A Few Recommended Readings:

1. Electrifying India, With the Sun and Small Loans – Micro-lending and pay-as-you-go plans create a pathway for those without electricity in rural India the opportunity to gain access to a clean, renewable energy source.

“The idea behind Selco, and other companies like it, is to create a business model that will help some of the 1.2 billion people in the world who don’t have electricity to leapfrog the coal-dependent grid straight to renewable energy sources.”

2. Where Is All the World’s Money Going? – A new Oxfam International study provides further evidence that wealth inequality continues to grow globally.

“To build an economy that distributes its wealth more evenly, the researchers suggest creating a stronger system of taxation that prevents trillions of dollars from being pulled out of circulation via offshore accounts and allows companies to reduce their tax liabilities via loopholes. The report also suggests that politics needs to change, diminishing the power that companies exercise through tools like lobbying and patents, which can decrease competition and raise prices.”

Also, while we’re on the subject, you can learn more about what caused the rise of wealth inequality and policy solutions via economists  Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty (see TED Talk below).

3. The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare – Among the most terrifying pieces of journalism I’ve encountered in recent memory, focusing on the dangerous results of unregulated substances and improper, unethical chemical waste management.

The story began in 1951, when DuPont started purchasing PFOA (which the company refers to as C8) from 3M for use in the manufacturing of Teflon. 3M invented PFOA just four years earlier; it was used to keep coatings like Teflon from clumping during production. Though PFOA was not classified by the government as a hazardous substance, 3M sent DuPont recommendations on how to dispose of it. It was to be incinerated or sent to chemical-waste facilities. DuPont’s own instructions specified that it was not to be flushed into surface water or sewers. But over the decades that followed, DuPont pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds of PFOA powder through the outfall pipes of the Parkersburg facility into the Ohio River. The company dumped 7,100 tons of PFOA-laced sludge into ‘‘digestion ponds’’: open, unlined pits on the Washington Works property, from which the chemical could seep straight into the ground. PFOA entered the local water table, which supplied drinking water to the communities of Parkersburg, Vienna, Little Hocking and Lubeck — more than 100,000 people in all.”

A Few Recommended Readings:

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1. The Global Goals for Sustainable Development – This weekend world leaders from across the globe will convene in NYC to commit to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development aiming to end extreme poverty, fight inequality, and tackle climate change. A variety of organizations, nonprofits and NGOs are working alongside the UN to inform the world population of these targets. As stated by Project Everyone: “The more famous these global goals are, and the more widely they are understood by everyone, the more politicians will take them seriously, finance them properly, refer to them frequently and make them work.” Educate yourself on what the global goals are and what you can do personally to assist in accomplishing these necessary and ambitious goals by 2030.

2. The Rise of the Nudge – Governments are investing in research teams that use behavioral economics and psychology to create ‘nudges’ to meet certain policy goals. As highlighted in this WSJ article, this science based approach can be used to fight poverty and test ways to help the poor find economic security. Unfortunately, this isn’t always how these data-driven teams are being utilized. A recent article from Aid Thoughts found that a Behavioral Insights Team has been tasked in the UK to figure out how to get illegal migrants to return to their native land voluntarily. Perhaps the team can test the effectiveness of Hungary’s wall?

3. This Cartoon Succinctly Explains the Background to the Syrian Conflict – Some background to help people understand how and why the situation in Syria developed as it has. Heed the warning and be prepared: Syria won’t be (and isn’t) the only country to suffer under the stresses wrought by climate change and political instability. Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 9.10.50 PM

A Few Recommended Readings:

1. Home-Brewed Morphine is Around the Corner – Scientists have discovered a way to create a genetically modified yeast that brews morphine, thus allowing patients in developing countries that normally do without due to strict regulations by governments and drug lords to have access to pain relievers. Of course, this scientific breakthrough is not without potential consequences.

2. A Choice for Recovering Addicts: Relapse or Homelessness – This investigative report by The New York Times examines the rise of three quarter houses in NYC.

“Opportunistic businessmen like Mr. Baumblit have rushed to open new homes, turning them into vehicles for fleecing the government, an investigation by The New York Times found. The target is easy: vulnerable residents whose rents and treatments are paid for with taxpayer money.

Yet three-quarter homes are tolerated and even tacitly encouraged, pointing to a systemic failure by government agencies and institutions responsible for helping addicts and the poor.”

3. Anti-Homeless Spikes  – For The Guardian, writer Alex Andreou explores the rise in use and impacts of defensive architecture. “From ubiquitous protrusions on window ledges to bus-shelter seats that pivot forward, from water sprinklers and loud muzak to hard tubular rests, from metal park benches with solid dividers to forests of pointed cement bollards under bridges, urban spaces are aggressively rejecting soft, human bodies.”

Poverty = Hunger?

Generally, when people discuss poverty, hunger enters the conversation–it’s natural to think that if people are poor they are likely struggling to adequately meet their nutritional needs. However, through research and experiments, what scientists and economists have found is that most people, even the extremely poor, can afford to purchase enough calories to live and be productive. If this is the case, why are there still people who aren’t getting enough to eat? The answer, of course, is complex and multifaceted.

In their text Poor Economics, Abhijit Banergee and Esther Duflo examine how foreign aid policy has failed due to deep misunderstandings about poverty, and call for more careful planning and greater reliance on scientific evidence to steer policy decisions aimed at eradicating poverty. A portion of Poor Economics focuses on dis/proving the nutrition-based poverty trap, the idea that “there exists a critical level of nutrition, above or below which dynamic forces push people either further down into poverty and hunger or further up into better-paying jobs and higher-calorie diets.” They turned to places like India, where in 2004 only 2% of people surveyed stated they did not have enough to eat (that’s down from 17% in 1983), the Philippines, China and Morocco to research, among other objectives, the effects of food subsidies and determine how much of a person’s income is spent on food. Their research turned up some startling results.

“…if calories are the main driver of poverty, then we should expect people to spend every extra cent on the cheapest calories. What we see instead is people opting to consume tastier, more expensive food when they get the chance.” –Poor Economics

In the Philippines, a person can consume 2,400 calories a day for 21 cents PPP, but they would be limited to consuming mainly bananas and eggs. Despite this available access to calories, the poor tend not to purchase the quality food that would benefit them calorically and food aid programs generally emphasize quantity over quality.

While in Morocco, Esther and her research partners found that in some of the very poor villages they visited, people had cell phones, televisions, and even DVD players, but survived off of a very modest diet (leaving some unable to work due to insufficient calories). Any extra income people had tended not to go towards obtaining better quality, calorie rich food; instead, extra income was saved for small luxuries or, if food was acquired, better tasting food, not food that was actually better for a person to improve their work capacity. Though it may be obvious that the benefits of a nutritious diet are significant, for some, the need to momentarily escape the doldrums of poverty through entertainment outweighs the need for a nutrition upgrade.

Of the research shared in Poor Economics, what I found most fascinating was an experiment conducted in China seeking to analyze the impact of food subsidies on food purchasing decisions. This experiment was conducted by two economists, Robert Jensen and Nolan Miller, who were in search of an ever-elusive Giffen good–a good that people consume more of as the price increases, thus violating the Law of Demand.

Jensen and Miller found that rice (and wheat, though I’ll only address the former for the sake of brevity) in China fit the parameters for a Giffen good and decided to test their hypothesis by providing a random selection of families in the southern province of Hunan a six-month subsidy for rice. They collected data on family purchases during the subsidy period and afterward. In the end, the results found that when rice was subsidized, families actually bought less of it and instead used the extra income to purchase more expensive foods, mainly purchasing more meat and shrimp. These families were actually consuming less calories when their food was subsidized. When the subsidy period was over and the price of rice increased, families purchased more rice and thus violated the Law of Demand, proving rice to indeed be in this instance a Giffen good.

The important point this particular example illustrates is that food subsidies and food aid policy don’t always have the intended or expected outcome and can, in fact, result in the populations most in need making decisions that are counterproductive. Current food aid policy requires some rethinking. Not only is there a ton of money, and food, being wasted in the way food aid is currently being handled, but it’s also not as effective as other means of helping those in poverty. Esther Duflo cites two different programs with promising results–in Colombia school lunches are being sprinkled with micronutrient packets and deworming programs at schools in Kenya are not only improving the health condition of children, but also helping to improve their future income by keeping children in school for longer.

I’ll leave you with this:

“If we don’t know whether aid is doing any good, we are not any better than the medieval doctors and their leeches.” -Esther Duflo

A few recommended readings for your weekend

1. Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty – “The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches.”

Last year I taught at a school in Nashville, Tennessee in which 99% of students were eligible for free and reduced lunch. Though it’s crucial to hold all students to high academic and behavioral expectations, it’s a near impossible challenge for students to learn when their concerned about their basic needs and too often experiencing great emotional trauma from the impacts of poverty on their lives. Even in developed nations such as the U.S., there’s still much to be done in regards to working towards sustainable development and equality.

2. Is a Climate Disaster Inevitable? –  An op-ed with an eye on the universe focused on the importance of studying sustainability: “Depending on initial conditions and choices made by the species (such as the mode of energy harvesting), some trajectories will lead to an unrecoverable sustainability crisis and eventual population collapse. Others, however, may lead to long-lived, sustainable civilizations.”

3. Entrepreneur Changes Life in Uganda by Turning Waste Into Fuel – Sanga Moses was tired of seeing the forests in his village disappear and children lose the opportunity of education because they needed to go farther and farther away in search of wood to burn for their family’s fuel. He developed an eco-friendly solution, recycling sugar cane and coffee waste to create charcoal briquettes.

4. The Ethics of the ‘Singularity’ – A brief piece on the possibilities in our future of super-intelligence and a need to consider the ethics of such a situation.


Things I’ve Learned:

Roughly 1 in 7 people on the planet live in extreme poverty.

Proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day, 1990 and 2010 (Percentage)
Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report 2014.

Bar Chart

Though it’s a staggering, sad figure to consider that 1.2 billion individuals live in extreme poverty in our world today, it’s worth noting that overall the number of individuals living in extreme poverty continues to decrease (and the same can be said for the child mortality rate and HIV incidence rate).

Last year, Bill Gates made the prediction that “by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.” There are many in the world, most notably the 24-hour media machine, that weigh in on dooms-day models of our future, painting a grim picture of our current state of affairs: great despair, terror, and violence experienced around the globe. There’s the myth* that people are starving around the world as a direct result of overpopulation; “the fact is, incomes and other measures of human welfare are rising almost everywhere, including in Africa.” Media can distort our understanding of the world through its reporting and our own constant consumption of it. It’s vital to, however challenging, remain objective. Thought it may not seem like it, we are living in a more peaceful, better educated, greater developed, healthier and wealthier world than all those that came before us. Remain optimistic and ever-vigilant in working towards equality all, I suppose that’s fundamentally what I’m getting at.

I’ll leave you with this:

“By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful.”

-Bill Gates

*There are starving people around the globe, no doubt, but those facing extreme hunger are not suffering due to there being too many people on our planet consuming a too small supply of food. That is a common and convenient myth for those in the developed world. The fact is that people are starving due to income inequality, effects of climate change and lack of infrastructure especially in poor countries, and waste (just to name a few). Our supply of food is abundant, in fact,  in America, 30% of the food grown is wasted. We can, most certainly, do better.