Spain: The Most LGBT-Friendly Country in the World

The results might be surprising, since — compared to the likes of the Netherlands or Scandinavia — Spain rarely comes to mind as being particularly pro-LGBT. But the conclusion comes from an extensive 40-country survey conducted by the reputable Pew Research Group which asked respondents to discuss the morality of various issues, ranging from marital infidelity and divorce, to gambling, premarital sex, and abortion.

Of the Spaniards interviewed, 55 percent said homosexuality was morally acceptable, compared with six percent who said it was unacceptable and 38 percent who answered that it’s “not a moral issue” to begin with. These results actually match with another Pew study from 2013, which similarly concluded Spain to be the most LGBT-tolerant country in the world on the percentage of participants who believed homosexuality should be accepted by society.

The following graph shows the results of the top ten countries to be pro-LGBT, followed by the U.S. and Chile (courtesy of PolicyMic and the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project).

The famously LGBT-friendly nations of Northern Europe weren’t part of the survey, although I imagine they’d make up most of the top ten as well. Although a predominately Catholic country, Spain’s high ranking reflects a generally relaxed attitude towards homosexuality and other social mores, which coexists with a fairly high rate of Catholic identity (perhaps more culturally than piously nowadays). The country was among the first to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005, and hosts some of the largest pride parades in the world.

After the U.S. was Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Poland, and Greece. The fairly high ranks for Japan, Italy, and Argentina may seem surprising, given that these countries are generally viewed as being socially-conservative by developed-world standards (and of them only Argentina has legalized same-sex marriage, in 2010).

However, attitudes in these societies, as elsewhere, are changing — although viewing the rest of the countries polled would suggest they’re only high relative to the lowest-common denominators. Moreover, just because one doesn’t see homosexuality as immoral, doesn’t mean they don’t have stereotypical or negative views about it in some other sense (regarding gays as effeminate, lesbians as man-haters, etc). Of course, progress is progress even if there’s a ways to go.

The PolicyMic article makes the following assessment:

It’s important to note that the rankings are based on percentage of respondents who classified homosexuality as morally unacceptable. The United States had a surprisingly high number of respondents claim homosexuality was morally unacceptable — 37% — however, another 35% claimed it was “not a moral issue.”

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic had the highest overall percentage of respondents claim homosexuality was morally acceptable, edging out Spain with 56%. However, 14% of Czechs surveyed said it was unacceptable.

Countries with the lowest tolerance, according to the survey, included Ghana and Russia, where 98% and 72% of citizens replied that homosexuality was morally unacceptable, respectively.

The lowest-scoring countries after Ghana were Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Uganda, and Indonesia — none of which are entirely surprising, given the correlation between high rates of religiosity and negative perceptions towards LGBT people. However, relatively secular places (by global standards) such as China, South Korea, and Russia were also in the middle-to-bottom part of the list. Attitudes towards gays, lesbians, and other marginalized groups are influenced by many different factors beyond religion, some of which may be unique to the country in question.

There are many other caveats and observations that can be made, but I sadly do not have the time to offer them. As always, please weigh in at your leisure.

What Makes Countries Rich or Poor?

Jared Diamond, best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel, recently reviewed Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, a book I’m deeply interested in that explores the question in the title: why are some countries prosperous and developed, while others seem chronically poor and unstable?

As you’d imagine, the answer is complex and debatable, and Diamond offers his own interesting two cents while reviewing the book’s central thesis that effective economic and political institutions play the most central role in determining a nation’s fate. It’s quite a long read, but I definitely recommend it. While there are many interesting points made — for example, that soil quality or climate are major factors in determining national wealth — here’s an excerpt that stood out to me:

But it’s obvious that good institutions, and the wealth and power that they spawned, did not crop up randomly. For instance, all Western European countries ended up richer and with better institutions than any tropical African country. Big underlying differences led to this divergence of outcomes. Europe has had a long history (of up to nine thousand years) of agriculture based on the world’s most productive crops and domestic animals, both of which were domesticated in and introduced to Europe from the Fertile Crescent, the crescent-shaped region running from the Persian Gulf through southeastern Turkey to Upper Egypt. Agriculture in tropical Africa is only between 1,800 and 5,000 years old and based on less productive domesticated crops and imported animals.

As a result, Europe has had up to four thousand years’ experience of government, complex institutions, and growing national identities, compared to a few centuries or less for all of sub-Saharan Africa. Europe has glaciated fertile soils, reliable summer rainfall, and few tropical diseases; tropical Africa has un-glaciated and extensively infertile soils, less reliable rainfall, and many tropical diseases. Within Europe, Britain had the further advantages of being an island rarely at risk from foreign armies, and of fronting on the Atlantic Ocean, which became open after 1492 to overseas trade.

It should be no surprise that countries with those advantages ended up rich and with good institutions, while countries with those disadvantages didn’t. The chain of causation leading slowly from productive agriculture to government, state formation, complex institutions, and wealth involved agriculturally driven population explosions and accumulations of food surpluses, leading in turn to the need for centralized decision-making in societies much too populous for decision-making by face-to-face discussions involving all citizens, and the possibility of using the food surpluses to support kings and their bureaucrats. This process unfolded independently, beginning around 3400 BC, in many different parts of the ancient world with productive agriculture, including the Fertile Crescent, Egypt, China, the Indus Valley, Crete, the Valley of Mexico, the Andes, and Polynesian Hawaii.

Pretty interesting stuff. As always, feel free to weigh in. 

The World’s Billionaire Cities

Right off the heel of my last post about the world’s poorest denizens, comes sobering article from PolicyMic that highlights the stark reality of global wealth inequality. It identifies the world’s most popular cities for billionaires, based on a recent report from Forbes.

Moscow remains the billionaire capital of the world, with 84 of the world’s richest people, together worth a total of over $366 billion. Of the other major cities on the list (some of which tied), five are in Asia (Istanbul, Mumbai, Seoul, Hong Kong and Beijing), two are in Europe (London and Paris), two are in the U.S. (New York City and Dallas), and one is in Latin America (Sao Paulo, Brazil).

According to the 2013 Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census, the first comprehensive study of the world’s billionaire population, the average billionaire holds $78 million in real estate, owns four homes (each worth nearly $20 million) and posses numerous luxury items, the most common being yachts, private jets and works of art.

Despite boasting many uber-rich residents, these cities also account for a disproportionate share of overall economic growth and rising income inequality, with many of them also hosting a large proportion of poor residents. According a report by Oxfam, 85 of the richest people in the world (most of whom live in these cities) control as much wealth as the poorest half of the world (3.5 billion people).

Portraits of People Living on a Dollar a Day

As a lifelong citizen in a well-off part of a wealthy country (the U.S.), I’m doubly insulated from the miserable circumstances that are the norm for most of my fellow humans. Around 17 percent of the world’s population — that’s one out of six people — live on a dollar or less a day, lacking any stable source of food, medical care, housing, and other basic needs.

Not only do more than a billion people lack material goods and comforts, but they live a precarious existence in which they’re never certain when or if the next meal will come; in which they’re just one injury or illness away from deeper poverty or even death; in which housing is barely livable, if existent at all. And all this transpires practically invisibly, with few people truly understanding, much less addressing, this extreme level of poverty.

But not if people like Thomas A. Nazario, the founder of a nonprofit called The Forgotten International, can help it. He’s written a new book with Pulitzer Prize winner Renée C. Byer called Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World’s Poor, which offers a much needed window into these people’s everyday lives, ultimately calling for action on their behalf.

Mother Jones interviewed Nazario about his motivations for this book, as well as about bigger topics like global inequality and the pervasive savior complex of well-meaning humanitarians. The interview is pretty insightful, and the article is full of excellent photos shared from the book (which I’m interested in reading and perhaps reviewing here at a later date). I highly recommend you read the rest of it, but here’s the part that most stood out for me.

Which stories affected you the most?

 There are three. One was the kids who live on an e-waste dump in Ghana. That was quite compelling for a variety of reasons, but I think if you look at the book and see those photographs and read that piece, it’ll hit you pretty hard.

Another piece was a family in Peru that lives on recycling. That, in and of itself, is not a big deal. Recycling is probably the second-largest occupation of the poor. But [the mother's] personal story, about how she had been abused by two different husbands, how her boys were taken away because they were needed to farm, and she was given all the girls—and how her kids will probably not ever go to school. She gets constantly evicted from one place or another because she can’t find enough recycling to pay the rent. When we left her—we gave everybody a gift of at least some kind for giving us their time and telling us their story—we gave her $80, which is about as much money as she makes in two months. She fell to her knees and started crying. Not only did I learn that 25 percent of garbage produced in developing countries is picked up by individuals like her, but that one of the biggest drivers of global poverty is domestic violence, and how women and children are thrown into poverty largely for that reason.
Of course, even those of us who hear anecdotes like this or see vivid photos of unspeakable squalor do far less than we can to help. While certain psychological factors play a role in our collective apathy, there’s no denying the inherent exploitative and inefficient characteristics of the current global economic system, in which tremendous amounts of wealth continue to be allocated to a small minority of people who are largely disconnected and unconcerned in regards to the horrific reality of most of their fellow citizens.
But that’s a conversation for a different day.

Study Finds Government Influenced By Mostly Wealthy Interests

Think Progress reports on new research that won’t surprise anyone but helps confirm a troubling trend: the policies and actions of the U.S. government overwhelmingly align with the preferences of wealthy citizens and well-moneyed interest groups.

“That’s according to a forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University. The two looked at a data set of 1,779 policy issues between 1981 and 2002 and matched them up against surveys of public opinion broken down by income as well as support from interest groups.

They estimate that the impact of what an average citizen prefers put up against what the elites and interest groups want is next to nothing, or “a non-significant, near-zero level.” They note that their findings show “ordinary citizens…have little or no independent influence on policy at all.” The affluent, on the other hand, have “a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy,” they find, “more so than any other set of actors” that they studied. Organized interest groups similarly fare well, with “a large, positive, highly significant impact on public policy.”

When they hold constant the preferences of interest groups and the rich, “it makes very little difference what the general public thinks,” they note. The probability that policy change occurs is basically the same whether a small group or a large majority of average citizens are in favor. On the other hand, all else being the same, opposition from the wealthy means that a particular policy is only adopted about 18 percent of the time, but when they support it it gets adopted 45 percent of the time. Similar patterns are true for interest groups.”

While it remains to be seen whether their research will stand up to scrutiny, I think it’s safe to say that, judging from how powerless or disinterested our politicians are with respect to broadly serving the public good, our government is hardly indicative of true democracy. But what are your thoughts?

The Bootstraps Myth

From Melissa McEwan of the blog Shakesville:

The Myth of Bootstraps goes something like this: I never got any help from anyone. I achieved my American Dream all on my own, through hard work. I got an education, I saved my money, I worked hard, I took risks, and I never complained or blamed anyone else when I failed, and every time I fell, I picked myself up by my bootstraps and just worked even harder. No one helped me.

This is almost always a lie.

There are vanishingly few people who have never had help from anyone—who never had family members who helped them, or friends, or colleagues, or teachers. 

Who never benefited from government programs that made sure they had electricity, or mail, or passable roads, or clean drinking water, or food, or shelter, or healthcare, or a loan. 

Who never had any kind of privilege from which they benefited, even if they didn’t actively try to trade on it. 

Who never had an opportunity they saw as luck which was really someone, somewhere, making a decision that benefited them. 

Who never had friends to help them move, so they didn’t have to pay for movers. Who never inherited a couch, so they didn’t have to pay for a couch. Who never got hand-me-down clothes from a cousin, so their parents could afford piano lessons. Who never had shoes that fit and weren’t leaky, when the kid down the street didn’t.

Most, maybe all, of the people who say they never got any help from anyone are taking a lot of help for granted.

They imagine that everyone has the same basic foundations that they had—and, if you point out to them that these kids over here live in an area rife with environmental pollutants that have been shown to affect growth or brain function or breathing capacity, they will simply sniff with indifference and declare that those things don’t matter. That government regulations which protect some living spaces and abandon others to poisons isn’t help. 

The government giving you money to eat is a hand-out. The government giving you regulations that protect the air you breathe is, at best, nothing of value—and, at worst, a job-killing regulation that impedes the success of people who want to get rich dumping toxins into the ground where people getting hand-outs live.

What are your thoughts?

Low-Wage Work Becomes The New Normal

It’s been well documented that the recession eliminated most of the already-declining number of well-paying jobs, with most of the (still-anemic) growth in employment occurring overwhelmingly in low-paying sectors. Now the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), courtesy of Business Insider, further underscores this troubling trend, revealing that nearly all of the top ten most common jobs are low-paying.

So retail and food (wherein most cashiers work) represent the lion’s share of new job growth.

To emphasize just how low-paying most of these vocations are, consider how much their annual mean pay matches up with the overall national mean wage (e.g. all U.S. occupations combined).

Registered nurses are the only folks doing fairly well, on average. Most of the other common jobs fall well short of the annual mean wage, with the three most common being around half or less of it. Needless to say, this represents a troubling development. While the degree to which one can survive on a low wage does vary by state, county, or city, overall you can’t get by for very long in many parts of the country by just working in these positions (which, by the way, typically lack benefits, paid sick leave, and full-time hours).

It’s also worth pointing out that given the decline the minimum wage’s value — when adjusted for inflation it’s actually less than what it was in 1968 — a lot of these menial and currently low-paying positions would actually have offered a decent standard of living (at least relative to what they do now). With the application of new technology and various administrative changes within businesses (outsourcing, streamlining management, etc) the economy seems to have reached a point where there just isn’t enough need for anything but food, consumer goods, medical care, and the like; even then, we need a lot more cashiers and cooks then we do doctors, managers, and lawyers — hence all the growth in the former jobs as compared to the latter.

In short, I think we need to re-think the way we pay people and scale back the notion that only “skilled” or technical work deserves a decent, living wage. The fact is, most well-paying professions have been replaced, rendered redundant, or simply aren’t in high enough demand relative to the number of people who need steady work. If companies have the resources to pay people better — and indeed most of the lowest-paying employers are very profitable — they should pay well enough to ensure a decent standard of living for their employees. After all, we can’t sustain an economy without a large market of consumers, who in turn can’t consume if they’re increasingly taking on low-paying work.

I’ll close by noting that this chart is full of caveats, as expressed by many of the commentators below. There are claims that the numbers attributed to certain professions don’t add up with other data, or that the mean annual wage for some jobs have been miscalculated, etc. I honestly don’t have the time to analyze the veracity of those criticism, but I leave it to your best judgment to determine the matter. Of course, always feel free to share your thoughts.

Hat tip to my friend Michael for first sharing this piece.

The International Arms Market

The Economist’s #Dailychart  from yesterday revealed the countries that buy and sell the most weapons. The United States, Russia, Germany, China, and France accounted for three-quarters of international arms exports over the past five years, with the first two taking the lion’s share of the export market (largely a legacy of the Cold War, which led both nations to build up a massive and still influential indigenous arms industry).

 

Other major arms dealers include the U.K., Spain, Ukraine, Italy, and Israel. Only 10 other countries, mostly in the developed world, have some sort of presence in the global arms market.

Notably, China — which was once a net importer of weapons, mostly from the U.S.S.R. — has tripled its share of exports in that time, overtaking France and set to surpass Germany as the third largest arms dealer (it still receives almost as many weapons as it sells, however). Germany’s significant role in arms dealing is interesting given the country’s otherwise pacifistic and low-key foreign policy, which is characterized by a reluctance to intervene in international affairs.

Some of the bigger importers include rising powers like India, China, and to lesser degrees Pakistan and South Korea. The Persian Gulf nations of the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia also top the list, as does the tiny but influential city-state of Singapore (which is said to have one of the most advanced and well-trained armed forces in the world). Australia’s fairly high import rate likely reflect’s its growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region and its desire to play a bigger role therein.

Needless to say, this is revealing stuff. Read more about it here.

Lesser-Known Fun Facts About Each U.S. Presidents

Unfortunately, I’m working this Presidents Day — which is the birthday of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln — so I’ve decided to just share this interesting article from HuffPost that offers at least one quirky fact about each president (Taft gets two, since he is the only president to have served two non-consecutive terms — there’s a fun fact!). Here are some of my favorites:

  • Andrew Jackson had a pet parrot that he taught how to swear.
  • Supposedly, President Van Buren popularized one of the most commonly used phrases to date: “OK”, or “Okay”. Van Buren was from Kinderhook, NY which was also called “Old Kinderhook”. His support groups came to be known as “O.K. Clubs” and the term OK came to mean “all right”.
  • When Abe Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois in 1831, he ran into a local bully named Jack Armstrong. Armstrong challenged Lincoln to a wrestling match outside of Denton Offutt’s store, where Lincoln was a clerk, and townspeople gathered to watch and wager on it. Lincoln won.
  • Andrew Johnson was drunk during his inauguration (go figure, he’s considered one of the worst presidents in U.S. history).
  • After leaving office, William Taft became the only ex-president to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, effectively becoming the only person to serve as the head of two branches of government. In doing so, he swore in both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover to the presidency. (On an unrelated note, he also lost 150 pounds after leaving office.)
  • To date, Woodrow Wilson was the only president to hold a doctorate degree, making him the highest educated president in the history of the United States. He was awarded the degree in Political Science and History from Johns Hopkins University. He also passed the Georgia Bar Exam despite not finishing law school.

Enjoy and have a safe and happy Presidents Day!