Reflections On International Workers’ Day

International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day and Labor Day, is a holiday that honors the working classes and the labor movement, and also commemorates the Haymarket affair of 1886, in which workers went on strike for rights like an eight-hour workday and better working conditions (it soon became violent due to police brutality and a fatal bombing of unknown origin — you can read the details of the tragic unfolding of events here).

Despite being a seminal event in the history of the labor movement and the United States as a whole, the Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or riot), is given little attention in school or media. The event was one of several that captured the frustrations and concerns regarding growing inequality, workers’ exploitation, and class tension. It also contributed to the sorts of rights we now take for granted in the workplace, from safer conditions to more reasonable working shifts.

It is telling that while much of the world celebrates, the U.S. forgoes any formal recognition and instead observes “Law Day”, which affirms the importance of law in the foundation of the country, and “Loyalty Day” (formerly “Americanization Day”), which emphasizes patriotism towards American heritage and values. Both these holidays have roots in the First Red Scare of the early 20th century, and formalized in the context of the Second Red Scare that took place during the Eisenhower administration.

The participation of socialists and anarchists in what was a fairly broad-based movement did little to endear the holiday to the American establishment, especially in the context of the Cold War. Even to this day, when one speaks of workers’ rights and the like, it draws suspicion and outright ire, as if only the far-left should or could have an interest in the well-being of the majority of society (especially the vulnerable segment that does some of the toughest, most important, yet most poorly treated work).

Amid reversals in the rights and prospects of workers — from stagnating wages and salaries, to lesser job security — it is little surprise that a global holiday that recognizes the rights and well-being of workers would be overlooked and even subject to fear and contempt. Now more than ever do we need to restore a sense of consciousness and dignity among working people who are underpaid, mistreated, and deprived of opportunities for socioeconomic advancement. The auspicious absence of an American equivalent to May Day — our own Labor Day is celebrated in a different time and context — is both a symptom and cause of hostility and apathy towards the plight of working class people.

But given where the economy is headed, and how many people are getting dragged down with it, how long will that sentiment prevail? How long until we realize that labor rights and the labor movement are of interest to anyone seeking a more just, equitable, and thus thriving society for all? More people enjoying more opportunities, more dignified work, more spending power, which in turns helps businesses and grows jobs.

Of course it is not easy and it will take time and effort, perhaps unprecedented in scale. But it is a worthy endeavor for which we need to get started on as soon as possible, given the time it will take and the number of human lives being immiserated or even lost in the face of poverty and exploitations, both in the U.S. and abroad (it is International Workers’ Day for a reason).

May Day and the associated events and movements it recognized helped precipitate a more prosperous economic system, and within decades produced a culture and environment in which more and more people could share in the fruits of work and commerce, with empowerment in both the commercial and political spheres. Perhaps the second time around we can restore these now beleaguered values and go even further.

A Portrait of Africa’s Largest City

Akintunde Akinleye is the only Nigerian photojournalist to have won a World Press Photo prize, in 2007. But the following slideshow, courtesy of the New York Times, shows that his prestigious award is well deserved. It presents a complex and dynamic view of the continent’s largest metropolis, the 20-million strong city of Lagos, Nigeria.

The exhibition is called “Each Passing Day” (it opened at Red Door Gallery in Lagos on April 19, the photographer’s birthday), and its title connotes the marking of time, of a steady eye bearing witness to a nation’s struggle for political stability while it endures the growing pains of rapid urbanization. The work is even more poignant when you consider that Mr. Akinleye’s career spans a particular time in Nigeria’s postcolonial history — the country’s re-establishment of republican government in 1999, and the recent election of a former dictator as its president-elect.

“One of my missions is not just to make a career in photojournalism”, Mr. Akinleye said from his home in Lagos. “My mission is actually to do history, to put it in perspective, so that distortion can be reduced to its barest minimum”.

He was 11 when his mother gave him his first camera after she noticed he had a penchant for drawing pictures in the sand. Years later, what began as a boyhood hobby did not evolve into a full-fledged career goal until Mr. Akinleye enrolled in college. But having missed the application deadline for journalism courses, he majored in social studies instead.

“I looked at all sorts of social problems — crime, how Europe underdeveloped Africa, how the world is separated into the first, second, and third world”, he said. “This gave me a wider passage, and a very solid background for me to do journalism”.

Click the hyperlink to get a glimpse of everyday life in one of the world’s biggest communities. As Nigeria becomes a rapidly emerging economic power, its dominant city will no doubt earn increased attention as a major commercial and cultural hub (it always has the second largest film industry by production after Bollywood). There is a lot of creative potential just waiting to be unleashed.

Iran, A Future Global Power

Given its rich historical legacy as a prominent center of power and civilization, perhaps it is fitting that modern Iran retains considerable economic, social, and scientific potential — if it is better governed and made fully a part of the global community.

Al Jazeera makes this point in the context of the continuing nuclear deal with the West, which among other things would lead to the lifting of the decades-long sanctions that have crippled the economy and left the country largely as an international pariah. Despite these external challenges, and years of mismanagement by a venal and authoritarian government, Iran has had a lot to show for itself:

Compared with other developing countries, especially considering the damage of war and sanctions, Iran performs decently on measures of human development. Its average life expectancy increased dramatically, from 54 in 1980 to 74 in 2012; 98 percent of 15-to-24-year-olds are literate; and according to the United Nations, Iran’s overall human development index has improved by 67 percent in the last decade.

Despite sanctions, Iran is one of the world’s top 20 economies. For the first decade of the 21st century, annual growth rates hovered around 5 percent, sometimes reaching as high as 7 percent. The 2010 round of sanctions were devastating, but the government has recently announced the return of positive growth. According to an International Monetary Fund forecast, the Iranian economy will grow 2 percent in 2015, an impressive reversal from the 5 percent contraction that occurred in 2012.

Iran, which invests more in scientific research than any other Middle Eastern nation, has seen rapid growth in its high-tech sector. Its elite technical universities are ranked among the top in the world. Sharif University of Technology — Iran’s MIT — was hailed by a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford as the the finest university in the world preparing undergraduate electrical engineers. Iran also stands among the leading countries in cutting-edge sciences such as stem cell research and nanotechnology.

While the Iranian economy is still largely dependent on oil exports, it has also seen significant industrial development. In 2009, Iran’s auto industry became the 11th largest in the world, producing more than 1.4 million vehicles (more than the United Kingdom or Italy). Auto is the second-largest sector, after oil, and offers vast employment opportunities to young workers in Iran. The country boasts significant development in high-tech industries such as machinery, automotive, steel, petrochemicals and medical technology.

Though Iran’s complex, authoritarian, and theocratic framework of government remains firmly entrenched, the current administration is, by historic standards, quite progressive; for example, its cabinet employs more graduates of prestigious American Ph.D. programs than its U.S. counterpart.

So while Iran struggles from a range of political problems at home and abroad, its people have lived up impressively to their proud historical legacy. If the country has managed to come this far in everything from human well-being to scientific research, imagine what it can do for itself and the world when freed from its present sociopolitical predicament.

Time will tell, and at this rate hopefully quite soon. The much-beleaguered, yet persevering, people of Iran deserve that much.

The Most Socially Progressive Nations in the World

In a previous post, I introduced an article and TED Talk about the Social Progress Index (SPI), which seeks to better capture a country’s ability to provide opportunities, basic needs, and overall life satisfaction to its people. I highly recommend you check it out, as it offers a lot of food for thought about how we should measure a society’s success and well-being, and which places are doing a better job towards those ends.

CNN Money took notice of this new approach and shared the 2015 SPI ranking of countries.

As a reminder, SPI measures a country’s ability to provide a “good society” based on 52 indicators spanning three dimensions: Basic Human Needs (food, water, shelter, safety); Foundations of Wellbeing (basic education, information, health and a sustainable environment); and Opportunity (do people have rights, freedom of choice, freedom from discrimination, and access to higher education?)

With that in mind, the following truncated chart shows how some of the world’s top economies fare (note this is out of a total 133 countries):

You can see the full list here, but these are the top 68 countries (click image to view larger):

Perhaps it is no surprise that Scandinavian nations top the list, along with small European and Anglophone states — these are the same countries that tend to score highly in metrics like the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a similar, though somewhat less comprehensive, measurement of societal health and progress.

Here is why Norway got the top marks:

If you look at its scorecard, it has exceptional scores across all three dimensions, having excellent access to water and sanitation, doing very well on basic education and offering great personal freedom and choice. Norway has a high GDP per capita, thanks to its abundance of natural resources. But this isn’t always the case. Many resource-rich countries — from Kuwait to Angola — don’t share the benefits of wealth so well and show low social progress relative to their GDP per capita. It may be the case that, because natural resource wealth doesn’t require the same investments in human and social capital as broad-based economic growth, there isn’t the same incentive for governments to make those investments. But whatever the reason may be, Norway should be a role model for other resource-rich countries.

Of course, critics will point out that Norway, like most of its fellow high scorers, is a small, fairly homogenous place with a long history social and ethnic cohesion (although several other high-ranking countries, like Australia and Canada, are comparatively larger and more diverse). But either way it is something to consider.

Also worth noting is the number of fairly poor and developing countries that perform pretty well in the index, relative to their per capita GDP. Of particular note is Costa Rica, which outdoes countries like Italy and South Korea despite having half as much GDP per capita.

Costa Rica is the biggest aggregate over-performer, showing strength across all the dimensions. The key lesson here is that building social progress takes persistence. Costa Rica has had strong education, health and welfare systems for a long time, as well as a long democratic tradition. SPI measures outcomes — life expectancy, literacy rate — not inputs, like laws passed or money spent. There are no cheats or quick fixes.

Here are the top “overachievers” that managed to perform fairly well relative to their GDP per capita.

Note the following caveat:

For some countries, over-performance may actually be a sign of economic decline rather than progress. Overperformance is relative to GDP per capita, and GDP tends to rise and fall quickly, whereas SPI moves more slowly. If a country’s GDP per capita falls rapidly while SPI takes much longer to decline, its performance relative to GDP per capita may look like it is improving. The over-performers of the former Soviet Union illustrate this point: Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have not done well economically over the last 20 to 25 years, but their social indicators are better than expected because of the legacy of investments in basic services made when they were part of the Soviet Union.

Anyway, back to the focus of the CNN article, which was the United States’ relatively low performance. Though sixteenth place is hardly catastrophic, it is a lot less than it should be given both its sheer wealth, abundant land and natural resources, and amazing economic and technological capacity.

The U.S., the world’s biggest economy, scores poorly across many criteria and ranks behind countries with lower GDP per capita — including Canada and the U.K.

It is leading the way in only a handful of measures, including people’s satisfaction with affordable housing, freedom of speech, and access to advanced education.

But the U.S. is failing in all health and wellness indicators, which include life expectancy, obesity, suicide rates, and personal safety.

Here is a visual representation of the resultS:

social progress where us stands

The U.S. is hardly the only laggard despite its high GDP. Here are other countries that fall short despite their economic and financial resources (click to enlarge):

The Social Progress Imperative had this to say about the lackluster results of wealthy countries like the U.S., France, and Italy:

The U.S. has some of the best healthcare in the world — but not for everyone. We see that exclusion across the U.S.’ scorecard: lack of access to health care, lack of access to education, lack of access to information, lack of access to safety and even — relative to other rich country peers — lack of access to piped water.

Meanwhile, France and Italy have an important factor in common: both show weakness in opportunity, with low scores on private property rights, freedom of religion and tolerance of minorities. In addition, Italy’s scorecard shows inflated levels of corruption, while France’s shows the issue of discrimination against minorities. Both also are relatively weak on access to higher education.

One final note: it seems like fast-growing economies like China underperform on social progress. That’s because their new wealth has not yet translated into better social outcomes: investments in education and healthcare may take time to bear fruit, or they haven’t been made yet.

In short, every country has particular challenges or shortcomings bringing down its full potential, and the SPI helps to pinpoint where the most work is needed. The U.S. can offer tremendous opportunities to its citizens, but is bedeviled by the unequal way in which its resources and institutional accesses are distributed; indeed, many of the other countries that underperform have similarly high rates of inequality.

So what do you think about the SPI and its results?

 

How to Help Nepal Most Effectively

As most readers likely know, Nepal was the victim of a massive earthquake that has thus far resulted in over 5,100 confirmed fatalities, with many more people feared dead, and has left tens of thousands homeless. Overall, over 8 million of the country’s 26 million people have been affected.

Unfortunately, like so many other developing countries that tend to fall prey to natural disaster, impoverished Nepal is struggling to mobilize rescue efforts and distribute aid; international support is barely trickling in, due both to apathy and the country’s poor and now damaged infrastructure. It is a sadly familiar story.

Needless to say, the people of Nepal need all the help they can get. As the devastation unfolds, many of us naturally want to do whatever we can to help, namely by donating to the humanitarian organizations on the ground.

If you want to make the most of every dollar, consider donating to the following trustworthy relief agencies, which have earned high ratings by Charity Navigator for efficiency and accountability (you can learn more about the charity reviewer and its methodology here).

AmeriCares

AmeriCares is an emergency response and global health organization. They have sent an emergency response team from their offices in Mumbai to Nepal and are “preparing shipments of medical aid and relief supplies for survivors.”

CARE

CARE describes itself as a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. It has a long-established presence in Nepal, and told USA Today that it was “coordinating with other agencies to assist up to 75,000 people.”

Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic Church in the United States. It maintains field offices in Nepal and has started its relief effort by “procuring emergency relief materials such as tarpaulins/shelter kits and water, sanitation and hygiene material.”

Direct Relief is a nonprofit that specializes in providing international medical assistance. It is in the process of coordinating with local partners in Nepal and will focus its relief efforts on the “valley around Kathmandu, where medical facilities are overflowing with patients seeking care.”

GlobalGiving

GlobalGiving is a charity fundraising website that has set up a fund specifically for Nepal relief efforts. The money collected will go to “help first responders meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter. Once initial relief work is complete, this fund will transition to support longer-term recovery efforts” run by vetted local organizations, according to a post on the GlobalGiving site.

International Relief Teams

International Relief Teams is a humanitarian organization that specializes in disaster relief, and also has a four-star rating. They have “ordered a shipment of emergency medicines to be airlifted to Nepal as soon as possible,” as part of their initial response.

Operation USA

Operation USA, an LA-based international relief agency, has had operations in Nepal since the mid-1980s and has a four-star rating on Charity Navigator.

“We are arranging to send replacement equipment to hospitals in Nepal to restore capacity as soon as possible,” Richard Walden, CEO of  Operation USA said in a statement. “Donations, especially bulk in-kind materials from corporate partners, are critical at this time — not only to deliver aid quickly, but also to ensure a long-term commitment to the people of Nepal who face a long and challenging road ahead as they pick up the pieces in the earthquake’s aftermath.”

Save the Children

Save the Children is an international NGO dedicated to promoting children’s rights and providing relief and support to children in developing countries. It has set up a Nepal fund to “protect vulnerable children and provide desperately needed relief to families.” Ten percent of the funds collected will go to prepare for the next disaster.

Seva Foundation

The Seva Foundation is a US-based nonprofit known for its work treating blindness. It has a long-running presence in Nepal and has set up an emergency relief fund.

World Help

World Help is Christian faith based humanitarian organization that works in the developing world, and has a four star rating on Charity Navigator. According to a post on their  site detailing their Nepal Earthquake Disaster Relief, they have a “broad network of partners” and a team on the ground that is focused on delivering urgent aid, including water, food, bedding and medical supplies.

UNICEF

The United Nation program dedicated to helping children in developing countries, is currently “mobilizing an urgent response to meet the needs of children” affected by the disaster, and is working to deliver water purification tablets, hygiene kits and nutrition supplies to those in need.

Oxfam

A confederation of NGOs, currently has “aid workers … on the ground, preparing to launch a rapid response to ensure food and water reaches” survivors, according to its site.

“We are focusing on providing clean water and sanitation to thousands of those affected,” says Lauren Hartnett, the Humanitarian Press Officer for Oxfam America. “These services are vital for basic health and also prevent the potential second crisis of illnesses like cholera and diarrhea.”

If you want to support charities that are local to the region — which typically have more experience and knowledge with the area — TIME mentions two major groups to consider:

Friends Service Council Nepal

FSCN is a Nepalese NGO with over 20 years of experience in supporting disaster relief efforts for disasters in Nepal. They are based in Kathmandu and have about 50 volunteers. Chairperson Surya Bahadur Thapa tells TIME that since the earthquake they have been rushing money, food and tents to people in need.

If you want to give directly to a local charity, get in contact and Thapa or a volunteer will explain how best to transfer money to them.

Goonj

Goonj is an Indian relief agency with 11 offices and more than 300 employees. They have set up Nepal-specific donation centers in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Rishikesh, founding director Anshu Gupta told TIME.

Currently, Goonj is readying two trucks of relief material to transfer to Nepal, with more urgent supplies going by air. Gupta will be leading team to Nepal tomorrow. Find out more about their operations here.

For more information about how to donate, visit their website.

I currently donate monthly to Direct Relief, and I can vouch for its effectiveness. Aside from its stellar ratings, the organization sends out a detailed and topical newsletter that highlights its various projects, goals, and milestones.

Other organizations I would add to the list based on both their high reviews and their responsiveness to the earthquake (of course you are free to research them yourself),

Charity Navigator maintains an up-to-date list of the top charities responding to the crisis, and offers this useful tip to keep in mind when donating to any humanitarian group:

But before you give to one of these charities, first decide what you want your donation to accomplish and select the charity offering that specific type of aid. To do this, simply use Charity Navigator’s website to view a charity’s rating page. Once you are satisfied with its rating, then you can jump to the charity’s website to learn more about the type of assistance the charity is providing in relation to this disaster. For more tips on giving in times of crisis, please review our Tips for Giving in Times of Crisis here.

Whichever charities you choose to support, please be on the lookout for con artists seeking to exploit the goodwill of others. As despicable and wanton as this scam is, such crimes are a common problem following almost every crisis (especially the most high profile). The Better Business Bureau (BBB), another prominent charity reviewer, issues the following warning view the Charlotte Observer:

The group advises giving to charities that are experienced at working with disaster victims to avoid “unscrupulous people who will attempt to take advantage of your generosity.”

“In the face of any disaster, people will immediately make donations to help the victims”, Tom Bartholomy, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont in Charlotte, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, scammers will also try to take advantage of generous donors”.

Following disasters, look-alike and sound-alike charities appear on the Internet, the group said, so donors should look out for fake charities that imitate the names of well-known organizations. Donors should also be wary of emotional appeals that don’t detail how the charity will provide aid to victims.

The Better Business Bureau advises giving to tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) charities to ensure donations are tax deductible.

Donors also shouldn’t send cash or money via wire transfer, the bureau said, nor give their credit card numbers or other personal information to a telephone solicitor or in response to an email solicitation.

The business group’s website provides detailed reports on relief organizations for those interested in seeing if the charity meets the standards for charitable giving.

In short, be vigilant and prudent, whether it is finding the most effective charity to support, or making sure your dollars are going to an actual humanitarian organization.

Meanwhile, Claire Bennet of The Guardian warns well-intentioned humanitarians not to be too hasty in providing assistance on the ground:

One of the biggest problems with relief work is that it is a free-for-all. Anyone who wants to, and who is privileged enough to afford a plane ticket, can pitch up. Unlike doctors or engineers, who need to train for years to gain qualifications that prove they probably know what they’re doing, no such qualification exists for aid workers.

What Nepal needs right now is not another untrained bystander, however much her heart is hurting. Nepal has one international airport for the entire country, which has itself sustained damage. That airport needs to be used for emergency supplies, immediate aid for the victims, and qualified, professional relief workers. My trip back to commiserate with loved ones can wait a few weeks.

With that said, she offers the following advice to keep in mind:

Remember that it is not about you. It is not about your love for the country and its people. Your feelings of guilt and helplessness may be difficult to deal with, but you may not be what is needed right now. Do not rush to go there, at least for the next couple of weeks while the country is reeling. The exception to this is if you are a qualified professional with much-needed skills to offer. If you are, join up with an international relief agency that can place you in a position where you are needed most.

Do not donate stuff. Secondhand goods are difficult to distribute in a disaster area and are hardly ever what is actually needed. It is easier, and often in the long run cheaper, for organisations to procure goods themselves and distribute based on need. If you want to give away things you no longer need, sell them and donate the money to the relief fund. Or give them to a local charity shop, which can convert them into cash on your behalf.

Give money. More than your plane ticket or your collection of old T-shirts, what is most needed in Nepal right now is money. Donate what you can, to a reputable relief organisation, and do research to find out where your money will go. If you can, compare a few organisations with aid appeals and ensure that you agree with their approach.

In the short term, handouts are necessary. I have previously questioned this as a method of long-term development. However, in the immediate wake of such devastation, handouts are necessary to give victims the essentials for survival.

In the long term, rebuild sustainably. If in the coming months you want to contribute to the rebuilding efforts and the longer-term development of the country, consider sustainability as a factor. There will be many programmes to repair and rebuild destroyed houses. Nepal is an earthquake-prone country, so the buildings most likely to withstand another quake are not those that are cheapest, or those made by foreign volunteer labourers for “free”.

And if you do decide to go … Please look at the resources we have produced on the Learning Service website before you get on the plane. I am not against volunteering; I am imploring you to wait a while and think carefully about where to use your skills. Volunteering can have a wonderful impact on the world, when done mindfully. But it is not easy or automatically beneficial. Before signing up for a programme, spend time learning about Nepal and the complex nature of its recovery and development, and continue to be open to learning during your time there.

Finally, another writer at The Guardian, Shaheen Chughtai, brings attention to how Nepal’s entrenched poverty and underdevelopment, which was worsened by a decades-long civil war and continuing political paralysis, has made it especially vulnerable to disasters like earthquakes.

I remember looking at the thousands of flimsy shacks and hovels lining Kathmandu’s dusty slums and the sturdier, but still precarious, multi-tiered family homes, the cheaply built apartment blocks and ornate temples that collectively give the city its colourful, distinctive appearance. We all understood and feared what a big earthquake would surely do there.

But it’s not just its violent geology that made Kathmandu fundamentally flawed. More than a million people are crammed inside it. Even before this latest earthquake, half of Nepal’s 28 million population didn’t have access to improved sanitation and lived below the poverty line, around one in three of them in severe poverty. Their ability to cope with a major disaster is crippled by the lack of economic and social infrastructure that people in richer nations take for granted. Many thousands of Nepalese are going to need a great deal of help.

Nepal has long been desperate for a huge, sustained investment to strengthen its physical infrastructure and keep its people safer, and to develop its economy and services so that local communities and the state have enough assets to fall back on. The challenge now will be to invest the outpouring of international aid – which certainly will come – into a rescue, recovery and eventual reconstruction effort that will do exactly that.

This is the sort of big picture view we need to keep in mind when crises like these emerge. Were it not for its widespread poverty and lack of public investment, Nepal may have been better able to weather this disaster and respond effectively to the needs of survivors. But like most countries that tend to frequently fall victim to large scale catastrophes, the country suffered doubly for being poor, misgoverned, and neglected.

While it needs as much immediate help as possible, Nepal — and the many other countries that are dealt a bad hand by geography and history — needs longer-term solutions and support that go beyond ad hoc responses to crises. For now, let us focus on giving its beleaguered people what we can, whether it is funds, volunteers (when or if required), and/or raising awareness.

Update: If you are looking for another way to help beyond donating or volunteering, CityLab has reported on an interesting crowdsourcing project that will give much needed support to frustrated relief efforts:

Go help out the good efforts at OpenStreetMap, the open-source mapping platform powered by citizen cartographers all over the world. Members of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) have been updating Nepal’s earthquake-affected regions since Saturday, tracing and checking “roads, buildings, and open spaces (for helicopter landing)” so people on the ground can get where they need to go with accuracy.

You don’t need to be in Nepal to lend a hand (the OSM platform uses fresh satellite imagery to help you update their map), and you don’t need to be a professional cartographer, either. It helps if you’ve used OSM before, even if only to play around with mapping your own neighborhood. But if you haven’t, learning the basics isn’t too hard. Here are two step-by-stepguides that will show you how to do HOT remote mapping, and here’s a specific list of tasks that the HOT team is prioritizing in Nepal.

It is great to see people tap into their creative energies, as well as into financial and technological resources, to help others in need on the other end of the world.

UPDATE: Fellow secular humanists may want to consider donating to the Foundation Beyond Belief, which is raising funds on behalf of the The Women’s Foundation Nepal. Since it is a local group, and one focused on an especially vulnerable demographic, it is an ideal choice. Plus, we humanists need to do more to be visible and active in charitable causes far and wide. Hat tip to reader Helen Clark for letting me know about this!

The Top Ten Immigrant Countries

One of the most visible and influential consequences of globalization is the record number of migrants in the world: as of 2013, over 232 million people –b or 3.2 percent of the world’s population — were living outside of their country of origin. So what are the top destinations for the world’s transients?

The following video by The Daily Conversation, via the Washington Post, offers a brief overview of the world’s top ten recipients of immigrants, including each nation’s largest immigrant groups and the dynamics behind them.

Given the brevity of the video, it could only go into so much detail regarding the complex factors behind why certain groups go to certain countries.

For example, it leaves out the fact that Canada and Australia have particularly friendly policies towards migrants, with the latter country’s warm climate being a major draw to its over 1 million British-born inhabitants Germany’s large Russian-born population is made up mostly of Russians of German descent, who have taken advantage of the country’s preferential treatment of ethnic German immigrants.

I should also point out the common error of showing Puerto Ricans as a major immigrant group in the U.S.: as American citizens, they are not foreign migrants and thus should not even factor into the equation (though many international institutions and analysts treat Puerto Rico as a separate country in their methodologies).

Anyway, here is the list (Note both the absolute number of immigrants and their proportion of the population):

10. Spain 6.5 million immigrants (13.8% of pop)
9. Australia 6.5 million immigrants (27.7%)
8. Canada 7.3 million immigrants (20.7%)
7. France 7.4 million immigrants (11.6%)
6. United Kingdom 7.8 million immigrants (12.4%)
5. United Arab Emirates 7.8 million immigrants (83.7%)
4. Saudi Arabia 9.1 million immigrants (31.4%)
3. Germany 9.8 million immigrants (11.9%)
2. Russia 11 million immigrants (7.7%)
1. USA 45.7 million immigrants (14.3%)

Wikipedia offers a comprehensive list of countries by immigrant population, which cites U.N. data on migratory trends. Its chart also records the percentage of the world’s immigrants living in a given country; as noted in the video, of the total number of people living outside their country of origin, nearly 20 percent are living in the U.S., and this if followed by almost five percent in Russia and 4.3 percent in Germany.

If you are curious, the runners up after spain include Italy (5.7 million immigrants), India (5.3 million), Ukraine (5.1 million), Pakistan (4 million), and Thailand (3.7 million).

Eight Maps That Change Your Perception On Africa

Despite being the world’s second-largest continent, and home to nearly one-seventh of humanity, Africa remains woefully marginalized and misunderstood by most outsiders. The following maps from One.org help shine a light on the so called “dark continent”, highlighting everything from its sheer size to the major challenges it faces.

1. Where the world’s 7 billion live

National Geographic‘s map illustrates where and how the world lives. Not surprisingly, the areas with the highest income levels have greater life expectancy (77 for males, 83 for females compared to 58 and 60 in low income levels), access to improved sanitation (99 percent compared to 35 percent), among other human security factors. The need for development is critical in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 1 billion people live, many on $995 or less a year.

2. How the world would look if it were measured by its wealth, 2015

Using data from the World Bank Development Indicators, Global Finance‘s map shows us what the world will look like in 2015 – that is if it were inflated to the size of their economic wealth. Once again, the need to spur growth in Africa is not just evident, but necessary.

3. Now, the real size of Africa

If you’re like most, you know the African continent is pretty big. But how big? The infographic above, created by Kai Krause uses some of the largest countries in the world and even all of Eastern Europe as puzzle pieces within the grand continent of Africa.

4. Where the world’s 30 million slaves live

To quote Rajiv Narayan from Upworthy, “Sure 12 Years a Slave won an Oscar, but we all deserve to win Best Actor for pretending slavery doesn’t exist anymore.”

The map above, issued by the Walk Free Foundation stains the world map with reds representing concentrated slavery presence and lighter yellows for lower concentrations. The index considers estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, child marriage, and human trafficking in and out of a country.

5. Global Vegetation

This view of the world’s vegetation presented by NASA clearly depicts the pastoral difference between North and South Africa. There is evidently opportunity for agriculture – in fact —it is twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors. But there are other risks to consider in non-pastoral land. Check it out the following map…

6. World Water Risk 

When we say we have a global water crisis, we mean it. The World Resource Institute dedicated a mapping tool called Aqueduct to help companies, investors, governments, and the public understand the global water stress and risks. Notice the similarities with the previous map now? You should. While there is opportunity for agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and parts of South Africa face high risk of water scarcity.

7. Global Internet Usage

On a continent where only 7 percent of its inhabitants are online, this map is an eye-opening illustration of the digital divide. With the internet comes improved access to information, communication and ideas – and organizations need to make sure to bridge the gap. The good news is that Africa’s telecommunications market is one of the fastest in the world.

8. Energy Poverty

Last but not least, this snapshot of the world at night, stitched together with photos from NASA, contrasts with the little access to electricity in Africa compared to the global north. Energy poverty translates to poor health care, stifled economic growth, toxic fumes, limited or no education, and lack of safety.

As Africa continues to grow rapidly in both population and economic heft, it will no doubt loom ever larger in global affairs and global consciousness.

Scientists Kick Off Earth Day With Dire Warnings

According to The Guardian, a group of prominent scientists and economists known as the Earth League have issued a statement deliberately coinciding with Earth Day that warns that “three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change” — in essence, we must stop what we are doing as soon as possible and start over.

In its “Earth statement”, the group said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if warming was not to breach a rise of 2C, the “safety limit” agreed to by governments.

Johan Rockström, the statement’s lead author, said: “From a scientific perspective, 2015 is a decisive moment. The window to navigate ourselves free from a ‘beyond 2C future’ is barely open. It’s the last chance to navigate ourselves towards a desired future.

“It’s so frustrating, because it’s the choice of moving down a business-as-usual route with devastating outcomes for humanity and, at the same time, we have this almost unprecedented opportunity, we can transform the world economy to a fossil fuel-free one and moreover do it in a way that is security and health-wise more attractive”.

The statement says that failure by the world to act on climate change would bring is a one in 10 chance of temperatures rising by more than 6C by 2100, a level of risk that would be comparable with accepting 10,000 plane crashes daily worldwide.

Rockström said there was now enough scientific evidence that the world was approaching irreversible tipping points where the Earth’s system begins to accelerate the warming that man has already caused. Methane being released as permafrost thaws and melting ice meaning less solar energy reflected back into space are two examples.

“That’s the scientific nightmare”, Rockström said. “You don’t want the Earth to go from friend to foe … this could happen quite soon; we need to bend the curve on emissions over the next 10 to 15 years”.

To top it all off, the report also observed that very little progress has been made in this front, meaning that the incredible amount of economic, financial, and political changes required are unlikely to come into fruition any time soon.

The World’s Best Passports

Well, by best, I mean in terms of providing visa-free access (although you can see a discussion regarding stylistic and aesthetic appeal here).

As seasoned travellers know better than anyone, certain countries require you to obtain a visa in order to enter; this document is separate from a passport, which is issued by governments to certify the identity and nationality of an individual for international travel.

Thus, the most convenient and desirable passports are those that do not necessitate a visa for permission to enter another country; in essence, the nation that the passport represents has special privileges to come and go without needing to obtain any additional documents (the difficulty or ease of which varies from government to government)

Arton Capital, a financial advisory firm, has created a colorful and interactive “Passport Index” that ranks passports by how many countries they give you access to without a visa.

Here is a brief breakdown of the results by the Washington Post (Note that there are a total of 193 recognized countries (not including a dozen or so entities whose sovereignty or recognized independence is disputed):

The ranking puts the U.S. and U.K. passports first, giving access to 147 countries without an advanced visa. France, South Korea and Germany are second, with access to 145 countries, followed by Italy and Sweden in third; Denmark, Singapore, Finland, Japan, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in fourth; and Switzerland in fifth.

Advanced economies dominate the top of the list. Hong Kong comes in at 11, while Argentina and Israel are ranked 16th. Brazil ranks 17th, Mexico 22nd, the Russian Federation 35th, and China 45th.

The least desirable passports according to this ranking are from the Solomon Islands, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sao Tome and Principe and the Palestinian Territories. They rank in 80th place, giving access to just 20 countries each without an advance visa.

Perhaps it is not surprising that countries with the most economic and diplomatic heft on the world stage have managed to provide their citizens with the easiest means to travel.

Indeed, as the Post observes, whether or not a country’s citizens need visas to travel says a lot about the state’s influence or international likeability.

Countries that are allies often offer each others’ citizens a quick visa on arrival. For countries that are not so friendly, a visitor may have to provide entry and exit information, a letter of invitation, and even list all of the clubs they belonged to in high school — as well as paying a hefty fee.

Indeed, it is not unusual for nationals of one country to seek the citizenship of another country, if only because it may help open door to other countries that might not otherwise be as accessible.

Aside from being a nifty guide, the Passport Index also has a nice aesthetic quality to it, as you can view what each passport looks like in terms of color and design. There is also something neat about organizing the world’s passports by color (red, green, blue, and black).

The World’s Twenty Largest Economies By 2030

Citing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which apparently conducts macroeconomic studies and projections), Bloomberg Business shows the twenty countries that will have the largest economies in the world in just fifteen years time.

An assessment of the data:

The U.S. will just barely remain the global leader, with $24.8 trillion in annual output. The gray bar represents the $16.8 trillion gross domestic product projected for 2015, and the green bar shows how much bigger the economy is expected to be 15 years from now. The country, worth 25 percent of the world economy in 2006 and 23 percent in 2015, will see its share decline to 20 percent.

India, ranked eighth for 2015, will climb past Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan to take third place in the world ranking. The International Monetary Fund calls India “the bright spot in the global landscape.” The country will have the largest workforce in the world within the next 15 years, the IMF notes, and among the youngest.

Other nations won’t be so lucky, particularly among developed economies. Japan, which was a roaring economy until its asset bubble burst in the early 1990s, has already slogged through decades of stagnation and will likely continue to see very little growth over the next 15 years. That will push Japan down a spot in the rankings by 2030, according to the USDA estimates.

Japan is “an important lesson in how quickly you can downshift your status of what a structure of an economy delivers,” said Bruce Kasman, JPMorgan’s chief economist.

France will slide three spots, while Italy drops two.

In the overall ranking, Jamaica will surrender the most ground, bumping down 13 places to 136. Countries with the biggest advances — like Uganda, which will climb 18 spots to rank 91 — are concentrated in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Some caveats:

“There are lots of uncertainties,” said Kasman. “Whether China grows at 4 percent or 6 percent matters an awful lot for where it looks like it’s going to be in the global economy. Whether India grows at 3 percent or 8 percent — these are huge differences when you compound them over long periods of time.”

The USDA is not the only — and hardly the most widely-followed — ranking of global economic growth, though it does offer the advantage of particularly long-term outlooks. The International Monetary Fund’s economic outlook only projects out two years. Look out for it later this month.

For a projection that goes another twenty years beyond the USDA’s, here are the biggest economies by 2050, accoriding to the World Bank and Goldman Sachs:

Future Powers

Keep in mind that all these studies are based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which has its limitations and is only one of several ways to measure an economy (albeit the most widely utilized).

Finally, here are the twenty fastest-growing countries of 2015, also courtesy of Bloomberg. 

Needless to say, there will be interesting times ahead, as economic power, and with it global influence, diffuses across an increasingly multipolar world.

What are your thoughts?