BW #30: Uncertainty
What countries reflect greater uncertainty about their future than others? Does this measure stay constant over time? Are countries with higher uncertainty the ones we think we should worry about?
[Personal note: My father, Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner, passed away on Tuesday morning, at the age of 81. I’ll be observing the Jewish week-long mourning ritual known as shiva, and thus don’t expect to put out an issue next week. I wrote this issue of Bamboo Weekly earlier in the week, while he was getting hospice care from some of the most patient, caring, devoted people I’ve ever met.
My father came up with the idea of using the word “bamboo” in the name of this newsletter, and was always interested in the intersection of current events and education. Indeed, he made a point of reading the newspaper every Saturday morning before going to synagogue, in order to make a connection between his sermon and current events. I hope that you enjoy this week’s edition, and I hope to be back in two weeks with more insights inspired by everything I learned from my father.]
I’m writing this while on a flight to the US. Until just a few days ago, I was expecting to be flying in the opposite direction right now, to attend PyCon Taiwan. I've been to Taiwan once before, and it was one of the most delightful places I've ever visited — so I was really excited to return, to attend the conference, to have some business meetings, and to bring my family with me. Python is important, and conferences are important... but health and family are even more important, and there's some business I can conduct while in the US, as well, so there you have it.
When I told my friends that I was planning to visit Taiwan, many were concerned. After all, isn't Taiwan dangerous, given all of the threats that we've heard from China, and the dire headlines we’ve seen time and again? I had to laugh a bit, especially when Israelis asked me this question, given that people are hesitant to visit Israel, where I live, because of headlines describing it as dangerous. (For the record, Israel is extremely safe, except certain for specific places at limited times.)
And so, when I was looking around for an interesting data set having to do with Taiwan, I was amused and excited to find the "World Uncertainly Index," (WUI, at https://worlduncertaintyindex.com and https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/fandd/issues/2020/03/imf-launches-world-uncertainty-index-wui-furceri) a metric that tries to describe how worried we should be about the world in general, or certain regions and countries in particular.
The index, created by Hites Ahir, Nicholas Bloom, and Davide Furceri, has a fairly simple methodology: It reads reports written by the Economist Intelligence Unit (a research firm under the same corporate umbrella as the Economist magazine), and counts uses of the word "uncertainty". That's basically it -- but it seems that the measure does have some predictive power; the authors say that "innovations in the WU foreshadow significant declines in output."
This week, then, I decided to look at the WUI data. Can we identify times when uncertainty in the world went up? Which countries are more reliably uncertain? And how do Israel and Taiwan compare, with each other and with other countries in the world?
Data and seven questions
This week, we'll be working at the WUI data set. It consists of a single Excel file with a number of different sheets, each with a different piece or collection of uncertainty data. You can get it from:
The learning goals for this week include breaking up date information, multi-indexes, method chaining, lambda and assign, and plotting.
Here are my seven tasks and questions for this week:
Read tab T1 into a data frame. Turn the "Year" column into a multi-index consisting of the year and quarter, both integers, and also remove the original "Year" column. Also: Do it all in a single, chained query starting with a call to "read_excel".
Which of the final five columns (comparing regions) currently has the greatest uncertainty? Does this strike you as a reasonable region to be the most uncertain in the world? Looking at the absolute numbers, what do you see with the measurement?
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial