Americans Don’t Know Global Poverty Has Declined

Americans are missing out on one of the greatest stories in the history of mankind:

According to a recent Barna Group survey…more than eight in 10 Americans (84%) are unaware global poverty has  [decreased by more than half in the past 30 years]. More than two-thirds (67%) say they thought global poverty was on the rise over the past three decades.

Similarly, while both child deaths and deaths caused by HIV/AIDS have decreased worldwide, many Americans wrongly think these numbers are on the rise: 50% of US adults believe child deaths have increased since 1990, and 35% believe deaths from HIV/AIDS have increased in the past five years.

Despite the very real good news, more than two-thirds of US adults (68%) say they do not believe it’s possible to end extreme global poverty within the next 25 years. Sadly, concern about extreme global poverty—defined in this study as the estimated 1.4 billion people in countries outside the US who do not have access to clean water, enough food, sufficient clothing and shelter, or basic medicine like antibiotics—has declined from 21% in 2011 to 16% in 2013.

It turns out that practicing Christians are more likely to believe it’s possible to end extreme global poverty in the next 25 years: “Practicing Christians under 40 are the most optimistic at nearly half (48%), with practicing Christians over 40 slightly higher than the general population (37%) compared to 32% of all adults).” But people are hesitant to give more for reasons ranging from belief in the inevitability of poverty’s existence to distrust in corrupt foreign governments.

Check out the full article.

The Inequality Illusion?

Economists Wojciech Kopczuk and Allison Schrager have a Foreign Affairs article with the eye-catching title “The Inequality Illusion.” The two argue that “imposing a tax on wealth is a terrible way to promote equality. It actually benefits the super wealthy the most.” They continue:

What is not widely understood is that the growth in income inequality [in the U.S.] has been driven almost entirely by earned income, that is, what people are paid for their work rather than what they earn on their investments. 

Wealth inequality refers to the stock of people’s assets. It represents the accumulation of saved income and returns on investments over the years. Some wealth inequality is inevitable, even desirable, because wealth represents a lifetime of saving and not just luck or opportunity. Extreme income inequality can beget extreme wealth inequality because people with a lot of income, if they save, can amass large fortunes and pass them on to their children. But over time, such wealth can also dissipate as people leave it to multiple children, get married and divorced, develop expensive lifestyles, contribute to charities, or make poor investment decisions. Whereas income inequality has clearly worsened, the recent evidence about wealth inequality is much less convincing.

After reviewing a number of sources, they declare, “Taken together, then, the economic evidence points to increased earnings inequality but to a much more benign picture of changes in wealth inequality. Increasing inequality has been driven by income earners not necessarily by the entrenched wealth holders.”

Given the recent controversy over errors in Thomas Piketty’s data (errors that may or may not undermine his argument), the above article is quite timely.

Check it out.

The Slow Hunch: Gratitude and Grace at Work

Gratitude and grace are subjects I’ve written on before, but I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly connected it with work. My latest post at The Slow Hunch does just this. It was disheartening to learn (based on a survey by the John Templeton Foundation) that work is the place at which people are least likely to express or feel gratitude. But business organizations are human institutions and thus have the potential to be islands of human meaning and progress. There is plenty to be grateful for in one’s employment. Expressing it not only benefits individuals, but the organization as a whole.

Check out the post to see how.

Mike Rowe On Political Partisanship

2014-05-26 Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe is best known as the host of the Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs, but I’ve noticed he’s been writing about politics more and more these days, and I like what he has to say. Here’s a story he shared, along with the photo above, on Facebook recently.

[Bob Reidel: “Mike – Saw you hangin with Bill Maher. I had no idea you were a liberal. Really blew me away. Love everything you do but now that I know who you really are, I won’t be tuning in to watch anything your involved with.”]

Well, hi there, Bob. How’s it going? Since your comment is not the only one of its kind, I thought I’d take a moment to address it.

Bill Maher is opinionated, polarizing and controversial. I get it. So is Bill O’Reilly, which is probably why I heard the same comments after I did his show. (“How could you Mike? How could you?”)

Truth is, every time I go on Fox, my liberal friends squeal. And every time I show up on MSNBC, my conservative pals whine. Not because they disagree with my position – everyone agrees that closing the skills gap is something that needs to happen. No, these days, people get bent simply if I appear on shows they don’t like, or sit too close to people they don’t care for.

What’s up with that? Is our country so divided that my mere proximity to the “other side” prompts otherwise sensible adults to scoop up their marbles and go home?

Back in 2008, I wrote an open letter to President Obama, offering to help him promote those 3 million “shovel-ready” jobs he promised to create during his campaign. (I suspected they might be a tough sell, given our country’s current relationship with the shovel.) Within hours, hundreds of conservatives accused me of “engaging with a socialist,” and threatened to stop watching Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe if I didn’t come to my senses.

When I made the same offer to Mitt Romney (who actually responded), thousands of liberals chastised me for “engaging with a greedy capitalist,” and threatened to stop watching Dirty Jobs if I didn’t take it back.

You may ask, “But what did these people think about the issue at hand?” Who knows? They were too busy being outraged by my proximity to the devil. (Poor Ed Shultz at MSNBC nearly burst into tears. “You were on the wrong stage, Mike! The wrong stage!! With the wrong candidate!!!”)


Here’s the thing, Bob – Profoundly Disconnected ( is not a PR campaign for Mike Rowe. It’s a PR campaign for skilled labor and alternative education. PR campaigns need … that’s right, PR, and if I limit my appearances to those shows that I personally watch, hosted only by those personalities with whom I personally agree, I might as well start a church and preach to the choir.

Point is, I didn’t go on Real Time to endorse BM, and I didn’t go on The Factor to endorse BO. I went on because millions of people watch those shows. I approached our liberal president for the same reason. Likewise, his conservative opponent. And I showed up on Sesame Street with the same agenda that I took to Congress.

Closing the skills gap is bigger than you or me or any particular venue, and Real Time gave me an opportunity to reach 5 million people. I’m grateful for that, and I’ll do it again if they want me back.

As for Bill Maher off-camera, you’ll be pleased to know that the guy was a perfect gentleman. His staff is excellent, and his after-party included an open bar with a spread I’ve never seen in such a setting. Bill took the time to hang out with his guests and their friends after the show, chatting about this and that for over an hour, and taking pictures with anyone who wanted one. Trust me, that’s rare.

Yes, he’s outrageous, inflammatory, and to many, a jagged little pill. But he’s also gracious, generous, engaging, and taller than he appears on TV.

Which, frankly, surprised me.

The world could use a few more guys and gals like Mike Rowe.

The Future is Now: Solar Freakin’ Roadways!

2014-05-23 Solar Roadways

This is without doubt the most exciting kickstarter-style project I have ever in my life seen. The concept is simple, but the results are far-reaching and profound. Ready for the concept? Here it is: build all of our roads out of interlocking hexagonal solar panels. Hey look, there’s a video!

So there’s a little more to it than that, obviously. First: yes, the panels are strong enough for use as roadways. Second: they generate a lot of power. The estimate in the video is that they could generate 3x our entire national energy usage. Third: they are more than just solar panels. They also include heating elements to keep roadways clear during winter, LED panels for safety (and fun, when used on playgrounds or driveways, etc.), and come with conduits designed to allow buried power and telecommunications cable on one hand, and handle water run-off on the other.

One thing the video doesn’t mention, that it should, is the possibility of using these roadways to make self-driving cars infinitely easier and safer. The historical debate for self-driving cars has always been smart roads vs. smart cars. Smart roads are a lot easier in terms of technology, but require vast investment. But if we’re replacing all our roads anyway, then there’s no reason not to network them and make the network available to your smart car. Then you’d get an exact, real-time map of all the roads that would take some of the strain off of smart cars. (They would still need to be smart, but now you’ve got redundancy and have made their job easier.)

Obviously there are concerns. The issue of cost is not fully addressed. Neither is the issue of maintenance. There are a lot caveats and exceptions to consider, such as handling bridges and tunnels. Some parts are just not necessarily going to work that well. Replacing pained lane-markers with LEDs sounds awesome… but will they be readily visible in the middle of the day? And generating 3x the required power supply is great… except that it’s all generated during the day. The same issue that has always plagued solar power still applies: storage. Then there are the political considerations. Are global power suppliers (everything from nuclear to fossil fuels to other alternatives) going to just twiddle their thumbs while their market literally disappears? And generating enough power for all our cars to run off of the electricity from the roadways is great, but we’d actually need to all transition to electric cars first, which means phasing out hundreds of millions of cars currently in existence.

AND YET! And yet this idea, over the long run, feels like it has the potential to really change our world in a fundamental way for the better. It’s the kind of technological advance that I can see people taking for granted in the future, never realizing how much immeasurably better everyone’s lives have become by something that would be taken for granted not long after being implemented precisely because of how much everyone would depend on it every day. For me, it seems like it would be up there with, I don’t know, running water or electricity, or the interstate highway system. The kinds of things we don’t really appreciate, even though they define our modern world.

Maybe the current iteration of the tech doesn’t address all these problems, but I can’t help but feel that we’re close. And that this would be the kind of massive public project that I would love, love to support even as a conservative. Go support the IndieGoGo campaign now!

EDIT: The campaign has 8 days left. They  have raised over $400,000, but their goal is $1,000,000. The money will be used for moving from prototype to production, primarily by hiring additional engineers. I think it’s a worthy cause, but I’d like to know more about the short-term business model. Seems like selling to early-adopters who want to use the material to pave their driveways would be awesome, then moving up to commercial installations as parking lots to improve / prove the technology works. Replacing our national roadway system seems like the final phase, not the next step.

Oldest Siblings, Birthday Cakes, and Bumbleberry Pie

Growing up as the oldest sibling in a big family means a life of accommodation. I suspect that if you ask any oldest sibling what they’d like even when they are grown, they will probably reply by asking (even if not with these words): What would be easiest for everyone involved in this situation? Then that’s what I’d like.

Ironically, the inability to pick what you want without first knowing how that decision will effect everyone else can be frustrating all by itself. Yesterday, when my wife asked me what cake I wanted for my birthday, she got quite annoyed when she realized that I was actually trying to figure out what cake she had already planned on baking me so that I could state that that was the cake that I wanted. I can see how that would be annoying, but it’s unintentional. At this point it’s pure habit.

Anyway, once my cover was blown I had to try and decide what cake was actually my favorite. And I really had no idea. My family has two theories about my favorite cake. There are those who think I like the German chocolate cake best and those who think I like the family version of Better Than Sunday cake best. Don’t get me wrong, these are both excellent confections. Neither one of these will lead to any disappointment on my part! But were they really my favorite? I had no idea. Even asking the question–without reference to what other people think or expect–was distinctly uncomfortable for me.

Then, out of nowhere, the answer hit me. The cake that I wanted for my birthday was… pie. Specifically: bumbleberry pie. I first had bumbleberry pie at the Navy Federal Credit Union employee cafeteria just last year, so it’s not like I’ve been missing out on my favorite for years. Any other year, it probably would have been a toss up between German chocolate and BTS. (And if you notice that I’m working hard to make sure no one feels hurt by this post, you’re not wrong. But it’s still true!)

In any case, Ro decided she loved me despite being exasperated with my inability to answer simple questions, so she ditched her plans to make me a German chocolate cake and ordered me bumbleberry pie. It’s been in our fridge since yesterday. Every time I open the fridge door to get something I see the box. And I smile. I don’t know which I’ve been enjoying more: the prospect of delicious bumbleberry pie or the ability to actually pick my favorite of something.

P.S. Bumbleberry pie is an inexact term for mixed-berry pie, usually (according to Wikipedia) featuring apple and rhubarb. For me, the best kinds is strawberry, rhubarb, and blackberry. As long as there’s rhubarb in it, however, I’m pretty happy.

Looking for Racism on the Right: A Case Study

2014-05-23 Townson U

There’s a story percolating through the right wing blogosphere right now about the victory of Townson U in a national debate contest “by repeating N-word and babbling nonsense.” The fact that the winning team consists of two black females is never mentioned explicitly, but race is obviously a part of this story. The (unspoken) gist of it appears to be something like: black students who are not actually competent at debate got an award because of political correctness. To back that up, the blog posts feature transcripts and YouTube videos of the debate, like this one.

That video contrasts the two young ladies in a news story, where they speak articulately and calmly, with clips of their emotional and quite frankly weird speech during the debate. It’s an ugly video because of what it implies instead of having the courage to say. The cuts are obviously designed to undermine what the young ladies say to the reporter with seemingly contradictory excerpts from their debate performance. For example, the reporter asks, “Once you know the topic, what’s next?” One of the women replies, “Well, you do a lot of research.” And then there’s an immediate cut to the debate right at the point where one of the speakers is stuttering heavily. Race is never mentioned, but the point is clear.

Now, I approached this story without any special inside info. I’ve never debated competitively, nor have I ever seen a competitive debate. But I decided to do the one thing that the conservative bloggers apparently decided to skip. Research.

I started with two hypotheses that might explain the apparent contradiction between assumptions about what a national championship debate team might sound like and the jarring YouTube footage. Either this was in some sense an “urban” form of debate or, more likely, the timing rules of competitive debate forced competitors to adopt really strange, unnatural speech patterns. It’s not hard at all for me to imagine, for example, that competitors are judged purely based on the content of their argument and not so much their delivery and/or that the expectations for content delivery are much different in a competitive setting.

I started with the first one because while it seemed less likely, it would be easy to check. Is the Cross Examination Debate Association a minority-focused group? No, it is not.Founded in 1971, it is “the largest intercollegiate policy debate association in the United States.”

So I went to my second hypothesis and decided the simplest thing to do would be to check on the winners from last year. If I got a video of some white competitors using roughly the same kind of speech, I’d kill two birds with one stone. Clearly, if last year’s competitors were white, there wouldn’t be some kind of obvious minority-preference and secondly, if this is how the teams from last year sounded then it would strongly indicate that what we’re hearing has nothing to do with race and is just the way competitive debate works. I searched YouTube and, on the first try, hit the jackpot. Here’s a video called: “More CEDA 2013 Debate Highlights.” A couple of things to note before you watch it:

  1. It features two teams consisting of three white women and one white man.
  2. It represents the “highlights,” so ostensibly this is what competitive debaters find impressive.
  3. It does, indeed, feature the exact same speech: very fast, slurred technical terms, rapid-fire breathing, and weird stuttering.

So let’s recap. In 2013, and probably in many years before that, white kids won a debate contest that, by its competitive nature, seems to require participants to speak in really, really weird ways. No one cared. In 2014, black women won the debate contest using the same tactics, but suddenly conservative writers noticed, and they wrote off the bizarre-sounding speech as “unintelligible gibberish” without checking to see if that’s just how debates work.

So: assumptions about folks being less intelligent and/or less capable of speaking standard English because they are black. Yup, that looks like racism to me.

Am I missing something here?

Book Recommendation: Spin (Robert Charles Wilson)

2014-05-21 The ChronolithsIt could just be me, but I don’t hear folks talk about Robert Charles Wilson enough. The first book of his I read was Spin, which won the Hugo in 2006. I thought the sequel (Axis (Spin)) was good, but not great. I’m listening to The Chronoliths now, which was nominated for a Hugo in 2002. Turns out he’s been nominated a few more times, too (1999 and 2010), but–like I said–he’s just not a name that I hear come up often enough in discussions of great sci-fi.

The reason I like Robert Charles Wilson is that he’s one of the best there is at combining truly human-centered, character-driven stories with real, honest, sci-fi concepts. The drama in his books is emphatically character-driven, but it simply couldn’t exist without the sci-fi elements. To me: that’s what all sci-fi should strive to be.

He also has some prose chops. Look, I realize that sci fi (along with all genre fiction) tends to be less about the art and craft of prose than literary fiction, but there were some parts of “Spin” that rose to the level of good art by any standard.

He’s one of those guys who, when I’m reading their story, I think to myself: “I’ll really be doing alright if I ever get this good.”

Marriage, Parenthood, and Public Policy

Ron Haskins of the Brooking Institution has an excellent piece in the Spring 2014 issue of National Affairs. He begins by reviewing the current state of marriage and the rising rate of single parenthood in the United States. Furthermore, he looks at the impact single parenthood has on children, including the increased risk of poverty.

He then looks at the four major policies used to combat this social problem:

  • Reducing non-marital births
  • Boosting marriage
  • Helping young men become more marriageable
  • Helping single mothers improve their and their children’s lives

Haskins provides a balanced overview of the empirical outcomes of these policies, both successes and failures. He concludes,

If we want to address the challenges of income inequality and immobility, we must address one of their main causes — non-marital births and single parenting. Maybe stable, married-couple families will never again be the dominant norm, but if so the children who are raised by such traditional families will continue to have yet another advantage over their peers who have minimal contact with their fathers, live in chaotic households, and are exposed to instability at home as their mothers change partners.

Our society and culture will no doubt continue to change, but our children will continue to pay the price for adult decisions about family composition. Public policies cannot ultimately solve this problem, but those that prove themselves capable of ameliorating some of the damage are surely worth pursuing.

Worth the read.

More Hugs in China

Hugs are on the rise in China. The physically reserved Chinese culture is apparently changing “due to exposure to the West, especially huggy North America,” reports The New York Times. Sixty schools in the Liuhe District in Nanjing now have emotional intelligence classes. “The third graders’ homework: Hug your parents tonight.” It turns out that “other Asian nations — even formal Japan — may also be involved, according to a recent article in China Daily headlined ‘‘Students Use Hugs to Ease Tensions.” It described ‘‘hugging activities’’ between a group of Japanese studying in Beijing and Chinese passers-by, in which the students hugged about 200 Chinese in an effort to warm feelings between people of the two nations sparring over territory in the East China Sea.”

An interesting shift in culture. Check it out.