World Humanitarian Day

It will come to know no surprise to regular readers that I have an avid interest in humanitarian issues, ranging from global inequality and poverty to human rights abuses and war. I have long had a keen interest in the United Nations as a mechanism for bettering the human species and facilitating the more positive aspects of globalization — illuminating and addressing these global problems in multilateral ways while promoting an ecumenical and unified global identity.

While I have no delusions about the U.N.’s vast flaws and shortcomings, I find it to be conceptually sound and an ideal start to a hopefully more effective international framework. One thing is for certain: whatever the institutional problems of this and other international organization, the everyday work done by its members is usually sound, well-intentioned, and altruistic — which is precisely what World Humanitarian Day is dedicated to highlighting.

This day pays tribute to the often unseen aid workers who carry out life-saving activities around the world, often in dangerous and difficult circumstances. It also celebrates the spirit of humanitarian work worldwide, work that brings communities together and alleviates the common human suffering that we should be concerned about.

It is observed annually on August 19, the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 people, including U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. There will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City to honor de Mello and other aid workers killed in the line of duty.

Unfortunately, such a commemoration is especially relevant today, as  aid workers are suffering at record numbers as of 2014:

The research shows that in 2013, 155 aid workers were killed, 171 were seriously wounded and 134 were kidnapped. Overall this represents a 66 per cent increase in the number of victims from the previous year. With 81 aid workers killed in 2013, Afghanistan is still the country with the highest number of attacks.

Preliminary figures show that as of 15 August 2014, 79 aid workers have been killed this year alone. The months of July and August saw a rise in the level of attacks and incidents involving aid workers including in Gaza and South Sudan.

Only these past few weeks, aid workers were killed in the midst of conflicts in South Sudan and Gaza, just two of many places that rely on their vital services. Such loss of life is a tragedy in itself, especially for the global community as a whole. As the world faces increasingly more difficult and existential threats, there needs to be a more concerted effort to address these matters and protect those who willingly risk their lives to dispense such solutions.

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How the world’s armies picture their enemies

Eupraxsophy:

It is fascinating what one can glean from something as seemingly trivial as a target or effigy used for shooting practice. At the risk of looking too deeply at certain irrelevant elements, many of the most routine and minor practices in a given society can reveal a lot about it history, culture, economics, politics, and the like (especially if one takes into account other dynamics, influenced, etc).

Originally posted on Quartz:

You can often tell a country’s enemies by the targets its soldiers use for shooting practice. That’s what Herlinde Koelbl found while visiting the military shooting ranges of nearly 30 nations over the course of the past six years. Her photographs are collected in a recent book, Targets, and an exhibition at Berlin’s Deutsches Historiches Museum, up through October 5.

At every stop in her travels, Koelbl wondered, she writes in the book’s introduction, “Who is the bad man? What does he look like—the enemy that they are later expected to kill? Is he an abstract figure? Does it have a gender and if so, which? Are there cultural differences? Has the image of the enemy changed?” For the US, the target of choice was once a Soviet figure—”Ivan”—with a red star on his green helmet. Now, reflecting a change that’s taken place in much of the world, Ivan has largely been supplanted by Middle…

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Video — World Demographics

The following video chat from The Economist tackles a topic that’s been of great concern to the American public for some time: global population growth. In just a little over one minute, it shows that overpopulation isn’t as big an issue as popularly believed.

So overall, the world population is stabilizing, with many countries — including many in the developing world — experiencing negligible or even negative population growth. Most of the population increase stems from longer lifespans and the “demographic momentum” of younger generations coming into child-rearing age (at which point they will have increasingly fewer children, if any at all).

The following map confirms that most of the biggest population gains will be concentrated almost entirely in Sub-Saharan Africa:

Population growth by percentage increase. Source: Wikimedia / CIA World Factbook.

Of course, this doesn’t mean population growth won’t bring its problems, given that most of the growth is concentrated in nations that lack the resources, infrastructure, and institutions to optimally accommodate their ever-larger number of citizens.

However, as much of the rest of the world experiences a stagnating or declining labor force — not to mention the subsequent financial and economic burdens — nations with more youthful populations may gain a considerable advantage on the global market for human resources.

If poorer nations manage to tap into the potential talent of their young and vibrant people, investing in education and infrastructure to facilitate and promote opportunities, they may well reach unprecedented levels of prosperity and influence — provided they are not turned into giant factories for foreign companies first.

Of BRICS and MINT

In 2001, economist Jim O’Neill wrote a report for Goldman Sachs’  Global Economic Paper  series titled “The World Needs Better Economic BRICs”, where he identified four countries — Brazil, Russia, India, and China — as potential powerhouses of the world economy (South Africa was added in 2010 after being invited to a summit of the original four countries).

These developing or newly industrialized nations were (and remain) distinguished by their large, often fast-growing economies and increasing influence on global affairs. As of 2014, the BRICS together comprise nearly 3 billion people (40 percent of the world population), a combined nominal GDP of $16.039 trillion (20 percent of world GDP), an estimate$4 trillion in combined foreign reserves, and 18 percent of the world economy.

By 2050, it is estimated that their economies will completely eclipse those of the G7, an association of the world’s current richest countries. Well aware of their rising status, the BRICS have been holding annual summits since 2009 (their sixth meeting just concluded in Brazil this past July) and they have invited other developing nations as an exercise of solidarity and influence. They have essentially become a household name among policymakers, political scientists, and economists across the world (not to mention investors and business people).

Now, the man that has brought us this catchy and game-changing acronym as a symbol of shifting global paradigms has presented four other contenders — the so-called “MINT” countries of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey (nearly all of which had been invited to previous BRICS summits).

As BBC News reported, these countries are not only as fast-growing and increasingly influential as the BRICS, but they each have a  healthier demographic outlook: whereas China and Russia in particular are projected to experience stagnation and even decline in their working-age populations, all MINT countries are beginning to enter a demographic “sweet-spot” where there are more working-age people than dependents (by they very young, as is the case in most developing countries, or very old, as is typical in most developed nations).

As the following chart shows, their projected growth rates will be no less impressive either:

Also note the location of the BRICS. The absence of South Africa has raised questions over its inclusion in the group.

Nigeria’s potential for growth is especially impressive: to jump from the 39th to 13th richest economy in less than four decades is, as far as I know, virtually unprecedented for such a large nation. Mexico and Indonesia close the gap by nearly half, and Turkey’s growth — although not as dramatic given that it already had a head start industrializing — nonetheless puts it near equal footing to established economies like Germany, France, and the U.K.

Moreover, these nations enjoy the fruits of geography:

Something else three of them share, which Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena pointed out to me, is that they all have geographical positions that should be an advantage as patterns of world trade change.

For example, Mexico is next door to the US, but also Latin America. Indonesia is in the heart of South-east Asia but also has deep connections with China.

And as we all know, Turkey is in both the West and East. Nigeria is not really similar in this regard for now, partly because of Africa’s lack of development, but it could be in the future if African countries stop fighting and trade with each other.

This might in fact be the basis for the Mint countries developing their own economic-political club just as the Bric countries did – one of the biggest surprises of the whole Bric thing for me. I can smell the possibility of a Mint club already.

If not a distinct MINT club, then certainly some sort of union of the two; this has already somewhat occurred with certain informal BRICS gatherings, which have involved few MINT members, in addition to other rising economies.

Of the four MINTs, only Turkey has a fairly diversified economy (hence, as mentioned earlier, its slower projected growth), while the remainder specialize primarily in commodities — namely agricultural products and/or natural resources — though efforts are underway to move into manufacturing and services (Mexico, for example, is already set to become one of the world’s top automobile producers).

For comparison, Brazil and Russia are the major commodity producers of the BRICS, while China, India, and South Africa have a broader economic base that includes greater developments in manufacturing and services.

What about wealth per individual citizen of these countries? Large and fast-growing economies are all well and good, but how does it break down?

Well, Mexico and Turkey are at about the same level in per capita earnings, with about $10,000 annually, while Indonesia — with a much larger population — has about $3,500 per person and Nigeria earns $1,500 per head (on a par with India). The head of the pack is Russia with $14,000 per head, Brazil with $11,300 and China with $6,000.

Here’s what in store for the MINTs if growth rates continue:


Granted, like the BRICS — and for that matter most rapidly-developing countries — inequality remains a persistent problem for each member, albeit to varying degrees: according to the 2014 Gini Index, India, Indonesia, and Turkey have fairly low rates of inequality (lower than even the United States), China and Russia are in the mid-range, while Mexico, Brazil, and especially South Africa are among the top brackets.As these countries become wealthier, there will no doubt be increasing pressure to see more of that wealth amount to something for the average person, whether through investment in public services or better-paying and more secure jobs. Already, nearly all the BRICS and MINT countries have seen some protests and civil unrest related wholly or in part to socioeconomic issues (by my recollection, Brazil and Turkey have seen the most pronounced demonstrations, though nearly all members have dealt with strikes).

As the BBC piece goes on to observe, the average person in these countries expresses a palpable sense of hope and optimism, even if there is much work to be done. Aside from inequality, corruption remains a huge issue in all these nations, as our infrastructural and institutional deficiencies (lack of good schooling, reliable roads and ports, etc). Things are largely in a flux, with lots of potential and forward-thinking, but plenty of causes for doubt and concern.

Whatever the future holds, there is little doubt that there will be interesting times ahead, both for these individual nations and the world at large. Few people in the West could ever imagine any of these countries being major actors on the world stage, given the decades of poverty and instability with which we associate them. It is strange to imagine that in my lifetime, countries like Mexico and Brazil — seen as dysfunctional and miserable places by the likes of most fellow Americans — may become economic and even political competitors.

Of course, I am getting ahead of myself. But as the developing world catches up to the more established industrialized nations (situated largely in the West), it is very likely that we will see a more multi-polar world, with global influence diffused across a larger number of actors. Such a paradigm is difficult for me to conceive given how long the international system has operated in a unipolar or bipolar fashion (the latter being the norm since World War II and the former for the last two-and-a-half decades). Will it be unstable? Will the world better address global challenges with more nations exercising influence? What of all the vast cultural and political differences between them? Won’t that get in the way?

Well, setting aside the political implications, I for one am encouraged to see half the world’s population potentially being lifted out of poverty (not to say that hundreds of millions won’t be left behind within their increasingly wealthy nations). Going back to the first chart I shared, it is worth pointing out that other populous countries like Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and the Philippines are also slated to be among the top twenty economies. Plenty of other nations will see relatively large growth even if they do not reach the cream of the crop.

But we must not be complacent. There is still much work to be done, on both individual national levels and globally. From climate change to worsening global inequality, profound existential challenges remain. But at least there is plenty of untapped potential that is starting to be released, and that will hopefully amount to greater prosperity for all — BRICS, MINT, and beyond.

Your thoughts?

Video — Superpower for Hire: Rise of the Private Military

Today’s post will be light but no less interesting. Vice Media, known for covering many interesting but neglected cultural and sociopolitical topics, has a short documentary on the controversial private military industry, which has risen in both influence and popularity across the world. Though its only 14-minutes long, it offers a pretty good look at this largely hidden world.

Given the rising number of low-intensity conflicts in many parts of the world, and the preference for dealing with through non-governmental means, this will certainly not be the last we hear of PMCs. What are your thoughts and reactions regarding this video?

Check out other Vice videos here.

New Report Finds Global Poverty Worse Than Previously Thought

That global poverty is a serious and pervasive problem is without doubt. But it appears the scale and scope of it — despite being already staggering — may have been underestimated all this time. That’s the conclusion of a recent report by the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) called the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2014 (MPI), which is considered the most accurate measure of world poverty to date.

As The Atlantic reports, the MPI takes into account certain factors that are overlooked by the United Nations Development Programme‘s Human Poverty Index (HPI), which is the leading source for such data.  While it defines the poor as those making it less than $1.25 a day, it lacks in two key areas:

First, it counted countries as one whole mass, unable to differentiate degrees of poverty within a country and locate the worst pockets. And second, it placed all of its scrutiny on income, without considering other indicators such as health and education.

Sure, making a certain amount a day is one way to measure the physical comforts a person might be lacking: home, food, clothing. But what about limited (or a total lack of) access to medical care? Or barriers to getting an education? And just because someone has a roof over his or head doesn’t mean it’s a sanitary, safe place to live—impoverished people in cities are often concentrated in slums where open sewage, crowding, and rickety housing make for dangerous living conditions. Consequently, many didn’t consider HPI’s income index to be particularly accurate.

OPHI addressed this issue by going beyond just basic income and including what it calls “deprivations”, other needs such as nutrition and child mortality; years of schooling and school attendance; and things like sanitation, water, and electricity. If a person is deprived of a third or more of the indicators, he or she would be considered poor. Degrees of poverty were also factored in; for example, whether someone had a shack for a home versus no home at all.

The MPI’s other great advantage is its ability to pinpoint poverty down to a local, rather than national, level. So not only can one find which countries or regions are the poorest, but which particular areas within those borders are worse off — an invaluable asset for aid workers and policy makers seeking to better target their work.

So what did this multidimensional approach yield? How much worse is global poverty?

Sadly, the world is more impoverished than we previously thought. The HPI has put this figure at 1.2 billion people. But under the MPI’s measurements, it’s 1.6 billion people. More than half of the impoverished population in developing countries lives in South Asia, and another 29 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Seventy-one percent of MPI’s poor live in what is considered middle income countries—countries where development and modernization in the face of globalization is in full swing, but some are left behind. Niger is home to the highest concentration of multidimensionally poor, with nearly 90 percent of its population lacking in MPI’s socioeconomic indicators. Most of the poor live in rural areas.

So there are 400 million more people living in poverty than previously believed. For a point of  reference, that’s more than the entire population of the United States and then some — hardly a minor oversight. Needless to say, this is vital information, bringing to light the dire circumstances of hundreds of millions of people.

Granted, I wonder whether this will make any difference in stirring up public and political action: if an already eye-watering 1.2 billion people living in poverty isn’t enough to rouse humanitarian interest, will an extra 400 million make the difference? Will the numbness and inaction be any less prevalent? If anything, I fear the sheer scale of the problem will only lead to more cynicism and subsequent apathy.

In any case, I’d like to end this sobering revelation on a more optimistic note. As intractable as the problem seems to be, especially in light of widening global inequality, there has been progress:

Nepal is improving its situation the fastest among developing countries—and it’s in South Asia, the poorest region. In five years, Nepal reduced its MPI numbers from 65 percent of its population to 44 percent. Other classically poor countries, like Rwanda, Ghana, Bangladesh, and Cambodia are also improving, not just getting richer but also seeing some narrowing of the gap between rich and poor.

While these improvements are just a drop in the bucket compared to how many people are left suffering — including the hundreds of millions who are not technically poor but remain precariously close — every human life that is lifted up from misery is worth it. That’s why we can’t afford to ignore a single impoverished person.

If you would like to read the full report, including its methodologies and sources, click here. As always, feel free to share your own thoughts and reactions.

Global Attitudes Towards America and China

Edit: I apologize in advance for the disjointed nature of this post. It was originally supposed to be about the U.S., but during my research I found interesting material on China as well, which I felt made sense to include given that country’s rise. I figure the data and infographics would be worth sharing anyway.

World powers tend to be polarizing among the global community, and the United States is certainly no exception, especially in light of recent events: aside from the lingering anti-Americanism that arose in response to the invasion of Iraq a decade ago, controversial policies such as drone strikes and foreign spying have incited further disapproval and hostility.

Add to the mix well-publicized domestic problems , such as an increasingly dysfunctional political system and sclerotic economy,  and the U.S. seems a lot less appealing as both an international player and a national role model — indeed, even many Americans themselves appear to concede this point.

So how has America fared abroad given its apparent decline in fortune and moral credibility? And what of China, a country whose growing wealth, rapid development, and subsequent global clout seem to make it ripe as a succeeding superpower?  Well, if the recent Pew Research Center survey of 44 nations is any indicator, the track record remains as mixed as ever, although the results may surprise you.

Here are the top ten biggest critics and fans of the U.S.:

Overall, the U.S. remains fairly popular in Sub-Saharan Africa, much of Asia (particular East and Southeast Asia), Europe, and Latin America. Notably, it is viewed more favorably than its biggest current rival, China (especially in Asia) and has a far more positive image than Russia, with which relations have visibly soured to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

Here are some charts from another Pew study showing China’s standing among roughly the same nations polled for the U.S. survey:

Notice the discrepancy with regard to the Middle East, which is broadly America’s greatest critic and China’s biggest booster. Pew’s assessment of the data goes a bit further in detail on the U.S.’s biggest detractors and supporters:

Anti-Americanism is particularly strong today in the Middle East. In Egypt only 10% of the public favor the United States, which long backed the regime of Hosni Mubarak and failed to oppose the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government that succeeded him. Support is not much higher in Jordan (12%) and Turkey (19%), both countries that are notionally Washington’s allies. Those not-so-warm feelings for America have fallen 17 percentage points in Egypt and 13 points in Jordan since 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, when there appeared to be some hope in those nations that Uncle Sam would pursue policies more to their liking.

In addition, less than a quarter of Russians (23%) have a positive view of America, whose image is down 28 points in just the last year, a casualty of Washington’s opposition to Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

But there are still corners of the world where America is held in high regard. In European countries surveyed, half or more of the publics in seven of nine nations say they see the U.S. in a positive light. Top of the list are Italians (78%), French (75%) and Poles (73%). Only in Germany, where U.S. favorability is down 13 points since 2009, has the positive image of the United States slipped significantly. And, despite this slippage, roughly half of Germans (51%) still see America favorably.

Asians are also pro-American. In fact, the Filipinos are the biggest fans of the U.S.; 92% express a positive view. South Koreans (82%), Bangladeshis (76%) and Vietnamese (76%) also agree. Even half the Chinese give Uncle Sam a thumbs up. However, Pakistanis (14%) share no love for the United States (but neither do Americans have much affection for Pakistan).

The U.S. is also feeling the love from Latin America, where majorities see the U.S. in a favorable light in eight of nine countries surveyed. Salvadorans (80%) are particularly positive in their assessment, as are Chileans (72%) and Nicaraguans (71%). Notably, despite all the tensions between Washington and Caracas, more than six-in-ten Venezuelans have a favorable opinion of the U.S.

And Africans express particularly positive views about America. Strong majorities in all seven nations surveyed back the United States, including roughly three-quarters or more of Kenyans (80%), Ghanaians (77%), Tanzanians (75%) and Senegalese (74%).

France, widely considered by most Americans to be the most anti-American country in the world, is actually one of our key boosters. This may be attributed to the two nations having similarly exceptional foundations in Enlightenment Era revolutions, but there is likely some genuine admiration of U.S. culture as well. Germany stands out for its very divisive attitude towards the U.S., which probably hasn’t been helped by recent revelations of CIA spying in that country. As Europe’s leading economic and political power, Germany may regard America’s traditionally large role on the continent as an increasing rivalry. Of course, differences in foreign policy initiatives and stances certainly don’t help.

Vietnam’s overwhelmingly positive view is pretty surprising given the horrific toll of the war with the U.S., whose scars still linger to this day (the nearly 20-year conflict ended in 1975, not necessarily that long ago in the public memory). Anecdotes from American travelers to Vietnam have also highlighted this warm attitude, which may have a lot to do with demographics — a large chunk of the Vietnamese population was born after the war and thus has little memory of it — as well as history; spanning three thousand years, Vietnamese civilization has contended with many invaders, including centuries of resistance to China. Maybe a comparatively meager two-decade conflict just isn’t as pivotal in the grand scheme of historical memory.

In any case, I can spend hours dissecting the basis of each country’s attitudes towards the U.S. and  China, but sadly, time is short. It is worth pointing out that despite the lukewarm or unfavorable attitudes towards China, even critics can concede one thing: like it or not, the country is the next in line for superpower status:

Note that this poll assesses only 20 countries, albeit many of the same ones covered in the poll of attitudes towards the U.S.

Whatever change in the real or perceived power of either country — and their resultant shift in global image — it can be certain that as long as any nation wields great influence in the world, it will have a fair share of critics and fans alike. But in an increasingly multi-polar world, where power is more diffuse than ever, will any of this really matter? Will any superpower be able to act freely without concern for international opinion? How important is a nation’s brands to its ability to conduct affairs or executed initiatives abroad? What are your thoughts?

Haiti’s Underrated But Out-Sized Influence

It is a shame that so few of us know how unique and influential Haiti’s role in history has been. After gaining independence in 1804 – following a decade-long war against one of the most powerful empires in the world – Haiti became the first and only nation in history to be established as a result of a successful slave revolt; many of its first political leaders were former slaves.

Haiti became the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, the second independent nation in the entire Western Hemisphere after the United States, and the second republic in the Americas. It produced such prominent military and political figures as Jean-Baptiste Belley (the first black representative in the Western world), Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (the first and highest-ranking black officer in the West), and Toussaint L’Ouverture (brilliant military strategist and along with Dumas the highest-ranking black officer in the West).

Moreover, Haiti’s unlikely success against a major power inspired revolutionaries across the hemisphere, who looked to it for both inspiration and military strategy. Many historians regard Haitian independence as a catalyst for independence movements across Latin America, which picked up pace shortly after; indeed, Simon Bolivar, the seminal figure in Latin American independence, received refuge, money, and military support from Haiti.

Notably, France’s failure to take back what was then the world’s richest colony contributed to its decision to abandon colonialism in the West and sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States.

Needless to say, Haiti’s independence rocked the institution of slavery throughout the Americas, which would unfortunately contribute to its endemic poverty and instability: for obvious reasons, none of the racist or slave-owning nations that dominated that international system at the time wanted to support the first and only successful black republic, especially one born from a slave revolt.

Thus, Haiti would remain isolated and periodically preyed upon for much of its history. Two decades after expelling the French, it was forced to pay 150 million gold francs in reparations to French slaveholders in order to receive recognition and end its political and economic isolation. Though the amount was reduced in 1838, Haiti was unable to finish paying off its debt until 1947, leaving the country deeply impoverished — but no less proud and culturally rich.

The Troubled Waters of South India and How It Impacts Us

I love and appreciate art of all kind, especially that which brings attention to important issues and conveys them in an impactful and digestible manner. Such is the case with the photographs of Selvaprakash Lakshmanan, who has captured the lives and struggles of South Indian coastal communities while bringing attention to a troubling intersection of several modern global problems.

Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu. Fishermen protest near the proposed nuclear plant on World Fisheries Day. Credit Selvaprakash Lakshmanan / New York Terms

The New York Times offers a great slideshow and summary of his brilliant and thus far unique project, as very few journalists or photographers have explored this area.

It was as much an environmental project as a human one, he discovered. As he learned while making “Life in Troubled Waters,” the harrowing issues facing these communities encompassed many symbolic and complex problems that resonate in the globalized 21st Century.

Mr. Lakshmanan was educated about the environmental issues while serving as a participant journalist for the Fojo Institute’s Coastal Management program. “With most of my stories before, it was more people-centric,” he said. “And the cause made me look, holistically, at how it is closely connected to the environment and the social, geopolitical, and economic issues. Each issue is interconnected, either in a direct or indirect way.”

While interviewing residents of villages in Tamil Nadu, he learned that an increase in shoddy industrial construction on the shoreline had led to erosion, which threatened the fishermen’s houses. Several of his photographs documented homes falling back into the sea and the attempts to build storm walls that buttressed against its power. Rising tides, a byproduct of climate change, presumably played a part too.

Indeed, Lakshmanan’s work is sorely needed, since this part of the world — like so many others — remains invisible to the wider global community, let alone the powers that be.

Since most of India’s massive population lives in inland cities, the coastal areas he’s investigating are typically underreported and overlooked. It is Mr. Lakshmanan’s mission to bring awareness of what’s going on in those areas. He has seen the effects of coal-fueled, thermal power plants spewing fly ash into the ocean. And salt mines that raise the salinity of the soil, destroying mangrove forests, which leads to further erosion. In addition, he said, “human waste and urban sewage systems go directly into the sea.”

But like so many humanitarian issues nowadays, the bigger picture is far more complex, and the intrepid photojournalist did an excellent job capturing both the nuance and global relevance of this seemingly localized issue:

But rather than present the fishermen as blameless, Mr. Lakshmanan was quick to point out why the Sri Lankans are so angered by the poaching. Apparently, the Tamil Nadu fishermen use a technique called bottom trawling, which has been banned in Sri Lanka but not India. In this type of fishing, nets are dragged along the seabed, which destroys fragile Sri Lankan coral reef ecosystems.

This was confirmed earlier in the year by Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the Sri Lankan Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Development, who said, “Because of this method of fishing, the bottom of our Northern sea and the marine environment get completely destroyed. In the future there will be no fish left in the North.”

Ironically, most of the catch for which these Tamil Nadu fishermen risk their lives is then shipped out internationally or to the voracious urban markets in India. From there comes the sewage that pollutes the water, forcing the fish further out to sea where the fishermen follow, to their peril. It is a baroque tale that befits our intricately woven globalized society and perhaps a harbinger of larger resource wars to come.

It is that final point, which I have emphasized, that made this project stand out for me. It reaffirms a crucial but underestimated fact about our rapidly globalizing world: that just about every system — commercial, political, or cultural  — on every level — local, national, and regional — has significant  international connections and influences.

Much like the butterfly effect of chaos theory (which I admit to possibly misattributing), even the seemingly smallest and most localized actions can set in motion numerous other changes and consequences beyond our initial calculations.

As Lakshmanan notes at the end of the article, the environmental calamity looming over south India and northern Sri Lanka — like so many catastrophes across the world — is in large part driven by the voracious demands of consumers halfway across the planet. We take for granted how easily our goods come to our homes and stores, unaware of the exploitation, corruption, and environmental degradation we are unwittingly driving.

And just as our actions have impacts across the world, so too does the reverse happen: the destabilization and degradation resulting from our consumption will come back to haunt us, in ways ranging from refugee crises to climate change. We need a global perspective that recognizes this reality and can implement solutions across borders — no small feat, to say the least.

Eighty-Five People Have More Wealth Than Half The World

It is undeniable that wealth and income inequality is growing in the U.S. and across the world. But the scale and extent of it is far more than previously imagined. Although about six months by the time of this post, the report by  Oxfam International — titled “Working for the Few” — is no less stark and relevant in its identification of a “growing tide of inequality” (to use the report’s own description).

You can read the report yourself, but Laura Shin of Forbes did a good job of breaking down the sobering statistics:

  • Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
  • The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population [3.5 billion people].
  • The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
  • Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
  • The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
  • In the U.S., the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

The following chart compiled from this data highlights just how much the problem has grown: while every country saw some growth in inequality, the U.S. by far saw the most dramatic increase:

Although the report makes clear that some economic inequality is necessary to foster growth (in line with mainstream economics) it also warns that wealth concentration at this severity “threaten[s] to exclude hundreds of millions of people from realizing the benefits of their talents and hard work” — also in line with what we’ve learned from both history and economic research.

In particular, the Oxfam report emphasizes the corrosive effect that such inequality can have on democratic governance and social mobility, due mostly to the fact that “when wealth captures government policymaking, the rules bend to favor the rich, often to the detriment of everyone else”

According to polls conduct by Oxfam in Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S. — a mix of developed and developing economies — the majority of people in these countries believe that “laws are skewed in favor of the rich” in a variety of areas, including financial deregulation, tax laws favoring the wealthy, economic austerity, policies that disproportionately harm women and the poor, and the use of oil and mineral revenues.

Despite all the grim news, the report does point out that such trends aren’t irreversible: there are plenty of historical examples of countries minimizing inequality and creating broader prosperity (notably the U.S. and Europe following the Second World War). In fact, since the turn of the century, Latin America has made significant inroads in reducing its historically high rate of inequality and underdevelopment, although it still has a long way to go.

Is there enough political will in each country, not to mention on a global level, to resolve this problem before it worsens? Or is this issue overblown? What do you think?