Saturday, November 30, 2013

Poverty is Falling

Average per capita income is only part of the story. Much of the world has reduced extreme poverty to very low levels (any level greater than zero is of course unacceptable). Africa has remained the exception, although it too appears to be beginning to reduce its rate of extreme poverty.

Much of development assistance is not focused on increasing average income, but on decreasing rates of poverty. (The one percent of Americans who get nearly one-quarter of income in the U.S. are even less interested in being taxed to increase the income of the rich in other countries than they are in being taxed to reduce the worst aspects of poverty in their own country.)

Correlation Between per capita Income 1960 and 2008S

One conclusion from this graph is that there is a strong correlation of national per capita income over a half century. Poor countries tend to remain poor, rich countries tend to remain rich.

A second conclusion is that correlation is not destiny. Some of the middle income countries in 1960 became rich by 2008, and some fell into poverty.

Economic development is hard, but possible.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Red and Blue are More Divided than in the Past

Source: The Washington Post
Look at the horizontal axis that measures political ideology. In the 1950s, the Republicans (red) were more like the Democrats (blue) than they are today,. In the 1950s there was some considerable overlap in ideology between middle of the road Democrats and Republicans, which no longer exists.

Look at the vertical axis that measures how frequently the Representative votes with his/her party. In the 1950s quite a few Democrats and Republicans voted with the other party a significant portion  of the time; now block voting characterizes members of both parties, although a few Democrats on the right wing of the party still vote occasionally with the Republicans.

Both the red dots and the blue dots cluster more closely in the last Congress than they did in the 84th Congress. Republicans, as a party, have moved more to the right. More Democrats represent progressive ideology, and the right wing of the Democratic party is weaker and its Representatives in the House less conservative. (Remember the realignment of the conservative South during the Civil Rights movement, when it stopped electing Democrats and switched to electing Republicans.)

In the 1950s, either party could pass a bill by making it somewhat more acceptable to the centrist members of the other party. Now the Republicans drive bills through the Republican-majority House of Representatives that get shot down in the Democrat-majority Senate.

The explanation of gridlock made visual.

Who Are The People Working For Minimum Wage?

Source: The Washington Post
The graphs show, as one might expect, that a lot of the people working for minimum wage are under 25 years of age, and that working women are much more likely to be paid the minimum wage than working men.

What surprised me is that nearly 30 percent of American workers are employed in the leisure and hospitality industry or in wholesale and retail trade. Reminds me of an economy in which people work by taking in each other's laundry, or worse a society where lots of poor people work for peanuts serving their more affluent countrymen. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What Francis' EVANGELII GAUDIUM says about economics.

I quote from the English language version of the Apostolic Exhortation:
52. In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occuring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power. 
No to an economy of exclusion 
53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”. 
54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us. 
No to the new idolatry of money 
55. One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption. 
56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. 
No to a financial system which rules rather than serves 
57. Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside of the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.[55] 
58. A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.
he Guardian titles its coverage of this discussion "Pope Francis calls unfettered capitalism 'tyranny' and urges rich to share wealth".  "Unfettered capitalism"? Really?

Would the Guardian call rules that English drive on the left side of the road and stop at stop signs and stop lights "fettering cars". Maybe they don't remember what fetter really means.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The way the map of the states should look!

Source: The Washington Post

Republicans, taking advantage of their long term political domination after the Civil War, took advantage of an oddity in the Constitution to increase Republican influence in the Senate and the electoral college. They did this by creating a lot of states with small populations that would be dominated by Republicans. Look at the map, and you will see where they are.

I will admit that the government from the time of the Northwest Territory had a policy of making states of approximately equal size, admitting them to statehood soon after they achieved a minimum population. They did not take into account the fact that some locations were suitable for urban manufacturing, and some areas had climates that would only allow sparse populations.

Food and Farming in 2030

Check out the interactive graphic from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

We will depend on yield increases to feed the increasing population while improving their diet. IFPRI notes that environmental problems, notably global warming, will tend to reduce yields, to varietal improvement becomes still more important. Those who (in their ignorance) oppose the use of biotechnology to produce improved cultivars should explain how they think the yield increases will be achieved using only traditional breeding methods.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Posts About UNESCO that have interested people

For many years I have been interested in UNESCO, and for the past decade of so I have been sharing my thoughts on the Organization on social networking sites.

Here are my all time most popular blog postings on UNESCO:

I also had some special purpose blogs dealing specifically with UNESCO:
I also contributed to the Global Memo blog, covering this year's election of the Director General.

I manage and post frequently on the Linked In "UNESCO's Friends" group.

Thinking about the growth of democratic governance.

Source: The Economist
The United Nations currently has 193 member states, so there are still a lot of countries that are under other forms of government. Moreover, some democracies are more democratic than others.

Still, that idea of a government of the people, by the people, for the people seems to be gaining pretty wide acceptance.

If you look at the number of people living under democratic governments some democratic countries such as India and the United States are rather large. On the other hand, China is bigger still.

A large majority of Republicans apparently back creationism.

From an article in the current Economist magazine:
(F)or decades more than 40% of all Americans have consistently told Gallup pollsters that God created humans in pretty much their current form, less than 10,000 years ago. They are embracing an account of man’s origins promoted by Young Earth Creationists who lean on a painstakingly literal reading of the Scriptures, swatting aside the counter-claims of science (fossils are a relic of Noah’s flood, they argue, and evolution is a myth peddled by atheists). In a recent poll 58% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats backed creationism. The glue that underpins such faith is the principle of Biblical inerrancy—a certainty that the Scriptures are infallibly and unchangingly true.
One would think that people who believed the bible in that way would want to read it knowingly in the languages in which it was written. I am no great linguist, but I have translated for others and I know how easy it is to put one's own interpretation in place of the original emphasis of that which one is translating. And as I read history, there have been some real screamers of mistranslations from the original Greek of the New Testament to Latin.

Languages change. Even reading Shakespeare in his original English today we require footnotes to understand fully what he is saying. That is, I suppose why churches continue to publish modern editions of the Bible -- to make the content more understandable to the modern reader.

I bet that few of the people who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible have taken the trouble to really learn the languages it was written in and to read the earliest versions of the texts in those languages.

I of course would rather believe that science provides some truths newly discovered, and that the story of the Good Samaritan is better read as a parable than as a statement of fact about a specific event.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Striving for Human Rights is What America is All About.

The United States is a democratic Republic with a government invented to allow many minorities to protect their interests against the domination of the majority. Some would say that form is the basis of the success of its government. I wonder. Great American leaders have always understood that the purpose of the government was to secure the human rights of its citizens; many of the citizens have dedicated themselves to those human rights.

The Virginia Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention on June 12, 1776. Its first three sections read:
That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. 
That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants and at all times amenable to them. 
That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government, that is best which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration. And that, when any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community has an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.
This Declaration  was drawn upon by Thomas Jefferson for the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. It influenced the other colonies and became the basis of the Bill of Rights.

Recall these words from the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Note in both cases:
  • Rights are fundamental;
  • The power of government is rooted in the will of the governed;
  • The key function of government is to help the governed to obtain and protect their rights; and
  • Government can and should be altered (or abolished) to better serve the rights of the governed.
The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union (enacted in 1777 and in force from 1781) basically established linkages among the states that had declared independence from Britain, Its statement of purpose:
The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.
One can read a concern for human rights and related function of government in this purpose, but it is a relatively weak statement of that concern. However, under these Articles the Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 establishing the rules for governance of the Northwest Territory (which would eventually yield 6 states).  That Ordinance included a bill of rights protecting religious freedom, the right to a writ of habeas corpus, the benefit of trial by jury, and other individual rights. In addition the ordinance encouraged education and forbade slavery.

The Preamble to the Constitution gives its purpose as follows:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The union to which it refers is, of course, that established by the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. Moreover, the government established by the ratification of the Constitution was to "establish justice", "promote the general welfare" and "secure the blessings of liberty".

One might have assumed that the promotion and protection of human rights of the citizens was included, but in the ratification process states demanded a Bill of Rights.
On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States therefore proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution that met arguments most frequently advanced against it. The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.
In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address, which has become for many of us a key document in understanding the purpose of the U.S. Government: Recall especially:
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure...... 
(W)e here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
In January 1941, as the nation prepared for entry into World War II, in his State of the Union Address, President Roosevelt said:
The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:
  • Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
  • Jobs for those who can work.
  • Security for those who need it.
  • The ending of special privilege for the few.
  • The preservation of civil liberties for all.
  • The enjoyment -- The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living. 
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations. 
Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:
  • We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.
  • We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
  • We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.........
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
  • The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.
  • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.
  • The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world.
  • The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world.
I suggest that "rights" are unconditional in the sense that a persons right may not be ethically taken away by another person nor an institution. It may be inconvenient to pay that children may exercise their right to education, but their right trumps our convenience.

On the other hand rights are conditional. One does not have a right to what is impossible, but newly possible states create new rights. If it is possible to protect a child's right to life by immunization against common childhood diseases, then the child has the right to those immunizations. Yet in the 18th century when vaccines did not exist, no such right existed.

I believe that it was the U.S. historical dedication to human rights that led to the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations. The fact that Eleanor Roosevelt was unanimously elected as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and that she chaired the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration supports that belief.

Prior to the drafting of the Universal Declaration, UNESCO was asked to inquire of intellectual leaders from different cultures as to whether there were indeed rights so widely shared among cultures as to be seen as universal. The result was published.  The fundamental conclusion was that while different cultures disagreed as to the source of those rights, there was a shared idea that many rights indeed exist in common across societies.

One such right is the right of children to education. That right is acknowledged within many societies. On the other hand, in some countries not all children are thought to share equally in the right to schooling -- many more girls are excluded than boys. Obviously, in rich countries young people go to school longer than in poor countries -- the right depends on what a country can afford. Yet the global Education for All movement indicates that almost all governments have over the past quarter century done a great deal to more fully realize the rights of their children to education.

However, in some sense, rights are defined culturally; We now recognize rights that our forefathers denied to many.  When the Constitution was ratified, slavery was legal in the United States. Then and long after, citizens of the United States felt quite justified in taking land from Indians and indeed moving Indians across the continent to reservations where Indians were deprived of many rights, including often the right to life. It was only in the 20th century that woman were allowed the right to vote.  Now the country is deeply divided as to whether gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry and as to whether women have the right to chose whether or not to terminate pregnancy.

Even where we generally agree on rights, the government is sometimes far from guaranteeing them. Racism continues to exist in this country, effectively denying some people rights enjoyed by the majority. Indeed, many Americans feel that the government should not extend its reach to add to the rights of its citizens as it becomes more possible to do so. In a country in which more and more wealth is monopolized by a smaller and smaller portion of the population, the lack of empathy of that oligarchy of wealth leaves children hungry and schools weak.

I think the arrow of history is clear. As the country becomes richer and as technology improves, more and better rights become possible. This government was created of the people and by the people to extend more rights to all the people. It is up to us, the people, to fight to see that the nation will continue to pursue the ideals of its founders.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Numeracy test scores of tertiary graduates and teachers S

Source: OECD Education Today
U.S. teachers (red) rank rather low among developed nations in numeracy, but so do college graduates  (grey).  In the United States, a significant portion of college graduates score below 275 in the PISA math test and the line does not reach a score of 325; contrast that with the countries shown at the top of the graph.

Part of our problem is that too many of our students get a poor education, but a part is also that we are not producing an adequate number of students with really strong quantitative skills.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Suicide rates,* by race/ethnicity and age group

United States, National Vital Statistics System, 1999--2007
The very high rates of suicide for the American Indian/Alaska Native group teenagers and young adults are, I strongly suspect, an indication of the terrible conditions in which so many of these have been forced to live, and the prejudice that they still experience.

I have no explanation as to why non-Hispanic Whites have so much higher suicide rates than other groups. Culture counts, but what aspects of culture?

"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities".

Il y a eu des gens qui ont dit autrefois: Vous croyez des choses incompréhensibles, contradictoires, impossibles, parce que nous vous l’avons ordonné; faites donc des choses injustes parce que nous vous l’ordonnons. Ces gens-là raisonnaient à merveille. Certainement qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde est en droit de vous rendre injuste. Si vous n’opposez point aux ordres de croire l’impossible l’intelligence que Dieu a mise dans votre esprit, vous ne devez point opposer aux ordres de malfaire la justice que Dieu a mise dans votre coeur. Une faculté de votre âme étant une fois tyrannisée, toutes les autres facultés doivent l’être également. Et c’est là ce qui a produit tous les crimes religieux dont la terre a été inondée.

A thought about scaling history

Big things change faster than you realize. Perhaps we should think in Decades.

I have been reading The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch. I was generally aware before starting the book that Christianity had begun a very small movement and grown in power and influence until it became the state religion of the Roman Empire.

It occurred to me that Jesus spoke Aramaic, that many of the early Christians must have spoken Hebrew as their principle language, and that as Christianity spread across the mid east it probably did so in Greek. Our earliest documents of Christianity are in Greek.

Clearly, at some time, Christians in Rome began to practice their religion in Latin. Thus, I assume that early in Christian history, some congregations practiced their religion in Greek and others in Latin. Moreover, the split between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches occurred long before the Reformation.

I have read some about the late Middle Ages when there was a schism in the Roman Catholic Church and when in a reform movement orders of monks and friars were established. That was also a time in which pilgrimage routes became more prominent and there was an increase in funding of churches to conduct perpetual masses.

In this historical light, the proliferation of Protestant sects in the Reformation and the Counter Reformation seem more like a continuation of a very long process of change of Christian Religious institutions.

Of course, looking at more recent American history, I am aware of the rise of a variety of religious movements in the United States from Mormonism, to Christian Science, to the churches serving black communities, to various cults.

The processes of change in Christianity continue. The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches proudly point to continuity dating back to the lifetime of Jesus Christ. I suspect that many people fail to understand the nature of that continuity and of the changes that Christianity has accepted.

Political Institutions

The Economist recently published an article stating:
A CONSTITUTION “naturally expires at the end of 19 years” wrote Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s Founding Fathers, in 1789. This, he calculated, was the length of a generation. More than 200 years and 800 constitutions later, the life expectancy of a constitution proves indeed to be about 19 years.
Ancient Egyptian civilization lasted thousands of years with relatively little change. We think of the Roman Empire as lasting a thousand years, or more if the Byzantine Empire is included.

England claims a long lasting government, but the British Empire that existed when I was born in 1937 is long gone, as are the contemporaneous French, Portuguese, Dutch, and Italian empires.

Most of the nations in the United Nations gained their independence in my lifetime.

The U.S. Constitution dates to 1789, with relatively few amendments since.  There is a tendency to focus on the continuity in American government, and originalists in the Supreme Court believe that the Constitution should be interpreted as its framers intended rather than as a living and changing agreement. Many conservatives in this country decry the changes in our society, yet the United States is a very different country than was the nation of 1789 of a couple of million people (that we can hardly understand) clinging to the east coast of a continent dominated by Indian tribes, and living in fear of the more powerful military and naval forces of England, France and Spain.

Final Thoughts.

I have lived through the second Vatican Council and its impact on the Roman Catholic Church.  I am aware of debates in Christian communities on family planning, ordination of women, homosexuality, sexual misconduct of priests, the treatment of women during out-or-wedlock pregnancies and their children and the language of the mass.

I have lived through the break up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and the birth of Israel, the division of Korea and the unification of Vietnam.

Yet I tend to think of institutions as permanent, or at least with a great deal of resistance to change; I may be unhappy with the politics of today, but I fear little can be achieved in the next election to reform them. Of course, thinking in deep history, or even with a historical time frame of a few centuries, institutional change is obvious. Perhaps my problem is that I should think more in terms of a few decades, rather than a few years or a few centuries.

The fight for human rights has made significant progress in the United States in the half century since President Kennedy was assassinated, not only for African Americans, but for Woman and for gay and lesbian rights. It is hard to imagine Pope Francis being chosen by the College of Cardinals when President Kennedy was facing the possibility that his Catholic Church affiliation might prevent him from being elected president.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Causes of Mortality -- Global Data

From an article in Wired:
Worldwide, about 40 percent of that toll results from disorders (shown in yellow above) that could be avoided with basic medications, clean water, and neonatal care. As you read this, 3,000 young kids are dying from diarrhea that a few zinc tablets would have stopped. Cost: 38 cents per life.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A thought about thinking about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

There are several models of decision making that are often treated as separate:
  • Kahneman's model suggesting that some decisions are made quickly and intuitively while others are made more slowly and analytically;
  • The subjective probability model in which probability estimates are updated with new and additional information;
  • Decision making to maximize expected benefits or minimize expected costs;
  • Psychological models, such as "cognitive dissonance" in which people use internal values to alternatives in decision making that may not correspond to external realities but to "psychological" values 
  • Processes that lead to confidence in one's decision that may or may not be justified in rational terms. (Thus some people may attribute high confidence in an intuitive response that other people would reserve for a decision based on extensive analysis based on considerable theory and evidence.)
Obtaining information and conducting analysis are themselves costly. It may be quite rational to conclude that one is willing to live with a level of ignorance or uncertainty, rather than to work to make the effort to reduce that level. On the other hand, we are curious beasts and we find pleasure in satisfying our curiosity; sometimes that pleasure is itself sufficient to justify the effort. To some degree the decision to continue the search for information depends on one's estimates of the facility of the search. One may wish to know what exists in other galaxies, but recognize that we will not know much in our lifetimes given the distance to those galaxies.

We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy. I am old enough to recall hearing the news of the assassination on the day it happened, listening to the radio to obtain the news as it broke. Clearly in those first days as we learned of the shooting, the death, the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, and Oswald's assassination by Jack Ruby, we were using intuition rather than detailed analysis. 

There has been an industry grinding out findings on these events for half a century. Notably:
  • The Warren Commission which reported in 1964 that Oswald had been a lone assassin;
  • The U.S. Senate's Church Committee which reported in 1975 which reported that senior officials in the FBI and CIA may have decided not to reveal information which might have been important relevant to the assassination; and
  • The House Select Committee on Assassinations which reported in 1979 that the assassination was probably the result of a conspiracy.
Obviously there is a wide range of decision making approaches that have been applied. Some experts have applied their professional skills and instruments to examine direct evidence from the crimes. Legislators and lawyers have used secondary data and considerable analysis from their backgrounds to come to (contradictory) conclusions. Most of us will never exhaustively examine the evidence, even that available to the public. but will have modified our initial intuitive response to the events on the basis of reports from various sources that have come to us over the years.

One thing seems clear. People with more tolerance of uncertainty seem likely to be less confident in their current conclusion as to whether Kennedy was assassinated by a gunman acting alone or as the result of a conspiracy (and if the latter, what kind of conspiracy).

I recently watched a panel discussion dealing with the assassination. It included someone who worked in the Warren Commission, and it occurred to me that the cost to him of rejecting the conclusions of that Commission were quite different than the costs to other panelists who had quite different personal experiences with respect to the assassination and its aftermath.

It also occurred to me that the credence that I tend to give to various reports on the assassination depends on the credibility that I ascribe to their sources. If I think that the House of Representatives is relatively unreliable in its committee findings, then I am less likely to think the Select Committee on Assassinations finding was true.

I am fairly comfortable living with uncertainty on why Kennedy was killed 50 years ago, so I am fairly comfortable with relatively little confidence in my conclusion that he was probably killed by a lone nut. This may be because I don't see much benefit or cost to me of the different alternatives.

Thinking about innovation and inventions

The Atlantic magazine for November has an article on the 50 greatest inventions since the invention of the wheel. James Fallows provides an interesting taxonomy for the inventions.

I am not sure that I fully agree with the idea behind the article. It seems to miss the idea of accumulation of innovations and deepening of technology that make an idea more and more workable.

It also seems to miss the idea of technological systems. In order to make electrical distribution commercial, it was necessary to invent generators and means of powering them, to develop means of distributing the electrical power, and a first device using the electricity to perform a service people would pay for. Then all sorts of additional apps could be invented and commercialized from electric motors to electric chairs.

I suppose development was first based on the invention of agriculture. Plants and animals were domesticated all over the world, and farmers improved yields by selecting improved varieties and improving farming systems. They learned how to harness animals to pull plows and to use manure to nourish plants. They learned that legumes could restore the yield of fields that had been exhausted by their use growing grains. Early on they developed means to store and distribute water to their fields. On this basis there has been a continuing effort to develop better ways to improve varieties, machinery to increase the farmer's productivity, better fertilizers, etc.

There are, I suppose, many ways to group technologies. Let me suggest that it may be useful to group the infrastructure technologies. Thus roads, aqueducts, waste disposal and sewerage, and ports might be identified. Energy infrastructure, including but not limited to electrical power would also be included in this category. Infrastructure clearly saves a huge amount of human labor, allowing it to be moved to other productive activities. The health benefits of abundant household water and a hygienic environment also contribute hugely to human capital.

Communication technologies might be included within the category of infrastructure, but they might alternatively be included within the category of information technologies, which would include books and printing, computers, scientific instrumentation, magazines, remote sensing, with the enabling inventions such as transistors, integrated circuits and fiber optics.

Then perhaps a category for manufacturing technologies, from the mechanical devices that revolutionized the production of fabrics, to manufacturing processes, the production line, and robotics.

I think there would also be a category for service technologies -- those involved in government, education, finance, wholesale and retail trade, etc.

Why We Live 40 Years Longer Today Than We Did in 1880

There is an interesting article in The Atlantic November edition with this title. The interactive graphic is worth a visit. I quote from the article:
The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a golden era of American health innovation. Breakthroughs like germ theory, antibiotics, and widespread vaccination, as well as major public-health advances in sanitation and regulation, neutralized many long-leading causes of death. Life expectancy skyrocketed as a result, but brought with it new demons. For the past 50 years, medical innovation has focused less on eradicating disease and more on managing chronic conditions.
A doubling of life expectancy is -- if you think about it -- amazing. I suppose that mankind will not see a further doubling. The past success has been due to reductions in the mortality rates among young people. Even in the past, once folk had survived childhood, many went on to live into their 7th and 8th decades, and a few lived to 100 or more. We are not seeing people living to 150, and I rather doubt that we will see such longevity achieved in the next century or two.

The revolutionary extension of life expectancy has spread to part of the developing world.

150 Years Ago Tomorrow, Lincoln Delivered the Gettysburg Address

The Civil War was started by those who were willing to destroy the United States in order to maintain the institution of slavery. In 1863, President Lincoln spoke for those who would preserve a nation conceived in liberty, having emancipated the slaves in the states in revolution against that nation, and soon to succeed in changing the Constitution to abolish slavery forever in all of the nation.

The Clansman was published in 1905 romanticizing the Ku Klux Klan, immediately made into a play, and in 1915 made into the movie, The Birth of a Nation. These led to a founding of the second Ku Klux Klan which reached a peak of power in the late 1920s.  Woodrow Wilson, a racist who segregated federal government facilities, took office as President of the United States in 1913.

In 1963, during the Centennial of the Civil War, the civil rights struggle was most acute in Birmingham Alabama. Police Chief Bull Conners was leading police violence against peaceful demonstrators and Governor George Wallace sent state troopers not to support civil rights but to help Connors forces of repression. Little girls were killed when a church was bombed, and little boys were shot dead. It was the year of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream Speech and of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It seems that the arrow of history is toward liberty and justice. American enemies of civil rights for minorities are less malevolent than they were 150, 100 or 50 years ago. On the other hand, where today are the charismatic progressives to match Lincoln, Kennedy and King?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

African Underground Water Resources

UNESCO is the UN agency that focuses on water resources, and it produces a global water assessment. As the map shows, aquifers don't respect national boundaries. Underground water supplies are important for agriculture and for human and household use. Knowledge of the aquifers is important for their proper management.

It sometimes happens that water withdrawn from an aquifer in one country is not available to be withdrawn in a neighbor country. Think of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Proper management of aquifers and treaties based on agreed knowledge of the properties of aquifers will be increasingly important way to prevent conflict over scarce water supply in the future.

Thinking about just allocation of health care costs

Consider a specific health insurance policy providing specific coverage for specific presenting conditions at a specific cost. While there are many such policies, in a country with more than 300 million people, each will be expected to cover a large number of people.  Thus each policy will have an expected number of each kind of presenting condition per year, an expected number of treatments, and an expected frequency of outcomes -- complete recovery, days of discomfort, days of lost work, rates of disability, mortality, etc. It will also generate a specific income for the agency offering the policy, specific health related out of pocket costs for the people it covers, and specific costs for employers and government.

In this kind of simplified treatment, we can treat the wealthy who self insure and pay costs of treatment entirely out of pocket as holders of a specific "policy", and we can treat the indigent who depend entirely on charitable and government financed services as holders of another specific "policy".

The World Health Organization has offered Disability Adjusted Life Years as a single indicator of the success of a health system/policy. At a conceptual level we can assume that there exists such a single indicator, and all the health insurance policies could be ranked in terms of their outcomes as measured by that indicator. If people had perfect information, one might consider that they would choose the policy with the best outcome for the cost they were willing to bear.

Thus in our mental experiment we might consider that only those policies that offered the best outcomes for a given level of expenditure need be considered. If one ranked the policies according to outcome, one would expect that there would be decreasing returns to cost -- one would get better outcomes for more expensive policies, but (at least after some level of cost) each added dollar of cost would provide less and less added benefit.

In our current system of private insurance, largely paid by employers who get government subsidies, some people get very high end coverage with the best expected outcomes. Others get minimal coverage with the worst expected outcomes. We could expect that with the same total cost to society we could get better average outcomes by reallocation of the total costs and coverage among alternative policies.

Great Britain for example, has most people covered by a government health service with uniform coverage, and a few people who opt out and pay for private health services. The country has better health statistics with much lower health service costs than does the United States.

Should People Who Opt Out of Affordable Care Act Insurance Pay a Tax?

A fraction of those people will require health services and will not be able to pay for them. In our society, hospitals and emergency services are required to provide services in many cases, even if they can not be paid for by insurance or out of pocket by the recipient. The cost of those services are shared between the government, or they are incorporated in the cost of other services -- someone pays.

Thus the people who choose not to be insured incur an average, probably low, cost. It seems just that they should give something to the government to cover that cost so that the rest of us do not have to do so (through higher costs for our insurance, higher out of pocket costs, or higher taxes).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

More on Culture and Politics

Recently I posted a couple of maps of Colin Woodard's division of North America into cultural zones. The Washington Post has provided the map shown above which has a somewhat different division of the nation (by county) into 15 cultural areas. I summarize the areas, with a different order than used in the WP:

The Greater Metropolitan Areas

  • Big Cities: 73.6 million very diverse people in the 46 largest counties; President Obama won 65 percent of the vote here in 2012.
  • Urban Suburbs: 66.2 million people in 106 counties just outside most major cities are starting to look like their more urban brethren. Obama won here by 16 points.
  • Middle Suburbs: About 16.3 million people live around big cities in the Northeast and Midwest; swung narrowly from Obama in 2008 to Romney in 2012.
  • Exurbs: The not-quite-suburban, not-quite-rural bedroom communities in 222 counties are home to 32 million quite wealthy people; Romney won the exurbs by 17 points.

The Young Folk Are Leaving

  • Aging Farmlands: More than a quarter of the 576,000 people in the 161 counties clustered in the Dakotas south through the Great Plains are over 62 years old; Mitt Romney won 68 percent of the vote here in 2012.
  • Graying America: More of the 15.3 million residents in these 364 counties, scattered around the Mountain West and the northern border with Canada as far east as upper Maine, are over 62 than are under 18; Romney won 56 percent of the vote in these counties in 2012. And perhaps
  • Rural Middle America: The 21.5 million people in these 599 counties live everywhere from Upstate New York to Minnesota’s Iron Range. They are heavily white, they live in small towns, and they are not as reliant on agriculture as other rural counties.
Dominated by Ethnic Groups 
  • African American South: Home to 16.7 million people, the 371 counties running from Virginia to Texas are more than 40 percent African American. 
  • Hispanic Centers: 161 counties mostly in the Southwest, which 11.5 million people call home; Republicans used to win these counties handily, but with the growing number of Hispanics in the voter pool, they are turning increasingly purple.
  • LDS Enclaves: The vast majority of the 3 million people living in 41 counties in and around Utah are white, and young; Romney performed better here than in any other type of county, hitting 74 percent of the vote.
  • Native American Lands: More than half the 695,000 people who live in 42 counties, mostly in the West, are Native Americans; household incomes are significantly lower than the national average.
  • Evangelical Hubs: 12.5 million people live in 373 counties mostly scattered through what Woodard called Greater Appalachia; Romney won 69 percent of the vote in an area where Democrats have a tough time making inroads.
  • Working Class Country: About 8.5 million people live in 337 counties that are among the poorest in the country. Many of these counties are rural outposts in Appalachia, though they dot the Ozarks and parts of the Smoky Mountains, too.
  • College Towns: More than a third of the 17.9 million people in these 154 counties, clustered around college campuses outside big cities, have bachelor’s degrees or higher. They are less diverse than the nation as a whole.
  • Military Posts: The concentration of troops and bases mean the 9.7 million people who live in these 89 counties are younger and more diverse than they might otherwise be. They are also more educated than the average county; Romney won by 14 points here in 2012.
We can see some implications for the politics of the future. I assume that the country will become still more urban. Hispanics will increase as a percentage of the population and will come to vote more. (No wonder Republican state parties seem to be trying to disenfranchise African-Americans and Hispanics, or to gerrymander them into relative electoral irrelevance.) I suppose that we will see groups within the major parties seeking control of their parties, even as each major partiy seek to reach out to cultural groups on the fringes of the other.

I have been called "a Development blogger"

I occasionally am invited to serve as a guest blogger on other sites. Here is a list of contributions to such sites:

Global Solutions Blog
Global Memo (Multilateral Elections and Appointments in the United Nations System)
Zunia (Expert Perspectives)
For a number of years I was the principal blogger on:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Refusing to pay for the seed science is a bad idea.

It has been suggested that the economy experiences long waves of innovation and growth. Thus a scientific discovery may lead to a technological invention which in turn leads to the basis of a new technological system, which finally spawns a slew of further innovations;

Think of the development of packet switching, the creation of the Internet, the development of a global high speed communications network, leading to ecommerce, egovernment, and a huge number of apps.

The discovery of the structure of DNA has led to sequencing of the human genome and the genomes of other species. The health sector seems poised on the introduction of a large number of innovations to deal with genetic diseases and cancer.

Development in neuro- and congnitive-science seem at an earlier stage, but within a few decades if they are properly exploited may lead to huge social and economic advances.

So read this from Francis Collins, who heads the National Institutes of Health. Here are some quotes:
NIH appropriations doubled in real terms between 1998 and 2003 but leveled off after that and then started to decline. "We're getting pretty close to being undoubled," he says. The NIH now turns down six of every seven grant applications; in 1979, it accepted two of five....... 
He (Dr. Collins) was instructed to apply the 4.7% NIH cut for 2013 equally across its 27 institutes and research centers—in other words, cut the same amount over all scientific disciplines. The cuts meant, he says, that 640 projects that would have otherwise been funded were canceled over the last few months. "People say, 'Well you know, it's only 5%.' For those grantees, it was 100%."...... 
Whatever the cause, the consequences could have ramifications for decades. Dr. Collins warns that other countries are luring away U.S. scientific talent by offering better opportunities. Even more worrying: "My greatest concern—this is the thing that wakes me up at night—is that a whole generation of scientists are looking at this situation and getting increasingly discouraged and disheartened." 
Research can't be turned on and off like a faucet, he adds. Since knowledge is incremental and builds over time, medical innovations may be delayed or never happen at all: "We can all think of findings that seemed completely irrelevant but ultimately changed everything and led to people's lives being saved, but began in the strangest way."

A Problem with Local School Boards and Local Financing of Schools

Predicting citation rates and predicting success in Vietnam.

There is an interesting article in Science magazine last month providing a model of the long term impact of articles in scientific journals. The model recognizes that the more an article has already been cited, the more likely it is to be cited again. It also recognizes that eventually the citation rates for most articles trails off, so that the time since initial publication is a parameter. Finally, the model posits a "fitness" parameter which the authors believe captures the perceived novelty and scientific importance of the content of the article.

This fitness parameter is similar to a parameter that I have described in previous posts as the probability that a paper submitted for publication will be recommended for publication by peer reviewers.

Note, however, these statements by the authors:
Paradigm-changing discoveries have notoriously limited early impact, precisely because the more a discovery deviates from the current paradigm, the longer it takes to be appreciated by the community. Indeed, although for most papers their early- and long-term citations correlate, this correlation breaks down for discoveries with the most long-term citations. Hence, publications with exceptional long-term impact appear to be the hardest to recognize on the basis of their early citation patterns.
The proposed model has obvious limitations: It cannot account for exogenous “second acts,” like the citation bump observed for superconductivity papers after the discovery of high-temperature superconductivity in the 1980s, or delayed impact, like the explosion of citations to Erdős and Rényi’s work 4 decades after their publication, following the emergence of network science.
Of course, that is a major problem with peer review. The ideas that are most likely to be revolutionary or to assume major future importance are not likely to be recognized for their importance when first submitted.

 I thought about this while watching a program on TV on President Kennedy's decision making in 1963 with respect to the Vietnam War. That summer, with some 14,000 military advisers in South Vietnam, Kennedy sent high level teams to the country to complement the regular reporting from the military and the Ambassador as to whether the South Vietnamese government was being successful or not in fighting the insurgency. One of the issues under discussion was whether 1,000 advisers should be withdrawn at the end of 1963 to strongly signal that the government of South Vietnam did not have an open check for U.S. military support.

The problem with this approach seemed to me to be similar to estimating the long term impact of a scientific paper from its early citations. If the situation changes, the biggest future impacts can be missed by projecting current situation data ignoring the risk of those changes. The success or lack of success of local tactics in Vietnam in 1963 did not help in predicting the long long term strategy of the insurgents and their supporters in North Vietnam and the Communist block countries. Short term success of the Southern government troops was met by increased opposition forces and would be until the United States withdrew its troops and until the government of South Vietnam fell.

A thought about culture and politics

I just read a review of Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America. We are not surprised that Europe has regional cultures (that do not exactly correspond to countries). Those of us who have experience in Latin America know that Costa Rican culture is different than Honduran, and that Mexican cultures can be much different than Brazilian cultures.

The regions of the United States have very different histories, going back to their original inhabitants and settlers. We may have a common language (with differences in second languages among regions), but in many other ways our cultures are contingent on their histories. The post Civil War political and economic histories of the deep south and the north east were quite different. The industrial histories of the rust belt and the sun belt were quite different. I also feel that geography and climate influence culture, if only because they determined the agricultural bases of the regions, and for much of American history (and even now) much of the country had an agricultural economy.

We also have a two party system, with "broad umbrella" parties. That is, there is considerable diversity within each party. However, people have to choose one or the other party if they wish to have influence in national (and even state) government. Tea Party Republicans and moderate Republicans may sometimes be uneasy in their alliance, but that alliance enables both to achieve some common objectives. Similarly, Blue Dog Democrats and more liberal democrats form a sometimes uneasy alliance as part of pragmatic politics.

As I understand it, Woodard holds that the Deep South is relatively powerful within the Republican party and Yankeedom within the Democratic party. In my lifetime Nixon's Southern Strategy saw the Deep South switch from Democratic to Republican, leading to a massive change in the political dynamics of the nation. Thus it is possible for a cultural region to switch its allegiance from one political party to the other. Perhaps with the changing demographics or changing rates of voter participation we will see further changes in the dominant political party in some regions.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Rob Ford, the musical

Like a lot of people, I have been interested in the saga of Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

Visually he reminded me of the Harkonnen family in the movie, Dune. They were the red headed family of villains who were trying to take the planet of Dune away from the hero and his supporters. I am not the first to think of that connection, as the following image taken from Google Images indicates:

But look at Ford:

Doesn't he call out for John Goodman playing him on the big screen?

Watch Ford in video form:

For me, he calls out for a performance like that of Charles Durning as the politician in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Incidentally, You Are My Sunshine is associated with Jimmy Davis, the former governor of Louisiana (that has had its own colorful politicians).

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Earth from Space

Illusions of validity and skill and misplaced confidence.

Daniel Kahneman writes about the illusion of validity. All too often the brain intuits a story that satisfies the available (inadequate) information and comes to a conclusion that is then (intuitively) believed to be valid. He describes a situation from his early life in which he and a colleague were asked to predict which people performed a specific, difficult task would be most successful in a leadership course. They did so with considerable confidence, only to discover that they were almost no better than chance. Then they did the prediction again for another group with equal confidence, even knowing that they previously had been wrong. They suffered from the illusion of validity of their predictions.

In the same New York Times article he writes about the illusion of skill. All too often the brain makes up stories that satisfy the available (inadequate) information for each prediction and come to the (intuitive) conclusion that they are skilled at the predictive task. He describes an experience in which he analysed data on professional financial advisers discovering that there was no correlation between their rank order for bonuses in one year and that in other years; thus there was no repeatable difference in skill among these advisers. The results of their advice were about as good as random selections would have been. Sharing this evidence with the advisers and with the superior that awarded bonuses for performance did not shake their illusion that they were skilled at predicting stock price changes.

People who have frequent timely opportunities to discover their mistakes may avoid such an illusion of validity and the illusion of skill. However, in both examples people had their predictions positively reinforced. In the first example, the other colleague must have agreed on the recommendations made for training, and the admissions office must have accepted the recommendations. In the second case, the financial analysts must have had good salaries and received occasional bonuses "for the successful application of their skills". The much later information that predictions had been wrong perhaps failed to reverse the psychological impact of the immediate positive reinforcement from peers and clients.

Kahneman has noted that people who jump to wrong conclusions are often as sure that they are right as people who arrive at conclusions after detailed analysis of lots of data. Perhaps this is why conservative politicians are as convinced that mankind is causing climate change (on the basis of few facts and little understanding) as are scientists convinced of the global warming after extensive analysis of huge data sets based on strong theory.

Think about this when you read that Republicans oppose food stamps!

Source: Pew Research Global Attitudes Project
Something is very wrong about living in a rich country in which more than 20 percent of the population has trouble buying food.  Note that the U.S. point on the graph (on the far right) is way off the trend line. Other rich countries do much better at fighting hunger. 

What "Official Development Assistance" is not.

Statistics mean what they measure, not what their titles say.

I read an article in The Guardian which started:
The international rules that define what spending rich countries can count as foreign aid – and which developing countries are eligible to receive aid – are up for grabs for the first time in decades, with potential faultlines being drawn over whether donors should be able spend more aid money on support for private companies overseas. 
The development assistance committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the club of rich countries, defines and polices what its members can count as official development assistance (ODA).
Here is the official site for the current definition.

I think of the DAC as a forum for discussion among the members of the OECD -- the club of rich nations. In the DAC, the countries are represented by their governments. The definition of ODA is primarily to assure that when two countries discuss the similarities and differences of the programs, they are comparing apples to apples and not apples to watermelons. I am glad that the DAC is reexamining the way ODA is calculated in an effort to make its discussions of development assistance more and better informed by statistics. But I hope that the people involved in the discussions understand what the indicator measures. I strongly doubt that most of the public does.

Official: This means the statistics focus on aid provided by national, state and local governments. Different cultures differ in the importance of civil society within the culture and the importance of private charity versus government funding. Official development assistance does include the funding provided by governments to civil society organizations, but not the money that is donated to development assistance by private individuals, churches, or businesses.

Note especially that in the US governments exempt charitable donations from taxation, and also exempt charitable and religious organizations from taxes. This is "tax financing" and amounts to billions of dollars a year of what might be considered hidden subsidies for private charity. When people donate to Oxfam America, or when the Gates Foundation funds foreign aid, or when Catholic Relief Services provide projects in developing countries, the government foregoes income, but that amount is not counted in Official development assistance.

Over the past decade I have contributed well over 20,000 items to the Zunia resource base. I have done so as a volunteer, with no payment. Assume that I can find, read and post five items an hour. That implies I have spent at least 4000 hours trying to make relevant professional information more available to people working on development.  There is no place that that effort is included in the accounts; it is neither funded by the government nor measured in monetary value by the foundation that supports Zunia.

Similarly, consider my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1960s. I received no pay as a trainee, and a living allowance when in country that was less than $100 per month. (Of course, the government spent money on my training, my transportation, and on the support staff.) I finished my two year stint as a PCV on a Friday and the following Monday I moved to the other university in the same town as a Ford Foundation Consultant (for the following three months) with a stipend of $1200 per month. It seems fair to say that my in kind contribution as a PCV might be valued at perhaps $25,000, much more than the government paid me. Then, after my service as a PCV was finished, the government issued me a check for $75 per month ($900 per year) for the time I served abroad. Note that that payment was made to me to be used in the United States while I was not providing any assistance. I am pretty sure that my contribution to the GDP in my host country was more than the cost to me and the government, but that is because I was lucky.

Development: There is a tendency to think of increases in gross domestic product (GDP) as the measure of development, and it is useful, and the ODA actually focuses on "economic development and welfare". The UNDP utilizes the Human Development Index which adds education and life expectancy to GDP for a more adequate measure of development.

I think of the demographic transition as a key element of development. Child survival was radically improved by public health programs based on immunizations, simple curative services, improved sanitation and improved nutrition. Couples chose to have fewer children, and were able to do so to the availability of contraceptive technology. Parents were able to invest more per child in education, food, health services, etc. because they had fewer children. The children, eventually entering the workforce with more human capital per kid, were more productive. The GDP did increase rapidly per capita, but societies evolved in many other ways, many of which must be seen as social or cultural development. How much of this is captured in GDP per capita or the UNDP HDI? Very little.

If we look at success in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which focus in reduction of poverty, China and India are largely responsible for the global success. They have experienced rapid increases in GDP over many years with export driven economic policies. In the process, a lot of industries have moved production to these emerging economies, leaving unemployment a problem in rusting industrial cities in the USA and other OECD countries. Subsidies to foreign countries to build manufacturing industries to take away markets from the donor nation tend not to be popular with the people who wind up unemployed, nor with their neighbors, nor with the majority of voters.

On the other hand, Americans and citizens of other OECD countries sympathize with the victims of natural disasters, They support efforts to improve health and reduce hunger, especially when those efforts help children. Thus US foreign assistance has tended to focus on humanitarian relief and poverty alleviation (especially "the worst aspects of poverty") rather than industrial development (much less export oriented manufacturing).

Assistance: ODA focuses on concessional assistance. How much of the success of China and India was due to trade policies that allowed imports from those nations without heavy tariffs? How much was due to industrial policies that allow companies to foreign direct investment abroad and allow them to shelter earnings in foreign subsidiaries. I suspect that "concessional aid" are less important for the major successes in economic development than are trade and industrial policy instruments.

The world is -- I hope -- on the brink of eradication of polio. This became possible with the invention of polio vaccines as the result of decades of biomedical research, most of which was funded in the United States. None of this was seen as "assistance". Indeed, much of development can be seen as the result of technological revolutions, such as the green revolution, the development of contraceptive technologies, the information revolution, the development of biomedical technologies, energy technologies, and even space technology. Very little if any of the investment in this technology development occurred in poor countries nor was it accounted as development assistance. Yet the public investments in these technologies and their transfer at low or no cost to developing countries was critical to development. It is not seen as ?assistance".

The DAC is a forum for discussion of a multinational effort involving some $100 billion per year. It is worthwhile to have such a forum, and to have statistics on which to base their discussion, and to have a common definition of terms for the collection of those statistics in the member nations. Of course the definitions can be improved, and thus should be. Still, "the ideal is the enemy of the good". And it is counterproductive for outsiders to criticize the definitions because the do what they were designed to do and not what the outsider would prefer that they did.