The Economist: Some good news for development economists
Conversable Economist: The Rise of Remittances
"Here's a pattern showing the rise in remittances over time compared to some other international financial flows. Back in 1990, international remittances were lower than official development assistance (ODA). Flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) to developing countries were also smaller than ODA, as were flows of private debt and portfolio equity to developing countries. (The FDI flows to developing countries show here exclude China.) Remittances have been larger than development assistance for some years now, and the gap is growing. Perhaps more surprising, remittances also outstripped debt and portfolio equity flows to developing countries in recent years. The flows of remittances also look quite stable compared to other private-sector capital flows."
Conversable Economist: Americans, Led by Democrats, Get Friendlier With Free Trade
" ... I welcome the overall shift toward a more positive view of foreign trade among Americans. As I've argued on this blog before, the next few decades seem likely to be a time when the most rapid economic growth is happening outside the high-income countries of the world, and finding ways for the US economy to connect with and participate in that rapid growth could be an important driver of US economic growth in the decades ahead. In a broad sense, US attitudes over foreign trade mirror the behavior of the US trade deficit: that is, when the US trade deficit was getting worse in the early 2000s, the share of those viewing trade as a "threat" was rising, but at about the same time that the US trade deficit started declining, the share of those viewing trade as an "opportunity" started to rise.
New York Times: A Call to Look Past Sustainable Development - Eduardo Porter
If billions of impoverished humans are not offered a shot at genuine development, the environment will not be saved. And that requires not just help in financing low-carbon energy sources, but also a lot of new energy, period. Offering a solar panel for every thatched roof is not going to cut it.
“We shouldn’t be talking about 10 villages that got power for a light bulb,” said Joyashree Roy, a professor of economics at Jadavpur University in India who was among the leaders of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
“What we should be talking about,” she said, “is how the village got a power connection for a cold storage facility or an industrial park.”
Changing the conversation will not be easy. Our world of seven billion people — expected to reach 11 billion by the end of the century — will require an entirely different environmental paradigm....
... The “eco-modernists” propose economic development as an indispensable precondition to preserving the environment. Achieving it requires dropping the goal of “sustainable development,” supposedly in harmonious interaction with nature, and replacing it with a strategy to shrink humanity’s footprint by using nature more intensively.
“Natural systems will not, as a general rule, be protected or enhanced by the expansion of humankind’s dependence upon them for sustenance and well-being,” they wrote.
To mitigate climate change, spare nature and address global poverty requires nothing less, they argue, than “intensifying many human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world.”
As Mr. Shellenberger put it, the world would have a better shot at saving nature “by decoupling from nature rather than coupling with it.”
This new framework favors a very different set of policies than those now in vogue. Eating the bounty of small-scale, local farming, for example, may be fine for denizens of Berkeley and Brooklyn. But using it to feed a world of nine billion people would consume every acre of the world’s surface. Big Agriculture, using synthetic fertilizers and modern production techniques, could feed many more people using much less land and water.
As the manifesto notes, as much as three-quarters of all deforestation globally occurred before the Industrial Revolution, when humanity was supposedly in harmony with Mother Nature. Over the last half century, the amount of land required for growing crops and animal feed per average person declined by half. …
… Development would allow people in the world’s poorest countries to move into cities — as they did decades ago in rich nations — and get better educations and jobs. Urban living would accelerate demographic transitions, lowering infant mortality rates and allowing fertility rates to decline, taking further pressure off the planet.
“By understanding and promoting these emergent processes, humans have the opportunity to re-wild and re-green the Earth — even as developing countries achieve modern living standards, and material poverty ends,” the manifesto argues. …
Read the whole thing. Decoupling is essential. We have already seen this with land use. We are using no more land for agriculture in the United States than we were 100 years ago. Before that time it took a fixed amount of land to feed each person. That same decoupling is developing worldwide but it could be accelerated. The amount of energy consumed per unit of GDP has now begun to decline. We see this decoupling with other resources. Add a move to solar and nuclear power in combination with decoupling and we have a real chance to drive down carbon emissions drastically.
I haven't yet read the whole EcoModernist Manifesto linked in the article, but the parameters and reasoning laid here is the best articulation of my views on economic development and sustainability that I have read.
I recently linked an article about What Buy Local Gets Wrong. I quote Jason Sorens observation:
"If you buy everything within that circumscribed area and exclude everything outside it, your community will be worse off than it would be if it bought from any willing seller."
I came across this quote in a recent article on the surprising rise of independent bookstores.
When you buy a book at one [independent store], you keep your money in the local economy, something that appeals to many shoppers. You're also more likely to find a unique selection of curated books and personalized recommendations from the store's employees, who are usually enthusiastic evangelists of the written word.
The second sentence points to a key issue. The only way you compete in business is either to be the low cost provider or to offer a premium with your product for which people are willing to pay more. The second sentence is good example of stores finding a premium.
While the first sentence may be accurate in describing motivations for some people to shop at Indy stores, it is an irrational and destructive mindset. People are saying it is ALWAYS better to buy things in the local economy - in this case books. Let's follow that logic for a moment.
First, lets say local is anything within ten miles of my house. I'm going to buy local so I go to the indy bookstore and buy my book. Where did the bookseller get the book? Does the author live within ten miles? Was the paper in the book from trees grown and harvested in the community? Was the pulp producer located in the community? How about the chemical producers and processors who made the ink and glue? How about the printing company? If so, was the digital printing and binding equipment - and all the component parts - made and bought locally? How about the currency used to buy the book? I can go on but you get my point.
If we were to apply "buy local" reasoning consistently we would all be much worse off. All things being equal, buying a product simply because it is local is illogical unless you wish to diminish everyone's standard of living. This is true no matter how big you define local as anything short of global.
God made us for community. Face-to-face community has irreplaceable benefits in some aspects of life but we were also made for the community of commercial society. By specializing in our labor according to gifts and looking to the needs of others as reflected through price in a market exchange, we all benefit.
Thirty years ago this July, Bob Geldof helped organize Live Aid, a concert to help victims of a lengthy famine in Ethiopia. Months earlier, he was behind the release of the song Do They Know It's Christmas? that raised money for Ethiopia as well. While clearly well intended, both ventures - and the Aid ventures they would spawn - reflected a highly Western-centric and paternalistic view of Africans, portraying Africans as dysfunctional and helpless without the help of the Great White Hope. Their welfare is a contingent on Western benevolence, not their own initiative and creativity.
Pope John Paul II said the poverty is not lack of wealth. Poverty is exclusion from networks of productivity and exchange. The solution to poverty is appreciation for the God given creative capacity in each person and the inclusion of everyone in networks of productivity and exchange.
Now, thirty years later, some of these rockers are seeing the light. Bono of U2 has been singing the praises of entrepreneurial capitalism for a few years now. (Bono: 'Capitalism Takes More People Out of Poverty Than Aid') And now we learn Bob Geldof himself has entered the venture capital business. (Rock Star Bob Geldof Spearheads U.S. Private-Equity Push Into Ethiopia)
Below is a video interview with Geldof about his ventures. Note that right out of the gate the interviewer challenges Geldof because Geldof will be making a profit off of his ventures. Yes! That is exactly right! That is because profit for all parties is what happens when equals - creative productive people - specialize and began to exchange goods and services. Their profits get invested in expansion or in new ventures, creating more wealth, jobs, and higher standards of living. Instead, the interviewer's paradigm is of a patron to an inferior, an inferior with nothing of value to produce and exchange. Maybe some of our paternalism will begin to fade as these high profile celebrities begin to embrace economic development and exchange.
The Atlantic: Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial
A common perspective among political conservatives, especially of the libertarian and Tea Party varieties, is that welfare is a drag on economic growth and it is a disincentive to initiative. Paul Ryan wants a safety net and not safety hammock. Some libertarians don’t even want the net. It would be better to let people assume their own risks. Money taxed away by the government is money that people could have used to buy goods and services and boost the economy.
I do not dispute that government programs could be a drag on the economy but this conservative narrative is grossly incomplete! Entrepreneurship and economic innovation are, at the heart, calculations about risk. By taking a bold step, what are the chances I will be better off (however I measure that) and what are the chances I could lose everything? Do the chances of “better off” outweigh the status quo, especially if I could lose even what I have now? So here is the key point: By reducing the risk of losing everything we tip the risk calculation toward taking making more risk, and therefore economic growth.
... Take food stamps. Conservatives have long argued that they breed dependence on government. In a 2014 paper, Olds examined the link between entrepreneurship and food stamps, and found that the expansion of the program in some states in the early 2000s increased the chance that newly eligible households would own an incorporated business by 16 percent. (Incorporated firms are a better proxy for job-creating startups than unincorporated ones.)
Interestingly, most of these new entrepreneurs didn’t actually enroll in the food stamp program. It seems that expanding the availability of food stamps increased business formation by making it less risky for entrepreneurs to strike out on their own. Simply knowing that they could fall back on food stamps if their venture failed was enough to make them more likely to take risks. ...
... The rate of incorporated business ownership for those [CHIP] eligible households just below the cutoff was 31 percent greater than for similarly situated families that could not rely on CHIP to care for their children if they needed it.
The same is true of recent immigrants to the United States. Contrary to claims by the right that welfare keeps immigrants from living up to their historic role as entrepreneurs, CHIP eligibility increased those households’ chances of owning an incorporated business by 28 percent.
The mechanism in each case is the same: publicly funded insurance lowers the risk of starting a business, since entrepreneurs needn’t fear financial ruin. (This same logic explains why more forgiving bankruptcy laws are associated with more entrepreneurship.) ...
... American men were more likely to start a business just after turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare than just before. Here again, government can make entrepreneurship more appealing by making it less risky. ...
... Sometimes, though, a robust safety net may serve to discourage entrepreneurship. The best path in such cases, however, may not be to cut the program, but rather, to reform it. When France lowered the barriers to receiving unemployment insurance, it actually increased the rate of entrepreneurship.. Until 2001, citizens on unemployment insurance had little incentive to start businesses, since doing so would terminate their benefits. Instead of gutting the program, the state simply decided to let anyone who founded a business keep drawing benefits for a limited period, and guaranteed that they would be eligible again if that business failed. The result: a 25 percent increase in the rate of new-firm creation. ...
Other examples are reported. You get the picture. Here is the conclusion.
... The evidence simply does not support the idea of a consistent tradeoff between bigger government and a more entrepreneurial economy. At least in some cases, the reverse is actually true. When governments provide citizens with economic security, they embolden them to take more risks. Properly deployed, a robust social safety net encourages more Americans to attempt the high-wire act of entrepreneurship.
The challenge is not the particular size of government. The issue is the precise programmatic design of any given program. Markets generate a real-time feedback loop that allows independent individuals to prioritize their choices. Government has less effective ways of being adaptive and responsive. I lean toward market solutions where practical. Yet, there are some deliverables that markets alone are not capable of generating. How this mix should all come together is a topic on which reasonable people can disagree. But the idea that government cuts necessarily lead to more economic vitality is no more valid than the idea that wildly throwing money at welfare programs helps people. The real world is far messier than ideologues are willing to grant.
Ethics and Economic Education of New England: Buying local and blocking out the sun
Incorporating the lens of opportunity cost into to decision-making is probably one of contributions of economic thinking. Failure to incorporate it is what often leads well intentioned movements into destructive outcomes. Jason Sorens does a good job illustrating this with the "Buy-Local" movement.
So return to the example of the plastic bins [Buying bins for $1 at Wal-Mart vs. local for $2]. If I buy them from Wal-Mart, I save $1. I can use that dollar to buy other things or to invest in producing things (by saving). I am better off than if I buy the bins at $2 each from the local retailer, Wal-Mart is better off, and whoever would benefit from my spending or saving that extra dollar is also better off. Only the local retailer is worse off.
Do the gains from buying from Wal-Mart rather than the local retailer in this example outweigh the losses? Yes. To see this, imagine that everyone bought local, all the time. Cars, airplanes, software, clothing, food… everything would have to be made and exchanged in the town where you live. What would happen to everyone’s standard of living? It would fall dramatically. (How many skilled airplane manufacturers does your town have?) The same principle applies at the national level, or any other geographic level you choose. If you buy everything within that circumscribed area and exclude everything outside it, your community will be worse off than it would be if it bought from any willing seller.
Now, that’s an extreme example, but it illustrates the principle. Some things are impossible to make locally (airplanes). Other things are difficult and costly to make locally (shipping and retailing of plastic bins). A few things will be most efficiently and affordably made locally, and you will want to buy them locally without having to be goaded into doing so – they’ll simply be the best products for the price. Goading your community into buying shoddier or more costly products just because they’re local or American or whatever just makes your community poorer.
Read the whole thing.
Real Clear Science: Why We Reject Facts & Embrace Conflict
There is a growing body of research suggesting that when beliefs become tied to one’s sense of identity, they are not easily revised. Instead, when these axioms are threatened, people look for ways to outright dismiss inconvenient data. If this cannot be achieved by highlighting logical, methodological or factual errors, the typical response is to leave the empirical sphere altogether and elevate the discussion into the moral and ideological domain, whose tenets are much more difficult to outright falsify (generally evoking whatever moral framework best suits one’s rhetorical needs).
While often described in pejorative terms, these phenomena may be more akin to “features,” than “bugs,” of our psychology. ...
For instance, the Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis holds that the primary function of rationality is social, rather than epistemic. Specifically, our rational faculties were designed to mitigate social conflicts (or conflicting interests). But on this account, rationality is not a neutral mediator. Instead, it is deployed in the service of one’s own interests and desires—which are themselves heavily informed by our sense of identity. ...
... Accordingly, the best way to reduce polarization is not by obscuring critical differences under the pretense of universalism. Instead, societies should aspire to lower the perceived stakes of these identity conflicts.
For example, rigidity, polarization and groupthink are much less common, and more easily addressed, in deliberations within an identity group; closed-mindedness is largely a response to a perceived threat from outside. In heterogeneous contexts, many of the benefits of this enclave deliberation can be achieved by engaging interlocutors in terms of their own framing and narratives, mindful of their expressed concerns and grievances. That is, identity differences should not be suppressed, avoided or merely tolerated, but instead emphasized, encouraged and substantively respected—emphasizing pluralism over sectarianism. This can create a foundation where good-faith exchange and intergroup cooperation are feasible. Or put another way, the problem isn’t cultural cognition, it’s the lack of cross-cultural competence.
Scientific American: Why People "Fly from Facts"
Research shows the appeal of untestable beliefs, and how it leads to a polarized society ...
“There was a scientific study that showed vaccines cause autism.”
“Actually, the researcher in that study lost his medical license, and overwhelming research since then has shown no link between vaccines and autism.”
“Well, regardless, it’s still my personal right as a parent to make decisions for my child.”
Does that exchange sound familiar: a debate that starts with testable factual statements, but then, when the truth becomes inconvenient, the person takes a flight from facts. ...
... We presented 174 American participants who supported or opposed same-sex marriage with (supposed) scientific facts that supported or disputed their position. When the facts opposed their views, our participants—on both sides of the issue—were more likely to state that same-sex marriage isn’t actually about facts, it’s more a question of moral opinion. But, when the facts were on their side, they more often stated that their opinions were fact-based and much less about morals. In other words, we observed something beyond the denial of particular facts: We observed a denial of the relevance of facts. ...
... These experiments show that when people’s beliefs are threatened, they often take flight to a land where facts do not matter. In scientific terms, their beliefs become less “falsifiable” because they can no longer be tested scientifically for verification or refutation. ...
... While it is difficult to objectively test that idea, we can experimentally assess a fundamental question: When people are made to see their important beliefs as relatively less rather than more testable, does it increase polarization and commitment to desired beliefs? Two experiments we conducted suggest so. ...
... So after examining the power of untestable beliefs, what have we learned about dealing with human psychology? We’ve learned that bias is a disease and to fight it we need a healthy treatment of facts and education. We find that when facts are injected into the conversation, the symptoms of bias become less severe. But, unfortunately, we’ve also learned that facts can only do so much. To avoid coming to undesirable conclusions, people can fly from the facts and use other tools in their deep belief protecting toolbox.
With the disease of bias, then, societal immunity is better achieved when we encourage people to accept ambiguity, engage in critical thinking, and reject strict ideology. This society is something the new common core education system and at times The Daily Show are at least in theory attempting to help create. We will never eradicate bias—not from others, not from ourselves, and not from society. But we can become a people more free of ideology and less free of facts.
This is an excellent article! Climate change and the left-wing narrative of "capitalism-is-exploitation" have been closely intertwined. Scientist tend to lean left-wing already, but when Al Gore became the official face climate change, that relationship of science and ideology became cemented. The problem is that whenever you wed a scientific challenge to an ideology in a deeply partisan culture, you guarantee rejection by half the populous. The challenge is to find ways to build coalitions across multiple political "tribes."
"A new Republican-led group, the ClearPath Foundation, is angling to breach those prison walls [captivity to climate change skeptics] — not just for members of U.S. Congress, but for moderates and conservatives everywhere who yearn for a meaningful role in the climate conversation. ...
... [Low engagement is] not for lack of understanding, Powell noted. The problem, rather, is that messages on global warming tend to come from groups associated with the far left, and to a lesser extent, the far right of the political spectrum. In between sits a vast audience comprised of political moderates and conservatives who understand the science and, when asked, support many economic and entrepreneurial initiatives that would help curb planet-warming emissions. And yet, no one is speaking directly to them, Powell said — a realization that has provided ClearPath with its mission. ...
And this is key:
... Evidence emerging from the social sciences suggests that the strategy makes some sense — not least because scientific literacy has been shown to be a poor predictor of whether or not most people consider climate change to be an issue of concern. Much more telling are the shared value systems and general world-views that act as both the glue for intellectual tribes within the larger community, and the filter by which those tribes ignore or discount messages emanating from the outside.
Virtually everyone is susceptible to this sort of motivated reasoning, according to one 2012 study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, such that conservatives tend to hear undertones of “government overreach” in the words “climate change,” while liberals tend to hear “insatiable corporate greed” when the discussion turns to economic and market-driven solutions to the problem.
From that 2012 study:
“[P]eople who subscribe to a hierarchical, individualistic world-view — one that ties authority to conspicuous social rankings and eschews collective interference with the decisions of individuals possessing such authority — tend to be skeptical of environmental risks. Such people intuitively perceive that widespread acceptance of such risks would license restrictions on commerce and industry, forms of behavior that hierarchical individualists value. In contrast, people who hold an egalitarian, communitarian world-view — one favoring less regimented forms of social organization and greater collective attention to individual needs — tend to be morally suspicious of commerce and industry, to which they attribute social inequity. They therefore find it congenial to believe those forms of behavior are dangerous and worthy of restriction." ...
YES! YES! A thousand times YES! Thus these attempts to frame climate issues in a way that energizes conservative and moderate involvement.
...That’s not to suggest, of course, that Republicans and Democrats won’t continue to disagree on the best strategies for addressing global warming. It’s a safe bet, after all, that many on the left will find GOP-sponsored solutions to be too slow, too shortsighted, or too mindful of industry interests — just as those on the right will view left-leaning initiatives as economically fraught, scientifically unwarranted and alarmist. Such is the cacophony of competing tribal values.
But for those seeking to bring Republicans more fully into the climate discussion, the efforts of ClearPath and other groups to nurture a conversation somewhere between the poles must be a welcome development. ...
I know my progressive and liberal friends don't want to hear it, and it irritates them every time I say this, but I am more convinced than ever that the more you insist on exclusively using capitalism-is-exploitation narratives to solicit support for climate change action, the more narrow will be the support. Many progressives are either so insulated that they cannot see how their ideology bleeds through, or they are aware of their science/ideology linkage and climate change as a tool for promoting an ideological agenda is higher priority than developing broad support for action. Good to see some activists trying to broaden the discussion.
New Republic: Stop Trying to Save the World: Big ideas are destroying international development, Michael Hobbes
One of the first classes I took in the economic development program at Eastern University was a class where we spent the entire semester studying the wide variety of economic development models that had been tried. Few worked. The best attempts led to very modest improvements. The worst had perverse unintended consequences. The overall message? Economic development is hard to do well!
I missed this article by Michael Hobbes from New Republic last November. It is a 6,000+word essay but it is one of the best reads I have seen on the need for careful ongoing assessment and it is a warning of the inefficient - even perverse - consequences when we do not empirically test our assumptions. Here are some key excerpts.
Maybe the problem isn’t that international development doesn’t work. It’s that it can’t.
He points to these examples:
In the late ’90s, Michael Kremer, then an economics professor at MIT, was in Kenya working on an NGO project that distributed textbooks to schools in poor rural districts. Around that time, the ratio of children to textbooks in Kenya was 17 to 1. The intervention seemed obvious: Poor villages need textbooks, rich donors have the money to buy them. All we have to do is link them up.
But in the early stages of the project, Kremer convinced the researchers to do it differently. He wanted to know whether giving kids textbooks actually made them better students. So instead of handing out books and making a simple before-and-after comparison, he designed the project like a pharmaceutical trial. He split the schools into groups, gave some of them the “treatment” (i.e., textbooks) and the others nothing. Then he tested everyone, not just the kids who got the books but also the kids who didn’t, to see if his intervention had any effect.
It didn’t. The trial took four years, but it was conclusive: Some of the kids improved academically over that time and some got worse, but the treatment group wasn’t any better off than the control.
Then Kremer tried something else. Maybe the kids weren’t struggling in school because of what was going on in the classroom, but because of what was going on outside of it. So again, Kremer split the schools into groups and spent three years testing and measuring them. This time, the treatment was an actual treatment—medication to eradicate stomach worms. Worm infections affect up to 600 million children around the world, sapping their nutrition and causing, among other things, anemia, stomachaches, and stunting.
Once more, the results were conclusive: The deworming pills made the kids noticeably better off. Absence rates fell by 25 percent, the kids got taller, even their friends and families got healthier. By interrupting the chain of infection, the treatments had reduced worm infections in entire villages. Even more striking, when they tested the same kids nearly a decade later, they had more education and earned higher salaries. The female participants were less likely to be employed in domestic services.
And compared with Kremer’s first trial, deworming was a bargain. Textbooks cost $2 to $3 each. Deworming pills were as little as 49 cents. When Kremer calculated the kids’ bump in lifetime wages compared with the cost of treatment, it was a 60-to-1 ratio.
This is perfect TED Talk stuff: Conventional wisdom called into question, rigorous science triumphing over dogma. As word of Kremer’s study spread, he became part of a growing movement within international development to subject its assumptions to randomized controlled trials.
Based on his analysis, Kremer went on to ramp up a deworming NGO but Hobbes notes the NGO stopped testing after their initial research. Additional testing by others revealed more nuance.
It’s an interesting question—when do you have enough evidence to stop testing each new application of a development idea?—and I get that you can’t run a four-year trial every time you roll out, say, the measles vaccine to a new country. But like many other aid projects under pressure to scale up too fast and too far, deworming kids to improve their education outcomes isn’t the slam-dunk its supporters make it out to be.
In 2000, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a literature review of 30 randomized control trials of deworming projects in 17 countries. While some of them showed modest gains in weight and height, none of them showed any effect on school attendance or cognitive performance. After criticism of the review by the World Bank and others, the BMJ ran it again in 2009 with stricter inclusion criteria. But the results didn’t change. Another review, in 2012, found the same thing: “We do not know if these programmes have an effect on weight, height, school attendance, or school performance.”
Kremer and Evidence Action dispute the way these reviews were carried out, and sent me an upcoming study from Uganda that found links between deworming and improved test scores. But the evidence they cite on their own website undermines this data. Kremer’s 2004 study reporting the results of the original deworming trial notes—in the abstract!—that “we do not find evidence that deworming improves academic test scores,” only attendance. Another literature review cited on Deworm the World’s website says, “When infected children are given deworming treatment, immediate educational and cognitive benefits are not always apparent.”
Then there’s the comparison to textbooks. Kenya, it turns out, is a uniquely terrible place to hand out textbooks to kids and expect better academic performance. When Kremer reported that textbooks had no overall effect, he also noted that they did actually improve test scores for the kids who were already at the top of the class. The main problem, it seems, was that the textbooks were in English, the second or third language for most of the kids. Of the third-graders given textbooks, only 15 percent could even read them.
In the 1980s and early ’90s, a series of meta-analyses found that textbooks were actually effective at improving school performance in places where the language issues weren’t as complex. In his own paper reporting the Kenya results, Kremer noted that, in Nicaragua and the Philippines, giving kids textbooks did improve their test scores.
Here is the crux of it:
But the point of all this is not to talk shit on Kremer—who has bettered the world more with his career than I ever have with mine—or to dismantle his deworming charity, or to advocate that we should all go back to giving out free textbooks. What I want to talk shit on is the paradigm of the Big Idea—that once we identify the correct one, we can simply unfurl it on the entire developing world like a picnic blanket.
There are villages where deworming will be the most meaningful education project possible. There are others where free textbooks will. In other places, it will be new school buildings, more teachers, lower fees, better transport, tutors, uniforms. There’s probably a village out there where a PlayPump would beat all these approaches combined. The point is, we don’t know what works, where, or why. The only way to find out is to test these models—not just before their initial success but afterward, and constantly.
I can see why it’s appealing to think that, once you find a successful formula for development, you can just scale it up like a Model T. Host governments want programs that get more effective as they get bigger. Individual donors, you and me, we want to feel like we’re backing a plucky little start-up that is going to save the world. No international institution wants to say in their annual report: “There’s this great NGO that increased attendance in a Kenyan school district. We’re giving them a modest sum to do the same thing in one other district in one other country.”
The repeated “success, scale, fail” experience of the last 20 years of development practice suggests something super boring: Development projects thrive or tank according to the specific dynamics of the place in which they’re applied. It’s not that you test something in one place, then scale it up to 50. It’s that you test it in one place, then test it in another, then another. No one will ever be invited to explain that in a TED talk.
Hobbes goes on to explain that testing means more money spent on overhead. That overhead would lead greater effectiveness and, in the long run, lead to a bigger bang for the overall buck, but everything we do now is oriented toward keeping overhead as lean as possible. We ramp up projects that end up being incredibly wasteful. Sometimes they can be downright destructive.
This is the paradox: When you improve something, you change it in ways you couldn’t have expected. You can find examples of this in every corner of development practice. A project in Kenya that gave kids free uniforms, textbooks, and classroom materials increased enrollment by 50 percent, swamping the teachers and reducing the quality of education for everyone. Communities in India cut off their own water supply so they could be classified as “slums” and be eligible for slum-upgrading funding. I’ve worked in places where as soon as a company sets up a health clinic or an education program, the local government disappears—why should they spend money on primary schools when a rich company is ready to take on the responsibility?
There’s nothing avaricious about this. If anything, it demonstrates the entrepreneurial spirit we’re constantly telling the poor they need to demonstrate.
My favorite example of unintended consequences comes, weirdly enough, from the United States. In a speech to a criminology conference, Nancy G. Guerra, the director of the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Delaware, described a project where she held workshops with inner-city Latina teenagers, trying to prevent them from joining gangs. The program worked in that none of the girls committed any violence within six months of the workshops. But by the end of that time, they were all, each and every one, pregnant.
“That behavior was serving a need for them,” she says in her speech. “It made them feel powerful, it made them feel important, it gave them a sense of identity. ... When that ended, [they] needed another kind of meaning in their lives.”
The fancy academic term for this is “complex adaptive systems.” ...
So do we give up?
First, let’s de-room this elephant: Development has happened. The last 50 years have seen about the biggest explosion of prosperity in human history. ...
Development, no matter how it happens, is a slow process. ...
The ability of international development projects to speed up this process is limited. ...
And this is where I landed after a year of absorbing dozens of books and articles and speeches about international development: The arguments against it are myriad, and mostly logistical and technical. The argument for it is singular, moral, and, to me anyway, utterly convincing: We have so much, they have so little. ...
To this I would add one note about faith-based economic development. There is a tendency to turn a tactic into a sacrament. Christians and congregations are frequently using two metrics for mission. First, there is a desire to help those in need. Second, there is a desire for congregants to be engaged in helping others in ways that are meaningful to the congregant. If the latter becomes particularly strong, then it is very difficult to alter tactics, no matter how much data you show that demonstrates ineffectiveness, and even harm. In my book, the first consideration is an absolute must. To do development that does not achieve the first criteria, no matter how meaningful it is to the congregation, is to dehumanize those in need as instruments for stroking our spiritual self-esteem. And that is why addressing economic issues from a Christian perspective requires both warm hearts AND cool heads.
There are lessons here for both left and right.
First, this should show progressives that the government doesn't actually have to mandate a minimum wage hike for wages to go up. There are other, market-based ways to get wages to increase, like tightening labor markets.
For companies, raising wages is not an exercise in philanthropy. It's a business decision. They'll almost certainly make it up in higher retention and productivity. ...
... Whenever a problem arises that progressives want to fix with some heavy-handed government intervention, conservatives respond that the market will take care of it — and they're very often right. But here's the thing: "The market" is not a demigod who lives on the planet Neptune. The market is simply decisions made by individual human beings, and human beings can decide to do some things and not others.
The progressive demand for government intervention often arises from cultural failures, and cultural remedies do not spring up magically into existence. They have to be created. Sometimes conservatives risk adopting their own version of the left's materialistic Vulgar Marxism when they think of "the market" as an autonomous force that drives history and doesn't leave room for individuals to choose to drive it in one direction or another. As the economic historian Deirdre McCloskey and the philosopher Michael Novak have shown, a thriving free enterprise system rests on the exercise of virtues and not just the laws of supply and demand.
If we conservatives think the federally mandated minimum wage is a terrible policy (and it is), we shouldn't just explain why it is a terrible policy, and we shouldn't even just support alternatives like wage subsidies. We conservatives should also actively make the case to companies like Walmart that they should pay their employees more. Same thing with rethinking work-life balance and careers for women. It's striking that we almost never hear the expression "civic duty" anymore; the reason why the demand for regulation arises is because people are no longer expected to exercise private virtue.
Wall Street Journal: Vaccines and Politicized Science
The people doing basic science should learn a well-proven truth about basic politics: Any cause taken up by politicians today by definition will be doubted or opposed by nearly half the population. When an Al Gore, John Kerry or Europe’s Green parties become spokesmen for your ideas, and are willing to accuse fellow scientists of bad faith or willful ignorance, then science has made a Faustian bargain. The price paid, inevitably, will be the institutional credibility of all scientists.
Bingo! Two groups have been central to the climate debate. There are scientists who study climate and then there is portion of society who view the modern economic order primarily as an exercise in exploitation and destruction. They are not one in the same group but there is considerable overlap.
Scientific evidence that our system is destroying the planet is an irresistible tool to this political community to advance their political narrative of the future. Science has seemed willing to partner with those who embrace this narrative as a way to address the real challenge of climate change, I suspect not in small part because many scientists already share a similar political narrative. Yet the challenge of climate change does not dictate one particular narrative. Consequently, people who do not share the political narrative do not see climate science as valid science with a problematic superimposed narrative. They come to see climate science as junk science manufactured by people with the political narrative.
Science is going to play a critical role with a host challenges in the future. We have to find a way to tap down the political hijacking.
The Futures Company: Meet the Centennials
"Centennials are growing up with a less idealist and more pragmatic edge. They’re facing situations that the Millennials didn’t have to deal with until early adulthood. As a result, Centennials are growing up more savvy, in graver times when everybody doesn’t win and when choices are limited and success is harder to come by."
Revolutions used to be few and far between. James Watt’s steam engine, developed in 1781, set the stage for the first industrial revolution. But it wasn’t until a century later that the widespread adoption of electricity and the internal combustion engine brought about the second industrial revolution.
The information age didn’t really get going until the 1970’s and that’s led to what to what many are now calling the new industrial revolution, which incorporates computer aided design and advanced fabrication techniques like 3D printing. However, the next revolution, in energy, is already underway.
While the drop in price for fossil fuels has grabbed most of the headlines lately, Citibank predicts that the shale boom will merely serve as a bridge to get us to a new era of renewable energy. This revolution, if anything, will be more far reaching than the others. While the earlier revolutions empowered large enterprises, this one might very well undo them. ...
... The last century was in large part driven by scale advantages. The bigger you were, the more efficient you would become. Those efficiencies would enable enterprises to own and control more resources, which would increase bargaining power and enhance the dominance of the firm.
Initially, information technology bolstered these trends. Only large organizations were able to afford computer systems that could help them administer resources by tracking accounting, maintenance and human resources. However, with the rise of personal computing and the Internet, that began to change. ...
Most of the populist support for renewable energy comes from concern over climate change. I am not someone who is persuaded that apocalyptic doom is certain without swift and radical restructuring of the global economy. I am persuaded that increasing CO2 at present rates has the potential to create highly undesirable, but imprecisely understood, consequences down the road. I see CO2 as a risk management issue. All things being equal, changes that minimize risk are a good thing. But since things are not equal, other considerations must be weighed as well.
Equally important to me, if not more so, is human freedom and well-being. Decentralized renewable energy would create enormous opportunity around the world while simultaneously reducing much of the geopolitical strife that emerges from the energy sector. Expanded opportunity has a way of translating into greater prosperity. Prosperous people are better equipped to handle climate change adaptations that may be required. Decentralized renewable energy both reduces the amount of CO2 emitted while improving the chances of smooth adaptation to changes in climate.
Critics are prone to look at renewable energy - and I'll add new generation nuclear power - as incapable of having a significant impact for many decades if at all. Yet I keep imaging myself in 1895 looking at expanding U.S. cities and the problem of horse transportation. There is a guy welding a frame between two bicycles and motorizing the contraption so he can become auto-mobile. How many would have predicted what transportation would look like in 1920 and later?
Prior to the industrial revolution, economies of scale were usually marginal or nonexistent. The Industrial Revolution made centralization, and the economies of scale that come with it, possible. The Information revolution is decentralizing the economy in some fundamental ways, but it is a networked decentralization. That is why I am skeptical of the doomsayers about the world 50 and 100 years into the future. We tend to overestimate how much change can happen in the near term - say five years - but radically underestimate what can happen in twenty years.
Tom Jacobs has an excellent piece at Pacific Standard, Threaten My Group, and I’ll Belittle Your Science. He writes:
Newly published research provides at least a partial answer. It finds scientific findings that challenge the assumptions of a group you strongly identify with motivate people to derogate the research in online comments.
When informal membership in a group—say, the anti-vaccine movement, or those opposed to genetically modified foods—informs your sense of self, and/or provides a feeling of pride and belonging, a perceived attack on its basic beliefs is grounds for a counterattack. Today, that often means writing nasty, dismissive comments online. ...
... While conceding that there are a number of reasons why gamers would choose to angrily argue with the science rather than seriously consider its implications, the researchers focus on one particularly interesting psychological framework: Social identity theory.
This school of thought contends that group membership (be it political, religious, or something as innocuous as being a fan of a particular sports team) is a significant source of our self-esteem. It follows logically that members have an interest in boosting the group’s status (and degrading the status of competing groups), since its prominence, or lack thereof, rubs off on ourselves. ...
... Perhaps this discovery can provide an opening for educators and policymakers as they attempt to get around this frustrating psychological block. If scientific findings are to be accepted and acted upon, they have to somehow be presented in a way that does not trigger a defensive reaction.
We remain, in many ways, a tribal species, and if you challenge my “tribe,” don’t be surprised if the response is a metaphorical poke in the eye.
To this I would add that the reason a great majority of people hold a scientifically sanctioned position is not because of science, but also because of social identity. Science affirms my narrative and my tribe. "Science" becomes a weapon to deploy against other tribes. It lets me beat my chest in defiant superiority. It becomes a club with which to bludgeon those who threaten my tribe. Advocacy of the "scientific" position frequently has precious little to do with a concern for science. I don't care if it is climate change, vaccinations, evolution, GMOs, nuclear safety, or a host of other topics. It is far more about affirmation than information.
I'll also add this - if you think you are not affected by this dynamic, then you are likely either Commander Data from Star Trek or delusional. ;-) It is inescapable. We are communal creatures and tribalism is always a factor. The realistic response is to continually strive to be self-aware of our own tribal issues and be more accepting of the tribal buttons we push in others. Only then can we move toward genuine dialog.
The Atlantic: The Danish Don't Have the Secret to Happiness
A common meme in economic discussions is that we need to make America more like Scandinavian countries where things are more equal and people are happier. Denmark, land of my ancestors, is often the poster child.
There is much to debate about economic policy but few seem to question what is meant by "happy." "Happy" is one of those words of which everyone knows the meaning until you try to define it. Happiness is shaded different ways in different cultures.
Michael Booth writes:
These rules set out the Law of Jante, a kind of Danish Ten Commandments, the social norms one should be aware of if one is planning a move to the north:
- You shall not believe that you are someone.
- You shall not believe that you are as good as we are.
- You shall not believe that you are any wiser than we are.
- You shall never indulge in the conceit of imagining that you are better than we are.
- You shall not believe that you know more than we do.
- You shall not believe that you are more important than we are.
- You shall not believe that you are going to amount to anything.
- You shall not laugh at us.
- You shall not believe that anyone cares about you.
- You shall not believe that you can teach us anything.
The truth is, Sandemose really nailed the Danes. My experience has been that Jante Law, which has become a national social manifesto of sorts, operates everywhere in Denmark on some level or another.
On the face of it, the Danes have considerably less to be happy about than most of us. Yet, when asked, they still insist that they are the happiest of us all.
What is one to make of this?
The obvious response is, “Define happiness.” If we are talking heel-kicking, cocktail-umbrella joie de vivre, then the Danes do not score highly, and I suspect not even they would take their claims that far. But if we are talking about being contented with one’s lot, then the Danes do have a more convincing case to present.
Over the years I have asked many Danes about these happiness surveys—whether they really believe that they are the global happiness champions—and I have yet to meet a single one of them who seriously believes it’s true. They appreciate the safety net of their welfare state, the way most things function well in their country, and all the free time they have, but they tend to approach the subject of their much-vaunted happiness like the victims of a practical joke waiting to discover who the perpetrator is.
On the other hand, these same Danes are often just as quick to counter any criticism of their country—of their schools, hospitals, transport, weather, taxes, politicians, uneventful landscape, and so on—with the simple and, in a sense-argument-proof riposte: “Well, if that’s true, how come we are the happiest people in the world?” (This usually accompanied by upturned palms and a tight, smug smile.) The happiness argument does come in handy sometimes, I guess.
Newspaper editor Anne Knudsen had an interesting theory relating to why the Danes continue to respond positively to happiness surveys: “In Denmark it is shameful to be unhappy,” she told me. “If you ask me how I am and I start telling you how bad I feel, then it might force you to do something about it. It might put a burden on you to help me. So, that’s one of the main reasons people say things are all right, or even ‘super.’”
Here’s another convincing theory, posited by a Danish friend of mine: “We always come top of those surveys because they ask us at the beginning of the year what our expectations are,” he said. “Then they ask us at the end of the year whether those expectations were met. And because our expectations are so extremely low at the beginning of the year, they tend to get met more easily.”
Later he writes:
With that in mind, I had a standard question that I asked most of my interviewees: “What are your fears for the future of Denmark?” One word cropped up more than any other in their responses: complacency. Many of my interviewees were worried that the Danes had it too good for too long, that they were now content to sit back in their Arne Jacobsen San armchairs and watch the plates wobble and fall. Worryingly for the Danes, the latest OECD Better Life Index of life satisfaction saw them plummet to seventh place, behind Norway and Sweden, among others. ...
... Danish society appears to have reached maturity, some would argue to a state of perfection, others to a perilous halt. The fear is that the next stage will be stagnation and decline. What happens when you develop a genuinely almost nearly perfect society in which there is nothing left to achieve, nothing to kick against, or work for?
But I had one other question I always asked, which, in its way, was even more revealing. Whenever I asked my Danish interviewees whether they could think of a better country to live in, the answer was invariably a thoughtful silence.
My point is not so much about which society is better, America or Denmark. The point is that I think "happiness," and how we report it, is different. It strikes me that Denmark is more about keeping expectations low and being content with things staying mostly as they are. That is what will make you happy. While in America, I am not "happy" with my life as it is but I am "happy" that I have an unalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and that I will one day have a "happier" life. Happiness is found in the striving and achievement. I'm painting with broad brushes but hopefully you see my point. Consequently, comparing survey's about how "happy" people say they are is not as clarifying as advocates of the Scandinavian economics would make it seem.
From a post by Greg Mankiw (The One Percent, Updated):
Over the last sixteen years, the share of pre-tax income earned by the top 1% has ranged between 17% and 23%. I calculate an average of 20% over that time frame, precisely where it is today. Read Mankiw's post for more details.
A peculiar note: I suspect if you were to show this data from 1975 forward without the title and the y-axis label, I suspect many people would think this was a graph about global warming.
Pew Research Center: Chart of the Week: How two decades of globalization have changed the world
(Source: Milanovic, B., Lead Economist, World Bank Research Department, Global income inequality by the numbers. Annotations by James Plunkett.)
I have seen the unannotated version of this graph several times but the annotations really make things clear. The graph shows that much more is going on here than simplistic narratives of "The are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer" (the graph discredits the second half of that statement) and the 1% versus everyone else.
Real Clear Science - Newton Blog: Why Rich People Don't Care About You
Examine the income ladder of the United States, and you'll soon stumble upon a surprising fact: Rich people donate a smaller portion of their income to charity than poor people. In 2011, people in the bottom 20% donated 3.2 percent of their earnings. People in the top 20% donated just 1.3 percent.
These numbers don't seem to be anomalous, but there is some nuance. Data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics shows that taxpayers making less than $60,000 donate around 3.75% per year, while those making between $200,000 and $10 million donate less than 3%. However, those making more than $10 million are the most generous of all, donating nearly 6% of their income.*
Psychologists have examined this dynamic even further.
"What we've been finding across dozens of studies and thousands of participants across this country is that as a person's levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases," Paul Piff, an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine, announced in a 2013 TEDx talk. ...
... Of course, the wealthy aren't doomed to be Scrooges. For instance, the studies did not examine if there were behavioral differences between those who earned their wealth versus those who simply lucked into it. Also, Keltner insists that the human brain is hardwired to care. The wealthy just have to consciously work to be more cognizant of their fellow humans.
I've read other studies that indicate that the wealthy are just as responsive to needs as less wealthy people but wealthy people are more isolated from the needs of people farther down the economic ladder. Social distance and ignorance may be factors as big or bigger than selfishness or indifference.
We are getting richer. Not every human being on the planet and not every country. But the average person has an economic standard of living that's far better than it used to be.
One way of measuring it is to look at the amount of goods and services produced per person - gross domestic product or GDP per capita.
For the global population that rose almost fourfold in the 60 years up to 2010.
There were some marked divergences between countries. In China the increase was a stunning eighteen-fold. South Korea and Taiwan managed even more. On average, they are 25 times richer than in 1950.
A few countries, mainly in Africa, lost ground. In the Democratic Republic of Congo average living standards fell by more than half in the same period. ...
... One benefit from that is that we are living longer. In the middle of the last century a new-born baby could expect to live 50 years. Now the figure is 70. Once again there are large variations between countries but the favourable trend in that period is present in almost every nation - Botswana is the only one where life expectancy declined (by a few months). ...
... There is of course a debate, a rather vigorous one, to be had about just how bad a thing rising inequality really is. That is even more true of the question of what, if any, government policies should be employed to tackle it.
Rising inequality is a reminder that, richer though the world is, some people don't feel it.
This article does a good job at highlighting postive trends while also recognizing that improvements are uneven. The article touches on concerns about inequality but there are also environmental impact and resource depletion issues to be raised. The key to wisdom is understanding that these trends - the positive and the negative - are all interconnected.
Is the greater concentration of wealth at the top (to the degree it is really happening) a by-product of the same forces that are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty? If so, blindly attacking wealth inequality and may thwart the progress of millions climbing out of poverty.
Is the global economic growth that is improving the living standards of so many people also causing damage to the climate and environment to the point that one day soon we all will see our living standards diminish? If so, blindly pursing economic growth may actually end up diminishing our quality of life.
The key is to think holistically. Populist movments usually take us in the opposite direction.
Economist: Inivisble Fuel
THE CHEAPEST AND cleanest energy choice of all is not to waste it. Progress on this has been striking yet the potential is still vast. Improvements in energy efficiency since the 1970s in 11 IEA member countries that keep the right kind of statistics (America, Australia, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden) saved the equivalent of 1.4 billion tonnes of oil in 2011, worth $743 billion. This saving amounted to more than their total final consumption in that year from gas, coal or any other single fuel. And lots of money is being invested in doing even better: an estimated $310 billion-360 billion was put into energy efficiency measures worldwide in 2012, more than the supply-side investment in renewables or in generation from fossil fuels.
The “fifth fuel”, as energy efficiency is sometimes called, is the cheapest of all. A report by ACEEE, an American energy-efficiency group, reckons that the average cost of saving a kilowatt hour is 2.8 cents; the typical retail cost of one in America is 10 cents. In the electricity-using sector, saving a kilowatt hour can cost as little as one-sixth of a cent, says Mr Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute, so payback can be measured in months, not years.
The largest single chunk of final energy consumption, 31%, is in buildings, chiefly heating and cooling. Much of that is wasted, not least because in the past architects have paid little attention to details such as the design of pipework (long, narrow pipes with lots of right angles are far more wasteful than short, fat and straight ones). Energy efficiency has been nobody’s priority: it takes time and money that architects, builders, landlords and tenants would rather spend on other things. ...
Whether we are talking about climate change or peak resources, the tendency is to project current economic dynamics - like a ratio of energy usage per unit of GDP - indefinitely into the future, and then make dire predictions of impending doom.
However, due to incessant innovation, what we learn is that such relationships are alterable. Until the early 20th century, there was a consistent linkage between the acreage in agricultural production and human population. It would have been unsustainable with level of growth the next century would bring. One hundred years later, we now see that the global demand for agricultural land has flattened – and may even be going into decline – even as the global population continues to grow, albeit at an ever slowing rate.
Similarly, energy use and GDP have typically been closely related. What we see now is that energy and GDP are decoupling. Both are increasing but energy at a slower rate than GDP. Even as both global population and living standards rise, it does not follow that energy and resource usage will inevitably follow suit. Through innovations in engineering, nanotechnology, and recycling, nearly everything we use can eventually be made of renewable materials. We have only scratched the surface of power sources that are available to us. Dramatic innovation is underway in energy storage, transmission, and usage.
There unquestionably are challenges, but predictions of impending and inescapable collapse are not justified.
For more on decoupling and a link to an excellent video by Bjorn Lomborg on the fallacy of limited growth thinking, see my post, Limits to Growth: Still Wrong, Still Influential - Bjorn Lomborg.
Project Syndicate: What Good Are Economists?
"... One reason may be the perception that many economists were smugly promoting the “efficient markets hypothesis” – a view that seemed to rule out a collapse in asset prices. Believing that markets always know best, they dismissed warnings by a few mere mortals (including me) about overpricing of equities and housing. After both markets crashed spectacularly, the profession’s credibility took a direct hit.
But this criticism is unfair. We do not blame physicians for failing to predict all of our illnesses. Our maladies are largely random, and even if our doctors cannot tell us which ones we will have in the next year, or eliminate all of our suffering when we have them, we are happy for the help that they can provide. Likewise, most economists devote their efforts to issues far removed from establishing a consensus outlook for the stock market or the unemployment rate. And we should be grateful that they do.
In his new book Trillion Dollar Economists, Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution argues that the economics profession has “created trillions of dollars of income and wealth for the United States and the rest of the world.” That sounds like a nice contribution for a relatively small profession, especially if we do some simple arithmetic. There are, for example, only 20,000 members of the American Economic Association (of which I am President-Elect); if they have created, say, $2 trillion of income and wealth, that is about $100 million per economist.
A cynic might ask, “If economists are so smart, why aren’t they the richest people around?” The answer is simple: Most economic ideas are public goods that cannot be patented or otherwise owned by their inventors. Just because most economists are not rich does not mean that they have not made many people richer. ..."
Arnold Kling recently posted Pete Boettke on Ideology and Economics. The economics in the article is interesting but I particularly liked this sentence:
"Keep in mind, however, the Law of Asymmetric Insight: when two people disagree, each one tends to think that he understands his opponent better than the opponent understands himself."
I suspect a measure of this is unavoidable. If I do not think my view has greater merit, and therefore other views are flawed, why would I hold my view? The trick in addressing a disagreement is dealing respectfully with others, valuing them, and maybe asking more questions while issuing fewer pontifications. I'm trying to be better a this. Sometimes I learn the Asymmetry of insight is not always in my favor.
The challenge is to avoid the Law of Assymetric Insight, which is the Law of Asymmetric Insight with an addendum: when two people disagree, each one tends to think that he understands his opponent better than the opponent understands himself, and he is therefore justified in behaving like an ass.
In short, have convictions but don't be an ass.
Most people are exceptionally illiterate about the trajectory of demographic and economic changes in the world, believing the world is decaying. That leads many to disengage in hopelessness. In reality, globalization combined with investment in human capital and infrastructure has put extreme poverty in rapid retreat. The global poor are not getting poorer. The world is getting better!
I have continuously pointed to evidence of these developments through social media for more than a decade. Not infrequently, posts about positive trends are met with incredulity and even anger. How can I speak of an improving world when so many are suffering? It is as if nothing positive may be acknowledged until total success is achieved. Yet it is the relentless focus on the negative, attempting to shame and guilt people into action (many times with distorted and exaggerated data) that actually drives people away from action into donor fatigue and hopelessness. There must be hope that things can get better.
A recent guest preacher recounted a scene from the end of Schindler’s List. Schindler, who saved 1,200 Jews from the Nazis, reproofs himself as he realizes that if he had sold his car or other possessions, he might have saved at least one more person. He finds himself in a difficult place. How can he celebrate the lives saved when so many still died? But how can he not celebrate 1,200 lives that were indeed saved?
Endless fixation on the negative leads to despair and diminishes the value of lives that have improved. Such fixation is unwarranted and counterproductive, and that is why I will continue to press on with stories of hope and improvement. We need balance. We need hope. And based on the Barna data below, there is much work to do.
What does it mean to follow Christ in our era? That is the central question for Christians in any era but it is particularly challenging today. Some suggest that our postmodern and post-Christendom context is creating a level of disruption in the church not seen since the Reformation. I think that is likely true. So how do we follow Christ today?
A new curriculum called ReFrame attempts a response. It is “A powerful 10-week film-based exploration of what it means to follow Christ in the modern era,” produced by Regent College (Vancouver, British Columbia) in cooperation with The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture. It is truly exceptional series.
The curriculum features ten videos, each about thrity-nine minutes long. The first episode speaks to the increasing complexity and fragmentation of modern life. Our tendency is either to assimilate with our cultural context or to withdraw. We do not have a clear vision of how God might be at work in our midst. We do not know how to follow. The series uses the Emmaus Road story as a metaphor for being unable to see Christ among us until our vision is “reframed.” The second episode delves a little deeper in the specific challenges we face.
Beginning in the third episode, the series takes a narrative approach, moving from creation and fall, to Israel, to Jesus the King, to new creation, to the Church and the Spirit, and so on, helping us see how our daily work and life is connected with God’s “story” at work in the world. The series concludes with guidance on how we might more authentically be disciples in light of our context and in light of God’s unfolding narrative.
The format of each episode is built around the TED Talk concept. Half of the video is a speaker making an engaging presentation. There is a setup segment at the beginning and a wrap-up segment at the end. Interspersed throughout the video is commentary and testimony given by biblical scholars and theologians, as well as vignettes by people from business, law, education, and science. People like Scot McKnight, Andy Crouch, Amy Sherman, and Eugene Peterson, are among several of the contributors. Each episode is very well produced, moving along at an engaging pace.
I cannot emphasize enough how refreshing this curriculum is. I have been serving in various leadership capacities within the Presbyterian Church, USA, and in a variety of faith-based entities most of my adult life. At some point in the late 1990s, I discerned that many Christians have a difficult time seeing how their discipleship connects with daily life in truly meaningful ways. Church has become ancillary to “real life.” The church is the place to receive therapeutic care, to get moral instruction for children, or to join programs that offer opportunities for charity and pursuit of justice outside of real life. The church is not a place where we are formed for mission at the workplace and in the mundane affairs of the world. It is my conviction that renewal in the church will begin only when God’s mission and the whole of life is reintegrated.
Key to reintegration is reframing, yet I find precious few people in ecclesiastical structures and academic institutions who see the urgency and centrality of this need. When attempts are made, they usually proceed from a purely theological bent, without dialog with other disciplines like sociology, economics, science, education, and business. They lack a winsome authenticity. ReFrame is a refreshing exception.
ReFrame acknowledges its Evangelical milieu but I am convinced the curriculum would be well received across a wide range of denominational and theological communities. I am working out the details of doing multiple small groups with the series at Pine Ridge Presbyterian, starting at Lent. The idea is to buy a digital license and “flip the classroom.” Participants will watch each episode online at a password protected site and then meet weekly to discuss and apply what was learned. The curriculum is a turnkey product complete with guides and promotional materials.
I have been following Regent College for at least fifteen years and continue to be impressed with their innovation and quality services. I know of few other institutions like Regent. The College offers classes and degrees that focus on the reintegration of life and I am sure one purpose of the curriculum is to raise the profile of the academic and practical resources they provide. More power to them! I hope they are so successful that seminaries around the country will feel compelled to follow their lead. Maybe even the Presbyterians one day. ;-)
You definitely need to check out ReFrame. If you go to their site, you will find a two-minute promotional video. Episodes 1 and 5 are available for free so you can get a flavor of the experience. Thanks to the ReFrame folks for an exceptional product. I cannot wait to put it to use.
The poorest regions of the world have been growing the fastest for at least twenty years. The Economist forecasts world GDP to be 2.9%, while Asia and Australasia (less Australia) is at 5.7%, and Sub-Saharan Africa is at 4.5%. These rates actually indicate a considerable slowing of growth from recent years. The US forecast is 3.2%. This is more evidence of the that global inequality is shrinking, even though inequality within many nations is increasing. As the bottom of the economic ladder rises higher so does the distance between the bottom and the top. A recent article forecast that their would be no poor nations by 2050. I think that is likely. See: Gauging growth in 2015
Faith and Leadership Blog: John McKnight: Low-income communities are not needy -- they have assets
Most people and institutions that want to serve poor communities are focused on what the residents lack. “What are the needs?” is often the first question asked.
John McKnight says that approach has it backward.
“I knew from being a neighborhood organizer that you could never change people or neighborhoods with the basic proposition that what we need to do is fix them,” he said. “What made for change was communities that believed they had capacities, skills, abilities and could create power when they came together in a community.”
McKnight is co-director of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and professor emeritus of communications studies and education and social policy at Northwestern University.
He and his longtime colleague John Kretzmann created the asset-based community development (ABCD) strategy for community building. Together they wrote a basic guide to the approach called “Building Communities From the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets.”
McKnight also wrote “The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits” and, with co-author Peter Block, “The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods.” ...
McKnight spoke to Faith & Leadership about asset-based community development and the role the church can play in helping people identify and leverage their strengths to empower their communities. The following is an edited transcript. ...
Excellent piece on a asset-based community development. Read the whole thing. More churches need to learn to think this way.
Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times.
I've repeatedly revisited the theme in my blogging that the world is getting better in so many important ways. That is routinely met with skepticism, even outrage. How can I be so insensitive as to say the world is getting better while millions are suffering and dying? Of course, the short answer is that I didn't say that the world has achieved perfection but only that it has gotten better.
I love these five paragraphs in the intro to this lengthy article:
... How can we get a less hyperbolic assessment of the state of the world? Certainly not from daily journalism. News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a reporter saying to the camera, “Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out”—or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. As long as violence has not vanished from the world, there will always be enough incidents to fill the evening news. And since the human mind estimates probability by the ease with which it can recall examples, newsreaders will always perceive that they live in dangerous times. All the more so when billions of smartphones turn a fifth of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents.
We also have to avoid being fooled by randomness. Cohen laments the “annexations, beheadings, [and] pestilence” of the past year, but surely this collection of calamities is a mere coincidence. Entropy, pathogens, and human folly are a backdrop to life, and it is statistically certain that the lurking disasters will not space themselves evenly in time but will frequently overlap. To read significance into these clusters is to succumb to primitive thinking, a world of evil eyes and cosmic conspiracies.
Human beings are natural pattern seekers. Psychological studies show we often identify patterns where none exist.
Finally, we need to be mindful of orders of magnitude. Some categories of violence, like rampage shootings and terrorist attacks, are riveting dramas but (outside war zones) kill relatively small numbers of people. Every day ordinary homicides claim one and a half times as many Americans as the number who died in the Sandy Hook massacre. And as the political scientist John Mueller points out, in most years bee stings, deer collisions, ignition of nightwear, and other mundane accidents kill more Americans than terrorist attacks.
The only sound way to appraise the state of the world is to count. How many violent acts has the world seen compared with the number of opportunities? And is that number going up or down? As Bill Clinton likes to say, “Follow the trend lines, not the headlines.” We will see that the trend lines are more encouraging than a news junkie would guess.
I love the distinction between trend lines and headlines! Consider that adage stolen.
To be sure, adding up corpses and comparing the tallies across different times and places can seem callous, as if it minimized the tragedy of the victims in less violent decades and regions. But a quantitative mindset is in fact the morally enlightened one. It treats every human life as having equal value, rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic. And it holds out the hope that we might identify the causes of violence and thereby implement the measures that are most likely to reduce it. Let’s examine the major categories in turn. ...
The quantitative mindset is indeed the most morally enlightened. It compensates for the human tendency to privilege information on what is happening to those geographically and culturally nearest to us. But it also counters a "parochialism of the present," where we discount the often greater suffering of those in the past relative to those who suffer in the present because the present is our context.
Be sure to read the whole thing. Here are just a few charts:
There is an old joke about a mealy-mouthed politician who says, “Some of my friends are for this measure. Some of friends are against it. As me for me, I stand with my friends.” I’ve always loved that joke, but through the years I’ve learned that there are circumstances where standing with my friends is the right response.
Today I am told I must choose between supporting police officers and supporting minorities who tell of problems in dealing with law enforcement. Each camp points to the most extreme behavior of opponents to justify dismissive and dehumanizing responses. Yet one of the most challenging articles I’ve read came shortly after the Ferguson verdict. (Why I Feel Torn About the Ferguston Verdict) Safiya Jafari Simmons, a black woman who is the wife of a police officer and the mother of a black son, writes of her dilemma in telling her husband to do what he has to do to come home safe each night while also worrying about what may happen to her son through profiling or a misunderstanding by police. The choice between supporting law enforcement and supporting minorities with frustrations is a false choice.
As we mourn the loss of the two murdered NYPD officers, let us pray for God’s shalom to be made full, especially as we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Shalom. And let us pray that God would reveal to each of us our role in the realization of that shalom.
Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt recently recounted this conversation between her and her son:
I’m on an airplane with my son. And he looks up and he sees a black man, and he says, “Hey, that guy looks like daddy.”
And I look at the guy, he doesn’t look anything like my husband, and I notice he’s the only black guy on the plane. And he says, “I hope he doesn’t rob the plane.”
And I said, “Well, why would you say that?”
And he looked at me and he said, “I don’t know why I said that.”
And so we’re living with such severe racial stratification that even a 5-year-old can tell us what’s supposed to happen next.
As early as five years old, children (even black children!) learn that black men are suspect. One recent study showed that more than 40% of people think many or most black men are violent. It was 15% for white men and black women, and even lower for white women.
Another interesting study flashed a picture to a group of people. Two white men were fighting. One was holding a knife. When asked who had held the knife, most of the subjects gave the correct answer. A second picture featured a white man and a black man. The white man was holding the knife. When asked about this second picture, most people - black and white - incorrectly identified the black man as holding the knife. Deeply engrained biases actually alter what we see. What might this mean for law enforcement?
I have documented that the rate of justifiable homicide by law enforcement has been increasing since 2000, even as the rate of crime has been falling. I take this as a proxy indicator for more violence in general being used by law enforcement. I have also noted two possible contributing factors. First, “Broken windows” policing came into vogue in the wake of the of a crack cocaine epidemic twenty-five years ago. Minor violations were enforced in an effort to restore order in beleaguered neighborhoods. People wanted more aggressive policing. Second, 9/11 has moved our collective psyche toward viewing ourselves as continuously living with imminent threats. Policing tactics become more aggressive in an emergency and maybe this spills over into everyday policing. I would suggest a third factor upon more reflection. The collapse of the economy in 2008, has left many people with much less confidence in the government’s ability to work well and to protect them. Domestic events like Sandy Hook and international events like ISIS beheadings create a sense of world running amok.
These factors may explain why justifiable homicides have been increasing but why should this have a disproportionate impact on blacks killed by police relative the rate crime in their communities? Some activists see a calculated race war against African-Americans. Law enforcement is only one step removed from Bull Connor or the KKK. Studies suggest that upwards of about 25% of Americans have openly hostile attitudes about African-Americans. Law enforcement officers are drawn from society so there are no doubt represented among law enforcement. With 17,000+ law enforcement agencies in the U.S., I have no doubt particular law enforcement agencies can come under the sway of such attitudes. But the idea that law enforcement community is part of some orchestrated act of oppression goes much too far. All the evidence points to most police officers being highly dedicated people who genuinely want to serve all the public well. Does this then mean that apart from a few bad apples, that there is no racial component to what is happening?
As I listen to conversations about recent controversies, I hear a common refrain from many in the white community. If there was no explicit exclamation of racial animus by a police officer, then there was no racism. Any attempt to raise race as a piece of the problem is viewed as “reading things in,” or even worse, an attempt at race-baiting or playing the race card. This seeing racial bias purely in terms of conscious motivations of individual actors errors in another direction.
I think race is an issue in the rise of justifiable homicide rates in at least three important ways. First, look at the strategies and tactics we use. Neighborhoods most at risk from becoming bases of serious criminal activity are poorer neighborhoods. Minorities make up disproportionately high percentages of these neighborhoods. Any aggressive policing strategy, like broken windows, is going to have disproportionate impact on minorities. Confrontational interactions between law enforcement and citizens will rise, and more interactions mean more opportunities for lethal force. In some cases, our policing strategies set the stage for disproportionate negative impacts with police regardless of the motivations of any particular officers.
Second, we have deep-seated perceptions about black communities and black men. Officers have discretion as to use of lethal force when they feel threatened. Like the young black boy on the airplane, there will be a perception of a black man as a greater threat. The threshold for an officer to act or react will be lower. Without any willful malice toward black men, race will have had an impact in the death of some black men. Studies show that, with good training, officers can learn to ignore irrelevant issues like race but how widespread and effective is that training?
Third, there are bad or incompetent actors in law enforcement who do not belong there. Law enforcement is difficult disciplined work and, as with any human organization, there are going to be unqualified people who slip through even the best screening process. So let us not ignore that there are officers who do harbor ill will. Aggressive protocols give opportunity for expression of this will.
So even absent conscious malice by individual players, race is thoroughly “baked in” to the decisions we make about law enforcement. It is easy for me to be emotionally detached from this problem as a middle-aged white guy but when your whole life is peppered with what feels like constant harassment by law enforcement it is a different story. Marry to this frustration the living memory of once pervasive lynching and miscarriages of justice done with impunity toward the black community, and visceral reactions are not surprising. Justifiable homicide is just an extreme example of a more pervasive reality.
So I will conclude this series of three posts suggesting that what we have is not so much a law enforcement problem but a societal problem. There a bad apples and incompetent players in law enforcement, just as there are in any human institution, but law enforcement is made up mostly of dedicated people who want to serve well. The difference here is that when officers mess up people can get killed. Standards must be high. But law enforcement is also responsive to the public’s demands. And if our fearful demands lead to policies that have unintended negative consequences, should we be blaming law enforcement for those consequences? Better collection of data and reforming a process where the final determination on justifiable homicide is being made by law enforcement agencies and prosecuting attorneys who exist in a symbiotic relationship, are two reform measures that are being discussed. But even before that, I think we need to reflect on to what degree fear is driving us to make bad policy decisions.
But there is another societal problem. Racial perceptions pervade our society. As law enforcement draws it officers from our society, it ranks will be reflective of the views held by society as a whole. We certainly need to work to drive racial bias out of law enforcement behavior but foremost we need to work to drive bias out of society. That would in turn rectify law enforcement behavior. And to that end, I would suggest that white Americans need to stop looking to every excess by either rioting protestors or self-aggrandizing activists as a basis for being dismissive of black voices. I’m now moving out beyond the issue of justifiable homicide but we are kidding ourselves if we think we can solve problems like these with a narrow focus on reforming law enforcement.
The two previous posts:
Wall Street Journal: Global Life Expectancy Increases by About Six Years
Study in Lancet Says Rise Is Result of Dramatic Health-Care Advances
... The rise in global life expectancy is mainly the result of dramatic advances in health care. In richer countries longer lifespans are spurred by a big drop in deaths related to heart disease, while poorer countries have seen big declines in the death of children from ailments such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. ...
PBS News Hour has a piece Why employees earn more at big-box chains than mom-and-pop shops.
Contrary to widespread belief, big-box stores and chains have increased wages in the retail sector as they have spread, according to “Do Large Modern Retailers Pay Premium Wages?” (NBER Working Paper No. 20313). Retail wages rise markedly with the size of the chain and the individual store, according to the study by Brianna Cardiff-Hicks, Francine Lafontaine and Kathryn Shaw. As retail chains’ share of establishments has risen from one-fifth in 1963 to more than one-third by 2000, the number of jobs that pay better than traditional mom-and-pop stores has proliferated.
Half of the difference in wages between large and small retailers appears to be attributable to differences in the average skill level of workers in the two groups of firms. On average, better workers find their way to the bigger companies. With more levels of hierarchy than small stores, larger establishments also allow better workers to move into management positions, increasing their pay even more.
“The increasing firm size and establishment size that are a hallmark of modern retail are accompanied by increasing wages and opportunities for promotion for many workers,” the authors write. “While retail pay is considerably below that in manufacturing, pay in retail is above that found in service jobs… [These results] contradict the image of the retail sector as one comprised of the lowest paying jobs in the economy.” ...
An anti-consumerism Dickensian narrative frequently emerges among critics of big box stores. Wal-Mart (or another big box) moves into an area, drives out virtuous small businesses and their owners, drives down wages, and throws people into the cold uncaring machinery of greedy behemoth. The narrative is wrong at several levels.
First, there is considerable nostalgia and romance built into the preference for small businesses. In reality, relative to big box stores, small businesses vary widely in quality of management. Management and personnel policies are often subject to quirky whims of the owners. Cross-training to improve skills and opportunities for advance are minimal. Family nepotism not infrequently triumphs over meritorious performance. Wages are lower. Big box stores are better on all these fronts.
Second, stores like Wal-Mart do not tend to drive out small business. Wal-Mart’s major disruptive impact is on other discount store chains. In fact, Wal-Mart can be a boost to small business. By creating high traffic areas, small specialty businesses can open nearby and draw from the traffic generated by Wal-Mart.
Third, rather than drive down wages, these stores actually pay better wages than the mom and pop enterprises. The also offer substantially greater opportunity for learning and wage growth, even management opportunity. And if you think the stores are monolithic soul-sucking monstrosities, I’d invited you to read about Charles Platt’s experience as an editor for Wired who went to work for Wal-Mart to find out what it was like. See Life at Wal-Mart.
Finally, there is an additional indirect, but significant, Wal-Mart impact. Your standard living can improve in two ways: Increased wages and lower prices. The article makes clear that big box stores like Wal-Mart raise wages. But Wal-Mart also brings in a wide range of quality goods at low prices. It particularly does so for things like food, clothing, household goods, and medicine. These items make up a much higher percentage of the monthly budget for low-income people. Through low prices, big box stores have a positive impact on living standards that disproportionately benefits low income people.
When Wal-Mart stores open, it is not uncommon to have ten times as many applications as jobs. Wal-Mart tried to open a store in Chicago five years ago and one source published a map that shows support for the idea by Ward (See here.) The strongest support came from the poorest wards and support decreased as you moved up the economic scale. The big box stores offend the aesthetic and ideological sensibilities of the wealthy but low-income people overwhelmingly embrace them.
I do not give blanket endorsement to the big box stores but if my wealthier and more intellectual friends are truly concerned about justice and poverty, they may want to dig a little deeper than their moralistic anti-consumerism narratives take them.
The rate of justifiable homicide by law enforcement is much higher in the United States than in other developed nations. The number of incidents has been increasing since 2000, even as the crime rate has dropped markedly. (See Justifiable Homicide by Law Enforcement by the Numbers) Why is this so?
The reason for the high rate of justifiable homicide relative to other nations seems straightforward to me. America is a violent society. Blame it on our frontier heritage, or whatever you will, the fact is that American homicide rates are much higher than in other developed nations. Firearms are abundant. Confrontations have a much greater chance of involving lethal force. Our relatively high rate strikes me as a statement about our society, not about the law enforcement community. The
The challenging question is why the rate of justifiable homicide by law enforcement should be increasing while crime rates have been falling. I am not certain. I am not a criminologist. The criminologist I read say solid data is lacking. Definitive answers are hard to come by. Here are my speculations.
Several years ago, I read book by a police officer named George Thompson called Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion. Thompson had been an English professor with a black-belt in karate before going into law enforcement. He tells about his first night on patrol. He pulled over a man for a traffic violation. When the man got mouthy, Thompson forcibly subdued and arrested him. Thompson was summoned to his superior at the end of the shift. He anticipated praise for his work. Instead, his captain explained that such a stop should not have ended in an arrest. Thompson would never make it as a police officer if he could not learn how to deal better with people.
During his apprenticeship as a police officer, Thompson came to see karate and judo as metaphors for a policing mindset. Karate is about meeting force with force while Judo is about using your opponent’s momentum to throw him the direction you want him to go. So how might this work with an irritable speeder?
Officer: “Sir, I need to your driver’s license and registration.” (The officer makes clear what compliance looks like.)
Speeder: “Seriously! What did I do? Fail to flip a freakin’ turn signal? Drug dealers on the street and terrorist blowing up buildings. Don’t you jackasses have something better to do? How many people’s houses are being robbed?”
Officer: (calmly) “I can appreciate that sir but I still need to see your driver’s license and registration.”
There might be two or three iterations of this interchange with the officer calmly making clear what is required each time. The officer is giving the offender an opportunity to vent while still making clear the need for compliance. If compliance is still not forthcoming, the officer might say something like:
Officer: (calmly) “Sir, if you do not comply, I will have to arrest you. You will spend the night in a cold uncomfortable cell instead of in your nice warm bed. I will have to spend an hour or more, sitting in my car, filling out paperwork. Neither of us wants that. Please hand me your driver’s license and registration.”
The officer is reiterating the need for compliance but he is now making clear the consequences of non-compliance. He appeals to the direction the offender wants to go (home to a warm bed) as an act of verbal judo.
If the offender still will not comply, then the officer will say something like:
Officer: (calmly) “Sir, are you sure there is nothing I can say to gain your compliance?”
At that point, the officer and his partner are positioning themselves to spring into action to apprehend the noncompliant offender.
This is verbal judo. It is applicable to almost any position of authority. The subject is not required to like the person in authority or to like the demand. He or she has the space to voice opposition. The goal is to gain compliance by helping the person clearly see the consequences of noncompliance and help him or her see that compliance is desirable. The aim is to defuse resistance, not escalate it. Most often, the person will comply before things escalate to using force.
My point is not the specifics of the technique. I am pointing to the mindset. “Verbal Judo” is a different mindset than rolling up on a scene, barking orders, and taking the least perceived slight as justification for escalating to tasers, take downs, and lethal force. I believe most officers have typically embraced a defusing model of policing. A base that on my limited interaction with the few law enforcement officers I have known and for whom I have great respect. They genuinely see their job as a calling to serve and protect.
Unfortunately, I worry this sense of calling is eroding. It concerns me that too many officers may now see Thompson’s aggressive escalating rookie behavior as the optimal model. I cannot empirically substantiate this except to so say that I see the rising rate of justifiable homicides as a likely proxy for violence by law enforcement in general. Furthermore, the Justice Department just completed a study of the Cleveland Police Department and found the following patterns:
A former St. Louis police officer recently wrote:
… As a cop, it shouldn’t surprise you that people will curse at you, or be disappointed by your arrival. That’s part of the job. But too many times, officers saw young black and brown men as targets. They would respond with force to even minor offenses. And because cops are rarely held accountable for their actions, they didn’t think too hard about the consequences. …
… I, too, have faced mortal danger. I’ve been shot at and attacked. But I know it’s almost always possible to defuse a situation.
Once, a sergeant and I got a call about someone wielding a weapon in an apartment. When we showed up, we found someone sitting on the bed with a very large butcher knife. Rather than storming him and screaming “put the knife down” like my colleagues would have done, we kept our distance. We talked to him, tried to calm him down.
It became clear to us that he was dealing with mental illness. So eventually, we convinced him to come to the hospital with us.
I’m certain many other officers in the department would have escalated the situation fast. They would have screamed at him, gotten close to him, threatened him. And then, any movement from him, even an effort to drop the knife, would have been treated as an excuse to shoot until their clips were empty. … (Source)
I have listened to other ex-officers from other cities give similar testimony. Despite what I perceive to be majority of officers entering their work as noble calling, the evidence seems to point to systemic problems that goes beyond isolated individuals going rogue. I nominate two factors for consideration.
First, broken windows policing. As I understand it, this model suggests that disorder in a community makes residents withdraw and isolate themselves. This creates opportunities for more serious criminal activity to move in. A downward cycle ensues. Broken windows policing focuses on addressing even minor problems as means of restoring a sense of order, catalyzing an upward positive cycle.
The broken windows policy came into vogue with the crack-cocaine epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The crime rate did plummet after 1994, and this policy may have played a key role. But is there a point at which neighborhoods reach a semblance of health and it is counterproductive to continue this policy? Does continuation begin to feel like harassment? Add to this that has typically been implemented in minority neighborhoods. Continued enforcement means minority residents being charged with violations that are routinely ignored in white communities. It is not hard to see how a cycle of escalating resentment between law enforcement and citizens could emerge.
Second, 9/11. It is curious that 2001 is the year where we see the divergence between a dropping crime rate and rising justifiable homicide rate. Law enforcement must take extraordinary measures in crises. We give law enforcement officers considerably more latitude. Many perceive our society to have been in a perpetual state of crisis ever since the attack on the World Trade Center. Militarization is on the rise, both in mindset and in the equipment law enforcement agencies are acquiring. Fear of terrorism has become wedded to a perception that crime and chaos is spinning wildly out of control. (As noted in the previous post, crime rates have plummeted to their lowest rates in fifty years, but the widespread perception is much different.) (Related: Police Violence Is The Exception.)
In this environment, defusing difficult encounters becomes a luxury. I routinely hear conservative commentators characterizing those who the police shoot as “resisting arrest” when they do not instantly follow an officer’s direction. They justify law enforcement in aggressive confrontation. This could certainly be true in a crisis situation, but for jaywalking? For selling “loosies?” I absolutely agree that citizens should show respect for police officers but I flatly reject that failure to show such respect necessitates escalation by an officer. Officers who do not know how to defuse situations, or are unwilling to try, are not qualified to be in law enforcement. George Thompson’s captain was right.
I’m not suggesting that these are the only two variables. For instance, a National Sheriff’s Association report points to an increase in encounters between police and people suffering from mental illness. (Source) Still, I think broken windows and 9/11 are key contributors that set the stage for much else.
Now I have purposely been sidestepping the issue of race because I wanted to lay the above foundation before incorporating race. More in the next post.
What do you think?
Ivey Business Journal: Followership: The Other Side of Leadership
"... Followership is a straightforward concept. It is the ability to take direction well, to get in line behind a program, to be part of a team and to deliver on what is expected of you. It gets a bit of a bad rap! How well the followers follow is probably just as important to enterprise success as how well the leaders lead.
The label “excellent follower” can be a backhanded compliment. It is not a reputation you necessarily want if you are seeking higher corporate office. There is something of a stigma to followership skills. Pity because the practical reality is one does not reach progressively more responsible leadership positions without demonstrating an ability to follow and function effectively in a group. The fact is that in organizations everybody is both a leader and a follower depending on the circumstances which just adds to the paradox of the followership stigma.
Followership may take the backseat to leadership but it matters: it matters a lot! Quite simply, where followership is a failure, not much gets done and/or what does get done is not what was supposed to get done. Followership problems manifest themselves in a poor work ethic, bad morale, distraction from goals, unsatisfied customers, lost opportunities, high costs, product quality issues and weak competitiveness. At the extreme, weak leadership and weak followership are two sides of the same coin and the consequence is always the same: organizational confusion and poor performance. ..."
Although the proportion of people experiencing chronic hunger is decreasing globally, one in nine individuals still does not get enough to eat. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 805 million people were living with undernourishment (chronic hunger) in 2012–14, down 209 million since 1990–92 (Figure 1).
Keep in mind that the global population grew by one third during the same time period. About 18.7% of the world lived with chronic hunger in 1991 while 11.2% do so today. Had the percentages stayed the same as in 1991 there would be 1,340,000,000 people in hunger instead of 805,000,000. Things are getting better but we have a long ways to go.
It has been more than a week since a grand jury reported a decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown. Know we have the no indictment decision by a grand jury in New York for Daniel Pantaleo killing Eric Garner. These cases are essentially being classified as justifiable homicide. I’ve been listening to the ensuing discussions and I have some observations, which I will spread across at least two posts.
Anytime issues like these come to fore, I find myself wanting to get a handle on the big picture. I've been doing a little research on the topic and it is quite frustrating. Here is what I've leaned.
According the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR), there were 461 justifiable homicides by police. (UCR) Let us assume this data is valid for the moment. How can we put that in perspective?
Let's compare it to three other countries. The number justifiable homicides was zero in England for 2013, eight in Germany over the last two years, and about twelve per year in Canada. (Source) These countries are smaller than the USA, so lets increase their population to the size of the USA and assume justified homicides would rise by a corresponding number. Here is what you get:
England = 0
Germany = 16
Canada = 110
USA = 461
So we have a much higher rate than comparable nations.
However, I stipulated an assumption that the data is correct. It is not. The UCR only compiles crimes known to police in 750 of more than 17,000 law enforcement entities. Participation is voluntary and inconsistent across entities. (Source) Analysis of data from 105 of the submitting entities shows 47% more incidents than were reported. (Source) For instance, some entities do not consider justifiable homicide an “offense” so they do not report their data. Adjusting for this under-count would mean something like 680 justifiable homicides by law enforcement. But we need to go a step further.
There is no federal clearinghouse collecting data on homicide by law enforcement. On May 1, 2013, a Facebook page called Killed By Police was created that attempts to catalog every death that happens at the hands of police from news sources across the nation. It chronicles every kind of death, including someone who dies of a heart attack after being arrested or dies in a collision with a police vehicle in a high-speed chase. The FiveThirtyEight folks did an analysis of the data, weeding out deaths that were not related to the process of an arrest, and estimated the number deaths to be about 1,100 a year. (Source)
We simply do not know the exact number of justifiable homicides by law enforcement and therefore we have no definitive means of measuring trends in the frequency of such cases. We do not know the characteristics of the people involved. That said, it seems likely that rate of justifiable homicides by law enforcement has been rising.
If we assume the Uniform Crime Report data is from the same law enforcement entities using the same methods from year to year, we see an increase in justifiable homicides by law enforcement from 309 in 2000 to 461 in 2013. (The data only goes back to 1980. The 1999 and 200o stats were the lowest since a previous low of 300 in 1987.) (Source) If we then assume the UCR data as a proxy for what has happened in non-reporting areas as well, then the instances of justifiable homicides by law enforcement has risen by 50% from 2000 to 2013.
Now keep in mind, the rate of crime as reported by the UCR dropped by 20% during the 2000-2013 time frame. The murder rate shows a drop of 5.5 per 100k population to 4.5, about a 20% drop. (Calculated from here.) But also remember that the UCR data is not the best measure of actual incidents of crime. Victimization studies (annual surveys asking about victimization whether reported to police or not) show a 50% drop in crime. (Source)
In short, justifiable homicide by law enforcement is far more common in the USA than in other advanced nations. And the perplexing reality is that it appears to be getting appreciably worse with each passing year, despite less and less crime. Something is not right.
What do you think is going on? I'll offer my thoughts in a follow-up post, including how race figures into this, but I'm curious to know what you think.
Consider this official. I am issuing an apology to every member of every church that I have served over the last 20+ years. ...
... But this Sunday Sabbatical has also illustrated some things to me, particularly now that I am working a 9-to-5 (or, more like 7-to-6) day. Honestly, I’ve never had a real job before, one that occupied a truly specific time slot and required a very specific and demanding schedule. Yes, church work is intense, but the one perk is that it usually has a great deal of flexibility in the day-to-day operations.
I actually think that every pastor needs a season of the workaday world, as it would benefit both the leader and the led. It is amazing how much can be learned by living in the same mode as the people to whom you are called to minister. Here are a few that I’ve picked up: ...
Getting up for church is hard
Yes, It’s okay to attend church where your children want to go
A Sunday off is not a damnable offense
Meaningful relationships are much better motivators than guilt
Economist: Prudent but not puritan
... After using a lot of fancy statistical tools, they came up with some expected findings, and some rather unexpected ones. Households "with a strong commitment to faith"— demonstrated by higher spending on religious activities—are less likely to be weighed down by excessive mortgage outgoings or loan payments for cars. Compared with other households, they are more likely to be home owners but their property tax burden tends to be less—suggesting that "some moderation in [the] selection of home in terms of extravagance or location...."
Devout households seem keener on mitigating risk and therefore spend more on life insurance and health insurance; they lay out less on alcohol and tobacco and more on domestic appliances, including cooking utensils. Such homely behaviour is most heavily correlated with religious belief in the American South and Midwest, which are also the regions with "the most conservative interpretation of scripture," Mr Showers notes, in an article in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. (The research more-or-less conflates the term "religious" with "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian" which in the American context is only a smallish distortion.)
But religious families do allow themselves some earthly pleasures. Indeed, they are if anything a little more likely than other households to spend spare money on clothing or jewellery, although the amount each household splurges on jewellery is a bit less. Some of that jewellery, of course, might be devotional: silver crosses or stars of David. They are as likely as anybody else to be spending money on child support or alimony—a proxy for failed marriages—and they are as inclined as other folk to incur interest payments on credit cards. ...
My Presbyterian friends have been abuzz this past week about a controversy involving staff from the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program under the Evangelism and Church Growth ministry area of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Staff mistakenly attempted to set up a nonprofit organization to help facilitate the startup of new worshiping communities. I’m not going to recount all the details. (You can read the Presbyterian Outlook story here and Executive Director Linda Valentine’s statement here.) But I would like to make a couple of observations. First, some context.
I became a member of the Presbyterian Mission Agency board (then called the General Assembly Council) in 2004. I quickly came to see that the GAC had become a conflicted, bureaucratic, tangle with little focus. This despite the best efforts of some very dedicated people to bring transformation. We had a major shake-up in 2006. The senior staff all resigned, one quarter of staff were let go, and the board was reshaped and reduced in number.
The board hired Linda Valentine as the new executive director in July of 2006, and over the next several months she assembled a new team. The board, working closely with staff, crafted a comprehensive mission work plan to give direction to operations for the first time. It was my privilege to serve on the work team that devised that plan, as well as two succeeding plans during my eight year tenure on the board. The need to become an adaptive and transformative entity was a constant theme. This vision fed into the staff recruitment process. One of my favorite titles for a book dealing with change is titled, “Teaching the Elephant to Dance,” and that is an apt metaphor for my experience with the Presbyterian Mission Agency. I confess, I was deeply skeptical about the PMA being able to transform but Valentine and company, as well as a forward-looking board, made believers out of me. Change is possible.
The problem with teaching elephants to dance is that they are initially quite clumsy. Things get stomped on. And as the elephant learns basic moves and then explores more daring dance moves, more stuff gets stomped on. It is part of the process and, while not pretty, it should be embraced.
I don’t know any of the specifics of what happened here. I just know what the rest of the public knows. I do know some of the people involved. I have seen no evidence there was anything malicious or self-serving driving the decisions. It appears to me that the aim was to become more adaptive in growing new worshiping communities but institutional systems were faulty in the execution. The elephant stumbled big time! But there were checks and balances in place that quickly detected errors and reversed them before harm was done.
My point is not minimizing the mistakes staff made. They were big and I should hope they would not be repeated. But I cannot help but be encouraged that the mistakes were made in pursuit of becoming an adaptive and growing faith community! Do you get how special that is! If you had been in my shoes over the past decade, you would. So, by all means, let us learn from our mistakes but let us keep cheering for the dancing elephant.
I love this short video!
"In Scripture, when God’s people approach Him with their dreams and desires, He sometimes answers with an unexpected question: 'What do you have in your hands?'"
We live in an increasingly polarized society. How do we reverse this trend? My reflection on this topic keeps taking me back to the basic question raised in the sociology of knowledge: How do we know what we think we know? During college in the late 1970s, I read Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman’s classic The Social Construction of Reality. Their description of how we construct and reinforce reality with social interaction is one of the most important books I have ever read. It gave me a lifelong interest in the field.
If studying this field has taught me anything, coherence of ideas is not enough. I value coherence but we must be test ideas in the real world. And yet, the way I go about testing ideas will be influenced by the socially constructed reality in which I live. There is no complete escape from our psychosocial context, but we can stretch our understanding.
For these reasons, I relish the opportunity to discuss topics with people of differing perspectives. Unfortunately, many of the topics that most interest me are bristling with political implications. Civil conversation is difficult. Observations that challenge conventional understanding typically provoke derisive banter instead of substantive dialog. Dispassionate presentation of factual information with measured commentary does the same thing. No matter what I try, it is hard to keep dialog dispassionately focused on the substance. Why?
I think economist Timothy Taylor has some great insight. In his post Political Polarization and Confirmation Bias he writes:
Part of the reason American voters have become more polarized in recent decades is that both sides feel better-informed.
The share of Democrats who had “unfavorable” attitudes about the Republican Party rose from 57 percent in 1994 to 79 percent in 2014, according to a Pew Research Center survey in June called “Political Polarization in the American Public.”
Similarly, the percentage of Republicans who had unfavorable feelings about the Democratic Party climbed from 68 percent to 82 percent.
When you “feel” better informed, you tend to be more confident about your views and more dismissive of your opponent’s views. But are we truly better informed?
A common response to this increasing polarization is to call for providing more unbiased facts. But in a phenomenon that psychologists and economists call “confirmation bias,” people tend to interpret additional information as additional support for their pre-existing ideas.
One classic study of confirmation bias was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1979 by three Stanford psychologists, Charles G. Lord, Lee Ross and Mark R. Lepper. In that experiment, 151 college undergraduates were surveyed about their beliefs on capital punishment. Everyone was then exposed to two studies, one favoring and one opposing the death penalty. They were also provided details of how these studies were done, along with critiques and rebuttals for each study.
The result of receiving balanced pro-and-con information was not greater intellectual humility — that is, a deeper perception that your own preferred position might have some weaknesses and the other side might have some strengths. Instead, the result was a greater polarization of beliefs. Student subjects on both sides — who had received the same packet of balanced information! — all tended to believe that the information confirmed their previous position.
A number of studies have documented the reality of confirmation bias since then. In an especially clever 2013 study, Dan M. Kahan (Yale University), Ellen Peters (Ohio State), Erica Cantrell Dawson (Cornell) and Paul Slovic (Oregon) showed that people’s ability to interpret numbers declines when a political context is added.
In this second study, the exact same numbers were used to make the case for the efficacy of a skin cream and for the efficacy of gun control. In the former case, the respondents accurately interpreted the numbers but in the latter case they could not, claiming the numbers supported pre-existing understanding when clearly they did not.
Now stop!!! What are you thinking about this very second? If you are like most of me, you are likely thinking about personal experiences where you witnessed this in others. If you are a liberal, you are likely thinking of those Fox News watching Neanderthals denying climate change. Or if you are conservative, those bleeding-heart mush-heads who think the government can provide quality healthcare. If so, then you are missing the point! The issue is how you and I engage in confirmation bias? We all do it. Yet by definition, it is hard to detect because it happens at a subconscious level.
… But what about you? One obvious test is how much your beliefs change depending on the party of a president.
For example, have your opinions on the economic dangers of large budget deficits varied, coincidentally, with whether the deficits in question occurred under President Bush (or Reagan) or under President Obama?
Is your level of outrage about presidents who push the edge of their constitutional powers aimed mostly at presidents of “the other” party? What about your level of discontent over government surveillance of phones and e-mails? Do your feelings about military actions in the Middle East vary by the party of the commander in chief?
He lists other examples. Then this:
Of course, for all of these issues and many others, there are important distinctions that can be drawn between similar policies at different times and places. But if your personal political compass somehow always rotates to point to how your pre-existing beliefs are already correct, then you might want to remember how confirmation bias tends to shade everyone’s thinking.
When it comes to political beliefs, most people live in a cocoon of semi-manufactured outrage and self-congratulatory confirmation bias. The Pew surveys offer evidence on the political segregation in neighborhoods, places of worship, sources of news — and even in who we marry.
I would add two more observations. First, we do not hold our political views in a vacuum. We tend to associate with people similar to us and to build community on shared values. Our views become part of an integrated web of factors that give us identity, a sense of community, and give coherence to the world around us. The more deeply embedded we are in a community the more deeply reinforced is the validity of our positions. Because of this, changing our position on an issue is rarely just an intellectual exercise.
A change in a position can pose a significant existential threat with substantial consequences to our relationships and sense of well-being. Keep in mind that Americans today say they are less likely to marry someone of a differing political party than they are of a different religion. What would it mean to change your political views in such a marriage? Furthermore, it is one thing to learn that I have been using the wrong skin cream. It is another to find out that as a the compassionate, justice-embracing, person I believe myself to be, that the fair-trade coffee I have been enthusiastically promoting is little more than a marketing ploy or that an abstinence program I have championed has no impact on teen pregnancy. What does that do to my personal identity? Change of views has deeply personal and emotional consequences.
Second, I came across this article as I was preparing this post, Nonpolitical Images Evoke Neural Predictors of Political Ideology. The authors write:
Accumulating evidence suggests that cognition and emotion are deeply intertwined, and a view of segregating cognition and emotion is becoming obsolete. People tend to think that their political views are purely cognitive (i.e., rational). However, our results further support the notion that emotional processes are tightly coupled to complex and high-dimensional human belief systems, and such emotional processes might play a much larger role than we currently believe, possibly outside our awareness of its influence.
This is critical. When I initiate discussions about economics or demography, I very often get an emotional response. Why? Why do I respond like this? Sometimes it is because I do not have the time or the expertise to grasp what was said. I turn to heuristics as a shortcut, making intuitive assessments about what someone said based on experience in other contexts.
At an almost unconscious level, I reason from experience that someone who talks about topic X and uses certain phrases or reasoning patterns, also holds a collection of other viewpoints. I then surmise what a person is really getting at. I put that assessment through an emotional filter based on how I feel about this type of person. If my feelings are positive, then I congratulate her on a well-reasoned argument. If my feelings are negative, then I congratulate myself for being sensible and I go to work postulating how she became so silly or malicious. In either case, actual reasoning about the subject matter is minimal. The truth is that emotion figures into all our assessments and it is probably best to be a little more humble about our own reasoning abilities and less hard on emotional responses from others.
Taylor closes his piece with this:
Being opposed to political polarization doesn’t mean backing off from your beliefs. But it does mean holding those beliefs with a dose of humility. If you can’t acknowledge that there is a sensible challenge to a large number (or most?) of your political views, even though you ultimately do not agree with that challenge, you are ill-informed.
So Taylor has offered some thoughts about polarization and confirmation bias. I have added a couple of additional wrinkles. I appreciate Taylor’s call to focus first on the log in my own eye. I need to be more self-aware of my own proclivities and I could often have more humility. What else? How can we reduce polarization and confirmation bias? What do you think?
The Atlantic just ran an article called Have You Heard? Gossip Is Actually Good and Useful. The teaser was, "Talking behind other people's backs may not always be nice, but sometimes it can help promote cooperation and self-improvement." It is a very interesting read. You could discuss it from a number of different angles. This paragraph really caught my attention:
As the study explains, “by hearing about the misadventures of others, we may not have to endure costs to ourselves,” by making the same mistake. And because negative stories tend to stick better in the mind than positive stories, it makes sense that gossip about people who violated norms would be more instructive than gossip about people who are really great at norms. (What’s more, one study found that sharing a negative opinion of a person with someone is better for bonding with them than sharing a positive opinion.)
It strikes me that a considerable portion of political discourse plays a similar role. A small group of people are having a conversation when someone offhandedly makes a disparaging remark about a politician, a political party, or a public policy. Joe says, "Did you see the news today that this is the 17th straight year where global temps have not increased? So much for global warming." (Or "Did you see the news about the ice caps becoming 10% smaller over the last year? How does anyone deny global warming?") Though it may appear on the surface that the remark is inviting discussion, most often it is not. It is being deployed as means of reinforcing social cohesion. And woe to you if you are not discerning enough to know the difference.
The "appropriate" response is to affirm what has been said with your own comments. As members of the group hear each other express affirming remarks, group solidarity is built. And as the article suggests, affirming negative opinions seems more potent. Knowing that we all have a common view on this one topic builds a basis for cohesion as we move on to more interaction. It isn't just a philosophical excercise to challenge the remark, it is a threat to group solidarity.
That leaves a dissenter in a difficult place, espeically if he has been public at all with a differing view. If you join in with the affirming chorus, then you may soon be outed as a hypocrite. If you challenge the remark, then you will be seen as a troublemaker. If you say nothing, then your views may later be discovered and you will be percieved as being decietful. It is a bit of a minefield.
Another layer to this is that sometimes the person inititating the remark knows that a member(s) of the group has differing views. By making the disparaging remark, she signals others to rally to her flag with affirming remarks, putting the dissenter in an awkward or defensive posture. It is an attempt to dominate and enforce solidarity.
The idea that talking about others behind their backs and sharing a common disapproval of others generates social cohesion poses some challenging questions for discipleship. I once read that not every movement needs a god but every movement needs a Satan. I doubt it is possible to fully escape this dynamic. I have no easy answers. But I suspect if our aim is to love our neighbor as ourself, then maybe the first place to begin is by deeply listening to our casual conversations, conciously evaluating what we intend to accomplish with the views we express in any given context.
The rapid spread of Christianity is forcing an official rethink on religion. ...
... In April one of Wenzhou’s largest churches was completely demolished. Officials are untroubled by the clash between the city’s famously freewheeling capitalism and the Communist Party’s ideology, yet still see religion and its symbols as affronts to the party’s atheism. ...
... Christianity is hard to control in China, and getting harder all the time. It is spreading rapidly, and infiltrating the party’s own ranks. The line is blurring between house churches and official ones, and Christians are starting to emerge from hiding to play a more active part in society. The Communist Party has to find a new way to deal with all this. There is even talk that the party, the world’s largest explicitly atheist organisation, might follow its sister parties in Vietnam and Cuba and allow members to embrace a dogma other than—even higher than—that of Marx.
Any shift in official thinking on religion could have big ramifications for the way China handles a host of domestic challenges, from separatist unrest among Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs in the country’s west to the growth of NGOs and “civil society”—grassroots organisations, often with a religious colouring, which the party treats with suspicion, but which are also spreading fast. ...
... Buddhism, much longer established in China than Christianity, is surging too, as is folk religion; many more Han are making pilgrimages to Buddhist shrines in search of spiritual comfort. All this worries many officials, for whom religion is not only Marx’s “opium of the people” but also, they believe, a dangerous perverter of loyalty away from the party and the state. Christianity, in particular, is associated with 19th-century Western imperial encroachment; and thus the party’s treatment of Christians offers a sharp insight into the way its attitudes are changing.
It is hard even to guess at the number of Christians in China. Official surveys seek to play down the figures, ignoring the large number who worship in house churches. By contrast, overseas Christian groups often inflate them. There were perhaps 3m Catholics and 1m Protestants when the party came to power in 1949. Officials now say there are between 23m and 40m, all told. In 2010 the Pew Research Centre, an American polling organisation, estimated there were 58m Protestants and 9m Catholics. Many experts, foreign and Chinese, now accept that there are probably more Christians than there are members of the 87m-strong Communist Party. Most are evangelical Protestants.
Predicting Christianity’s growth is even harder. Yang Fenggang of Purdue University, in Indiana, says the Christian church in China has grown by an average of 10% a year since 1980. He reckons that on current trends there will be 250m Christians by around 2030, making China’s Christian population the largest in the world. Mr Yang says this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire. ...
... A new breed of educated, urban Christians has emerged. Gerda Wielander of the University of Westminster, in her book “Christian Values in Communist China”, says that many Chinese are attracted to Christianity because, now that belief in Marxism is declining, it offers a complete moral system with a transcendental source. ...
... Some Chinese also discern in Christianity the roots of Western strength. They see it as the force behind the development of social justice, civil society and rule of law, all things they hope to see in China. ...
... The paradox, as they all know, is that religious freedom, if it ever takes hold, might harm the Christian church in two ways. The church might become institutionalised, wealthy and hence corrupt, as happened in Rome in the high Middle Ages, and is already happening a little in the businessmen’s churches of Wenzhou. Alternatively the church, long strengthened by repression, may become a feebler part of society in a climate of toleration. As one Beijing house-church elder declared, with a nod to the erosion of Christian faith in western Europe: “If we get full religious freedom, then the church is finished.
People in emerging economies are considerably more satisfied with their lives today than they were in 2007. A Pew Research Center survey finds that publics in emerging nations now rival those in advanced economies in their self-reported well-being. The rise in happiness among middle income countries is driven in large part by attitudes in Asian nations, such as China, Indonesia and Malaysia. People in developing economies are also happier today than they were seven years ago, though the improvement has been more modest. ...
Here are graphs that summarize key findings:
Business Insider: OK, Haters, It's Time To Admit It: The World Is Becoming A Better Place
The article includes this graph:
Then this one about poverty:
There are many other graphs that could be shown about a host of important social indicators but the article closes with the most important one: life expectancy. Improvements in life expectancy require that a wide range of variables move in a positive direction and for that reason an improvement in life expectancy is often a proxy for overall well-being.
The author closes with:
So complain all you want about how horrible everything is. There's certainly a lot left to fix. But as you complain, remember:
The world is getting better all the time.