Archive for the ‘International Comparisons’ Category

Is the U.S. educational system failing?

December 11, 2019

My friend James in Texas e-mailed a link to a New York Times article on the latest results of the Program for International Assessment tests, which compare proficiency of students in 79 school systems around the world.

Overall the U.S. results didn’t seem to be that bad.  American children are in the middle of the pack of advanced nations in reading, somewhat below in math, but better overall than in the previous round of tests.  However, as the Times writer pointed out, there are disparities within the averages.

About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old, according to Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the exam.

Those students, he said, face “pretty grim prospects” on the job market.

James is an architect.  He worked as a substitute school teacher in the 1980s, taught design and algebra in community colleges in the 2000s and is now working on a certificate to teach in high school.  These are his observations from two decades.

1. Detracking – all kids dumped into same classroom, no honors or remedial grouping, no separate special ed class, teacher now must do 5 or 6 different lessons simultaneously instead of one. Advanced kids are bored and essentially teaching themselves, while slower kids are perpetually lost and have stopped even pretending to care.

2. No enforceable conduct standards – no consequences for anything, 2/3 of kids are basically feral, kids know teachers are powerless, with no administrative support, teachers given all responsibility for “classroom management” with zero actual authority, too busy being social workers and ringleaders instead of teaching.

3. Time theft – minimal lunchtime, no recess, obsessively timing every activity to the minute, weeks stolen for state testing, teachers’ weekends stolen for useless seminars and endless meetings. Kids can’t sustain attention enough to think deeply about anything, and teachers don’t have time to breathe, let alone teach.

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Where the world gets its stuff

December 9, 2019

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Most countries of the world used to get more stuff from the United States than they did from China.  But now it’s the other way around.  Now most countries buy more stuff from China.

This map, which has been making the rounds of the Internet, appeared in the Financial Times—behind a paywall, unfortunately for me, because I don’t subscribe to the FT.

Many economists think the turning point was in 2001 when China joined the World Trade Organization, which included the world’s most advanced industrial nations.

China became entitled to “most favored nation” status, which means no trade barrier against a WTO member could be higher than a barrier against any other member.

I say China’s gains had to do with the effectiveness of China’s industrial policy, and the lack of any U.S. industrial policy.

China told foreign nations that if they wish to sell goods in China, they would have to locate manufacturing facilities in China.  Furthermore they would have to share their technological know-how with Chinese partners.  Then the Chinese would take their new knowledge, improve on it, and use it o compete with their former partners.

The U.S. government, under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was content to let this happen.  American consumers benefitted from cheap imports, and stockholders in American companies shared the profits of offshoring.

Meanwhile the United States dissipated its wealth in waging pointless and inconclusive foreign wars, while China used its wealth to make itself stronger.

Unlike his predecessors, Donald Trump has correctly identified terms of trade with China as a problem.  He deserved credit for putting this issue on the table.

But his scattershot tariffs on Chinese goods do not solve the problem.  All they do is to create a market for goods from other low-wage countries.

The Chinese government successfully executed a long-range plan to build up its industrial strength, using subsidies but also building up the infrastructure and know-how of the nation as a whole.

The U.S. government has no plan.  It has been content to stand aside and allow financiers to hollow out U.S. manufacturing.  Tariffs aren’t an answer unless they are part of an overall strategy to rebuild.

The Chinese aren’t to blame for our problems.  Our leaders are to blame for our problems.  We are to blame for our leaders.

LINKS

The New China Syndrome: American business meets its new master by Barry C. Lynn for Harper’s magazine.

How Bill Clinton and American financiers armed China by Matt Stoller for BIG.

China Revolutionizes World Trade While Washington Dozes by Geoffrey Aronson for The American Conservative.

The changing balance of world population

November 27, 2019

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Double click to enlarge

I came across these two maps on the Brilliant Maps web site,  They show the changing balance of world population over the past century.

In 1900, the population of North America exceeded the population of Latin America.  Now it is the reverse.

In 1900, the population of Europe vastly exceeded the population of Africa.  Now Africans are more numerous.

The population of present-day China is only slightly less than the population of the whole world in 1900.

To get a better idea of the absolute increase, you’d need to enlarge the maps, and enlarge the bottom map a little more so that the sizes of the little squares (each one equivalent to 500,000 people) are equal in size.

The population of China has more than tripled since 1900, but the population of the United States has quadrupled and there are five times as many Canadians and Australians.  There are more than 10 times as many Mexicans, Brazilians and Nigerians as in 1900 and more than 20 times as many Ethiopians.

A nation can be populous and weak, like India and China in 1900 and Nigeria and Ethiopia today.  Nevertheless, there is a relationship between population and power in the long run.

Bertrand Russell wrote somewhere that if there is to be world peace, nations must agree to limit their populations as well as their armaments.  He had a good point, but I’m not sure such agreements are feasible.

There seems to be a universal demographic transition.  When modern medicine and agriculture reduce death by disease and famine, the death rate falls and population increases rapidly.  When living standards rise, contraception is available and women are emancipated, the birth rate falls, eventually falling below replacement rate.  Governments don’t seem to be able to affect this very much.

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More about the Brahmin left and merchant right

September 24, 2019

Democrats in the U.S., the Labor Party in Britain and left-wing parties in France no longer primarily represent the interests of wage earners, according to Thomas Piketty, the famous French economist.

Instead they represent an educated elite, which he calls the Brahmin left, while the conservative parties represent a financial elite, which he calls the merchant right.

The educated elite are not an intellectual elite.  Having advanced college degrees don’t make you an intellectual any more than owning stocks and bonds makes you an entrepreneur.

I agree that there is less conflict of interest between the educated elite and the financial elite than there is between the two elites and the majority of wage-earners.

In a typical Fortune 500 corporation, the CEO, the board of directors and the institutional stockholders would be the merchant right.

Salaried middle management, the highly-paid consultants and most especially the human resources department would be the Brahmin left.  Their income would not come from financial assets, but from their rank in an organization, for which they would qualify by means of educational credentials.

The human resources department of an organization usually determines the organizational culture.  Typically HR people are big on diversity training and being LGBTQ allies because these things do not affect the wealth of stockholders or the power of top management.

American non-profit organizations such as universities and hospitals and also government agencies are adopting a  corporate model.

This means a well-paid top-heavy administrative overhead along with lower pay, higher demands and less security for those who do actual work.   Adjunct teachers, hospital nurses and letter carriers are treated just the same as factory workers.

Just to be clear, I’m in favor of sticking up for the rights of minorities, women and other groups that are targets of prejudice.  What’s wrong is using this as cover for lower wages, longer hours, expansion of contingent work and a fight against labor unions.

Such are my observations about American institutional life.  I don’t know how true these observations are true of institutions in Britain and France, or whether they are true at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

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The rising human tide in Africa

September 7, 2019

“If the biggest global news story of the past 40 years has been China’s economic growth,” wrote demographer Paul Morland, “the biggest news story of the next 40 years will be Africa’s population growth.”

In his book, The Human Tide, Morland traced what’s called the demographic transition in society after society, from Britain and Germany to China and India.  The pattern is that societies experience surges in population when the death rate falls and life expectancy increases, but then the fertility rate levels off and then decreases.

In many parts of the world, including North America, Europe, Russia, China and Japan, the fertility rate is below 2.1 children per woman, which is the replacement rate.

In general, each successive society that underwent this transition had a bigger and more rapid surge in population than the ones that went before, but also a more sudden drop.  The latest region of the world to begin the demographic transition is sub-Saharan Africa, and that part of the world is still in the early stages of its population surge.

United Nations statistics quoted by Morland show that:

  • Of the 48 states and territories with fertility rates of 4 and above, all but seven are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Nine out of 10 countries with the highest fertility rates are in Africa.
  • Every one of the 30 countries with the lowest life expectancy are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • All but two of the 30 countries with highest infant mortality rates and the lowest median age are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The population of sub-Saharan Africa is growing more than twice as fast as the world as a whole.

Fertility rates in Africa are falling, just as in the rest of the world, and Morland is confident they will continue to fall.  But they are falling from such a high level that there will be a population surge regardless.  Population growth depends not only on how many children the average woman has, but how many women there are of child-bearing age.

My knowledge of Africa is superficial, but it is obvious that conditions in sub-Saharan Africa are bad.  Much of Africa is at risk of famine.  Africa is torn by war and ravaged by drought—which can only get worse, as global temperatures rise.  Corruption is prevalent.  Although there are bright spots and encouraging signs, most African governments still are on a spectrum from corrupt semi-democracies to dictatorships for life.

I have to say that I have a good impression of African immigrants in the USA—not only highly educated professionals from Nigeria and Kenya, but also poor refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Somalia, whom I got to know as a volunteer driver years ago for a Catholic refugee resettlement charity here in Rochester, N.Y..

Most of the refugees struck me as having great resilience, great personal dignity and a strong desire to repay the least little kindness.  Somali refugees were moved into a section of a public housing project, and the smell of Somali home cooking replaced the smell of marijuana in the hallways.  The managers were glad to have tenants who didn’t drink alcohol or take dope, play loud music late at night or get into fights in which the police had to be called.  From what I’m told, they’ve all thrived since.

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Preparing for an age of population decline

September 6, 2019

The fertility rate in virtually all countries is declining.  The fertility rate in much of the world, including North America, Europe, Russia, China and Japan, is already below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per average woman.

If this goes on, world population will peak soon after the end of the century and start declining.  Populations of a few countries are declining already.

This is good news.  All other things being equal, it means less danger of famine, less pressure on the environment and less competition for scarce resources.

Click to enlarge.

But there are problems, too.  One is decline of nations as their populations become older and smaller.  Another is a change in the world balance of power during the transition, as some nations shrink while others continue to grow.

Two Canadian writers, Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, explored these issues in a new book, EMPTY PLANET: The Shock of Global Population Decline.

The fertility rate is 1.4 in Japan and 1.1 in South Korea.  In the short term, this means an ever-larger elderly population that must be supported by an ever-smaller working age population.  I don’t think it is an accident that Japan has more robots per person than any other country.

A younger population tends to be more ambitious, innovative and warlike.  An older population tends to be more cautious and peaceful.  Older populations consume less, which is a good thing—but not for a capitalist economy, which requires growing markets.

In the long run, unless there is a change of direction, countries with low fertility rates could literally die out.  Americans and Canadians, with fertility rates of 1.8 and 1.5, have kept up national population numbers through immigration.  But the Japanese and South Koreans accept virtually no immigrants.  They see immigration as a threat to their racial and cultural purity.

In the short run, Japan and South Korea face economic decline and, in the long run, a slow fading from the world scene.  All countries whose birth rates fall below the replacement rate will face this dilemma sooner or later, the authors wrote.

Demographers have a term, “the population transition.”  It describes how countries go from having a high birth rate and high death rate to a high birth rate and low death rate (a population explosion) and end up with a low birth rate and low death rate.

This is often attributed to growing wealth, but Bricker and Ibbitson argued that the key factor is cultural change.  It is a combination of:

  • Feminism, women gaining control of reproduction and finding opportunities outside the home.
  • Urbanization, people moving to cities where, unlike on the farm, additional children are no longer an asset.
  • Modernity, people living for themselves instead of to perpetuate a family, faith or nation.

Feminism, urbanization and modernity explain how the fertility rate in Brazil, a poor country, can be 1.7,  well below the 2.1 replacement rate and below the 1.8 fertility rates of the United States and the United Kingdom.  This is good news because it means that the population transition can take place without the whole world adopting the American consumer culture.

When religion and nationalism are strong, fertility rates, all other things being equal, are likely to be high.  Loyalty to faith and nation  likely explain why the Israeli fertility rate is 3.1 and the Palestinian rate is 3.9.

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World fertility rates: international comparisons

September 5, 2019

The fertility rate is the estimated number of children an average woman of child-bearing age will bear during her lifetime.

The replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman.  That is the average rate needed for a nation to keep its population stable.

The world average is 2.4 children per woman, down from 5 per woman in 1960.

The fertility rate doesn’t necessarily predict population growth on the short run.

A nation with a large fertility rate may have little or no population growth because of a high death rate.

A nation with a low fertility rate may have a good bit of population growth if its people are living longer or if there are an unusually large number of women of child-bearing age.

But in the present age, the fertility rate is the most meaningful indicator of whether a nation’s population will grow or decline in the long run.

Worldwide, fertility rates are declining.  If this continues, world population will grow at an ever-slower rate and then decline.  But this will happen sooner—it already has happened sooner—in some nations than others.

Here are the World Bank’s estimates of fertility rates for various nations.  Click on World Bank for the full list.

Niger, 7.2

Somalia, 6.2

Mali, 6.0

Nigeria, 5.5

Iraq, 4.3

Ethiopia, 4.1

Palestine, 3.9

Kenya, 3.8

Pakistan, 3.4

Egypt, 3.2

Israel, 3.1

Uzbekistan, 2.5

WORLD AVERAGE, 2.4

South Africa, 2.4

India, 2.3

Indonesia, 2.3

Argentina, 2.3

Mexico, 2.2

REPLACEMENT RATE, 2.1

Turkey, 2.0.

France, 1.9

North Korea, 1.9

Chile, 1.8

Ireland, 1.8

New Zealand, 1.8

Russia, 1.8

United Kingdom, 1.8

United States, 1.8

Brazil, 1.7

Cuba, 1.7

Australia, 1.6

China, 1.6

Germany, 1.6

Iran, 1.6

Canada, 1.5

Hungary, 1.5

Japan, 1.4

Ukraine, 1.4

Italy, 1.3

Spain, 1.3

Hong Kong SAR, 1.1

Puerto Rico, 1.1

South Korea, 1.1

The fertility rate is calculated by extrapolating the birth rate.  Suppose that in a particular nation, there were 1 million women of child-bearing age and they gave birth to 100,000 children in a given year.  The average was 1/10th of a child per woman in a year.  If the child-bearing years are age 15 through 39, each of these 1 million women could be expected to give birth to an average of 3.5 children during her life.  Adjustments are made according to the age of the mother when the children were born.

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We got Donald Trump, they got Boris Johnson

August 7, 2019

Boris Johnson

A friend of mine thinks that Donald Trump would never have been elected President if the United States had the British parliamentary system instead of the 18th century U.S. Constitution, with its Electoral College and fixed terms of office.  Well, the British parliamentary system produced Boris Johnson.  I think we’re even.

LINK

The Ham of Fate by Fintan O’Toole for the New York Review of Books.

American exceptionalism in medical care

July 22, 2019

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I’ve often run versions of this chart on my web log.  It shows that we Americans pay more for medical care than do people of other rich countries, and yet our health is worse, and many of our citizens lack good medical year.  Yet a lot of us are afraid to change.

As a writer for The Economist said:

Republican reluctance to embrace health care, despite the president’s best efforts, is understandable.

On the one hand, America’s health-care system is woefully dysfunctional: the country spends about twice as much on health care as other rich countries but has the highest infant-mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy.  Some 30m people, including 6m non-citizens, remain uninsured.

And yet, though costs remain a major concern—out-of-pocket spending on insurance continues to rise—Americans say they are generally satisfied with their own health care. Eight in ten rate the quality of their care as “good” or “excellent”.  Few are in favour of dramatic reform.

Source: Health spending and life expectancy – The Big Picture

I think many Americans are in the same situation I am.  I have medical insurance that I can afford, providing by a company that I don’t think is going to cheat me.  I don’t know what I’d do if I had to pay my medical bills out of pocket—partly because the insurance company can negotiate lower rates than I would have to pay as an individual.

So it is natural to fear any change, and to be skeptical of anybody who promises to take away what I’ve got and replace it with something else that supposedly is just as good.

So these fears lock me into a system in which I’m at the mercy for for-profit insurance companies whose profitability is based on maximizing what they take in as premiums and minimizing what they pay back as benefits.

In the best of cases, the insurer’s need for profit is added to the medical bill.

T.R. Reid, in The Healing of Americawritten 10 years ago, said one of the reasons why American pay more for medical care and get less than people of other rich countries is the for-profit insurance system.  At the time he wrote, only Switzerland had for-profit insurance companies.

The other reason is that the other countries negotiate drug prices on a national basis, which the U.S. government is forbidden by law to do, and that medical professionals in the U.S. get more than in other countries.  I don’t have any reason to think any of these things has changed in 10 years.

The justification for the high fees of American physicians is that they have to pay off their medical school debt.  Medical education in other advanced countries is free or affordable.  If Americans ever wanted to cap physicians’ fees, we should combine that with some kind of medical debt forgiveness.

Reid said that there are three alternatives to the U.S. system: (1) the Canadian Medicare model, in which health insurance is nationalized, (2) the British National Health model, in which medical care is nationalized and (3) the system in Germany and Japan, in which non-profit organizations, accountable to patients, provide health insurance.

I don’t think it is feasible to create a patient-run cooperative insurance system for scratch, and I don’t think we Americans have the administrative capability of duplicating Britain’s National Health, even if we wanted to.

So that leaves Medicare for All as the path forward.  And it’s not Medicare for All unless we get rid of private insurance and regulate drug prices.

LINKS

Why a “Public Option” Isn’t Enough by Benjamin Studebaker and Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs. The two writers conflate Britain’s National Health with Medicare for All, which is based on the Canadian system, but otherwise an excellent article.

“Medicare for All” vs “Public Option”: the 2020 Field Is Split, Our Survey Shows by Abby Goodnough and Trip Gabriel for The New York Times.  Where the Democratic Presidential candidates stand.

A ranking of countries by civic honesty

June 28, 2019

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To gauge the honesty of people in different nations, social scientists turned in 17,003 “lost” wallets to people in charge in various public businesses and institutions in 355 cities in 40 countries around the globe, and recorded how many of the wallets were actually returned.

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One surprising result was that there was a higher rate of return with wallets containing a small amount of  money ($13.46) than of empty wallets, except in Mexico and Peru.

In three countries, the United States, the United Kingdom and Poland, they also left wallets with a larger sum ($94.15),  There was an even higher rate of return for wallets with big money than just a little money.

This is contrary to what both experts and non-experts predicted.

Researchers thought that people made an extra effort when money was involved in order to avoid thinking of themselves as thieves.

Switzerland had the highest rate of return for empty wallets and Denmark for wallets with money in them.  European countries overall, including Russia, got high marks for honesty.

China had the lowest rate of return for empty wallets and Peru for wallets with money.  I am disappointed that the United States is so far down on the list.

LINKS

Humans are surprisingly honest when it comes to returning lost wallets by Katherine J. Wu for PSB NOVA.

Civic honesty around the globe by Alain Cohn, Michel Andre Marechal, David Tannenbaum and Christian Lukas Zond for Science.

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Global warming requires global action

March 28, 2019

Click to enlarge.  Source: The Conversation

We Americans have actually done quite a bit to cut back on greenhouse gas emission, as the chart above shows.

But while we and the other North Atlantic nations have been cutting back, China and other nations have been pumping out more.

The average Chinese doesn’t add all that much to global warming, compared to the average American.  But there are so many more Chinese than Americans that China as a nation does more heat up the world more than the USA does.

Click to enlarge. Source: The Conversation.

The problem is that, for now, the economic growth of China, India and the Global South in general requires more use of coal, oil and natural gas.  If I were Chinese or Indian, I would be unwilling to give up my hope of a better material standard of living while Americans and Europeans have so much more than I do and individually leave so larger a carbon footprint than I do.

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The top 1 percent in Russia

October 6, 2017

I’ve posted many charts about the growing concentration of income and wealth in the United States in the hands of a tiny elite.   Here is a chart illustrating inequality in Russia.

You should take note about what this chart shows and doesn’t show.  The ruling elite in the old Soviet Union didn’t have large incomes, and they didn’t live like American millionaires and billionaires, but they did have special privileges, much like military officers compared to the rank and file or like American corporate executives with huge expense accounts.    They had special stories, special medical care, special schools for their children, etc.

Also, the chart indicates that relative equality isn’t everything.   I don’t think many Americans would have wanted to trade places with the average person in the old Soviet Union.

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How strong is North Korea?

September 11, 2017

North Korea has the world’s fourth largest army.   It has nearly 1.2 million troops under arms, slightly less than the USA and behind India and China.

South Korea has about 655,000 active duty troops, more than Britain, France and Germany combined.  A war between North and South Korea would be catastrophic, even if the USA, China and Russia were not involved.

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Some observers claim that South Korea is the stronger of the two, because, they say, North Korean troops are malnourished and South Korean troops are better trained and have better equipment.   I wouldn’t know.

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How the U.S. lags peer nations in health care 2

June 11, 2017

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I came across a 2015 study by The Commonwealth Fund that shows the Americans spend more on health care, use more medical technology and take more prescription drugs than citizens of most peer nations, but aren’t necessarily more healthy.

We’re not the worst in this respect, but we’re far from the best.

The charts above and below tell the story.   I doubt things have changed much since 2013.

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Rich people’s countries, poor people’s countries

February 28, 2017
government-and-gdp-capita-ad92

Double click to enlarge.

This map shows national output (GDP) per person in different nations.   The leaders seem to be financial centers (Luxembourg, Switzerland, Singapore) and oil and gas producers (Qatar, Brunei, United Arab Emirates and maybe Norway).

The USA is both a financial and energy-producing center, ranking eighth behind those seven nations, but way ahead of Russia and China.

While China’s overall economy is thought to be larger than the American economy, that doesn’t mean that the average Chinese person is rich.

Of course GDP per person is not the whole story, either.  How the average person does depends on how wealth is distributed.  What the GDP figure shows is how potentially well off the individual person is.

LINK

Which Government System is the Best for People’s Wealth? on howmuch.

Who are willing to fight for their countries?

February 24, 2017
The darker the red, the greater the willingness to die for one's country

The darker the red, the greater the willingness to fight.

Only 44 percent of adult Americans are willing to tell pollsters they’d fight for their country.

The percentage is even less for some U.S. allies, such as Canada (30%), France (29%), the United Kingdom (27%), Italy (30%), Germany (18%) and Japan (11%).

In contrast, 71 percent of Chinese and 59 percent of Russians say they’d fight for their countries.

This is the result of a public opinion poll of more than 1,000 people in each of 64 countries in late 2014 by WIN / Gallup International.   The complete results are below.

I’m not sure what to make of this.  I think it partly depends on people mean by “fight for country”.

I think almost all Americans would be willing to fight to defend our nation from an invader.  I think only a minority are willing to go to some foreign country to fight to increase U.S. geopolitical power.

The problem for us Americans is that someday U.S. power will begin to slip, and countries that now fear to go against the United States will become our enemies.

When that backlash comes, our nation will need the patriotism that our leaders now exploit and abuse.

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Nations of immigrants and the future

May 17, 2016

migrantsinternationalcomparionsimage_thumb69

Hat tip to Jim Rose.

I’ve always thought of the United States as a nation particularly welcoming to immigrants, but the chart shows many other nations have proportionately larger immigrant populations than the USA.

I’m less surprised at the high ranking of Australia, New Zealand and Canada as at nations such as Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Ireland, which I’ve always thought of as ethnically and culturally homogeneous.

I’d be interested in the figures for Argentina, Brazil and other Latin American countries.

[Update 2016/5/19.  I came across an interesting interactive graphic, Origins and Destinations of the World’s Migrants, 1990-2015, from Pew Research Center that answers my question.  Also, I forgot about peoplemovin- A visualization of migrant flows, an interactive graphic to which I linked previously.]

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What is killing middle-aged white men? Despair

November 4, 2015

imrs

We take it for granted that, in scientifically advanced countries, the death rate will decline.  But since 1999, there has been a dramatic increase in the death rate among non-Hispanic American white men aged 45 to 54, especially those without education beyond high school.

No such increase occurs among middle-aged white people in other countries or among other American ethnic groups.  Although the death rate for African-Americans is higher, it is not increasing, and, as the chart shows, the death rate for middle-aged Hispanic Americans (USH) is decreasing.

A Princeton University study indicates that the main reasons for the increased death rate are an increase in alcohol-related disease (liver disease), in drug overdoses (heroin and opioids) and in suicide—all diseases associated with depression and despair.

[Note added 11/13/2015: Some experts say the increase is primarily among middle-aged white women.]

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Darwin’s theory and American exceptionalism

January 20, 2015

20150119_differnt_0Source: Calamities of Nature via Zero Hedge.

As this chart shows, we Americans are less likely to believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution than the people of any European nation.

Oddly, though, we are more likely to believe in social Darwinism (although we don’t call it that)—the idea the law of life is survival of the fittest, and society does not exist so that people can cooperate for mutually beneficial ends, but so that the population can be sorted into winners and losers.

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China leads the world in executions

October 21, 2014

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Source: The Independent

Last year China executed more people, by far, than the rest of the world combined.

Live long and prosper? A world map

October 14, 2014
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How long you’re likely to live depends to a large extent on where you’re born.  Somebody born in Japan can expect nearly five more years of life than somebody born in the USA, and 32 more years of life than somebody born in the African nation of Chad.

Click on Global Life Expectancy for detailed maps and comparisons by region, courtesy of Global Post.  Notice that South Africa has the second lowest life expectancy on the African continent.  Is this because the benefits of South Africa’s advanced 20th century economy never trickled down from the whites to the black majority?  Or is it because South Africa’s post-apartheid leaders denied the reality of the AIDS epidemic?  Or something else?

The education of America’s rich and poor

October 11, 2014

 Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, took note on his blog of the education gap between rich and poor.

  • The United States, among the 65 nations participating in the Program for International Student Achievement, has one of the largest gaps in achievement between children of the rich and children of the poor.  This wealth gap in educational achievement has been growing while the gap between white and black Americans has been shrinking.
  • The United States, among the 34 nations that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has one of the largest gaps between spending on schools attended by children of the rich and schools attended by children of the poor.

He quoted Eduardo Porter, who wrote about unequal education in the New York Times.

“The debate about education reform is a lot about process,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, an advocacy group for disadvantaged students. “To a large extent it is a huge distraction. We never get to the question of what resources we need to get the students to meet the standards.”

The United States is one of few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children usually have more educational resources than those serving poor students, according to research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  Among the 34 O.E.C.D. nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.

Andreas Schleicher, who runs the O.E.C.D.’s international educational assessments, put it to me this way: “The bottom line is that the vast majority of O.E.C.D. countries either invest equally into every student or disproportionately more into disadvantaged students. The U.S. is one of the few countries doing the opposite.”

The inequity of education finance in the United States is a feature of the system, not a bug, stemming from its great degree of decentralization and its reliance on local property taxes.

via NYTimes.com.

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The young nations and the aging nations

October 7, 2014
world baby boom

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I think the leveling off of population growth is a good thing.  There is a limit to how many people the earth can support.  I don’t claim to know what that limit is, but it will be passed at some point unless population growth is leveling off.

demographic transitionThe good news is that this is starting to happen.  The problem is that it is not happening in every nation at once.

Some nations have low birth rates and an aging population that is growing in relation to the working-age population.  Other nations have high birth rates and a young population who can’t all find jobs.

Should there be more immigration from the growing young nations to the static older nations?

What happens to the world balance of power when the population of some nations is static and the population of others grows?  If present trends continue, India will have a larger population than China.  Mexico could become a more populous nation than the USA.  What then?

Bertrand Russell years ago wrote that in order to achieve world peace, nations needed to limit their populations as well as limit their armies and armaments.  Is that possible?

Demographers say that a nation’s population growth starts to level off when women are emancipated enough to be able to decide whether or not to have children, and when a nation reaches a level of prosperity such that parents think their security in old age is better with a few well-educated and well-off children than with many poor children.

I hope this comes true for the whole world.  Expressing this hope is as close as I can come to answering the questions I asked.

What do you think?

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Protests in perspective

October 6, 2014
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Source: The Economist (via Naked Capitalism)

The difference between average and typical

July 23, 2014

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Here is a case study in statistics—showing why what is statistically average is not necessarily typical.

If all the wealth in the United States were divided equally, every American household would have $301,000.  But only a minority of Americans have that much net worth.  The more meaningful measure is the median, the point that divides the wealthiest half of Americans from the poorest half.  That midpoint is $45,000, a much lower figure.

Some of the reasons middle class Americans have less than their counterparts in other advanced countries is that we have greater debt and less equity in our homes, and also have to pay more for higher education and medical care, which reduces the ability to save.

For details, click on Middle class Americans: Not so rich as we think by Tami Luhby for CNN Money.