Turkish Charity fit for Ramadan

Given all of the bad news coming out of the Middle East lately, it is nice to see a flicker of light in the darkness in the form of Turkey’s desperately needed aid to the beleaguered peoples of Somalia, Yemen, and South Sudan.

As The New Arab reported:

“This aid will be sent to all the regions in Somalia. There is 1,000 trucks-loaded humanitarian aid in this ship,” Turkish Red Crescent President Kerem Kinik told Anadolu state news agency.

The ship carrying the cargo is due to arrive on Saturday, the first day of Ramadan when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

Among the cargo is flour, sugar, medicine and baby food, which will help 3 million Somalis during the holy month.

Eleven ships have been sent from Turkey to Somalia in total, while two more are being prepared to be sent to Yemen.

“There is a cholera outbreak in Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan right now. After Yemen, we will try to reach to Cuba and northern regions in South Sudan. This is a big mobilisation,” Kinik said, adding that the aid should reach around 9 million people in total.

Turkey has also set up mobile bakeries in Somalia, including one in the capital Mogadishu which provides 4,000 loafs of bread a day, while a mobile kitchen distributes 7,000 hot meals to hospitals, orphanages and centres for the disabled.

As these nations reel from civil strife and potential famine, it is nice to see one of their neighbors step up and be a responsible member of the international community (notwithstanding some troubling political developments).

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Where Half the World Lives

With the world’s population now around 7.5 billion, and projected to grow by another 4 billion or so within a century, one could be forgiven for imagining the world as already swelling to the brim with people.

Yet as the following map designed by Max Galka shows, much of the world is fairly empty, and will likely remain so given the pace of urbanization (wherein more people live and work in less land). 

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That means roughly 3.75 billion people live in an area constituting just one percent of the world’s total landmass. Continue reading

Iran Tests Most Generous Basic Income Plan Yet

Iran hardly comes to mind when it comes to testing bold new ideas (never mind its various scientific and technological achievements in the face of sanctions and a reactionary theocracy). But since 2011, it has been testing and monitoring one of the most generous basic income schemes in the world, joining the likes of Canada, Finland, and the Netherlands (among others) in exploring the merits of an idea that has been gaining traction amid concerns about mass unemployment from advancing automation.

The program, which is ongoing, was launched during the tenure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, himself hardly a progressive (to put it mildly). But it was ideal timing, as it followed cuts to subsidies for bread and fuel, which disproportionately impacted the poor. Participants received a monthly cash transfer equivalent to 29 percent of the country’s median household income — which would amount to over $16,300 a month in the U.S.! This is far more generous than the $1,000 or so monthly stipend that is typical in most basic income schemes. Even advocates of the idea might think it is far too much to sustain a productive population.

Yet, as BusinessInsider reported, not only did researchers find that most recipients remained employed, but many of them worked more hours.

Despite reports in local press that the poor were forgoing their jobs to spend the extra money, the investigators found no such evidence.

“Our results do not indicate a negative labor supply effect for either hours worked or the probability of participation in market work, either for all workers or those in the bottom 40% of the income distribution,” they wrote.

They did find people in their twenties tended to work a bit less. But “this is not surprising since the attachment of Iranian youth to the labor market is weak,” they wrote, and many young people may have used the money to enroll in higher education they otherwise couldn’t afford.

In other cases, the extra money appeared to increase how much time people spent working. Service workers, such as housekeepers, teachers, and deliverymen, upped their weekly hours by roughly 36 minutes, “perhaps because some used transfers to expand their business.”

In other words, people were empowered to invest the money they received in ways that created greater values for themselves and, by extension, their loved ones and community. This comports with the results of the basic income experiments conducted in Canada and Namibia, as well as Brazil’s Bolsa Familia program, which is one of the few examples of a full-fledged cash-transfer scheme (although not quite a basic income, since it is conditional on children attending school and being vaccinated).

Unfortunately, Iran’s experiment also proved another common feature of the basic income idea: widespread negative attention and cynicism, in this case by both politicians and the general public. Across different societies and cultures, the idea of handing people money with no string attached strikes a visceral chord.

But given where automation and economic innovation are heading, it seems inevitable that mass unemployment — and the massive wealth imbalance that would follow — will need to be corrected. Not only would a guaranteed income provide for people’s basic needs, but as these pilot programs are thus far proving, they would empower individuals with the resources they need to unlock their own potential, whether it is freeing up time for socially valuable work (caregiving, volunteering, etc.) or investing in their own creative or commercial ventures.

What are your thoughts?

 

America’s Novice Approach to World Affairs

Although the United States remains the world’s sole superpower, this preeminent status is beginning to count for a lot less than it used to, as other nations — rivals and allies alike — begin to quickly catch up.

Our recent (though far from unprecedented) embrace of nationalism and populism is only hastening this relative decline, as Mark R. Kennedy argues in Foreign Policy. In a globalized world, even the greatest powers still need friends and allies, and our increasingly blustering attitude towards the rest of the world risks weakening the foreign ties on which we depend for economic and national security. Continue reading

My Thoughts on Bucking the Paris Agreement

For what it is worth, it seems to me that most opposition to the Paris Agreement is predicated on mere ignorance to its contents and a visceral, categorical rejection of anything multilateral or international in nature, regardless of the details and benefits. (And given the considerable support for it by a broad range of stakeholders – from national security figures to big corporations, including major energy companies – the usual argument that such policies are inherently anti-business, or favor only idealistic environmentalists, simply do not wash.) It is anti-globalism for anti-globalism’s sake.

If folks actually read the Agreement – which most people had never heard of or had forgotten about until recently – they would find that it is explicitly nonbinding and hands-off with regards to how nations can go about mitigating climate change. In fact, it stipulates “nationally determined contributions” whereby every nation individually sets their own goals and how to reach them, whether through the free market, government programs, etc. Unlike its predecessors, the Paris Agreement furthermore places emphasis on “bottom up” solutions that favor working with private sector and civil society groups, something that opponents ostensibly favor. Ironically, these provisions were included in part to win over skeptics like the U.S. who criticized the binding nature of prior agreements such as the Kyoto Protocols.

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How Households Worldwide Spend Money

Citing data from Eurostat, a research arm of European Union, The Economist has an interesting chart showing how households in some of the world’s largest economies differ in their spending habits.

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As The Economist points out, the results say as much about the socioeconomic status of these countries as they do their culture and values:

Russians splash 8% of their money on booze and cigarettes—far more than most rich countries—while fun-loving Australians spend a tenth of theirs on recreation, and bookish South Koreans splurge more than most on education. Some of the differences are accounted for by economics. Richer places like America and Australia, where household expenditure is around $30,000 per person, will tend to spend a smaller share of their costs on food than Mexico and Russia, where average spending is around $6,000. And politics plays a part too. Predominantly private health care in America eats up over a fifth of each household’s budget, whereas the European Union, where public health care is common, only spends 4% on it. In Russia, government-subsidised housing and heating make living cheaper, and this means money is left over for the finer things in life.

For a partial breakdown of how individual E.U. member states fare, here is a similar chart (note the research was pre-Brexit):

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Again, the results speak to both socioeconomic disparities and cultural preferences:

In Malta, an island nation of 450,000 south of Italy, almost 20% of household expenditure goes on restaurants or hotels. In Lithuania that figure is 2.9%. Relative to much of the EU, Lithuania is a poor country with a per capita household expenditure of €7,500 ($8,500), half the EU average. Thus its people spend a larger share of their budget on food and clothing than any other EU country. Somewhat predictably the Dutch splurge most on recreation, while Greeks spend the least (a trait that pre-dates the financial crisis)—the money they save could perhaps be spent on more sensible endeavours like transport, or paying-off debt.

You can see the full dataset with all E.U. countries here.

What are your thoughts?

Why “Mom” Sounds the Same in Most Major Languages

In almost every language on Earth, no matter how distantly related, the word for mother is more or less a variation of “ma” or “mama”; this is one of the few instances of a word being near-universal across distinct cultures.

It is hypothesized that this is because these are some of the earliest sounds that infants make, and thus every culture associated them with the mother. Russian linguist Roman Jakobson proposed that infants make these sounds nasally while nursing.

Read more about this fascinating phenomenon at The Atlantic

If Only We Listened to De Gaulle

In 1934, Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces and the French Resistance during the Second World War, wrote Vers l’Armée de Métier (Toward a Professional Army), which formulated how France should organize its military. It was ahead of its time in advocating for a professional army based on mobile armored divisions, namely mechanized infantry and tanks. Not only did he propose this as a way to keep Germany in check, but he saw it as a means of enforcing international law.

Unfortunately for France and its allies, the book did extremely poorly in its home country: only 700 copies were sold. However, it sold ten times as many copies in neighboring Germany, where even Adolf Hitler himself reportedly studied it. Sure enough, Germany employed a very similar approach to du Galle’s, with its panzer units and mobile infantry sweeping through the country in the invasion of France in 1940.

At the time, de Gaulle, who had served with distinction in the First World War, remained a colonel, due to his bold views antagonizing France’s conservative military leaders. He nonetheless implemented many of his theories and tactics as commander of a tank regiment, and during an offensive against German armor at Montcornet on May 17th, he managed to temporarily turn back enemy forces without the benefit of air support. While this ultimately proved inconsequential in slowing the invasion, it was one of the few victories France enjoyed prior to its rapid capitulation just one month later.

Whereas French collaborators and traitors would blame French society for the fall of the country, de Gaulle – who refused to surrender and extolled his countrymen to continue fighting – took the reverse stance, blaming French military and civilian leaders while believing the French people had the courage and moral stamina to keep resisting. Given the sheer size and strategic value of the French Resistance, as recognized by Allied leaders like Eisenhower, his point was validated. If only his prescient book and ideas had been heeded, or at the very least he be placed in the higher ranking he earned. World War Two may have gone very differently, if at all.

H/T to  Jean Lacouture‘s DeGaulle: The Rebel 1890-1944 (Vol. 1)

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Why the Religious Should Value Secular Governance

Polls have consistently shown that the vast majority of Americans and clergy across different faiths, denominations, and political persuasions favor restricting political activity by churches and nonprofits (notwithstanding the existing workarounds they already use anyway).

That is because these institutions are already exempt from taxes and most reporting requirements, meaning they would be at risk of becoming channels for dark money into politics. Most people of faith do not want their churches corrupted by politics. This was a major impetus for separation of church and state being enshrined from the very beginning of American history, mostly by and with support from devout people. Continue reading

An Ode to South Korea

One has to appreciate and admire the courage and perseverance of the people of South Korea, who in the span of four decades transformed one of the world’s poorest and most authoritarian nations into one of its wealthiest and most democratic (indeed, by some measures, its growth and development was record breaking in human history).

The country’s capital, Seoul, is not only one of the largest and richest cities in the world, but it is located just 35 miles away from the demilitarized zone bordering North Korea. More than half of all South Koreans live within firing range of a hostile neighbor (although there are credible doubts about the North’s military capabilities in this regard). Yet the vast majority of them go about their day-to-day lives like people in any other city.

A vibrant culture, widespread material prosperity, low crime, a lively civil society, and an effective and stable democratic system are all difficult enough to achieve in so little time, let alone in the face of an existential threat next door. South Korea is hardly a paradise of course, but given the circumstances, it had every reason to remain an oppressive dictatorship under the pretense of security. It truly is a remarkable country and worthy U.S. ally.