Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The rise of the virtual economy, part 2--retail consumption indicators

I recently received some publications from Dr. Ray Huffaker, who studies reconstructed phase space portraits from agricultural cycles. There are some interesting data sets presented in these papers which echo some of the themes I've argued in earlier postings.

The above figure shows retail beef consumption per capita. Data comes from the USDA, the figure is snipped from McCullough et al. (2012). Notice the large decline in the late 1970s. Perhaps you think that decline was due to changing preferences in meat--perhaps more Americans chose to eat pork instead.

Data and figure as above--notice there is also a decline in per capita pork consumption at the same time. Not as marked as the decline in beef, but still present.

Comparison of metal usage to global GDP. Chart from 
Handselbanken Capital Markets.

As posted before, something appears to have happened to the economy in the late 1970s, which puts the lie to the reported GDP growth figures. Would the government exaggerate these numbers? Perhaps to tell you that the economy is doing fine, and if you happen to be experiencing a drop in your standard of living, well, you just need to work harder. Or go buy something with no money down and no payments for three years.

One last figure. Perhaps the decline in beef consumption was due to the "cholesterol scare".

In this figure from McCullough et al. (2013), we see that the cholesterol scare happened after the major decline in beef consumption. Furthermore, the major declines in beef consumption both correlate to increases in the relative price of beef (the beef/chicken ratio on the right axis).

Some comments on previous articles suggested that the decline in copper and zinc production was due to replacement with plastics or aluminum. My counter to that was that copper cannot be replaced in most of its applications, and the decline in copper consumption speaks to a real decline in economic activity--one which was not reflected in reported GDP numbers. The simultaneous per-capita decline in beef and pork consumption supports this conclusion.


McCullough, M. P., Huffaker, R., and Marsh, T. L., 2012. Endogenously determined cycles: Empirical evidence from livestock industries. Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, 16: 205-231.

McCullough, M. P., Marsh, T. L., and Huffaker, R., 2013. Reconstructing market reactions to consumption harms. Applied Economics Letters, 20: 173-179. doi: 10.1080/13504851.2012.687091.

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