Tag Archives: developing countries

July 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

Most hopeful stories:

  • A new cancer treatment genetically modifies a patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.
  • Shareholders of big fossil fuel companies are starting to force some action on climate change business risk disclosure.
  • Richard Florida offers five ideas for solving poverty and what is wrong with cities: taxing land based on its improved value, massive investment in public transportation and public education, ending the mortgage interest tax deduction, and guaranteed minimum income.

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Technology is marching on, whether or not the economy and human species are. The new thing with satellites is to have lots of small, cheap ones instead of a few big, expensive ones. Even if the coal industry were to make a comeback, today’s coal jobs are going to data analysts, remote control machine operators, mechanical and electrical engineers, not guys underground with pickaxes and headlamps. But the coal can be produced with a lot less human effort (i.e. jobs) than it used to be. Iris scans like in Minority Report are now a thing.
  • Ecologists have some new ideas for measuring resilience of ecosystems. Technologists have some wild ideas to have robots directly counteract the effects of humans on ecosystems. I like ideas – how do I get a (well-compensated) job where I can just sit around and think up ideas?
  • Isaac Asimov says truly creative people (1) are weird and (2) generally work alone.

Some combination of the Trump news, the things I see every day on the streets of Philadelphia, and events affecting friends and family led me to question this month whether the United States is really a society in decline. Actually, I don’t question that, I think the answer is yes. But the more important question is whether it is a temporary or permanent decline, and what it means for the rest of the globe. I am leaning slightly toward permanent, but maybe I will feel better next month, we’ll see. Maybe I need to get out of this country for a little while. Last time I did that I felt that the social glue holding Americans together is actually pretty strong compared to most other places, even if our government and its approach to other governments have become largely dysfunctional. We need to get through the next couple years without a nuclear detonation, hope the current vacuum of leadership leads some quality leaders to emerge, and hope things have nowhere to go but up. There, I talked myself off the ledge!


June 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

  • Coral reefs are in pretty sad shape, perhaps the first natural ecosystem type to be devastated beyond repair by climate change.
  • Echoes of the Cold War are rearing their ugly heads in Western Europe.
  • Trump may very well have organized crime links. And Moody’s says that if he gets elected and manages to do the things he says, it could crash the economy.

3 most hopeful stories

  • China has a new(ish) sustainability plan called “ecological civilization” that weaves together urban and regional planning, environmental quality, sustainable agriculture, habitat and biodiversity concepts. This is good because a rapidly developing country the size of China has the ability to sink the rest of civilization if they let their ecological footprint explode, regardless of what the rest of us do. Maybe they can set a good example for the rest of the developing world to follow.
  • Genetic technology is appearing to provide some hope of real breakthroughs in cancer treatment.
  • There is still some hope for a technology-driven pick-up in productivity growth.

3 most interesting stories

May 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

  • There are scary and seemingly reckless confrontations going on between U.S. and Russian planes and ships in the Indian Ocean. And yet, it is bizarrely humorous when real life imitates Top Gun.
  • The situation in Venezuela may be a preview of what the collapse of a modern country looks like.
  • Obama went to Hiroshima, where he said we can “chart a course that leads to the destruction” of nuclear weapons, only not in his lifetime. Obama out.

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

  • I try not to let this blog get too political, really I do. But in an election season I just can’t help myself. This is a blog about the future of civilization, and the behavior of U.S. political, bureaucratic, and military elites obviously has some bearing on that. In May I mused on whether the U.S. could possibly be suffering from “too much democracy“, Dick Cheney, equality and equal opportunity, and what’s wrong with Pennsylvania. And yes, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, TRUMP IS A FASCIST!
  • The world has about a billion dogs.
  • It turns out coffee grounds may not make good compost.

more on China’s “ecological civilization”

The United Nations has a new report on China’s “ecological civilization” plan. What seems notable is that it takes an urban and regional planning framework, then weaves in goals related to environmental quality and sustainable agriculture. There are also a few targets related to habitat and biodiversity conservation. It’s a good vision and contains all the right rhetoric.

February 2016 in Review

I’m going to try picking the three most frightening posts, three most hopeful posts, and three most interesting posts (that are not particularly frightening or hopeful) from February.

3 most frightening posts

3 most hopeful posts

3 most interesting posts

  • The U.S. election season certainly is getting interesting, although not really in a good way. ontheissues.org has a useful summary of where U.S. political candidates stand…what are the words I’m looking for…on the the issues. Nate Silver has an interesting online tool that lets you play around with how various demographic groups tend to vote.
  • Fire trucks don’t really have to be so big.
  • Titanium dioxide is the reason Oreo filling is so white.

where are the refugees from?

Here’s a pretty awesome data analysis on where (legal) refugees who enter the U.S. come from, and where they go. It’s great both for the information, and for the presentation of the information, which is simple yet highly effective. Click on the link, but here are a few facts to whet your appetite:

  • The country of origin for the most refugees to the U.S. in 2014 was Iraq, at 19.651.
  • Surprisingly (to me at least), next is Burma at 14,577.
  • Rounding out the top five are Somalia (9,011), Bhutan (8,316), and D.R. Congo (4,502).
  • After Cuba (4,063), the next highest country from Central or South America is Columbia at 243.

I might have guessed Iraq, but I don’t think I would have guessed anything else on this list. In a number of cases, there are groups of essentially stateless people living in various places (Bhutan and Burma, for example) that the U.S. has agreed to resettle in fairly large groups. In other cases, there are just a handful of people from a given country granted refugee status in a given year. It is a little hard to make sense of why one group is allowed and the next is not.

World Economic Forecast

The IMF has issued a new World Economic Forecast.

Relative to last year, the recovery in advanced economies is expected to pick up slightly, while activity in emerging market and developing economies is projected to slow for the fifth year in a row, primarily reflecting weaker prospects for some large emerging market economies and oil-exporting countries. In an environment of declining commodity prices, reduced capital flows to emerging markets and pressure on their currencies, and increasing financial market volatility, downside risks to the outlook have risen, particularly for emerging market and developing economies…

the persistently modest pace of recovery in advanced economies and the fifth consecutive year of growth declines in emerging markets suggest that medium-term and long-term common forces are also importantly at play. These include low productivity growth since the crisis, crisis legacies in some advanced economies (high public and private debt, financial sector weakness, low investment), demographic transitions, ongoing adjustment in many emerging markets following the postcrisis credit and investment boom, a growth realignment in China—with important cross-border repercussions—and a downturn in commodity prices triggered by weaker demand as well as higher production capacity.

September 2015 in Review

What did I learn in September? Let’s start with the bad and then go to the good.

Negative stories (-11):

  • The Environmental Kuznets Curve is the idea that a developing country will go through a period of environmental degradation caused by economic growth, but then the environment will improve in the long run. Sounds okay but the evidence for it is weak. (-1)
  • The Inca are an example of a very advanced civilization that was wiped out. (-1)
  • Consumerism and the pursuit of wealth are not sufficient cultural glue to hold a nation together. (-1)
  • Climate may be playing a role in the current refugee crisis, and the future may hold much more of this. (-1)
  • North and South America would have enormous herds of large mammals if humans had never come along.  (-1)
  • The U.S. clearly has lower average life expectancy than other advanced countries. Developing countries in Asia and Latin America are catching up, but life expectancy in Africa is still tragically low. (-1)
  • People get away with criminally violent behavior behind the wheel because police do not see it as on par with other types of crime. (-2)
  • People are still suggesting a false choice between critical and creative thinking. This is not how the problems are tomorrow will be solved. (-2)
  • This just in – an extreme form of central planning does not work. (-1)

Positive stories (+9):

    • Pneumatic chutes for garbage collection have been used successfully on an island in New York City for decades. This technology has some potential to move us closer to a closed loop world where resources are recovered rather than wasted. (+1)
    • Scientists and engineers could learn some lessons from marketing on how to communicate better with the rest of humanity. (+1)
    • There is new evidence from New Zealand on economic benefits of cycling and cycling infrastructure. (+1)
    • There has been some progress on New York City’s “lowline“, which is what a park in space might look like. The only problem is, it looks to me like a mall. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the exciting science fiction future may look a lot like malls in space. (+0)
    • The U.S. Surgeon General thinks walkable communities may be a good idea. The End of Traffic may actually be a possibility. (+3)
    • Peter Singer advocates “effective altruism”. A version of his Princeton ethics course is available for free online. (+1)
    • Edward Tufte does not like Infographics. (+0)
    • The unpronounceable Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believes he has found the key to happiness. (+1)
    • The right mix of variety and repetition might be the key to learning. (+1)

life expectancy

NPR has a tabulation of life expectancy in hundreds of countries. What jumps out to me is that, outside of Africa, the gap between developed and developing countries is not all that great – most countries are in the 70s for men, and only a small handful (Andorra, Iceland, Israel, Japan) crack 80. Women consistently outlive men by a few years (Afghanistan and Zambia are the only two exceptions on the list, and Russia jumps out as a country where women outlive men by more than 10 years).

Just as a sample, here are the numbers for men in countries I have set foot in:

  • Australia: 79
  • Belgium: 77
  • Canada: 79
  • Indonesia: 68
  • Malaysia: 71
  • Netherlands: 78
  • Norway: 79
  • Singapore: 79
  • South Korea: 77
  • Sweden: 79
  • Thailand: 71
  • United Kingdom: 79
  • United States: 76

What accounts for the differences? I don’t know, but let me speculate. At first glance, national wealth seems to be an excellent predictor. But there are probably many nuances to the data. For example, infant mortality rates can make average life expectancy a little misleading. If the numbers were based instead on life expectancy for those who make it to age 5, they might be a little different. Don’t get me wrong, infant mortality is an awful thing, but the measures needed to reduce it are different from the measures needed to keep adults healthy. Beyond that, universal and affordable health care almost certainly plays a role in the list above (hello, U.S., you stand out clearly as the sickest rich country on this list). Diet, obesity, and smoking all must play a role.