David L. Martin

in praise of science and technology

Archive for the month “March, 2018”

Freedom, Freedom, Freedom

In conservative circles, there is a lot of talk about freedom.  Freedom, freedom, freedom.  America is the land of freedom.  Not like those “socialist” European countries.  No sir.  We are REALLY free, and the rest of the world envies us our freedom.


In a previous post, I discussed the libertarian Cato Institute’s freedom indices, including their Economic Freedom Index and their Human Freedom Index.  America ranks 16th on their Economic Freedom Index.  And 23rd on their Human Freedom Index, behind 18 European countries.  The reason is that Cato ranks America 28th on personal freedom.  Qatar actually ranks higher than America on their Economic Freedom Index.  But it ranks 147th on their Human Freedom Index.  Ouch.  3 of the 5 Scandinavian countries rank in the top 10, and 4 of the 5 rank ahead of America.

There is another think tank that ranks countries, the Social Progress Imperative.  It generates a Social Progress Index, based on many factors – nutrition, medical care, sanitation, access to electricity, crime, education, access to information, environmental quality, personal freedom, tolerance, inclusiveness, the list goes on.  What it doesn’t look at is economic prosperity.  America ranks 18th on the Social Progress Index, behind 13 European countries.

So what is the relationship between the SPI and economic prosperity?  Let’s plot the index versus GDP per capita:


Clearly, there is a strong correlation.  Poor countries rank poorly on social progress.  Wealthy countries rank highly.  But notice that the relationship is not linear.  As social progress improves, economic prosperity improves at an even faster rate.   The green and yellow dots are European countries.  The yellow dots are the Scandinavian countries. Norway’s SPI is double that of Ethiopia.  But Norway’s per capita GDP is 35 TIMES that of Ethiopia.  The red dot is America.

As I said, America ranks 18th on the SPI, behind 13 European countries.  On access to advanced education though, it ranks number 1!  So why does it lag behind 17 other countries on social progress?

Well again, you might think America ranks highly on measures of freedom.  A subindex of the SPI is opportunity.  Opportunity includes such things as personal rights, personal freedom, choice, and inclusion.  America ranks 17th on personal rights.  All 5 of the Scandinavian countries are ranked in the top 10, 4 of them in the top 5.


How about personal freedom and choice?  These include freedom with regard to life choices, freedom of religion, access to contraception, and perceptions of government corruption.  America ranks 19th.  Again, all 5 of the Scandinavian countries are in the top 10, 4 of them in the top 5.

And then there is tolerance and inclusion.  This includes tolerance for immigrants, tolerance for homosexuals, freedom from discrimination, religious tolerance.  On this, America ranks 22nd, behind ALL of western Europe.  4 of the 5 Scandinavian countries are in the top 10.  Tolerance and inclusion turns out to have a pretty strong positive correlation with prosperity, quite independent of other social factors:


There is yet another organization that ranks countries, the Economist Intelligence Unit.  It produces a Democracy Index for each country.  The Democracy Index correlates well with Cato’s Human Freedom Index:

democracyindexversushumanfreedomindex And like the Social Progress Index, the Democracy Index is correlated with GDP per capita:


America (the red dot) ranks 21st on the Democracy Index, behind 14 European countries (the green and yellow dots).  It is now considered a “flawed democracy” by the Economist Intelligence Unit, as opposed to a “full democracy” – like all 5 of the Scandinavian countries (the yellow dots).

And there is yet another organization that rates countries on freedom, World Concern.  It is a Christian world relief and development organization.  It maintains the web site worldaudit.org.  America’s press freedom rank is 20 and its corruption rank is 13.  Its democracy rank is 35.  This places it behind 23 European countries.  All of the top 4 countries are Scandinavian (Iceland is not ranked).


So let’s summarize, shall we?  The “land of the free” ranks 23rd on the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index.  4 of the 5 “socialist” Scandinavian countries rank ahead of it.  The “land of the free” ranks 18th on the Social Progress Index.  The 5 Scandinavian countries are all in the top 10.  The Social Progress Imperative ranks the “land of the free” 17th on personal rights.  The 5 “socialist” Scandinavian countries are all in the top 10.  The SPI ranks the “land of the free” 19th in personal freedom and choice.  The 5 “socialist” Scandinavian countries are all in the top 10.  The SPI ranks the “land of the free” 22nd on tolerance and inclusion.  4 of the 5 “socialist” Scandinavian countries are in the top 10.  The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks the “land of the free” 21st on its Democracy Index, and now considers it a “flawed democracy.”  The 5 “socialist” Scandinavian countries are in the top 10.  World Concern ranks the “land of the free” 35th on democracy.  4 of those “socialist” Scandinavian countries are in the top 5.

What’s more, the “land of the free” is losing ground on some of these freedom indicators.  In 2 years, it has dropped from 20th to 23rd position on the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index.  In the same 2 years, it has dropped from 16th to 18th position on the Social Progress Index.  And since 2006 it has dropped from 17th to 21st position on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, losing its status as a “full democracy.”


And just for good measure, there is Freedom House, which is supported by the U.S. government itself, and which rates countries on a scale from 1 to 7 on political rights and civil liberties.  For the past 5 years, it has given all 5 of the Scandinavian countries a rating of 1 on both.  It has done the same for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and many other countries.  And until 2017, it did the same for America.  Now America gets a rating of 2 on political rights.  Freedom House specifically cited violations of ethical standards and lack of transparency in Trump’s administration.


Government corruption is a very good predictor of country-by-country prosperity.  Countries with transparent governments that operate for the benefit of the people tend to be prosperous and free.  Countries with corrupt governments that operate for the benefit of a few tend to be poor and autocratic.  America won’t continue down this path.  Dramatic change is inevitable.

We’re number 19! We’re number 19! We’re number….

The Sustainable Solutions Network has come out with its 2018 World Happiness Report.  Finland has moved from 5th place to 1st place.  Scandinavian countries continue to occupy 4 of the top 5 positions.  America has dropped from 14th place in 2017 to 19th place this year, and is now behind 11 European countries, including Ireland, Germany, and Belgium.


The bright red line above is America.  Russia, by the way, has dropped from 49th place to 59th.  China has also lost some ground, moving from 79th place to 86th.

But I’m sure those poor souls in those “socialist” Scandinavian countries will wake up any day now and realize that they’re actually miserable.

Not Just Deep, But Broad

In my very first post on this blog, I stated that education is the answer to all of the world’s problems.  It’s a strong statement.  But I still think so.  Not, however, education of a select few.  There is a persistent and dangerous mythos in America concerning education, science, and economic development.  We tend to focus on the achievements of a few people – people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford.  We tend to overlook that there is a scientific COMMUNITY that pushes science forward, that there are thousands of engineers who translate science into technology, that there are millions of Americans whose knowledge is essential in bringing that technology to consumers.


When Americans think of the Space Age, they think of famous astronauts like John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.  But any astronaut will be quick to tell you that the development of space travel involved the combined efforts of thousands of people – scientists, engineers, technicians, seamstresses, the list goes on.  Yes, visionaries like Wernher von Braun were important.  But without large numbers of educated people, the dream doesn’t become reality.  It’s really the same with science and technology in general.  They rely on an enormous pool of people to provide the creative and intellectual force, what some people call human capital.  This is what is responsible for the enormous wealth generated in knowledge societies.

Virtually every country on earth has some highly educated people.  Pakistan for example.  Pakistan ranks 101st in the world in per capita GDP.  It ranks 113th on the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index.  Yet Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad is internationally renowned.  Some of its most famous alumni, such as Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, former Vice President of the World Bank, are women.  Gender discrimination in education is virtually non-existent among wealthy Pakistani households.  Yet overall, only 18% of Pakistani women have received 10 years or more of schooling.  Pakistan has nuclear weapons.  Yet the country ranks 93rd on the Knowledge Index.



In country after country in the third world, the story is the same.  A few people are highly educated and financially well off.  But the education system has little breadth.  The result is poor human development.  A stagnant economy.  A poor health system.  Lots of poverty.  If we plot the country by country Knowledge Index versus the per capita GDP, we get a striking correlation:


The green and yellow dots are European countries.  The yellow dots are the 5 Scandinavian countries.  The red dot is America.  With few exceptions, the Knowledge Index is highly correlated with economic prosperity.  Not a single country with a Knowledge Index less than 4 has a per capita GDP of more than 20,000 per year.  Not a single country with a Knowledge Index more than 8 has a per capita GDP of less than 20,000 per year.  The country with the highest Knowledge Index is Sweden.  The country with the worst Knowledge Index is Rwanda.  The per capita GDP of Sweden is more than 25 TIMES that of Rwanda.  And Pakistan?  Its Knowledge Index is 2.18, to Sweden’s 9.63.  The per capita GDP of Sweden is almost 10 times that of Pakistan.

Notice that the relationship above is not linear.  It suggests that, as education becomes ever deeper and broader, per capita GDP will grow EXPONENTIALLY.  This is probably because mass education leads to rapidly increasing technology, which is real source of a country’s wealth.  GDP per capita is a commonly-used measure of WORKER PRODUCTIVITY.  By this measure, the average worker in Sweden is more than 25 times as productive as the average worker in Rwanda.  Of course, this is not because the Swede works 25 times as hard.  On the contrary, as I have previously pointed out, countries with higher productivity tend to have shorter work weeks.  It’s because technology is what drives production.  The well-educated Swedish population provides the human capital for technological advancement, and reaps the benefits thereof.

A broader indicator of human well-being by country is the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, which takes into account income, education, and longevity.  If we plot the country by country Knowledge Index versus the IHDI, we get this even more striking correlation:


Education that is both deep and broad yields unmistakable results for human well-being.  When a country has a broad pool of creative, educated minds with which to build technology and support systems, it thrives, by most any measure.  This isn’t an exclusively “western” thing.  Japan and South Korea rank higher on the Knowledge Index than Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.  Education of the masses works.  Everywhere.

What is it that holds some countries back?  Why is it that Sweden and Denmark rank so highly in education, while Greece and Poland rank much lower?  Why do Japan and South Korea rank so highly, while Thailand and the Philippines rank much lower?  A lot of it is religious fundamentalism.  It doesn’t much matter what the particular religion is.  In Greece it’s the Orthodox Church.  In Poland it’s fundamentalist Catholicism.  In the Philippines, the same.  In Thailand it’s fundamentalist Theravada Buddhism.  Fundamentalist religions all have something in common – anti-intellectualism.  Education is seen as a threat to their religious dogmas.

In 2009, the Gallup organization asked people around the world a simple question:  “Is religion important in your daily life?”  If we plot the percentage of people who answered “yes” by country, in relation to the World Bank’s Knowledge Index, we get this:


Although there is some spread, the basic pattern is very clear.  There is a definite negative correlation between religiosity and the Knowledge Index.  Not a single country in which more than 80% answered “yes” to the question “Is religion important in your daily life?” has a Knowledge Index greater than 7, and most of them are well below 5.

Within America, we see similar patterns.  States that have high levels of religiosity tend to lag in education.  I have discussed this in a previous post, but I will copy one of the graphs here, a plot of educational attainment by state in relation to the percentage who report that religion is somewhat or very important in their lives:


The southern states, in red, tend to have poor levels of education and high levels of religiosity.  The northeastern states, in blue, tend to have higher levels of education and low levels of religiosity.  It’s remarkable, in a way, that Vermont, where less than 60% report that religion is important in their lives, is in the same country as Mississippi, where about 90% report this.  It isn’t religion per se that’s important.  It’s RELIGIOSITY, which is very much tied to fundamentalism.  Fundamentalists across the globe tend to be poorly educated, because religious fundamentalism of every stripe contains dogmas that are threatened by educated minds.

But as you can see, these correlations are far from perfect.  There are other factors.  America has a high Knowledge Index overall, but also high levels of religiosity, compared to most wealthy countries.  American women are well educated, yet America ranks poorly in female empowerment, and is behind much of Europe on the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index.  America has a much weaker safety net than most wealthy countries.  Universal health care, good retirement systems, and strong worker rights are the norm in advanced countries.  But not in America.  As I have explained previously, when people feel anxious, because they know the safety net is weak, they tend to be more religious, even apocalyptic in their thinking.


There is also the fact that in America, the line between political ideology and religion has become quite blurred.  Fundamentalist Protestant churches spend as much time waging the culture war as concerning themselves with religious doctrine.  In fact, many of these churches have a vaguely Protestant structure and doctrine but are actually non-denominational.  Doctrinal details matter much less than cultural rallying points such as abortion, homosexuality, guns, and so-called “free enterprise.”  Somber services and sedate hymn singing are substituted with modern music and entertaining spectacle.  The result is a curious blend of modern consumerism with fundamentalist notions about gender roles and economic conservatism.

Religious fundamentalism is merely a symptom of something deeper.  That something is authoritarianism.  Authoritarian leaders usually use tradition to rally support, knowing that it’s relatively easy to unify people behind traditions that are already popular.  This tends to maintain the authoritarian system.  Often religious fundamentalism is one expression of this, but not always.  ANTI-religion can play the same role, as it does in countries like North Korea and Vietnam.  The fundamental philosophy at work is obedience to authority, and intolerance for dissent.


Emancipative values are the antidote.  The values of justice, equality, and tolerance.  They demand open criticism of the system, any system, because any system worth having can stand up to brutal, relentless criticism.  American authoritarianism is increasingly divorced from reality, and will not sustain itself in the face of this criticism.  Education IS changing America, and the world, for the better.

Welzel’s Freedom Rising


Christian Welzel is a German political scientist.  For years he has studied the issue of human empowerment, and in 2013 he published Freedom Rising:  Human Empowerment and the Quest for Emancipation.  It is a fascinating examination of the forces behind democratization around the world.


Before human beings created cities, there were only small groups of nomadic people, with very little division of labor.  But starting in the Middle East about 6000 years ago, humanity found a way to produce large surpluses of food.  With this came permanent cities and division of labor.  And importantly, rulers.  For thousands of years, human societies were autocratic, usually hierarchical.  The vast majority of people lived in poverty and oppression.

The scientific revolution and the Enlightenment began to change that.  It started in Europe, blossomed in America, and began to spread across the globe.  Dictatorship reared its ugly head in the 20th century, but after the defeat of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, democratization continued to expand.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, democratization really took off.  Since 1970, the number of democratic countries has tripled, while the number of autocracies has dropped by almost 80%.


Welzel has examined these trends in great detail, along with the factors that have contributed to them.  He argues that the reason human empowerment blossomed so early in western Europe is that a particular pattern of feudalism came about there – contractual feudalism.  This in turn was made possible by the cool climate, steady rainfall, and fertile soil.  These things enabled individual families to farm sizable areas of land.  By contrast, in places like the Middle East, the Ganges River floodplain in India and Bangladesh, and the Yellow River floodplain in China (which supported dense human populations for thousands of years), there is either too little rainfall for much of the year, or too much exposure to tropical diseases, or both.  The result is twofold:  1) People are too concerned with basic survival to spend much time worrying about human rights; 2) The water resource for farming comes primarily from irrigation systems rather than rainfall and can therefore be monopolized by the powerful.  The point here is that in western Europe, overlords could not control access to water, and basic survival was not such an insurmountable task.  Overlords were compelled to have contractual relationships with peasants, which gave the latter certain rights, however limited.  This was the seed waiting to be germinated by the Enlightenment.

In any case, the rise of modernism, the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution began to move human societies away from basic survival and authoritarianism toward democracy, first in North America and Europe, and soon across the globe.  Industrialization greatly increased the odds of survival.  But industrialization alone is no guarantee of a full democracy.  The building of a KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY is a key step.  Without broad education, the society stagnates.  Often such societies are anocracies – less dictatorial than autocracies, but not really democracies.  Examples include Romania, El Salvador, and the Philippines.  They are industrial countries, but not knowledge societies.  Knowledge societies include Germany, Canada, and Japan.  And of course America.


As Welzel points out, a knowledge society is one in which education is BROAD.  It is not enough to have a few highly educated people.  Advanced societies feed themselves from the creative and intellectual input of wide segments of their populations.  The World Bank produces a knowledge index for each country, based on both the depth and breadth of education.  Welzel divides economies into 3 categories based on this index:

  • Traditional economy – knowledge index below 3.3
  • Industrial economy – knowledge index 3.3 – 6.6
  • Knowledge economy – knowledge index above 6.6

Countries like Ethiopia, Laos, and Yemen have traditional economies.  They are not yet industrial countries and education of the masses is quite poor.  Countries like El Salvador, Romania, and the Philippines have industrial economies.  Basic survival is more likely but broad education is lacking.  Countries like Canada, Denmark, and Japan have knowledge economies.  Education is broad and emancipative values are strong.  4 of the top 5 countries are Scandinavian.


Education is what gives people the confidence and the tools to fight oppression.  It increases tolerance of cultural differences and decreases tolerance of discrimination and exploitation.  It is with education that emancipative values achieve their full force.  Interestingly, in societies with strong emancipative values, people tend to be very critical of their own societies.  The result is a constant pressure to do better.  One of Welzel’s most striking results is that in countries where emancipative values are weakest (such as China and Jordan), people tend to greatly overestimate their own freedom.  In countries where emancipative values are very strong (such as Denmark and America), people’s actual rights tend to be considerably BETTER than they believe them to be.  It’s a kind of positive feedback – the more rights you actually have, the more likely you are believe that things are worse than they really are.  So you push hard to improve the democracy.  The more oppressed you are, the more likely you are to believe that things are not so bad, rights-wise.  So you don’t push as hard for freedom.

The World Bank’s knowledge index is based on 3 major factors:

  • Education and human resources
  • The innovation system
  • Information and communication technology

In other words, it isn’t enough for a few people in the country to be brilliant.  There has to be an effective system to disseminate knowledge.  Education must be both deep AND broad.  If we plot the country by country Knowledge Index versus the Heritage Foundation’s government integrity rating, we get this:


The green and yellow dots are European countries.  The yellow dots are the 5 Scandinavian countries.  In countries where education is both deep and broad, the public watches its government like a hawk, and government integrity ratings are high.  In countries without good mass education, government corruption is often rampant.  Notice that the relationship is not linear – as mass education improves, government integrity improves at an even faster rate.  Nor is it a matter of east versus west.  Japan ranks higher than most of Europe in both its Knowledge Index and its government integrity rating.  As I have previously shown, government integrity is easily the most important factor in determining a country’s economic freedom, as measured by the Heritage Foundation.

Another striking thing Welzel found is that within societies, different groups of people tend to have different “scores” on emancipative values.  This pattern is remarkably consistent across the world.  High-income people, for example, tend to rate more highly on emancipative values than low-income people.  This is just as true in Iraq and Zimbabwe as it is in Sweden and Denmark.  White-collar workers tend to rate more highly on emancipative values than blue-collar workers.  There are virtually no exceptions across the world.  Younger people tend to rate more highly on emancipative values than older people.  There is not a single exception to this anywhere in the world.  Women tend to rate more highly than men.  College-educated people tend to rate more highly than those without college.  There are virtually no exceptions.  And interestingly, urbanites tend to rate more highly than rural people.  Again, this is true in Sweden, Denmark, and Canada.  It is equally true in Iraq, Venezuela, and Turkey.


Essentially, older, poorly-educated, less wealthy, rural men tend to place less emphasis on emancipative values than younger, well-educated, prosperous, urban women.  This is a pattern seen around the world.  The difference in emancipative values between men and women is not as pronounced as that involving these other groupings.  Education seems to be a much stronger factor.  Naively, we might think that impoverished, poorly educated people would have a stronger yearning for freedom than wealthy, well-educated people.  But the opposite seems to be true.  Poor people want material wealth, of course.  But that is not the same thing as valuing justice, equality, and tolerance.  In order to value freedom, first you have to feel secure in the basics of life.


When we look at the desire for “democracy” in many countries that rank poorly on freedom, we find that upon closer examination much of this desire turns out to be little more than a longing for bread, order, and obedience to authority.  Welzel distinguishes between different notions of democracy:

  • The liberal notion – equal freedoms of the people
  • The social notion – redistributive justice
  • The populist notion – delivery of “bread and butter” and “law and order”
  • The authoritarian notion – a powerful military and strong religious institutions

His point is that the word democracy is thrown around all over the world, and can mean very different things to different people.  It is the liberal notion of democracy, of equality, that really matters, when we talk of emancipative values.  Most people, regardless of where they live, answer in the affirmative if you ask them whether they desire democracy.  But in countries that rank poorly on freedom, many people’s notion of “democracy” may well be obedience to authority, an orderly society, and plenty to eat.


There’s a great line in the Frank Capra movie State of the Union, in which presidential candidate Grant Matthews tells his audience, “Because when people are cold and hungry and scared, they gather together in panicky herds, ready to be led by communists and fascists, who promise them bread for freedom, and deliver neither.”  Even the desire for bread and butter and law and order is poorly met in those countries where democratic institutions are weak.  Prosperity, longevity, and security come from democracy, from the values of justice, equality, and tolerance, not order, not authority, not oppression.

The Civic Form of Modern Individualism

In a previous post, I discussed the research of political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, on cultural variation across the globe in relation to human well-being.  One of their conclusions has to do with what they call “emancipative values” – the values of lifestyle liberty, gender equality, personal autonomy, and the voice of the people.  These values create what they called “the civic form of modern individualism.”


Why individualism?  Why not collectivism?  Naively, we might think that a collectivist mindset would encourage empathy, tolerance, and cooperation.  But it doesn’t seem to work that way.  It is individualism that leads to democracy.  Resolving this paradox teaches us a lot, I think, about human beings as social beings.

From the time human beings first created cities, there were those who desired power over the masses.  And as long as the world was not highly interconnected, dictators did well.  They did well for the same reason that a highly centralized, well-organized, hierarchical military will inevitably defeat a poorly organized one.  For the same reason that predators tend to have bigger brains than prey.  Cities, city-states, or tribes that were not highly cohesive, that did not function as units, would sooner or later be conquered by those that were.  A society that operates as a unit has a huge military advantage over one that doesn’t.


The history of the world has been, overwhelmingly, a history of military conquests.  Warring city-states, the rise and fall of empires, the conquest of hunter/gatherer and agrarian societies by European powers.  As mobility improved over the centuries, larger and larger empires were created.  But the seeds of their own destruction had already been planted.  Those seeds were the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment, the rise of individualism.  All of these things conspired to improve education, distribute wealth, and shrink the earth.  As technology improved, particularly the technology of transportation and communication, the fall of empires was inevitable.

The world became increasingly interconnected.  As it did, the advantage of centralized control, of dictatorship, faded.  The reason is that dictatorship and conquest can only succeed when there is a “them” to conquer.  When the world is highly interconnected, there is no “them.”  Everyone is “us.”  And then there is the fact that weapons become so powerful that both sides suffer enormously, regardless of who wins.


We are still in the process of transitioning away from dictatorship and authoritarianism, to full democracy.  But we can already see the basic cultural shift that moves societies in a democratic direction.  It is the shift from authoritarianism, in which most people submit to the will of the group, to individualism, in which most people value self-determination.  It is quite apparent that this shift produces greater prosperity, better health, and greater happiness.

The reason America rapidly grew from a virtual wilderness to a technological powerhouse is individualism.  It is the same reason why science has produced such wonders in only 5 centuries, after 50 centuries of virtual stagnation under religious dictatorships.  Individual creativity and exploration.  Tolerance for new ideas.  A willingness to go wherever the evidence leads.  Authoritarianism values group cohesion for its own sake.  Authoritarian leaders create cults of personality and arbitrary customs, merely to give the masses something to rally around.  The society is indeed quite cohesive.  Everyone is dutifully obedient.  And the result is stagnation.


It might seem strange that individualism would lead to a desire for equality, and a tolerance of differences.  Naively, we might think that individualism would lead to selfishness.  And if human beings were pretty isolated from each other, it might.  But in an interconnected world, individualism translates into the values of justice, equality, and tolerance.  Collectivism, by contrast, invariably morphs into authoritarianism and stagnation.

The solution to the paradox comes in realizing that it’s selfish either way.  Authoritarianism is submission to the will of the group, in the selfish expectation that the group will defeat other groups.  Individualism is valuing individual freedom, equality, and tolerance, in the selfish hope that this will improve life for everyone, including oneself.  In a highly interconnected world, the most selfish thing you can do is cooperate.


One of the episodes of the old Star Trek series is called “The Empath.”  Powerful aliens create conditions for Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to display their own capacities for self-sacrifice.  But they also create conditions for them to display their will to survive.  The purpose is to transmit those qualities to an empath – to see if she can internalize both of these qualities.  The survival of her race is at stake.  They consider both qualities to be important, if a race is worthy of survival.  Not blind obedience in the face of death, like lemmings rushing toward a cliff.  Not simple-minded selfishness either, making sure you take more than you give.  Rather, a conscious, thoughtful CHOICE – an understanding that life is not zero-sum, that cooperation and self-sacrifice create a path to a better life for everyone.

As I said, we are still in the process of transition.  There are those who want to cling to the past.  And there are those who use this to try to gain power over them.  But the trajectory of history is unmistakable.  There are those who argue that some societies just won’t change.  They ignore the trajectory of history.  They forget the incredible resistance to change that kept non-white, non-male, non-Protestants marginalized for much of America’s own history.  How did democracy ever arise from dictatorship?  How did tolerance ever arise from intolerance?  How did individualism ever arise from authoritarianism?


The Center for Systemic Peace is a research organization based in Virginia.  It publishes painstaking studies on political conditions, past and present, for every country on earth.  It has developed a scale, from -10 to 10, to describe the political condition of each country.  A country with a score of -10 to -6 is considered an autocracy (China for example).  A country with a score of -5 to 5 is considered an anocracy – a mixed system that is somewhere between an autocracy and a democracy (Russia is a current example).  And one with a score of at least 6 is considered a democracy.   In 1700, there wasn’t a single democracy on planet earth.  By 1800, there was 1.  By 1900, more than 10.  By 1950, more than 20.  Today, there are more than 90 democratic countries on this planet.  None of them are perfect.  But the trend is unmistakable.


Individualism and its offspring, justice, equality, and tolerance, have proven themselves as drivers of prosperity, health, and happiness.  The civic form of modern individualism is self-correcting, just as science is self-correcting.  It may well be that there will always be a minority who favor authoritarianism, who are vulnerable to manipulative power-mongers.  But the days of the autocrats are numbered.

Just a Short List of Industries That Employ More Americans Than Steel and Aluminum Production Combined

Steel production in America employs about 255,000 workers.  Aluminum production, about 61,000 workers.  Combining these 2, we get about 316,000 jobs – about 0.2% of the American workforce.  (The combined workforce for all metals production and fabricated metals processing, including the manufacture of nuts, bolts, boilers, shipping containers, and so on, is about 1.6 million – about 1 out of 100 American workers.)  And by the way, the steel and aluminum production industries are about 85% male and about 82% white.

Here is a list of some industries that employ more American workers than the combined workforce of these 2 industries:

Steel and aluminum production – 316,000 jobs

Crop production – 1.2 million jobs

Machinery manufacturing – 1.2 million jobs

Computer and electronic components manufacturing – 1.1 million jobs

Motor vehicle manufacturing – 1.4 million jobs

Aircraft manufacturing – 753,000 jobs

Furniture manufacturing – 467,000 jobs

Medical equipment manufacturing – 596,000 jobs

Food manufacturing – 1.8 million jobs

Textiles manufacturing – 640,000 jobs

Paper manufacturing and printing – 901,000 jobs

Chemicals manufacturing – 1.3 million jobs

Plastics and rubber manufacturing – 529,000 jobs

Grocery wholesalers – 878,000 jobs

Automobile dealers – 1.7 million jobs

Automotive parts retail – 497,000 jobs

Furniture retail – 551,000 jobs

Grocery retail – 2.8 million jobs

Building materials retail – 1.8 million jobs

Clothing retail – 988,000 jobs

Department and discount stores – 2.1 million jobs

Air transportation – 595,000 jobs

Truck transportation – 2 million jobs

Utilities – 1.3 million jobs

Computer systems design – 3.1 million jobs

Landscaping services – 1.4 million jobs

Elementary and secondary schools – 9 million jobs

Colleges and universities – 3.8 million jobs

Hospitals – 7 million jobs

Home health care services – 1.5 million jobs

Child day care services – 1.6 million jobs

Arts, entertainment, and recreation  – 3.3 million jobs

Traveler accommodation – 1.3 million jobs

Food services and drinking places – 9.4 million jobs

Car washes – 1.2 million jobs

Beauty salons – 1 million jobs

Public administration – 7.1 million jobs

This is by no means a comprehensive list.  Just some examples.

Female Empowerment and Human Development, Revisited

In a previous post, I discussed the gender gap, and where we stand on gender parity within America and around the world.  In the most recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, America ranks 49th in its Gender Gap Score.  What’s more, in 2006, when the WEF published its first report, America ranked 23rd.  Meanwhile, France has moved from 70th place to jump far ahead of America and is now in 11th place.  America is now behind 22 European countries in its Gender Gap Score.


But as I pointed out, this is not because American women are poorly educated.  In fact, America is second to none in its education of women, and is ahead of most of Europe in educational gender parity.  The main reason America has lost its standing has to do with political empowerment.  While other countries have moved ahead, some briskly, in placing women in positions of power, America has made little progress.  The WEF produces a political empowerment (for women) score for each country.  On THIS score, AMERICA RANKS 96th, having fallen from the rank of 66th in 2006.  It ranks below Mexico and Nicaragua.  It ranks below Venezuela and Cuba.  It ranks below Kenya and Zimbabwe.  It ranks below India and Bangladesh.  It ranks below China and South Korea.

Why?  Why does America rank so low in female empowerment?  Well, the WEF breaks down empowerment into 3 criteria:  1) women in parliament (or other national legislature) in relation to men; 2) women in ministerial positions in relation to men; 3) number of the last 50 years with a female head of state.  Obviously, America gets a zero on this last item.  But that’s not fatal in and of itself – Sweden has also never had a female head of state, yet ranks 5th in the world in its Gender Gap Score.  It’s the other 2 items that really hurt us.  America ranks 85th on women in parliament and 84th on women in ministerial positions.  And Sweden?  It ranks 6th on women in parliament and ties for NUMBER 1 on women in ministerial positions – with more women than men in these positions of power!


Why are there so few American women in top positions of power?  And conversely, why are there so MANY European women in those positions?  Well first of all, it’s important to realize that huge numbers of America women are out of the work force, or have only part-time jobs.  America ranks 57th in labor force participation by women.  Sweden ranks 12th.  America’s female labor participation rate is only 66%, to Sweden’s 80%.  How many politicians do you know, male or female, who run for office describing their qualifications as “I did housework and shopped”?  It stands to reason that people vote for candidates with job experience, especially managerial experience.  But a third of American women have little or none.


Second of all, there is religion, particularly a certain variety of religion, that is pervasive in America, and much less so in Europe, particularly western Europe.  Political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel have developed a cultural map of the world, based on 2 major cultural dimensions:  1) traditional/authoritarian values versus secular/rational values; 2) survival values versus self-expression values.  When it comes to the first dimension, America is quite different from western Europe.  Western European countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Germany emphasize secular/rational values, while America is more like eastern Europe (Poland and Romania for example) in its attachment to fundamentalist religion.  This has everything to do with gender roles, and consequently, female empowerment.

If we look at female labor participation rates versus the WEF’s female empowerment rating, for European countries plus America, we get this:


There is a clear relationship.  The yellow dots are the 5 Scandinavian countries.  The blue dot in the lower left is Turkey.  Only 39% of professionals and technical workers in Turkey are women.  Only 15% of the parliament consists of women, and a mere 4% of ministerial positions are held by women.  Remarkably, Turkey has had a female Prime Minister, but that was back in the 1990’s and she only served for 3 years.  99.8% of the country’s citizens are AUTOMATICALLY registered as Muslims.  All public schools have mandatory religion classes focusing on Sunni Islam.  The red dot is America, which is similar to eastern European countries like Croatia and Poland in its female labor participation rate and female empowerment rating.  It is not nearly as religious as Turkey, but much more so than most of western Europe.

But there is another element that sets America apart from much of western Europe.  America is a very young country, with a recent frontier.  The mythos surrounding this frontier is to this day deeply embedded in the American psyche.  The cowboy caricature of masculinity, with its glorification of physical prowess, is seen time and again in American culture, even in contexts that have no apparent connection to the American West.  But Europe has no memory of a recent frontier, no mythos of the rugged individual who is unmistakably male, and a particular variety of male at that.


No sooner had that frontier been settled than America quickly transitioned to an industrial powerhouse.  This history very much encouraged traditional gender roles – physical strength was valued in the steel mills and oil fields, and the good wages enabled a single breadwinner to support his family.  But the industrial revolution arrived much later in Scandinavia.  By the time it did, female empowerment was well underway.

The industrial revolution started in Great Britain in the 18th century.  But for more than a century, industrialization was slow in coming to other parts of Europe.  While America was rapidly industrializing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, much of Europe remained agrarian.  Yet this was a time of worldwide progressive reform.  Labor unions were asserting themselves.  Compulsory education was spreading like wildfire.  It is no coincidence that compulsory education was introduced early in countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Finland – the very countries that today strongly emphasize secular/rational values, and occupy top-ranking positons on gender parity and human development.


Nor is it coincidence that such countries were at the vanguard of the women’s right movements of the Progressive Era.  Women won the right to vote in Finland in 1906, 14 years before the same was achieved in America.  Yet Finland was largely an agrarian country right up until the 1930’s.  Of course, industrialization eventually arrived in Finland, as it did across Europe.  But by this time, labor unions were quite strong, the population was well educated, and women had achieved tremendous political power.  Today the country is a high-tech powerhouse with less than a 3% difference in the labor participation rate of men versus women.  More professional and technical workers are female than male.

Within Europe, the patterns are clear.  The Scandinavian countries tend to rank at the top on both gender parity and human development.  Countries that rank lower on gender parity also tend to rank lower on human development.  The Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, which does NOT take into account gender parity, is a measure of the well-being of a typical person in a given country.  Yet the IHDI is well-correlated with the WEF’s Gender Gap Index.  In all 5 of the Scandinavian countries, women won the right to vote before 1920.  By contrast, women’s suffrage had to wait until 1945 in Italy, and 1952 in Greece.  To this day, Italy and Greece lag behind Scandinavia in gender parity and human development.  Formerly communist Estonia, which achieved women’s suffrage in 1918, now ranks well ahead of Italy and Greece in both gender parity and human development.  If we plot the Gender Gap score by country versus the IHDI, looking at just Europe and America, we get this:


Again, the yellow countries are the 5 Scandinavian countries.  The red country is America.  And the country in the lower left, with the worst IHDI in Europe, is Turkey, which ranks 131st in the world in its Gender Gap Index.

The grip of Sunni Islam on Turkey is only the most extreme example of a phenomenon seen in eastern and southern Europe.  In some countries it is fundamentalist Catholicism, in others the Orthodox church.  In countries where religious fundamentalism plays an important role, traditional gender roles tend to stifle female empowerment.  Take Poland, for example, which was formerly in the grip of Soviet communism.  Yet 88% of the country is Roman Catholic.  In a survey taken in 2015, 40% of Poles reported that they were “believers following the Church’s laws.”  The female labor participation rate is only 62%.  The parliament contains only 28% women, and women occupy only 23% of ministerial positions.  Poland ranks 23rd among European countries in its IHDI.


Meanwhile, in Finland, not far to the north of Poland, a mere 8% of people describe themselves as “highly religious,” while a whopping 57% say they are either “agnostic” or “non-religious.” 42% of the Finnish parliament consists of women.  39% of ministerial positions are held by women.  And Finland has had a female head of state for about a quarter of the time over the last half-century.  Finland ranks 9th in Europe on the IHDI, and 5th in Europe (and the world) on the Sustainable Solution Network’s Happiness Index.

European countries with high IHDI values, such as Norway, Finland, Denmark, and the Netherlands, tend to have high Gender Gap Scores.  Countries with lower IHDI values, such as Turkey, Italy, and Portugal, tend to have lower Gender Gap Scores.  Female empowerment tends to produce economic wealth, better education, and improved health.  For everyone.  Countries that rank highly on both the “secular-rational” scale and the “self-expression” scale tend to be prosperous, have strong social safety nets, have lots of women in power, and rank highly on the global Happiness Index.  The Scandinavian countries are the epitome of this.


These relationships apply across the globe.  Countries that rank highly in both “traditional values” and “survival values,” such as Zimbabwe and Jordan, tend to have few women in positions of power and poor human development in general.  There are some poor countries that have good gender parity, such as Rwanda and Namibia.  But like much of the third world, these countries suffer from a weak rule of law and lots of government corruption, which keeps many people, male and female, poor and powerless.

The world as a whole is gradually moving in the direction of female empowerment, and that includes America.  But much of Europe is passing America by at the moment.  It is quite possible that we will soon see a “lurch forward” in America, as young women become strongly motivated to take political action.  But it’s sad, and in a way pathetic, to see the resistance to inevitable change that merely delays progress and elicits unnecessary weeping and gnashing of teeth.


As automation accelerates, it is very likely that jobs in manufacturing, resource extraction, and cargo transportation will continue to disappear.  The world will become more and more interconnected.  In the first world, the jobs of the future will be all about social interaction.  In other words, the traits that qualify people for most jobs in the future will likely be people skills we tend to associate with women – strong empathy, a skill at conflict resolution, plenty of emotional intelligence.  The world of the future will be all about service and interdependence.  In such a world, women have a distinct advantage.

Is the human population out of control?

Overpopulation is a familiar problem.  In 1950, the world’s population was about 2.5 billion.  In a mere 40 years it more than doubled to 5.3 billion.  Today it is up to 7.6 billion, and still rising rapidly.


What is often underappreciated is how concentrated the world’s population is.  A whopping 37% of the human population resides in just 2 countries – India and China.  There are 54 countries in Africa.  Of the 1.2 billion people in Africa, 1 out of 5 reside in just 1 country – Nigeria.  1 out of 3 live in just 3 countries – Nigeria, Egypt, and Ethiopia.  There are 12 countries in South America.  Of the 422 million people in South America, half reside in just 1 country – Brazil.


And when we look at global population GROWTH, we find that the rate of growth peaked about 50 years ago.  It is now about half of what it was then.  By mid-century it is expected to drop below 1900 levels.  In the United States, more than half of population growth is due to immigration.  In the first world generally, people just aren’t making babies as much as they used to.  In Europe, population growth has virtually stopped.  Some countries are actually in a state of population decline, and the continent of Europe is expected to see an overall population decline starting within 5 years.  When women have access to birth control and education, they tend to postpone having children.  This has an enormous effect on population growth.  The population of South America is expected to start declining within 40 years, Central America within 50 years.  Asia, where 60% of the entire human population lives today, is expected to start seeing an overall population decline within 40 years.


Since the world’s population is so concentrated in a few countries, how those countries deal with population-related issues is obviously critical.  Over the years, China has made great strides in educating its population.  This has had a huge effect.  After peaking in 1970, China’s population growth rate has steadily declined, and is now a fraction of what it was then.  Population projections suggest that China’s population will peak within a mere 15 years, at less than 1.5 billion.  After that it will begin to drop, and by the end of this century will likely be 15% lower than it is today.


India will almost certainly take longer to reach its peak, but it too is making progress.  It too has seen a sharp drop in its population growth rate since 1970.  The population peak will likely occur around 2060-2070, at between 1.6 and 1.7 billion.  After that it will slowly decline.  By the end of this century, the combined population of India and China will likely be about the same as it is today – about 2.6 billion.


Nigeria is another story, although it too has seen a decline in its population growth rate since the 1970’s.  The problem is that the decline isn’t fast enough to see a population peak for the foreseeable future.  If trends continue, the population of Nigeria will continue to rise over the course of this century, and by 2100 will be approaching 1 billion.  Remember, however, that the population of China is expected to be falling by this time.  The result for the world is this:  The world’s population is expected to be barely growing by the end of this century, likely peaking at about 10 billion some time within the next 100 years.

These projections are based on studies commissioned by the United Nations.  An independent study by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis produced somewhat different estimates.  Realizing that education, especially for girls, has improved dramatically in Nigeria in recent years, they projected that its population would not surpass 600 million, and that the world’s population would peak around the year 2070 at about 9.6 billion.

Because the human population is so concentrated, world leaders and development agencies are able to focus their efforts.  India and China are already well on their way to seeing population peaks this century, followed by declines.  Nigeria remains the big question mark.  Despite its wealth of oil and minerals, Nigeria remains a land of huge inequalities.  Of 151 countries, it ranks 131st on the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index.  Large numbers of people are poorly educated, and there remains a large gender disparity in education.  If the barriers to female education can be broken down further, it’s likely that Nigeria’s population growth rate will begin to drop steeply, just as China’s has (and India’s).  If this happens, it is entirely possible that the world’s population could peak within 30 years at about 8 billion, dropping off after that to a LOWER level by the end of the century than we have today.


Our planet already contains 7.6 billion people.  Let’s say this number reaches 10.3 billion.  Another 3 billion is a horrifying prospect to some – and it would be nice if the planet didn’t have that extra burden.  But is it really such a disaster?  Since 1990, the planet has added about 2.6 billion people – yet world poverty has DECLINED, world life expectancy has INCREASED, and the third world has gained ground economically.

In a previous post, I discussed the question of whether we might be able to provide everyone on earth with a decent standard of living.  I pointed out that since 1975, the U.S. GDP per capita has grown 80% – yet our energy consumption per capita has actually dropped.  This shows unequivocally that economic well-being does not necessitate enormous energy consumption.  At present, the global GDP per capita is about $16,000.  This is more than the GDP per capita of Lithuania – a country that is currently ranked 30th out of 151 countries on the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index.


Providing people with the basics is not so insurmountable.  New technologies will provide breakthroughs in many critical areas.  What is critical is that everyone – but women in particular – are given the opportunity to educate themselves and control their own baby-making.  We already know that this is the path to population control.  It’s already working.

All of these projections, of course, are just that.  And the truth is, technological breakthroughs in this century will probably throw all of these projections into the trash.  Medical science will almost certainly advance by leaps and bounds in the 21st century.  The secrets of human development, gene expression, and aging are being unlocked.  It is quite possible that within 50 years, human longevity will increase to more than 150 years, possibly much longer.  But such advancements will almost certainly be accompanied by advancements in baby-making, enabling people to have tremendous control over their own procreation.  Having babies at the age of 70 or even 100, not 20 or 30, might become the norm.  Children might become increasingly rare, and increasingly precious.  And it hardly needs to be said that a longer-term outlook would become the norm.


Other technological breakthroughs will be equally, if not more, revolutionary.  Those who see only limitations – the limitations of so-called “human nature,” the limitations of democratic governance, the limitations of the profit motive – utterly miss the point.  People can try to live in their comfortable ruts, with their small-minded delusions, fears, and prejudices.  But technology eventually confronts them with inescapable realities and deep questions.  There is only one constant in the universe.  That constant is change.

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