Monday, June 30, 2014

How will the world change in coming decades?

Some aspects of technological change may be relatively predictable. Transportation technology is relatively more mature than information and communication technologies, and so transportation systems are likely to improve more slowly than will information and communications systems. Still both will continue there penetration into currently unserved areas of Asia and Africa. 

We can also expect to see markets grow. I would expect to see more goods and services on the market. Of course transportation costs and losses and transaction costs increase with the distance goods travel, so that catchment areas for goods markets would tend to remain somewhat more local than those for services that could be handled by telecommunications.

For large countries with large populations, domestic markets will increase greatly.  I think the European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement and similar multinational market areas will also grow in number and volume of trade. So too, I assume that there will be a general growth in international commerce. That will engender needs for improved international systems related to the governance of international commerce.

Automation will increase.

Changing technology, greater dissemination of technology, expanded infrastructures, and expanding markets will offer expanded economic opportunities. The economic growth which we have seen in Europe and Japan after World War II, in the various tigers, in China, India, Russia, Brazil and other countries more recently is a pattern of diffusion of economic modernization and competitiveness that is likely to continue.

I expect that there will be more schooling, especially in countries where rights to education have not yet been met. Thus work forces and citizenry will become more educated. That in turn will put pressure on societies to improve management and governance. The advances in neuroscience, cognitive science, and computer amplification of intelligence may  make people smarter or at least more effective in the use of knowledge.

Cultures will rub up against each other more and more. We will have to see a dialog among religions or we will see more religiously based conflict. We will have to see better ways to accommodate rising powers into regional and global systems or we run the risk of serious conflict.

Urbanization will increase, and we will see more large cities and some already large cities will get larger still. Worldwide farmers will have to feed more people on average than they do today. The increase in food and fiber per farmer will be bigger where it is now low than in more developed countries where each farmer is already feeding many people. Growing the food supply to meet the needs of the growing population will be a challenge. It may be that rather than trying to get everyone to eat the way people do now in rich countries (meat intensive diet) we will have to see development of cultural norms for healthier diets based more on plant foods.

The footprint of modern civilization is huge and continues growing. Environmental damage of major proportions will be inescapable if means are not found to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and to reduce rates of loss of biodiversity, deforestation, desertification, depletion of fisheries, pollution of coastal zones, and loss of top soil. Of course, exhaustion of natural resources may accomplish some of these objectives for us, but at great cost.

It seems likely that population growth rates will continue to decline and that the production of goods and services worldwide will continue to increase more rapidly than the population.  I would expect extreme poverty to be reduced, but poverty to remain a problem. Populations will age, and life expectancy in poor countries should increase but I don't expect to see increases comparable to those in the 20th century. 

Will there be class war? It seems clear that the rich are acquiring more wealth faster than any other group, With that wealth comes power, and the power is used to protect and acquire wealth. Still, there are trends which would increase the power of the rest of us, and a recognition that there are dangers in the inequality of wealth, income and opportunity in the world.

In his book, The Age of Culture, Paul Schafer calls for a fundamental change in world culture, one in which people adopt a more artistic, creative and even spiritual approach to life, one less marked by greed for things and less destructive to the environment. I see this as related to Federico Mayor's emphasis on a culture of peace (not surprising since the former Director General of UNESCO wrote the introduction to Schafer's book).  I think the world needs such a transformation, but I am not sure that it will be achieved as soon as needed.

Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?

Blue is good, Orange is bad. The more saturated the color, the more extreme the county. The ranking is based on "six data points for each county in the United States: education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity."

I quote from the article in The New York Times:
The 10 lowest counties in the country, by this ranking, include a cluster of six in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky (Breathitt, Clay, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin), along with four others in various parts of the rural South: Humphreys County, Miss.; East Carroll Parish, La.; Jefferson County, Ga.; and Lee County, Ark....... 
 If you exclude educational attainment, or lack of it, in measuring disadvantage, five counties in Mississippi and one in Louisiana rank lower than anywhere in Kentucky. This suggests that while more people in the lower Mississippi River basin have a college degree than do their counterparts in Appalachian Kentucky, that education hasn’t improved other aspects of their well-being.
I have been fortunate enough to always live in the more affluent portions of the country (thanks Dad!). As a result I was able to go to good schools, get a good education and then good jobs.

Joe Bageant writes about America's class war, noting that "Rednecks" do poorly in our society, focusing on the folk from the Appalachians of Scotch-Irish background. Of course, in the south it is the blacks who are having the most trouble; in other parts of the country it is Indians and Hispanics.

Since we have no real national education system we are willing to see these areas continue to lag in education, and thus in income and the quality of life. But if you leave half the country behind in this generation, the whole country suffers in future generations -- at least in the sense of not achieving what might have been.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Do You Learn About A Foreian Culture

Source:  "Tips On How To Experience A Foreign Culture"

How do you learn about foreign culture. Of course, you were lucky enough to be born into a culture and learned it at your mother's knee, in the streets, at school, from the media, and lots of other places. But what happens when you find yourself in the midst of a different culture?

Of course, that depends on how you do so. As a tourist, you may be protected and instructed by a tour guide, but in any case you will almost surely be dealing with people -- hotel and restaurant staff, travel agents, airline and railroad employees -- who are trained to deal with foreigners and experienced in doing so. You will not be expected to understand the culture very well, and you will generally be excused any gaffs you might make. Still, why travel if you don't try to use travel to learn about other people and their cultures.

As a business traveler, you should be briefed by your employer, and perhaps accompanied by local staff familiar with the culture who will help you. Business culture is a subset of national culture, simpler in my experience, and more international. Moreover, your counterparts are likely to be used to dealing internationally and thus understanding of cultural differences with visitors. Still, they are likely to be positively impressed if you have done your homework and show sensitivity to their culture.

When I first went to live abroad (as a Peace Corps Volunteer) I was fortunate enough to get three months intensive language instruction and a fairly serious, graduate level course in Anthropology that included field practice in rural USA and in Mexico. The training was a big help.

I lived in my first foreign country for something like two and one-half years. In that time I spent some time living and interacting with dock workers and their families, taught a couple of classes in universities, worked in the computer center with staff there, and cooperated with a couple of faculty members offering services to local industry based on the then novel computer services available at the school. I read a lot in Spanish and spoke Spanish several hours a day, both doing business and chatting with friends and associates.  I had the chance to travel for a couple of weeks in country, and later for several weeks in Latin America.

A couple of years later, with more professional experience and more graduate work under my belt, I went to live in another Spanish speaking country. I stayed for another two and one-half years. While the cultures of the two countries were far from identical, they shared the same language and many other similarities. I began working as one of three foreigners working with a team of (highly trained and experienced locals who themselves had international experience); as the other foreigners left, I found myself the only foreigner on the  team, working almost entirely in Spanish. Team members became friends, and the work involved interactions with people outside our group on a regular basis.  I also taught, both short courses and thesis students. I read a lot, especially about the health sector as I was working on a WHO project. I got interested in local archaeology and spent time talking with others interested in archaeological artifacts.

Five years living in two Spanish speaking countries I think was a good way to learn to be somewhat humble about my lack of cultural understanding, and yet to pick up some ability to learn about other cultures. It was a background that helped a lot in the following decades in which I worked in more than 30 other countries, and also worked in multinational organizations.

Today it is easier, I think, to learn about other cultures than when I started out. Surely it is easier now to learn languages; instruction is better and computers are around with good language instruction software, and even translation software to help you over the hard parts. You can take an online introductory course in anthropology and/or in the history and geography of the country that interests you. provides a great way to find books on the countries whose cultures you wish to learn about. Use Google to search the Internet and you can easily find guidance on local culture for visitors to those countries. Travel is easier and faster. There is of course no substitute for getting to know people from the culture, but today you can do so via social networking sites without leaving the comfort of your home. Thus when you arrive in a foreign country you can be reasonably prepared to continue learning about it, its history, its people and their culture.

Ebola Is Spreading in West Aftica

Source of map

Ebola, a viral disease with 50% lethality is now being found in three west African countries. It spreads by contact with blood or other contaminated materials from victims. Doctors without borders says that there are not enough boots on the ground to deal with the hundreds of cases, and there are no controls on travel to limit the spread of the disease.

In an epoch in which people can travel around the world in a day, control of communicable disease is a global necessity, not a local option.

Source of map

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Knowledge as a part of Culture

There are many things that I know to be true. One of the things that I know to be true is that some of the things I know to be true are not true.
My friend Julianne 
The problem is  to discover which things that you know are true are in fact not true?
The things I learned at my mother's knee and other low places.
My mother-in-law
My last post was was about culture. A lot of our knowledge is comes from our culture. That knowledge consists of "things everyone knows". We learn it at our mother's knee when we are growing up, and from kids on the street. Today, young people learn it from social networking on the  Internet. We pick it up from neighbors, or chatting at the water cooler at work.

Sometimes, of course, "common knowledge" is based on things told to us in school or via the media. Thus, Fascists and Communists who were in power in Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia deliberately used schools, radio and movies as vehicles for propaganda. Some of that propaganda deliberately encouraged people to believe things that were not true, thereby encouraging them to support the people in power in their own countries, and to support war against designated other countries.

A lot of this knowledge we don't know we know. What is the right way to use knife and fork or chop sticks? We use these implements by habit, probably following routines we picked up as children. We do so unable to describe exactly what we do in words, and almost certainly unable to describe why we behave as if that is "the right way to behave". But of course, one can offend people in other cultures (or in different parts of one's own culture) by using table implements in a way that they feel is incorrect and even insulting.

A package of glucose and salt added to water provides an oral rehydration therapy that saves lives.

In developing countries many farmers farm the way their neighbors farm, feeling that that is "the way farmers have always farmed here". That belief is certainly wrong, and usually there are better ways that could be used by those farmers to improve the productivity of their farms and thus their families' lives. So too, in those countries many mothers bring up their children the way most of their neighbors bring up their own, feeling that is "the way we bring up our children". It has been found that some mothers in many developing country communities have children who thrive while those of their neighbors do not; the successful mothers know something that the unsuccessful mothers don't know or don't believe to be true. Sometimes that knowledge crucial to success is how to use available modern medical services (such as immunizations, oral rehydration therapy, bed nets and/or primary medical care services); sometimes it is how to create a more nourishing diet from sources available to all in the village (for example, vegetables providing needed nutrients or sources of protein).

People pick up cultural knowledge from sources that are legitimate within their own cultures. They may seek knowledge on how to deal with child's sickness from a herbalist or traditional healer (where a health promoter or nurse-practitioner might provide better advice). They may seek knowledge on how to deal with a pest threatening their crops from neighbors (while an agricultural extension agent might provide better diagnosis of the problem and a better prescription for its solution).

This is not only a problem of poorly educated people in poor countries. Some very well educated people in rich countries believe immunizations are dangerous, that organic foods fertilized with manure are safer than the food found in their local markets that has passed government safety inspection, or that there is no danger of global warming arising from continuation of current energy policies. These people would seem to believe things shared in sub-cultures that they inhabit (to the exclusion of acceptance of information from sources outside those sub-cultures that would be more credible).

I am reading Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 by Elizabeth Varon. Among other things, the book describes the way beliefs about slavery changed prior to the Civil War. Notably, there seems to have been a belief in the South that slavery was good for the slaves. Politicians proclaimed that as a fact. According to these politicians, Africans needed to be taken care of, and their masters did so tending them in sickness and old age. The politicians denied mistreatment of the slaves, and cited the bible as defining slavery as totally within the Judeo-Christian religion. Moreover, there was a school of southern plantation novels popular in both the north and the south that depicted slaves as happy and well treated within the plantation community. Perhaps those who had small land holdings and a few slaves treated theirs differently than the large plantation with many slaves, but three-quarters of southern white families had no slaves. So only a small portion of southern whites belonged to the plantation owning class, and they had strong reasons to hide mistreatment of slaves on their plantations if (and when) it occurred,

Thus a first step in providing new useful knowledge is sometimes to find out what people already believe to be true that is not true, and disabusing them of their false knowledge. Will that "gore the ox" of the traditional source of such knowledge in those people's culture? If so, you better know that and prepare for their countermeasures. Sometimes you may suggest one piece of information without understanding what it is replacing, and where that knowledge to be replaced fits in a larger cultural context; if so, you may fail.

Before the Civil War there was no tradition of social science research in the United States. Abolitionists tried to fight the perception that slavery was benign or relatively benign. One major contribution was the book American Slavery As It Is, in which the authors collected information from newspapers for two years and used that, especially the ads for run away slaves which documented their mutilations, to demonstrate wide spread mistreatment. This not only sold 100,000 copies when initially distributed, but served as a stimulus for the writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The "positive good" defense of slavery survived the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, into the 20th century.

Culture is not easy.

Here are a couple more of my blog posts that deal with Disunion:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thoughts on Reading "The Age of Culture" by Schafer

I suppose I most fundamentally think of the world in terms of three elements:
  • People: The seven billion humans, all probably descended from a small band that lived some 200,000 years ago. Evolved from previous manlike species, all people share most of their DNA. We tend to start out pretty similar biologically.
  • The Natural World: If you will, this is the realm of things studied by the natural sciences.
  • The Social World -- the things studied by the social sciences.
I like to think of "culture" in the anthropological sense -- the complete pattern that characterizes the social world of a specific society. (See the defination at the end of this post.) Of course, my tripart view of reality is a product of my culture. Moreover:
  • A person's culture affects his/her body and mind. Thus the brain of someone speaking Japanese is actually wired differently than that of someone speaking English, and the bodies the children of Irish can identify me at a distance as a Yank (and have done so) in spite of the fact that my father was born in Ireland. 
  • So too, we live in landscapes that are to greater or lesser extent artifacts of our cultures.
We think of a person's behavior as determined by nature, nurture and the situation faced. In that construct, one's "nature" is determined by one's genetic heritage, and "nurture" by the way the potential in that nature has been helped to develop in one's youth. Identical twins raised identically in the same household will of course behave differently, say if one lives as a monk in the desert and the other as an artist in a well watered city.

I like the analogous idea that the nature of a culture is determined in part by its heritage of memes. But it is also determined by the way that those memes have been nurtured within the culture, and the environment in which that culture exists.  Thus the meme of farming has been very widely shared among cultures, but farming has developed distinct institutional frameworks in different cutures, is done differently in different cultures, as it is done differently in different climates with different soils and different demands from consumers.

Cultures evolve. Our culture is not like that of our ancestors in the 19th century, and more distant still from those in previous centuries. Just think how language has changed. Moreover, future cultural patterns are contingent on those of today and yesterday. Radio and television technology have swept the world, but programming is culture specific.

Much of culture in implicit. It is around as all the time but as invisible as the air we breath. Consequently efforts to influence the evolution of culture tend to be partial; often unrecognized aspects of culture interfere with efforts to reform political, economic and other institutions. Moreover, the ability to guide cultural evolution seems itself to be an aspect of culture (e. g. Giving Up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879 by Noel Perrin).

We tend to be ethnocentric, assuming that other cultures function as ours does, or even that where we recognize cultural differences, our own culture is assumed to be superior (albeit without evidence of that superiority). This is not to say that all culture should be accepted as good and desirable. There are cultures that foster crime and violence, cultures where human rights of  large numbers of people are not respected, and indeed, most cultures have their own Jerimiahs, revealing the sins of their own peoples.

Cultures include the set of values held by people within the culture; these values change as part of cultural change. Only 150 years ago many people in the south of the United States went to war to protect the institution of slavery which they defended as good for the slaves and good for the masters; their values we can hardly fathom today. We tend to be tempocentric, assuming that the values of our time will also be those of other (future times) or that the values of our time are superior to those that will be held in our evolved culture in the future.

The Age of Culture

I am reading The Age of Culture by D. Paul Schafer. The author starts from a recognition that current patterns of international development are marked by major problems. They are not sustainable. Conflict is everywhere and threatens to worsen.  A large portion of the seven billion people living today are living in poverty. The worst aspects of that poverty are sickness  disability, and early death, but lack of choice, lack of power, lack of voice are also to be fought. On the other hand, a tiny fraction of the world's people are hugely wealthy and  rapidly accumulating more wealth. (Schafer perhaps fails to recognize the progress that has been made in improving the lives of the poor, as shown by the degree of success in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.)

He perceives that we need to move toward a new order in which people are enabled to live a good life, rich in development of the body, mind, taste, and -- if you will -- soul, but not demanding of excessive material possessions and with a limited and sustainable environmental footprint. In one of the meanings of the word, Schafer seeks a world in which people everywhere would be cultured.

Schafer lives in Canada and I live in the USA, both multicultural societies. Yet our countries are relatively homogeneous cultural when compared to say India or Nigeria. Schafer points out that in multicultural societies, cultures rub against one another, changing and being changed in the process, and such multiculturalism is itself a culture. As the world globalizes, it is increasingly useful to recognize all 7 billion of us living in a huge global culture.

Cultural Ages

For thousands of years, before history, people lived in relatively small bands as hunter-gatherers. Schafer refers to theirs as a Hunter Culture, and I see similarities across many such cultures. The range over which a band might move would be limited. While they transformed their local environments, as compared with today the Hunter Culture had a limited footprint. Thus, for example, the rate at which other species were becoming extinct was much lower than today, forests still dominated more of the earth and the oceans were relatively untouched.

I think of the 20th century as marking the end of an Age of Imperial Culture. While the Spanish Empire fell earlier, the 20th century saw the fall of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, British, Belgian, Dutch, French, Japanese and Soviet empires. These empires had been built around the advantages that the metropolitan power enjoyed by its early lead in the Industrial Revolutions -- what Jared Diamond termed Guns, Germs and Steel, plus fossil fuels in steam and internal combustion engines, the telegraph and telephone, etc. World War I, World War II and the Cold War contributed to the end of that epoch.

Schafer suggests that we currently live in an "economic age" but that we should strive to transform society so that people in the future may live in an "age of culture." He was trained as an economist and worked as an economist early in his career before moving into arts administration. I was trained as an engineer and worked as an engineer before moving into science administration. Perhaps that is why I tend to think of our current culture as having been importantly formed by centuries of technological innovation. I also think that since mankind has seen the world from space and learned to use computers to better deal with the diversity of ecosystems, our global culture is becoming much more aware of the planet on which we live and the complex ways in which our environment functions. Yet clearly, ours is an age in which governments, corporations and markets are key institutions, and economists play an important role in studying those institutions and helping define societies policies with respect to those institutions.

The current epoch is characterized by a concentration of wealth. Forbes magazine estimates that there are 1645 billionaires in the world today with an aggregate net worth of 6.4 trillion U.S. dollars. This may be compared with estimated total global wealth in 2013 of 241 trillion U,S. dollars. Thus 0.00002 percent of the world's population has 2.65 percent of the world's wealth. On the other hand, according to the World Bank1.22 billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day in 2010, and 2.4 billion people lived on less than US $2 a day. Multinational corporations unknown in previous ages, owned by the relatively wealthy and managed by a bureaucratic elite, have largely escaped the control of national governments. Commerce has become global in many commodities.

This is an epoch dependent on fossil fuels, and they are being depleted. The ecological footprint of this cultural epoch is creating global warming, melting ice caps and glaciers, raising sea level and flooding coastal zones, creating mass extinction of other species, destroying forests and top soil, polluting surface water, ground  water and coastal zones, expanding deserts, and generally making the earth less livable for the species.

Maslow's Needs Hierarchy
Source (and license information)

Schafer maintains that mankind should consciously change global culture seeking to achieve an Age of Culture. Here he is using a definition in part similar to this from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
a :  enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training 
b :  acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills
I think he and I share a critique of the current epoch that can be explained in terms of the Maslow Needs Hierarchy.  Today a billion people are barely meeting their physiological needs and billions more are not meeting their safety needs, while a small fraction of the world's population is accumulating great wealth, enjoying most of the fruits of an unsustainable use of natural resources.

Since the higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy do not require resource intensive production of goods and services, a shift in societies' processes could focus more on their achievement while diminishing mankind's global ecological footprint. Production of goods and services would be modified to make the use of natural resources sustainable. The new social system would share the wealth and income of the world more evenly, allowing the poor to satisfy physiological and security needs more fully, and to begin to fulfill higher order needs.

Schafer feels that our current culture fails to act with sufficient attention to the whole person, the whole of society, and the whole global environment with which people and society interact. He sees our priorities as biased towards the "economic" -- increase in income and wealth, and not adequately taking into account sustainability nor the higher aspirations of mankind.

In achieving his age of culture, Schafer then proposes a model of development, as shown in the following diagram:

The Cultural Model of Development
He devotes a chapter in the book to "The Cultural Personality", focusing on the characteristics of people who will inhabit his desired Age of Culture. He is especially interested that they have a holistic view, working to develop their potential to the fullest. I very much like this focus. Let us ask what it is in their culture that makes people who they are; what is it in people that makes their culture what it is. Perhaps we call the latter "personality". I note that Orhan Pamuk in his great book Istanbul: Memories and the City suggests that his city has a special feeling shared by its inhabitants, a feeling which has changed with time, and that other cities too have what we might call personality traits shared by their inhabitants. So it seems logical that to move culture in desired directions, people's personalities must change over time in supportive fashion.

D. Paul Schafer in his book is concerned with the extent of specialization in our current culture. On the one hand, I feel that it would be great if people could be less single minded about work and money to spend more time on family, learning about others and improving their minds and spirits. On the other hand, trying to get Mozart to paint or write, or to get Shakespeare to play more music and dance more seems unwise. A good economist, a good engineer, or a good scientist needs thousands of hours of work to learn his/her profession, and needs to practice it to maintain the skill. I think specialization is  here to stay in that sense.

Schafer also devotes a chapter to "The Culturescape: Self-Awareness and Communities". It seems clear that people in the next century or two will live primarily in cities and towns. Indeed, finding ways to make urban living sustainable will be high on any agenda for human welfare. Making towns and cities livable, in the sense of places that not only allow people to fulfill their physiological and safety needs, but increasingly to fulfill higher order needs seems an obvious goal, but one that is clearly going to be difficult to achieve. We need not look back to the horrific cities of Dicken's England or Civil War New York; we can focus on the enormous slums in Africa, Asia and Latin America.


UNESCO was founded in the aftermath of World War II to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men. In the terms used above, it was an explicit effort created by the allies to change world culture in such a way that wars would be less frequent and less brutal. Indeed, UNESCO has created a project promoting the culture of peace, and there was an International Year of the Culture of Peace. Federico Mayor, the former Director General of UNESCO (who wrote an introduction to Schafer's book) has on leaving his post at UNESCO created a Foundation for the Culture of Peace.

More fundamentally, the "C" in UNESCO is for Culture. It has used its convening power to bring leaders together from all over the world to discuss culture, it has been a laboratory and clearinghouse for ideas about culture. It has fostered the creation of international agreements about the protection of cultural artifacts and heritage and created programs for the protection of world heritage sites and intangible cultural heritage, as well as the promotion of cultural expression. Importantly, it has sought to promote dialog among cultures to increase mutual understanding and decrease conflict.

Author Schafer's thinking has been significantly influenced by UNESCO (as has my own). Moreover, UNESCO is the logical place for the ideas in this book to be discussed and further developed.


Schafer and I are both native English speakers from North America, of the same age, with somewhat similar life experiences. Our values seem quite similar, yet they may be different in many ways from the values of people in a century or two -- the people who will be living in the age for which Schafer wishes to influence culture. There is an inescapable contradiction in the fact that their future culture will be contingent on the decisions made now with our current value system, but they will have to live in that future with their own values.

The question is most pertinent in Schafer's final chapter, "Culture and Spirituality: Key to Life and Living in the Twenty-First Century". Schafer suggests that he attains spiritual states through the arts, through experience with nature, and through physical exercises. Others, especially devotees to some religions, might find this chapter offensive. Remember that one of the divisions between some of the Reformation Protestant Churches and the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church was just over whether and how music, paintings, and sculpture were to promote religious spirituality. While I find visiting UNESCO's natural World Heritage sites (e.g. Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Everglades) to refresh my spirit, I recognize other people don't share those experiences. Perhaps most importantly, as Michael Brown implies in Who Owns Native Culture?, indigenous people have all too often had their cultural preferences, and even their spiritual beliefs, run over by people from dominant economic and political groups.

Culture is complex and implicit. In my opinion, many development efforts have gone awry having been bitten by cultural memes that had not been recognized or interactions among memes, people and environment that were too complex to predict. As Robbie Burns wrote:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
Governments and large organizations in the private and non-profit sectors are key institutions today, and they are responsive to people with wealth and political influence. While participatory democracy is more prevalent today than ever before, people are influenced by the media, educational institutions, political parties and other institutions -- all of which are led by people "with skin in the game". It is not clear how cultural change can be guided to achieve the ends Schafer desires when the change is likely to often be detrimental to the perceived interests of the people with influence.

Final Comment

It is clearly not possible to do justice in a short post such as this to ideas that Paul Schafer has expressed at book length. Indeed,  I am sure that I have not fully digested his thought myself. Read the book for yourself.

I will leave you with a video in which 75 people of Cuban culture together play that quintessential Cuban song, Guantanamera. People proud of their Cuban heritage can differ violently over issues of politics and economics, but they can come together to make music. Perhaps cultural expression is a tool to move toward a culture of peace.

Playing for Change - Guantanamera

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a definition of culture
a :  the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
b :  the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also :  the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time
c :  the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization
d :  the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic

Evaluating a Great Experiment in Cultural Change.

There is an interesting Washington Post  blog guest post by UCLA political scientist Daniel Treisman. (Go Bruins!) It examines the 25 year history of political and economic change in the former Soviet block countries after the fall of Communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union. With respect to economic institutions:
A first trend is obvious — divergence. Communism compressed variation. All Soviet Bloc countries had distorted economies, Leninist party dictatorships, and relatively low GDP per capita. Once the brace was taken off, differences quickly reappeared. The income gap between richest and poorest countries grew from $11,000 in 1990 to almost $25,000 in 2010. By then, their political regimes ranged from oriental despotism (Turkmenistan) to consolidated democracy (Poland). In terms of market liberalism, Georgia came eighth on the World Bank’s ease of doing business rankings in 2013, while Uzbekistan was 146th.
A second trend is almost as obvious — convergence. As they diverged from one another, the postcommunist countries were converging towards something else: their neighbors. In income levels, political institutions, and economic freedom, these countries have become more and more like the non-Soviet-Bloc countries nearest to their borders.

The article goes on to suggest that post-Communist democratic processes had resulted in voter support for economic reform, but that some (charismatic) reform leaders were influential in promoting reform while others were not. Leadership counted, although the author notes that economic reform is a group process.

We think that development is easy, but it takes a long time to change economic institutions. Moreover, some cultures facilitate the development of free-market capitalism to a far greater extent than do others.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Where the poorest of the poor live

Thanks to Helmut Reisen for sharing this map. Guy Pfeffermann notes that "the influence of climate is striking."

One of the elements of the problem is vector borne diseases, such as malaria, sleeping sickness and yellow fever. Vectors turn out to be more difficult to control or eliminate in tropical climates. Poor health is a major challenge for development.

The Legacy of Historical Southern U.S. Culture

Poverty Rates Are Highest in the South of the USA

Source: Huffington Post
An article in Salon points out that:

  • "every red state in a 2,500-mile stretch from Arizona to South Carolina along the southern tier had the highest poverty rates in the U.S. in 2011, between 17.9 and 22.8 percent."
  • "As you would expect, the vast majority of people falling under the poverty line in the poorest states do not have white faces—although there are poor whites.......In the poorest states, whites account for 15 percent to 20 percent of the poor."
  • "Five states have no state minumum wage, meaning that the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour and $2.13 for tipped workers is the standard. While other states have raised these floors, that’s not so for Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina. These states also are hostile to organized labor, like the entire South. The result is the 10 states with the lowest average household incomes are mostly southern. Starting at rock bottom, they are Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, New Mexico, Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma."
  • "the South was where children born into poor homes were least likely to climb the economic ladder. The region’s businesses and business models overwhelmingly rely on low-wage work."
  • "According to the Kaiser Foundation, per capita expenditures by states in 2011 averaged $5,385. At the very bottom were Nevada ($3,150), Florida ($3,482), Missouri ($3,858), Texas ($3,796), Georgia ($4,176), Idaho ($4,212), Alabama ($4,398), Tennessee ($4,743), and South Carolina ($4,797). Three Deep South states—Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana—spend more than the national average, as did West Virginia."
  • "When it comes to helping low-income households get access to healthcare, almost all red states, including most of the Deep South, have refused to do this under Obamacare."
  • "The Deep South has the country’s highest obesity rates, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The region has the most cigarette smokers. It has the highest teen birth rates. Now, other areas of the country take the trophy for other vices. But .........according to Gallup, the pollsters, the states with the most unhappy people are in that Deep South-Midwest swath: Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia."
  • "The 10 states with the most gun violence, based on federal statistics, are, in descending order, Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina, New Mexico, Missouri, Arkansas and Georgia."
The deep south was the home of plantation agriculture in colonial times, and slave owning plantation owners dominated southern politics in the beginning of the 19th century. They were willing to take the region into Civil War in the 1860s rather than face the likely gradual ending of slavery, and that war decimated the region. With the emancipation of slaves, the KKK was created in the South and Jim Crow policies and laws were imposed to deny blacks their rights. White conservatives (calling themselves Democrats from the Civil War to the Civil Rights epoch, and thereafter calling themselves Republicans) continued to hold power in the South, and they continued to espouse policies that would disadvantage the poor, who were very disproportionately non-white.

Guess what that does to the overall productivity of the country. Guess what it does to the rate of innovation in the USA, and thus to our international competitiveness which depends on our innovation and our high quality workforce. For those of you readers of this blog who will expect to retire after 2035 and live until 2060, guess how much this will endanger the quality of your future lives.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thinking about the decay of information quality in public fora

UNESCO was founded in recognition that wars begin in the minds of men. It was chartered to work to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men. It seems to me that:
  • In war leaders often make hugely erroneous forecasts of what will happen. Think of Napoleon's France and Hitler's Germany deciding to attack Russia, or Georgia deciding to secede from the Union in 1860.
  • Wars sometimes are justified by false beliefs. Think of the U.S. invasion of Iraq based on the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and refused to decommission them.
UNESCO was founded in 1945 in the aftermath of World War II. It is not surprising that looking back at tens of millions of deaths in world wars and at the beginning of the atomic age, people were concerned with the prevention of wars.

Today we know more about the impact of mankind on the environment We can see (using satellite remote sensing) the warming of the atmosphere and oceans, the rise of the ocean surface, massive deforestation and desertification. Today we realize that the defenses of the environment must also be built in the minds of men.

I would guess that one step would be to improve information literacy -- the ability to judge the credibility of information.
  • Some information is very credible. We know that Obama is president of the USA, and that Bush preceded him in that office. That is common knowledge, and we have seen the inauguration ceremonies. However, we will never know exactly how many votes Bush and Gore received respectively in Florida presidential election of 2000, since the Supreme Court halted the recount of those votes; we do know fairly accurately what those 2000 Florida vote counts were because the votes were counted initially by institutions we trust, but with an accepted error rate.
  • Similarly, we are sure of the population of the United States to a fair degree of accuracy because a census was conducted in 2010 by a trusted institution, the Bureau of the Census. The field of demographics is well developed and we can trust the projection of the census data. On the other hand, we also know that the census data could have been improved using known techniques, but the Congress chose to instruct the Census Bureau not to do so.
  • Some information is much less credible. "Talking heads" on television explain what the Russians are planning in Ukraine and what various factions are planning in Iraq. We know that decision making in Russia and Iraq is complicated, and that the parties are taking great care to keep their plans confidential. We know that those in intelligence services of other countries, that are likely to have some knowledge and understanding of those plans, are also not likely to share their knowledge. The television pundits are chosen for their general knowledge but are often wrong.
  • Some data is simply not credible. The source may be distrusted as having misled us in the past, as providing data out of self interest, or simply as uninformed.
One problem today is that people seem to let their ideology get in the way of making reasonable decisions on the credibility of information. Thus:
  • Liberals tend to trust the scientific consensus that human action is causing global warming and that unless the emissions of greenhouse gases are controlled there will be massive environmental damage by the end of the century; conservatives tend to distrust the scientific community's credibility with regard to those claims.
  • Many conservatives tend to trust corporate claims for the safety of agricultural chemicals and genetically modified crops; many liberals believe that organic farming is to be preferred to the use of more modern/commercial inputs; some conservatives and some liberals tend to trust the scientific consensus on the safety of modern farming and the government regulatory process that seeks to assure its safety.
  • Many Christians in the USA believe that the bible, as they and their churches interpret it, to be the most credible source of information, including on such subjects as the origin of species and the age of the earth; many others in the USA (of various faiths) give more credence to the interpretation by scientists of a massive amount of evidence that has accumulated over the last several centuries.
  • Increasingly many conservatives believe the data provided by Fox News to be the most credible available, while many progressives find that provided by MSNBC to be the most credible available, and still others find network news or public broadcasting news most credible.
Of course, history shows us that very active debates may be settled deciding that one side is completely wrong. The Church finally admitted that the sun does not revolve on a celestial sphere around the earth. The debate on slavery was not settled in the United States until after it resulted in the Civil War, in spite of the fact that it was really exploitation of slaves kept in servitude by force by social institutions run by and for an economic (exploiting) elite. When I was a young man, the debate over U.S. involvement in Vietnam was active and even violent; now we know that American political leaders were deliberately misleading the public, and that the "Communist" insurgents in Vietnam would rather quickly install a capitalistic economy.

Today, as I mentioned in a recent post, people seem to be more divided ideologically and politicians less willing to compromise than in recent decades. I suspect that that is partly the result of the dramatic change in the media. There are more television channels than ever before. The Internet has made it possible to read news published all over the world, and social networking to network with a wide variety of people. The result seems to be, at the moment, that people are increasingly seeking out sources of information that share their ideological position, and ignoring other sources. Some of course are doing just the opposite, using the improved access to information to find the most credible. Apparently most are ignoring the most credible sources of information to find those that most loudly proclaim that which the recipient already believes, or at least that which causes least cognitive dissonance with those beliefs.

So What Do We Do?

How do we deal with this perverse trend. One thing is to have "fact checkers" that identify false information in the media. Another is to have good online sources that grade the credibility of sources. Of course, as this article suggests, the technology should also be used to increase the accuracy and precision of information.

I began this post noting the creation of UNESCO. It emphasized at its creation -- and does still today -- education. One of its first projects was to scrub European texts of fascist propaganda. Institutionalizing systems to improve schools and educational materials should continue to be a priority. I think the efforts of special interest groups to dominate school boards and textbook selection committees, where their intent is to promote propaganda for their beliefs rather than to improve the educational quality, should be fought. Schools should increasingly teach information literacy, preparing students to make good choices of sources of information to utilize and data to believe.

Schools should also do a better job teaching decision making. Graduates should understand some of the techniques employed by intelligence agencies to validate information and the credibility of sources. They should understand some of the approaches used by historians in drawing lessons from history relevant to current decision making.  They should understand forecasting, and understand risk analysis. Of course, the level of expertise achieved by a high school graduate will be less than that of a university graduate, which will in turn be less than that of the recipient of a graduate degree. Still, people should be prepared for their future roles as citizens, executives and leaders.

UNESCO has had a long term focus on science, in part because science has institutionalized relatively effective systems for the validation of assertions - fit with theory, deniability, experimental evidence, replicated, and peer review. Again, efforts to assure scientific integrity and to improve the credibility of scientific publications are important. Still, I believe that we should continue to promote science as a source of credible information.

The "C" in UNESCO stands for culture, and it implied originally an emphasis on museums, literature, and other high cultural institutions. These too have an aspect of use of expertise and peer review to assure the credibility of the information that they make available to the public.

I think we must also, as citizens, insist on civil discourse in which people debate ideas and knowledge. The shouting matches that seem so common on the media and in politics sacrifice the production of knowledge for the production of cheap entertainment.

Perhaps too, we should shame those who demean the public discourse. The comedians making fun of the fake news services and "Foghorn Leghorn" style politicians are providing a valuable public service. Debasing the knowledge of the electorate and the market should be seen as a breach of the public trust and fought with the tools available to us.

The Future of Technological Innovation

Economist Robert Gordon, left, and  Economic Historian Joel Mokyr
There is an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the debate between these two distinguished experts about the future of innovation. Gordon is a skeptic, while Mokyr is more optimistic about the rate of future innovation.

I have two reservations:

  1. Economists tend to focus on GDP, and Gordon in particular is portrayed as doubting that the level of technological innovation will allow continued economic growth (as measured by growth of GDP) comparable to that of the last couple of centuries. I am not sure that is the best measure of the objective of technological innovation. I am 17 years past my early retirement from government and a dozen years past the formal retirement age, not yet unable to think, and glad that advances in hygiene and medicine have allowed me to live this long. As Mokyr seems to be saying, technological advances that reduce the externalities (not measured by GDP traditional measurements) have been important recently. Perhaps the Internet which makes knowledge and entertainment less costly and more available is also valued but not measured by GDP.
  2. It is hard to predict future waves of technological innovation. Sometimes when one is in the early stages of such a wave, especially clever people can extrapolate into the future (e.g. Moore's Law on the trends in chip power and cost). I think we still have advances from biotechnology, neurobiology, cognitive science, nanotechnology, genomics as well as continuing innovation based on the Internet, sustainable energy technology and other areas.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The 1% in the USA is appropriating much more of the GDP than its counterpart in other rich countries

A new study from the OECD adds to the information on the increasing inequality in incomes, which is especially evident in the USA.
The share of the richest 1% in total pre-tax income has increased in most OECD countries in the past three decades, particularly in some English-speaking countries but also in some Nordic (from low levels) and Southern European countries. Today, they range between 7% in Denmark and the Netherlands up to almost 20% in the United States. This increase is the result of the top 1% capturing a disproportionate share of overall income growth over the past three decades: up to 37% in Canada and even 47% in the United States. This explains why the majority of the population cannot reconcile the aggregate income growth figures with the performance of their incomes. At the same time, tax reforms in almost all OECD countries reduced top personal income tax rates as well as rates of other taxes affecting the highest income earners. The crisis did put a temporary halt to these trends – but it did not undo the previous surge in top incomes. In some countries, top incomes had already largely recovered in 2010. To respond to these trends, governments have several options at hand to increase effective taxation paid by top income recipients without necessarily raising their marginal rates, to improve tax compliance and to reduce tax avoidance. 
One conclusion I draw from this study is that the United States has policies that favor the rich to a greater extent than do other developed nations. I suspect that one step to improve the situation would be to revise the tax code, increasing tax rates on high incomes, closing loopholes, and perhaps taxing wealth to some degree.

Yes, politics is more polarized than it used to be.

The Pew Research Center for Peoples and the Press has a new report out documenting how Republicans and Democrats have become more divided over the last couple of decades. Liberals and Conservatives are more likely to associate with others with similar views. Moreover, the more extreme the views, the more politically active the people are likely to be. Not good news for those who believe that the role of the legislature is to compromise for the good of the country.

Where you find museums in the USA

Source: "There are more museums in the US than there are Starbucks and McDonalds – combined" by Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post Wonkblog, June 13, 2014.
Up to 175 counties - home to 1.6 million people - don't contain any museums at all. Many of these are concentrated in the South, particularly Mississippi and Georgia.
Museums are important educational institutions, even if they are not teaching reading, writing and rithmatic. Many of the local museums should be used by schools to teach  local history. The great museums should be used to teach arts and science. (I know my friends and I were influenced towards careers in science by the Los Angeles County Museum Museum Science Workshops we attended as high school students. The deep southern states that deprive their children of opportunities to learn from museums compound the little that we spend there on schools and teachers.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The shameful inequality of schooling in the USA

I quote from an article by C.J. Werleman in AlertNet:
New York spends $19,000 per student per year on elementary and secondary education, whereas Tennessee spends less than half that amount ($8,200). States such as Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana each spend less than $3,000 per student. 
“Decentralization was wonderful for the initial diffusion of high schools,” said Lawrence Katz, a professor of economics at Harvard who helped write The Race between Education and Technology, one of the most comprehensive analyses of the spread of the American educational system throughout the 20th century. “But it created big geographic inequality.” 
Among OECD nations, America remains an outlier, one of the few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children are afforded more funding than those serving poor students. Among the 34 OECD nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students. 
Andreas Schleicher, who runs the OECD’s international educational assessments, recently told the New York Times: “The bottom line is that the vast majority of O.E.C.D. countries either invest equally into every student or disproportionately more into disadvantaged students. The U.S. is one of the few countries doing the opposite.”
I suggest that children have a right to education, and that right is defined by at least the standard education offered to children in other parts of the country. Of course, cost of living is higher in cities than rural areas, in some states than others, but a difference so that school budgets should be higher where cost of living is higher. But $19,000 to $3,000 is obscene.

Americans like to think that this is a country with opportunity for all. Do you really think a poor black kid in Arkansas, Mississippi or Louisiana has equal opportunity to a kid in New York (with its great magnet schools for kids that show special promise in the early grades)?

A brain is a terrible thing to waste! The United States wastes millions of brains by denying kids their rights to a quality basic education. In future years it will surely pay the price of that waste. Good luck to the people who plan to retire after 2030. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Logical analysis

People so often mistake the impossible for the possible, the difficult for the easy.

"Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.Napoleon Bonaparte

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

These are making the rounds on Facebook

I think of science as an institutionalized process for the production of credible theories. Those theories may only be an approximation to "truth", but they are likely to be the best available approximation for visibly observable phenomena.

If you watch television you are likely to be choosing to be misinformed.

Via the National Review
My son points out that the most credible sources of television news are probably Al Jazeera America and BBC America.

Fortunately, with the Internet we can get news from a variety of good newspapers around the world. It helps if you read several languages, but even limiting oneself to English there are a number of credible newspapers. There are also magazines, and you can read more that TV will broadcast on a story.

I think this is really a problem. If people believe the least credible sources to be the best sources and watch them, they are going to believe a lot of false information and biased reports. They are then going to support the wrong policies and politicians. That has gotten the world into wars and holocausts, and can get mankind into still deeper problems now that we have the ability to destroy much of the environment and many of ourselves.

Just thought I would share this too:


Sunday, June 08, 2014

Knowledge grows in surprising ways

Source: The Economist
Many years ago I was the project officer for a National Academy of Sciences report on micro livestock that could be useful for meat production in developing countries. Our office, as I recall, also funded a project in Africa to improve the breading and care of one of the animals identified in the report, the Gambian pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus). It turns out that these little guys are now proving a cost effective sniffer for land mines in Mozambique.

A new technology for renewable electrical generaton

An article in The Economist describes efforts to produce electricity using generators propelled by the tides. In one version, as rising tide pushes water up a fjord the water moves the propeller generating electricity, then as the tide goes out, the system is reversed and again generates electricity. Thus four times a day, in totally predictable times, tidal energy is converted into electricity. In some large fjords, this should be a significant source of power, and one with no unsightly towers as the devices are tethered to the bottom of the fjords.

A similar application involves creating an artificial area that impounds water on the rising tides and lets that water escape at low time. The generators are located at the mouth of the impound pond.

Has the time for computer assisted education really arrived?

There is a very positive article in The Economist about the use of personal computers in K-12 education. I quote extensively:
At $199 per pupil, per year, for tablet, set-up and software, Amplify looks pricey. But research by the Gates Foundation shows that spending on America’s schools has more than doubled in the past four decades......Amplify is the first ed-tech firm to deliver a product pre-loaded with the middle-school curriculum for America’s Common Core State Standards Initiative, which specifies what pupils in most states must learn by the age of 18. It claims its system, currently being piloted, means children progress far faster through literacy and comprehension material. Indications from broader independent studies are promising. 
Kuepa, based in Buenos Aires, already provides courses for schools across middle-income Latin America. The Aakash tablet from Datawind, a firm set up in Canada by two Indian brothers, is selling for $64, and comes loaded with a basic school curriculum. India’s government aims eventually to provide every child with something similar.
The intent to develop great hardware and software for schools has been around for many years, and in fact follows similar intent for radio, television, film strips, movies, etc. Lets hope it is now to be achieved. 

Let us hope we take charge of our country and this pessimism does not come true.

Who was to blame for the Civil War?

Source: The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Civil War in America

I have started reading Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 by Elizabeth R. Varon. I recently completed reading This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust.

The Fundamental Cause of the War

Slavery is and was morally wrong. The founding fathers knew that. Most recognized that the institution of slavery was inconsistent with a democracy based on the thesis that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with a right to liberty, and that governments are instituted among men to secure that and other rights. Most believed that slavery should be peacefully eliminated over time, as was done in the northern states.

An increasingly wide-spread abolitionist movement proclaimed the evil that was institutionalized slavery. They took advantage of the revolution in communications of the first half of the 19th century to publish and distribute many books and pamphlets with their message.

Many in the north also recognized that free labor was a better motor of economic development and growth than slavery. They sought first to assure that states being newly created ban slavery and institutionalize free labor. They saw the eventual abolition of slavery in the south as a good and proper step in the institutional development of a free market economy providing rapid growth and general welfare.

Slave owners in the south recognized that slaves would, if given the chance, fight for their freedom. They feared slave revolts and demanded well-disciplined militias under state control to protect the owners against their slaves. They knew that slaves would risk punishment to escape slavery, and demanded constitutional protection to assure owners could apprehend escaped slaves even in states that had abolished slavery, Many owners were cruel to slaves, including physical abuse, justified by maintaining control of the slaves.

There is little doubt that those who owned many slaves in the south enjoyed the fruits of that ownership and were made wealthy by their slaves. Moreover, they used that wealth to acquire political power which they used to protect the institution of slavery.

Source: The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Civil War in America
The Proximate Cause of the War

South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, barely after the votes had been counted electing Lincoln president of the United States. Considering that four and one-half years later, one out of five men of military age in the south had died in the war, that slavery had been abolished, that its capitol had been burned, that Sherman's army had created a swath of devastation through the state, that its economy was in ruins, and that it was occupied by the Union army, the decision to secede has to be seen as a colossal mistake. Thus the mistake of the South Carolina state government is one of the proximate causes of the war.

The governments of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas had all joined that of South Carolina in that mistake by February 1, 1861, before Lincoln was inaugurated. Had South Carolina been the only state to secede, it might have been brought back into the Union without war, or at least with a far less destructive war. For many of these states too, the Civil War turned out to be a disaster, decimating the male population, eliminating the institution of slavery rapidly without planning, and decimating economies. Thus the mistaken decisions to secede by these governments were also proximate causes of the war.

Think then about the later decisions of state governments to secede, those of Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee between mid April and early June 1861.  Had these states not seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, the balance of power would have been much more lopsided in favor of the Union than it actually was. The war might well have been much shorter and less destructive. It seems very likely that the damage done in Virginia and Tennessee during the war would have been much less than that caused by the repeated campaigns on their territory. And indeed,, these slave states added to those that stayed in the Union might have successfully lobbied for more gradual abolition of slavery and less draconian post war policies toward the south. So the bad decisions by their governments were also proximate causes of the war.

The Impacts

The Union had a considerable advantage in power in the war. Nearly 21 million people lived in 23 Union states. The Confederacy claimed just 9 million people — including 3.5 million slaves — in 11 states. According to one source:
In 1860, the North manufactured 97 percent of the country's firearms, 96 percent of its railroad locomotives, 94 percent of its cloth, 93 percent of its pig iron, and over 90 percent of its boots and shoes. The North had twice the density of railroads per square mile. There was not even one rifleworks in the entire South.
The Union also had naval superiority and was able to blockade Confederate ports and control the Mississippi waters.

Many people had predicted that failure to negotiate an end to slavery would result in a hugely destructive civil war. They were right. An estimated 620,000 soldiers died in the war. It has been estimated that another 50,000 civilians died. The economy of the south was ruined. In the aftermath, having failed to prepare for a peaceful end to slavery, the whites in the south instituted a viscous Jim Crow movement against the blacks, while the blacks faced the problems of survival with little or no capital nor education.

Many people chose to believe that that level of devastation must have had a good purpose. It seems to me that it was the result of a horrible failing in our society. I am reminded of Europe stumbling into the horribly destructive World War I, or of Napoleon's and Hitler's invasions of Russia -- the results of human mistakes paid for in massive pain (mostly experienced by common folk who did not make those mistakes themselves).

Where Lies the Guilt?

Who are the guilty? Of course, the slave owners who were willing to foment a civil war in a last ditch effort to maintain the source of their wealth and power were guilty. They were also guilty of the deep immorality of keeping slaves.

A great deal of the guilt lies with the government officials of the states that chose to secede from the Union, There decisions led within a very few years to an even worse condition for their states than they had sought to avoid, and have to have been seen as terribly misguided as well as wrongly motivated. How could they have so failed to understand the danger that they were creating for the people that they represented? Did they misunderstand the relative power of the north versus the south, or the will to fight of each side, or the reduction of even their original limited power when the slaves quit and the young white men went off to fight? Or were they simply unable to forecast the results of war and its impact, unable to make good decisions for their states?

Of course, some blame must fall on the leaders of the Union government who were unable to articulate a better solution to the impasse than war, or to negotiate such a solution with their southern colleagues. Still it seems to me that the graver sin was that of southern secessionists.

I think that those who could have but failed to produce the knowledge that would have exposed the immorality of slavery and the horror of war were also guilty. So too were those in media who let the propagandists get away with their false and evil messages that slavery was OK and that the Union would fold if confronted. So too, a generation of southern teachers were guilty for not preparing children to oppose slavery, to oppose disunion, and to oppose the war to promote disunion and continue slavery in the sought. So too were the mentors of the southern legislators who failed to teach them how to forecast worst case scenarios and make rational decisions taking such scenarios into account.

I think that the general public in the south was also at fault -- the people who allowed themselves to be fooled were also guilty.

People have a responsibility to recognize and oppose the immoral and ignorance is not a valid excuse. In a democracy, they have a responsibility to elect people who can make good decisions for the governments that they must lead.

So how many of us today are guilty of the comparable sins of omission in our own society and time?