something other supporters say is not the caase. It also suggests a more or less permanent US presence in Syria, since there is virtually no chance the US will impose a favorable outcome.

Instead, Syria looks to be going the way of other major US wars, an open-ended situation short of success in which officials simultaneously are unable to come up with a plan to “win,” but will resist any pullout so they never completely lose.

Sherman: “Massive Disconnect” Between Growth And Inflation Suggests More Pain Ahead In Rates

Since DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach called what appears to have been the top of a more than 30-year bull market in bonds back in the summer of 2016, the company has established itself as one of the most respected thought leaders in the world of fixed income. But while Gundlach is widely seen as the public face of the firm, his co-CIO Jeffrey Sherman has also found success running the firm’s strategic commodity fund, where he has developed strategies that focus on baskets of commodities that tend to trade in backwardation and contango, allowing the fund to pick up carry as the firm rolls over its positions from month to month. But a few months back, the firm changed its view and now believes that, as long as the 30-year stays under 3.22%, chaos in both equity and bond markets will be contained – at least for the time being.


In this week’s interview on the Macrovoices podcast, Erik Townsend discusses with Sherman why he and Gundlach now see the long end as the new key factor across markets. As Sherman explains, they don’t see 3.22% as a change in their view, but rather as a sign that the long end is corroborating moves seen in other areas of the curve, and that a breakout might soon arrive.

But, during this whole time, the 30-year has really double topped in yields or triple topped in yields – at 3.22 a couple of times. Now within about ten trading days ago or so, we did actually settle above 3.22. So all the phones were ringing. Everybody’s asking what does this mean? You know, it closed at 3.24 – is this the telltale sign? And from technical analysis you wait for confirmation. You wait for a couple of days. We’ve always said, like, is it 3.25? 3.30?

Give it a little bit of wiggle room because of the length of duration and how painful that price move is. So it did not confirm in the next – we went below it and we’ve been below it since. Now, I’d say the world has changed over the last 10 or so calendar days. We had the resurrection of risk once again, through the BTP market and the likes, but we’re holding on the 30-year because it’s the only one that really hasn’t sat out this technical trading range.

The one thing about the technicals, if you look at the shelf or the next area where it can go to, it’s roughly that 3.97 taper tantrum. So, again, we’re waiting for that long bond to corroborate the move. So far, it was kind of the false positive. It didn’t really hold. And you’ve seen yields roughly about 15 to 20 basis points lower than they were a couple of weeks ago.

Commodity traders often look at positioning as it’s laid out in the weekly Commitment of Traders reports as key indicators of how commodities might trade in the coming days or weeks. But one key difference between commodities and Treasurys is that the spot market in Treasurys is much larger when compared to the futures market. But despite this difference, Sherman argues (as others have on this blog in the recent past) that shifts in positioning often can reliably predict short squeezes in spot, and that the CFTC data are still relevant, despite the delay in their release. Most recently, Sherman used the data in the week after Memorial Day Weekend to determine that the drop in global rates was the result of a risk-off sentiment creeping back into markets.

Now, given the rally we saw in rates in German bunds, the selloff massively in BTPs before the Memorial Day weekend, we expected there to be some form of short squeeze behavior there going on. One, you don’t really want to be short going into the long weekend. There’s all this risk percolating, three days to unwind it, so maybe I’ll just kind of flatten myself out.

And then, given the behavior of the risk-off appetite that you saw that Tuesday morning post Memorial Day here in the US, you say that – okay, it felt like it was running across the curve, maybe it isn’t as much a short squeeze. So we get the CFTC last Friday and the report came out and the positioning seemed just as long on the short side as it’s been historically.

So what we find there is it didn’t have all the makings of a short squeeze. If you reflect upon it, seeing how the curve moved, it did feel like a more risk-off type of appetite and that rates were somewhat responding to that. So, yes, I do agree with you that’s extreme positioning. One thing you’ve got to think about in the bond market is that, as you’re short a bond because you have to pay the carry, you have to pay the yield on it. The more right you are the more expensive that becomes over time to hold that position. So with a sideways type market, usually in yields it tends to flush out some of these short positions. Because, ultimately, just the cost of carry and not having any price movement to offset that negative carry can be problematic.

Circling back, Townsend decided to confront Sherman with some questions about the technicalities of managing his macro-driven commodities fund. One factor that Townsend says he often sees among commodities managers is that they often don’t understand the technicalities of concepts like contango (where each successive contract is priced higher the further they are out the curve) and backwardation (when the front-month is priced higher than contracts further out the curve). Sherman runs a strategy that seeks to divide commodities into baskets based on both of these traits. Because, what else would you expect a bunch of bond guys running commodities funds to do if not look further out at the curve?

Typically a contango contract means you have an oversupplied type of market that you’re trying to incentivize consumption today, so pulling down that front price for instantaneous consumption. And the converse is true when it’s in backwardation. Historically, that signals that you have a tighter type of market that you’re trying to penalize people for consumption today. If you can defer that consumption it’s cheaper.

So what we did is we worked together with someone in developing a basket or an index of exposures that focuses on things that tend to trade more in backwardation than not. Now, understanding that, you’re not looking contemporaneously at the curves to make that assessment. You are using back testing, you’re using history to think about it. But you’re also coming up with a structural rationale of why that should be, or at least better than other parts of the market.

What we ended up doing was launching a strategy that uses a backwardation-focused index. So we choose 11 commodities: roughly a third in the energy sector, a third of the dollar exposure within metals (and that’s going to be industrial metals, not precious because precious should trade in contango structurally), and then some of the agriculture and livestock to round up those positionings. So a third, a third, a third.

Finally, Townsend confronts Sherman with a question that has puzzled DoubleLine and many other bond funds in recent months. Namely, how does one rationalize a view that sees higher rates 6-to-12 months out with a view that we’re not too far away from recession. Sherman offers a response that’s strikingly similar to a position put forward by former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last week (which he in turn aped from Bridgewater Capital). and that response is: The market will in essence find a temporary reprieve thanks to the influx of fiscal stimulus currently being digested by the US economy.

But once the market digests the new issuance and the Fed continues hiking rates and allowing bonds on its balance sheet to roll off, eventually this will send yields higher even if this coincides with the end of the business cycle and the first rumblings of recession.

Maybe it’s that the tail wags the dog here. What it is is the recession indicators aren’t flashing extreme warning signals to us at this stage. In fact, very few are. Yeah, the yield curve is a little flat. Historically, if you go through when 2s and 10s goes inside of 50, it typically ultimately crosses zero. And we know that, historically, when we’ve crossed zero that’s been a recession. Maybe it’s a little bit different this time. Maybe it takes a bit longer. There’s nothing that says that a strictly monotonic decreasing function that takes you straight to zero through that 50 – it bounces around. Sometimes it bounces around for a year or so. It’s one of the things that puts us on warning.


And so there happens to be a disconnect. That’s why we’re focused on the 30-year right now. There’s a really big disconnect over the long-term growth and inflation prospects, of being talked about in the marketplace, but the long bond is really not buying into it. So the rest of the curve is saying, look, if we’re going to put pressure on the front end, it sounds like Treasury finance is going to happen front to belly, it’s not really clear what Mnuchin’s plan is for all of the issuance this year, especially as you get this new supply.

And so, ultimately, it’s just somewhat bearish for rates, just on the fiscal side of the equation. And yet on the technicals of the Fed’s balance sheet, there’s a lot of bonds that have got to be digested. And, on top of that, you have the corporate bond market, you have the international markets.

There’s a lot of debt that needs to hit the markets for the next year or so, which should put pressure on global rates, regardless of the positioning. Ultimately, it could become recessionary and you get the rally there. But we think that you have pain first and that’s what causes that chain reaction.

Listen to the full interview below:

The podcast targeting pro finance and sophisticated investors, hosted by Hedge Fund Manager Erik Townsend