Announcing the publication of Strengthening the Cooperative Community

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
March 2021, Issue 27
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

How can we reduce inequality, combat global warming, and become more democratic?

One answer is through cooperatives. The one billion leaders and members of these member-owned and democratically controlled businesses throughout the world can be part of the solution to creating a better, fairer society.

From my 50 years of experience spent researching, developing, teaching, and writing about cooperative businesses, I describe in my new book, Strengthening the Cooperative Community, why and how co-ops succeed or fail. I also propose 16 specific, practical recommendations on how co-ops can become an even more dynamic force for positive change that benefits people and the environment in the 21st century.

The book first presents a historical review of a variety of cooperative sectors including insurance cooperatives that emerged around 1700; grocery, financial, and agricultural co-ops that originated in the 1800s; and electricity, employee-owned, and social services co-ops that began in the 20th century.

The book then focuses on examples of, and lessons from, my experience as a researcher and developer of dozens of cooperative projects in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The third section of the book describes six “building blocks” of cooperative development that have proven to be key factors in creating successful co-ops and a thriving International co-op industry. The final section presents opportunities for cooperative development in the 21st century that have the potential to generate jobs and services for hundreds of millions of new co-op members and employees.

Readers will discover that we, especially when acting cooperatively with others, really CAN make a difference. Strengthening the Cooperative Community can be ordered for $10 through local bookstores and, Amazon, or download the PDF at Book: Strengthening the Cooperative Community – The Cooperative Society

Violence in the Year of COVID-19

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
September 2020, Issue 24
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

The Cooperative Society Project tracks a variety of measures that indicate whether life is improving for people and the planet. One of these measures is “conflict.” The purpose of this newsletter is to take a look at how things are going related to this measure during the coronavirus.

Has violence increased or decreased in the world during the pandemic in 2020?

This is not an easy question to answer, partly because there is not a lot of reliable current data. The answer is also complicated by the varying impacts of the virus on different types of violence.

This newsletter sorts out some of the main things that we know and don’t know about violence besetting the world in 2020, and what can be done about it.

Several types of violence

In the case of domestic violence, there appears to be clear evidence that COVID-19 has caused a spike in violence to women and children. It is easy to believe these data because hundreds of millions of people around the world have lost their jobs, and in many cases are under stress from lack of money and food, the threat of infection, and uncertainty about the future. On top of this, many families are confined to staying at home in crowded conditions.

Homicides are a more difficult problem to analyze this year. Deaths from homicide appear to be up in a number of major cities in the United States. But these data can be misleading. The long-term trend in the U.S. and other countries is a decrease in the number of homicides per year. So, the increases observed this year may be a temporary blip rather than a longer-term trend. In addition, we have only partial data because homicides in rural areas and smaller cities are usually not aggregated and reported until the following year.

Protest-related data

ACLED, a well-respected data source on international violence, reported on September 3 that 93% of almost 8,000 Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the United States between late May and late August were non-violent. These numbers are far different from the stereotypes about the summer’s protests.

ACLED also reports worldwide data on conflict events and fatalities on an ongoing basis. As of September 19, the organization indicated that between mid-September 2019 and mid-September 2020, the number of “battles, riots, explosions/remote violence, and violence against civilians” had decreased by an average of a little over 20% per month during this time. During the same time, fatalities from these events decreased by over 10%, while protests increased by 33%.

One could speculate at length about what is behind these divergent statistics. So here are a couple of speculations from me: Crises like the pandemic may cause combatants and violent protesters to back off a bit on their violence because of disruptions created by a greater, more immediate crisis. On the other hand, non-violent protesters may increase their activity in reaction to the immediate crises and other grievances. Such a ramping up of non-violent protest is consistent with the Black Lives Matter demonstrations this summer.

The pandemic
Back to the pandemic, COVID-19 itself can be used as a form of violence, knowingly, through ignorance, or a combination of the two.

For example, we have recently learned from Bob Woodward’s new book Rage and the tapes from interviews between Woodward and Trump that the President was aware of the severity of the virus in early February 2020 but played down its importance to the general public – and continues to do so to this day.

The result of Trump’s deception as well as his incompetent leadership in fighting the virus is a form of violence against the American people, tens of thousands of whom have needlessly died of coronavirus, with tens of thousands more to come in the months ahead. To put this in perspective, the results of one analysis indicate that Trump’s bumbling of the War on COVID-19 has killed more than twice the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War.

Antidotes to the virus

So, what are the primary antidotes to the violence related to COVID-19?

In the U.S., the precursor to addressing the problem is to defeat Trump in November. After that, the Biden administration will need to put together an effective national strategy to get the coronavirus under control through rigorous enforcement of wearing masks; promoting social distancing; and widespread, rapid testing, tracing, and where necessary, quarantining. 

In parallel to gaining control of the virus, the new administration will also need to provide economic security for those who have been harmed by the financial effects of the virus. This will take the form of a combination of unemployment compensation supplements, rent and mortgage protection, other stimulus financing, small business grants and loans, and guaranteed healthcare coverage for those with inadequate or no health insurance.

The coup de grace will be an effective vaccine, which is likely to begin to be distributed in early 2021 and will be ramped up to cover the entire population, probably by the third quarter of the year. Of utmost importance in its distribution is that, in addition to those fighting the virus on the front line, the rollout of the vaccine should equitably reach all Americans.

Announcing The Cooperative Society 2020 Report

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
March 2020, Issue 21
by E.G. Nadeau
and Luc Nadeau

The Cooperative Society 2020 Report was released on March 24. Download the full report here [ddownload id=”429″]

Following is the report’s executive summary:

Is the world on the verge of a new stage of human history, one characterized by cooperation and equitable access to resources rather than by conflict and extreme inequality?

We posed this question in the 2016 and 2018 editions of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History. The purpose of this 2020 Report is to update the information presented in these two editions of the book, and to make revised recommendations on how to make our world a better place to live.

The Cooperative Society 2020 Report is organized around the same seven measures of human and environmental well-being as is the 2018 edition of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History – Economic power, Wealth, Conflict, Democracy, Population, Quality of life, and Environment.

  1. 1. Economic power

Recent data indicate that the international pattern of economic concentration continues to be a major problem in the past few years. There is also inadequate evidence to indicate that more socially responsible business forms such as cooperatives and social enterprises are increasing or decreasing their role in the world economy.

The biggest factors that would alter this current stalemate are changes in the policies of international bodies such as the United Nations and the world’s most developed countries toward large, for-profit businesses. Tighter international anti-trust policies and enforcement of these policies, concerted efforts to thwart tax evasion by large companies, and progressive corporate taxation systems could reduce the inordinate influence on the world economy by large companies.

2. Wealth

Overall, the concentration of wealth in the world continues to decrease modestly. But inequality between the rich and the poor is still dramatically high.

Economic opportunities, international and domestic mechanisms to increase jobs and financial security, and progressive taxation policies are all means to move the world toward greater equality and financial security for the poor.

3. Conflict

In recent decades, there has been a pattern of reduced violence in the world – both from armed conflicts and from homicides – but we have a long way to go before we can claim that we live on a peaceful planet.

4. Democracy

Available resources show there was not a resurgence of increasingly democratic governments in 2019, but some data indicate that there is a strong popular will in a number of countries to move in such a direction. 2020 may prove to be the year in which that will is transformed into an upturn in world democracy.

5. Population

The UN Population Report appears to overestimate the world’s population growth rate because it underestimates future use of birth control around the world.

The World Population International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (WP) estimates the potential impact of improvements in reproductive health as they relate to significantly reducing the rate of population growth.

The results of these different methodological assumptions are dramatic. The UN projects 11.1 billion people by 2100 and WP projects 8.9 billion. What a difference comprehensive, international reproductive health programs could make!

6. Quality of life

There has been a recent slowdown in accomplishing the quality-of-life measures targeted by the UN and The Cooperative Society Project. This appears to be the result of reduced commitment by UN members; an overly ambitious agenda by the UN; and the magnitude of the climate-change crisis overshadowing other quality-of-life issues.

7. Environment

The recent increase in severe weather-related events around the world (at least partly attributable to global warming), slow and uneven progress in reducing carbon emissions, and the continued weak commitments of many countries to strong carbon-reduction policies are all worrying events. However, there are also some signs of optimism, such as science-based projections that we can still achieve 2030 carbon-emission-reduction goals, and increased commitments from the private sector, some countries, and sub-national government entities that are accelerating their involvement.

Conclusion

We conclude The Cooperative Society 2020 Report with cautious optimism. The increased political participation in many countries, mentioned above, may be a precursor to increased democracy and positive movement toward other components of the cooperative society. However, there is no guarantee that the recent uptick in political participation will result in widespread political reform.

Three Excruciating Years of Trumpus Rex

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
January 2020, Issue 20
by E.G. Nadeau

In January 2017, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. 

At the same time, with much less fanfare, The Cooperative Society Project launched its first bimonthly newsletter by making a set of predictions about the Trump presidency, entitled Trumpus Rex: A Damage Assessment.

Ordinarily, our newsletter addresses major international problems and trends, and doesn’t focus on individual political actors. But we made an exception in January 2017, because we feared that soon-to-be-President Trump would trample on many of the goals promoted in the second edition of our recently published book – The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History

Sure enough. He has. In many ways surpassing our most pessimistic predictions. Not only that, he has:

  • Achieved levels of jaw-dropping incompetence and perfidy that we had not even imagined. For example, making approximately 16,000 “false or misleading claims” while in office.[1]
  • Become only the third president in the history of the United States to be impeached.[2]
  • Ordered the assassination of a high-ranking Iranian general that has resulted in a major destabilization of the international political arena.[3]

Here’s an excerpt from our January 2017 article:

For those of you who have not yet read The Cooperative Society, you should be aware that the book and our website are not intended as sources for short-term political predictions. Instead, they look at long-term trends – on a worldwide scale – toward or away from greater cooperation, concentrated economic power and wealth, conflict, democracy, quality of life, and a sustainable environment. In that context, we examine the potential impact of the Trump Administration on the seven variables analyzed in the book and how it may affect movement toward or away from a more cooperative society.

We concluded that five out of the seven trends reviewed in the article would be negatively impacted by the Trump presidency. They have been. In fact, all seven trends have suffered, although Trump did sign off on an increase in funding to a U.S. international co-op development program. Much of the damage has been on a world scale, not just in the United States. (If you’d like, please review the 2017 article to check out our predictions.)

Here’s a quick review of some of the most egregious “cooperative society” setbacks this administration has precipitated:

  •  A cruel and bigoted migration “policy” especially targeting Muslims and Hispanics that has, among other things, separated children from their families, and subjected asylum seekers and other migrants to inhumane living conditions.[4]
  • The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” Trump’s signature piece of legislation, that has primarily been a financial boon to large corporations and the wealthy. [5]  
  • The withdrawal of the United States – the world’s largest per- capita carbon emitter – from the Paris Climate Agreement, thus greatly increasing the likelihood that the planet’s surface temperature will reach catastrophic levels in the next 30 years.[6]

As the 2017 article perversely concluded:

The divisiveness engendered during the presidential campaign and personified by Trump may lead over the next few years to a revitalized spirit of cooperation among the majority of the U.S. electorate as Trump’s contradictory and overblown promises go unfulfilled.

Let’s make that a 2020 New Year’s resolution.


[1] Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, and Meg Kelly, “President Trump has made 15,413 false or misleading claims over 1,055 days,” Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/12/16/president-trump-has-made-false-or-misleading-claims-over-days/

[2] Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Laura Bronner, Our Poll Finds A Majority of Americans Think the Evidence Supports Trump’s Removal,” FiveThirtyEight, Jan 3, 2020, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/our-poll-finds-a-majority-of-americans-think-the-evidence-supports-trumps-removal/

[3] Ankit Panda, “Iran Has Not Abandoned the Nuclear Deal,” The New Republic, January 7, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/156140/iran-not-abandoned-nuclear-deal

[4] “A Crime Against Humanity,” Resolution of the American Federation of Teachers, 2018, https://www.aft.org/resolution/crime-against-humanity

[5] Jesse Drucker and Jim Tankersley, “How Big Companies Won New Tax Breaks from the Trump Administration, New York Times, Dec. 30, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/30/business/trump-tax-cuts-beat-gilti.html

[6] Stacy Feldman and Marianne Lavelle, “Donald Trump’s Record on Climate Change,” Inside Climate News, Dec 19, 2019 https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19122019/trump-climate-policy-record-rollback-fossil-energy-history-candidate-profile

Beware of “isms”

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
September 2019, Issue 18
by E.G. Nadeau

Far too often, people use the same words, but mean very different things. This can be confusing, even dangerous, especially in the world of politics. With the lead-up to the 2020 presidential and congressional elections in the United States, it is particularly timely to take a close look at some of the major “isms” being bandied about by politicians, journalists, and pundits.

What does “populism” mean?
The word can apply to “a range of political stances that emphasize the idea of ‘the people’ and often juxtapose this group against ‘the elite’.”[1] But, right off the bat, use of the P-word runs into big trouble. You can have right-wing populists, left-wing populists, and demagogues like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela who claim to be populist, but have questionable popular support.

populism

So, ultimately, the word populism has become meaningless. To use it spreads confusion and disinformation rather than political understanding.

How about “socialism”?
Socialism is another word that has become a lightning rod for mystification as we approach the 2020 elections. Although running as a Democrat for president, Bernie Sanders refers to himself as a socialist. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, both members of Democratic Socialists of America, were elected as Democrats to the House of Representatives in 2018.

So, what is socialism? The classic definition with origins dating back to Karl Marx and others in the mid-1800s is, “Economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”[2]

But, these three self-proclaimed “socialists” sound much more like Northern European-style social democrats, who favor mixed economies that combine elements of both regulated private enterprise and a public sector that limits economic inequality and attempts to provide a minimal quality of life for all citizens.

To further complicate the meaning of socialism, President Trump and other Republicans accuse progressive Democrats of being out to destroy the US economy by nationalizing corporations and turning the US into an economic backwater like Cuba or Venezuela.

We would all be better served by dropping the word “socialism” from the rhetoric of the 2020 campaigns and focusing on the specific positions that candidates take related to healthcare, climate change, gun control, and other issues.

capitalism or socialism

What does “capitalism” mean?
A typical dictionary definition of capitalism is: “An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”[3]

The problem with a definition like this is that it doesn’t reflect the reality of the contemporary world economy, in which government regulation, taxation and incentives, and international trade agreements (and trade wars) play major roles in shaping the market in which corporations operate.

Virtually every country in the world – including such outliers as North Korea and Cuba – has a mixed economy, which combines private enterprise and public involvement in the market.

For example, Forbes’ Global 2000, the world’s largest publicly traded corporations, includes the four largest Chinese banks in its Top Ten list. These banks are predominantly government-owned, but also have limited investor-ownership.[4] The phrase “state capitalism” is often used to characterize the Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, and other national economies in which the government has a major, direct involvement in the market.

The purpose of corporations is also being redefined by some of the largest publicly traded companies in the world. CNBC recently reported that the Business Roundtable, comprised of almost 200 CEOs of major U.S. corporations, stated that the foremost function of their companies should not be to “serve their shareholders and maximize profits.” Instead it should be “investing in employees, delivering value to customers, dealing ethically with suppliers, and supporting outside communities.”[5]

Conclusion
Thus, as with populism and socialism, capitalism is not a useful term to describe a national economy, or a political ideology. The reality is that in different countries and in the international arena, there is a wide range of ways in which private enterprises, public enterprise, mixed enterprises, and various forms of public intervention interact to shape economic activity. The word “capitalism” is useless in capturing this diversity.

Thus, as we consider candidates for public office and the track records of those who already are in office, it’s not the “isms” we should be looking at, but the specific actions they have taken or propose to take to improve our social, economic, political, and environmental well-being. For more on what The Cooperative Society Project perceives as major components of a better society, please click www.thecooperativesociety.org

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populism

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/socialism

[3] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capitalism

[4] https://www.forbes.com/global2000/#68933a01335d

[5] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/19/the-ceos-of-nearly-two-hundred-companies-say-shareholder-value-is-no-longer-their-main-objective.html

Is Repression an Inevitable Part of China’s Domestic Rule? Not Necessarily.

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2019, Issue 17
by E.G. Nadeau

A friend and I visited China as tourists in April of this year. Our itinerary included the south-central part of the country, Hong Kong, Tibet, Beijing, and a hike on the Great Wall.

China is impressively modern in many ways – shiny new airports, attractive hotels and restaurants, a well-constructed road system, electric mopeds that have mostly replaced bikes in larger cities, and, at least in tourist sectors, well-kept-up streets, buildings, parks, and gardens.

china cooperative society
The Chinese flag flies everywhere in Lhasa, Tibet, a constant reminder of who’s in charge.

A darker side of China
But in Lhasa, the administrative capital of “the Autonomous Region of Tibet,” we saw another, darker side of the Celestial Empire that was the opposite of autonomous – a strong police and military presence, including occasional snipers positioned on rooftops; and many Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in the country, imported to dilute the percentage of Tibetans in their own region.

There continues to be controversy over the historical relationship between China and Tibet, the number of Tibetans who have died in the aftermath of China’s invasion of Tibet in 1950 (500,000 seems to be about right), the number of Han Chinese living in Tibet, the extent to which Tibetan Buddhists are allowed to practice their religion, and many other issues.[1]

tibet cooperative society
The Potala Palace, shown above, located in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China, was the residence of the Dalai Lama. The palace became a museum and World Heritage Site after the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the 1959 Chinese invasion.

Although the large majority of Buddhist monasteries was destroyed in the 1950s and 1960s, those that we visited in Lhasa were beautiful and well-maintained. Buddhists appeared to be able to practice their religion freely. At the same time, however, we had the sense that the traditional culture of Tibet was gradually, but inexorably, being subsumed into a monolithic Chinese society.

cooperative society tibetan buddhists
Tibetan Buddhists at prayer.

Tibet is just one example of the Chinese government’s drive to homogenize the diverse cultures and beliefs of its citizens, crush dissent, and snuff out expressions of democratic values. The brutal crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the current suppression of the religious and cultural identity of 11 million Muslim Uighurs in northwestern China, the ongoing attempts to restrict civil rights in Hong Kong, and the ever-present threat to the autonomy of Taiwan are all manifestations of authoritarian rule by China’s political leaders.[2]

In many ways, Tiananmen Square marked a decisive turning point in recent Chinese history. As one author commented: “When China’s moment of reckoning came, Communist Party leaders chose bullets, not ballots. And they made a long-shot, long-term Faustian deal to guarantee economic development in exchange for continued party control that has lasted ever since.”[3]

Another example of oppression
The current plight of the Uighurs represents a doubling down on the repressive side of this “Faustian deal.” There are up to two million Uighur adults in detention centers. Many of their kids are required to attend state-run schools intended to mold them into compliant Chinese citizens while stripping away their religious beliefs, language, and culture. On top of this indoctrination, the Uighur homeland, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (note again the irony of this province’s name), may be the most concentrated police state in the world, with sophisticated electronic surveillance, facial recognition profiling, apps inserted into phones to track potential dissidents, and, believe it or not, the required boarding of Han Chinese in many Uighur households.[4]

But there is nothing immutable about the current paranoia of China’s leadership toward diversity and dissent.

There have been major shifts in China’s politics and economics since the beginning of Communist rule in 1949 – some disastrous, such as the Great Leap Forward in which an estimated 45 million people died (mostly of starvation) between 1959 and 1962,[5] and the Cultural Revolution in which up to 2 million more people died between 1966 and 1976 – mostly as a result of violence by the Red Guard.[6] On the positive side, Deng Xiaoping, Mao Zedong’s immediate successor as Chairman of the Communist Party, shifted away from a tightly controlled, state-run economy to a mix of state and private enterprises, beginning in 1976. This change brought rapid economic growth, which has mostly continued to the present day.[7]

A democratic foothold
Most people are unaware that there is a democratic side to Communist China. In 1987, the national government instituted a reform in which village leaders were to be elected by residents and others affiliated with each village. With a few interruptions along the way, this local-level democracy is still in effect. Thus, electoral democracy already has a foothold in almost all of China’s 900,000+ villages.[8]

Just as there have been major changes in China over the past 70 years, it would be imprudent to dismiss the potential for future significant reforms, including ones toward less repression and greater democracy, in the next couple of decades.

[1] History of Tibet (1950-present), last edited on July 9, 2019, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Tibet_(1950–present)

[2] Miscellaneous sources.

[3] Zegart, Amy, June 8, 2019, “Decades of Being Wrong About China Should Teach Us Something,” The Atlantic.
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/06/30-years-after-tiananmen-us-doesnt-get-china/591310/

[4] See for example:
Gershman, Carl, July 4, 2019, “The world knows about Uighurs. There should be a rallying cry to save them.” Washington Post,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/chinas-repression-of-the-uighurs-began-10-years-ago-now-their-survival-is-at-stake/2019/07/04/3b568470-9daa-11e9-85d6-5211733f92c7_story.html?utm_term=.3172f04b850a;
Sudworth, John, July 4, 2019, “China Muslims: Xinjiang schools used to separate children from families,” BBC News, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48825090;
Buckley,  Chris and Paul Mozur, May 22, 2019,How China Uses High-Tech Surveillance to Subdue Minorities,”
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/22/world/asia/china-surveillance-xinjiang.html;
Withnall, Adam, November 30, 2018, “China sends state spies to live in Uighur Muslim homes and attend private family weddings and funerals,”
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-uighurs-muslim-xinjiang-weddings-minority-communist-party-a8661006.html;
Zhong, Raymond, July 2, 2019, “China Snares Tourists’ Phones in Surveillance Dragnet by Adding Secret App,”
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/02/technology/china-xinjiang-app.html.

[5] O’Neill, Mark, September 5, 2010, “45 million died in Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Hong Kong historian says in new book,”
https://www.scmp.com/article/723956/revisiting-calamitous-time

[6] “Cultural Revolution,” Wikipedia, last edited on July 5, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Revolution

[7] “Deng Xiaoping,” last edited June 28, 2019, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deng_Xiaoping

[8] See for example:
Babones, Salvatore, October 14, 2015, “Country Lessons: A Rural Incubator for China’s Political Reform?” Foreign Affairs,
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2015-10-14/country-lessons;
He, Baogang, 2007, Rural Democracy in China: The Role of Village Elections, Palgrave McMillan US, https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9780230600164;
Gannett Jr., Robert T., April 2009, “Village-by-Village Democracy in China,” American Enterprise Institute.
http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Village%20By%20Village%20Democracy%20in%20Chine.pdf

Can the United Nations help make the world a better place to live?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
March 2019, Issue 14
by E.G. Nadeau and Luc Nadeau

This article gives an emphatic “yes” to the question posed in the title, presents brief reviews of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals Program (2000-2015) and the follow-up Sustainable Development Goals Program (2016-2030), and suggests some improvements in the way the latter program is being implemented.

These two sets of goals are world-changers! If they are successfully carried out, we are talking about a world without extreme poverty or hunger, universal access to decent healthcare, education and jobs for all 8 billion of us, solving the most critical problem of our age – the catastrophe of rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and achieving a number of other fundamental social, economic, and environmental goals.

As those of you who follow the activities of The Cooperative Society Project know, these goals are in close alignment to ours. So, let’s take a look at progress to date.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
In 2000, when Kofi Annan was the Secretary-General, the UN’s 191 member countries voted unanimously to achieve 8 social, economic, and environmental goals over the next fifteen years to improve the quality of life around the world, using 1990 as the starting point for calculating improvements.

How did they (we) do?

Very well! Here are some highlights from the 2015 Millennium Development Goals Report:

  • “Extreme poverty has declined significantly over the last two decades. In 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. That proportion dropped to [projected] 14% in 2015.”
  • “The primary school net enrollment rate in the developing regions has reached 91% in 2015, up from 83% in 2000.”
  • “Despite population growth in the developing regions, the number of deaths of children under five has declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to almost 6 million in 2015 globally.”
  • “Since 1990, the maternal mortality ratio has declined by 45% worldwide.”

millennium development goalsThe report also provides information on environmental and economic change. Despite increased access to clean drinking water, improved sanitation, and other environmental improvements, the primary environmental issue – carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – worsened substantially during this time. According to the report, there were a number of improvements in economic conditions in developing countries from 1990 to 2015, including increased development assistance, an increase in duty-free exports, reduced debt, and access to International telecommunications.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Based in significant part on the effectiveness of the MDG program, United Nations members, under Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s leadership, unanimously approved another 15-year initiative (2016-2030) to improve the quality of life around the world. This time, UN members voted to address 17 goals, a big increase over the 2000-2015 program.

The 2018 SDG Report provides information on trends related to the eight MDG goals, as well as data on the nine new SDG goals. Following are a few findings contained in the report.

    • Estimates of extreme poverty continued to decline. Revised data indicate that “11% of the world population, or 783 million people, lived below the extreme poverty threshold in 2013.”
    • On the negative side of the ledger, “The proportion of undernourished people worldwide increased from 10.6% in 2015 to 11.0% in 2016. This translates to 815 million people worldwide in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015.”
    • Market-distorting agricultural subsidies continued to decline.
    • Access to primary education increased. However, the report expressed concerns about inadequate teacher training and children’s lack of proficiency in reading and mathematics.
    • The report also observed that, “While some forms of discrimination against women and girls are diminishing, gender inequality continues to hold women back and deprives them of basic rights and opportunities.”
    • Access to clean drinking water and sanitation were both improving, but progress was below the rate required to meet the 2030 program goals.
    • On the energy front, “Those lacking access to electricity have fallen below 1 billion, a doubling in coverage between 2000 and 2016.” But the goal of “ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all” by 2030 will be very difficult to achieve.
    • As the report states, “The five-year average global temperature from 2013 to 2017 was . . .  the highest on record. The world continues to experience rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.” Thus, the program’s and the Paris Agreement’s goals for drastically reducing carbon emissions by 2030 will take an unprecedented amount of cooperation among countries, communities, and corporations to achieve.
    • Earning inequalities were still pervasive: “Men earned 12.5% more than women in 40 out of 45 countries with data. Youth were three times more likely to be unemployed than adults in 2017.”

sustainable development goals
For complete information about each of these 17 goals, click on this link to a UN-provided website

Since the SDG program did not go into effect until 2016, it is too early to do an evaluation of its effectiveness. But there are a number of early-stage comments that can be made about the program.

It is very ambitious
There are more than twice as many SDG goals as MDG goals. There are pluses and minuses to this expansion. On the plus side, the impacts of the SDG program can be more far-reaching. On the problematic side, there is the danger of being less successful because of an attempt to over-reach — possibly accomplishing less by trying to do too much.

It provides continuity with the MDG program
This is a plus, because longer-term trends can be tracked and addressed.

It incorporates the goals of the Paris Agreement and other environmental goals
This interconnection is very important because “climate action,” “life below water,” and “life on land” are inextricably connected with the social and economic goals of the program.

It has a tendency to downplay some problems
It appears to emphasize positive results and focus less on negative ones. The biggest example of this is related to climate change. Much research, including that done by the United Nations, stresses that we are in a crisis mode during the next decade or so. If our actions are not accelerated dramatically, we are highly likely to exceed a 2°C increase in the temperature of the earth’s surface relative to what it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Such an increase would lead to catastrophic weather changes and related disasters. However, the report does not present the warnings from this research. (In fairness to the UN, much of the research emphasizing the extreme urgency of the climate crisis was published after the 2018 report.)

Inadequate communication of the goals and accomplishments of the program
This is the biggest criticism that we have after doing a review of the information that the United Nations provides about the SDG program on the Internet. Following are a few examples of SDG communication problems:

  • Right off the bat, when one looks up “SDGs,” using Google search, one encounters two separate United Nations websites presenting information on the program. These sites are run by different divisions of the UN: The Development Program and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Since theUN is coordinating a worldwide, cooperative initiative to achieve the SDG goals, it would make sense to have the UN’s internal divisions present a united front to the world in its presentation of the SDGs.
  • Neither of the homepages for these two websites provides a clear introduction to the SDG program, nor do any of the primary topics referenced at the top of the websites.
  • That is not to say that there isn’t plenty of useful information. Altogether, there are hundreds of sites that one can click to from the main websites, but without clear roadmaps, the reader doesn’t know how to make choices among this avalanche of information.
  • The SDG program has put out very informative annual reports in 2016, 2017, and 2018. But one wouldn’t know this by combing through all of the major topics on both of these websites. There is excellent information in these reports related to progress and lack of progress on the 17 goals. (See, for example, the section above summarizing some key findings from the 2018 report.) The trick is finding the reports.

Our major takeaway from this critique of information provided by the UN on the web is:

Communication and education related to the SDG program would benefit enormously by having an easily accessible webpage providing a level 101 “Introduction to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Program.” This primer should be understandable by someone with a middle school education and should provide clear links to additional information that the reader may want to access in order to learn more about the program – in particular, more detailed information on its predecessor program, the MDG goals and the current 17 SDG goals, and links to the annual reports.

Despite these criticisms of the SDG program’s communications problems, we were pleased with the substantive progress that the program has made since its inception in January 2016. Read the reports, especially the one for 2018, and judge for yourself.

 

Are You Searching for an Antidote for Doom and Gloom?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2018, Issue 10
By E.G. Nadeau

Civil wars, cyber wars, trade wars, inhumane treatment of migrants, right-wing nationalism. The earth is heating up—and it’s not just the climate.

Many of us are deeply concerned—but there’s a good chance of a much better future ahead. That’s the perspective of the 2018 edition of the book The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History by E.G. Nadeau and Luc Nadeau.

the cooperative societyThe authors have revisited and updated the seven indicators they measured in the 2016 edition of their book. If you’re worried about the world going to hell in a handbasket, The Cooperative Society may put you in a better frame of mind.

Even though a lot is out of whack right now, we humans may be making progress on our way toward better things to come:

  • We have enough food to feed our species.
  • We are living longer and have better healthcare than ever before.
  • Fewer people are living in extreme poverty.
  • About half of us live in democracies.
  • The level of conflict around the world, although it may seem severe, is near its lowest level in 5,000 years.
  • We have the tools to stabilize our climate if we commit to using them with urgency during the next several decades. 

Learn more and take action  

The second edition of the book describes what a cooperative society might look like. The book evaluates a number of ways in which we are moving closer to such a society—and other ways in which we are not. The final section focuses on actions we can take as individuals, communities, and countries. If we act decisively on a worldwide scale, we can become a more cooperative society during the next couple of decades.

Praise for the 2016 edition of The Cooperative Society

The Cooperative Society . . . does an outstanding job of explaining the context for change and, just as importantly, the urgent need for such a change.” –Charles Gould, past Director-General, International Co-operative Alliance

The Cooperative Society is a refreshing and hopeful analysis
of major trends in human behavior.” –Judy Ziewacz, former President and CEO, National Cooperative Business Association/CLUSA

Do you want a clearer understanding of the status of our world today and how we can make it better? Then resist the temptation for gloom, read the book, and join us in making the world a place where everyone can thrive.

You can purchase the book or download a free PDF copy of it beginning October 1, 2018. See http://www.thecooperativesociety.org for more information.

Is life getting better all the time? A comparative review of three new books that say “Yes”

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
May 2018, Issue 9
By E.G. Nadeau

Three books by well-known authors hit the shelves in early 2018. Taken together, they make a convincing case that the world is becoming a better place for human beings. In the face of daily bombardments in the media and from dystopian politicians and pundits about how bad things are, it is refreshing to read about some of the many upbeat trends that are occurring in our world today.

There are significant areas of overlap among the three books. All rely on scientific data that show an improving quality of life for most people around the world – in many cases, trends that have been underway for a century or more. Each critiques pessimism and ignorance about what’s really going on in the world. All three provide valuable insights into ways in which human society is improving. But they tend to downplay some of the ways in which things are getting worse or more threatening. This is especially true regarding climate change.

A brief overview of the books and their authors

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress pinker enlightenment nowThe author, Steven Pinker, is a psychology professor at Harvard. His best-known previous book is The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011), which makes the case for a long historical trend of reduced violence in the world. Enlightenment Now extends the argument of Better Angels to include a wide range of other ways in which the quality of our lives is improving.

Pinker’s book wins my prize for the most systematic presentation of the ways in which the human condition is getting better. Pinker devotes chapters to life, health, sustenance, wealth, inequality, environment, peace, safety, terrorism, democracy, equal rights, knowledge, quality of life, and happiness. He relies heavily on both historical graphs and narrative to make his points.

It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear
easterbrook it's better than it looks
The author, Gregg Easterbrook, has 10 previous books to his credit, including the New York Times bestseller The Progress Paradox (2003), the subtitle of which is: Life gets better while people feel worse. It’s Better Than It Looks is in many ways a sequel to The Progress Paradox. According to Easterbrook, life is still getting better, but many of us continue to feel bad about the present and pessimistic about the future.

In the first part of his book, Easterbrook writes a series of essays on why the world is doing well despite all the doom and gloom in the media. He follows with a second series of essays focusing on the failure of “declinism” as a worldview and asserts that humans are up to the challenge of addressing the problems of climate change, inequality, and whatever other adversities may come our way in the future. Easterbrook doesn’t use visuals but instead provides detailed endnotes to support his analyses.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]A general shortcoming is that all three have a tendency to sugarcoat or downplay some major contemporary problems – in particular, climate change, concentration of economic power, and inequality.[/perfectpullquote]

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things are Better Than You Think
rosling factfulness
The author, Hans Rosling, who died in February 2017 while Factfulness was being written, was a Swedish medical doctor and co-founder of the Swedish chapter of Doctors Without Borders. He is probably best known for his brilliant TED talks on international health and related matters. (Check out some examples on YouTube.) The book was jointly written by Rosling, his son Ola, and his daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Ronnlund, who together also founded the Gapminder Foundation. (In keeping with the first-person singular style of the book, I will refer to the author as Rosling and skip the et al.)

Rosling relies on a combination of charts, graphs, and narrative. For Rosling and his co-authors, the primary aim of the book is to “fight devastating ignorance” and promote “a fact-based worldview [from which] we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems – and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.” The book teaches us how to be clear-eyed critical thinkers and to not fall into a variety of traps that prevent us from seeing the world as it is. Examples illustrate some of the distorted views we hold. For example, survey data indicate that most of us think extreme poverty, child mortality, and maternal mortality around the world are increasing. The data show just the opposite. He makes the point that we have to learn to see more clearly and accurately measure what’s happening in order to implement effective solutions.

The books have some pitfalls

A general shortcoming is that all three have a tendency to sugarcoat or downplay some major contemporary problems – in particular, climate change, concentration of economic power, and inequality.

There is always a danger when an author bases his or her book on a particular worldview such as “things are getting better all the time” that the book will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, emphasizing the good things that are happening and downplaying some of the bad things. All three of these authors can justifiably be accused of this kind of bias even though they argue that their findings are “science-based.” But there is still plenty of good, evidence-based analyses in all three books.

I am most forgiving of Rosling when it comes to this criticism. Although he cherry-picks positive examples, his primary purpose is to illustrate how to think and act critically, not to weigh the good and the bad in the world today.

Easterbrook and Pinker, in their own ways, are guiltier of this shortcoming.

Easterbrook is a journalist who has clearly done a lot of research on the state of the world, but his writing is channeled into making the case that: “Optimism is the best argument for reform – and the bow that propels the arrow of history.” Thus, his chapters on climate change and inequality essentially amount to: We’ll figure these issues out. We humans always find a way to solve our problems.

Where I noticed Pinker’s most egregious departure from “factfulness” is in his chapter on the environment. For whatever reason, Pinker is enamored of nuclear energy and feels the need to push it as a better alternative to reducing carbon emissions than solar and wind energy. He makes this case despite the fact that the latter two energy sources are already cheaper than nuclear power. These renewable energy sources don’t require the long lead time and high costs of developing and decommissioning nuclear plants. They also don’t face the danger of catastrophic meltdowns and ongoing safety concerns. Besides, on a purely pragmatic level, only one nuclear plant has been built in the last 20 years in the United States. Germany has decided to phase out all of its nuclear power plants by 2022 in reaction to the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Japan itself initially shuttered all of its nuclear power plants after the 2011 crisis. It is gradually bringing some of them back online, but nuclear energy will never regain the prominence it had in Japan prior to 2011. Despite these setbacks, nuclear power is likely to play an important but decreasing role in meeting the world’s energy needs over the next few decades.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Another characteristic of all three authors is that they take a piecemeal rather than a comprehensive approach to evaluating and recommending improvements in human conditions.[/perfectpullquote]

In his attempt to debunk solar and wind energy, Pinker makes the following outrageous statement: “To satisfy the world’s needs with renewables by 2050 will require tiling windmills and solar panels over an entire area the size of the United States (including Alaska), plus Mexico, Central America and the inhabited portion of Canada.” Several references that I checked, including the 2017 United Nations Emission Gap Report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and an article in Forbes magazine painted a very different picture of the potential for wind and solar to provide most if not all of the world’s electricity needs without blanketing it in panels and wind towers. One source wrote that a combined area of 43,000 mi.² of solar panels could meet all of the world’s electrical energy needs. That’s about the size of Virginia or Tennessee or a little over 1% of the Sahara Desert.

Although a bit of a digression, Pinker also brings up the old bugaboo about what happens “…when the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow.” The obvious answer is the storage of energy in batteries and by other means. Storage technology has taken off by leaps and bounds in the last few years, including utility-scale projects in Australia, the United States and elsewhere. It’s ironic that Pinker downplays economies of scales and exponential growth when it comes to renewable energy, even though he presents more than a dozen tables in his book that illustrate the fallacy of assuming linear patterns of change over time.

Another characteristic of all three authors is that they take a piecemeal rather than a comprehensive approach to evaluating and recommending improvements in human conditions.

There is a danger in viewing societal change as nothing more than a scorecard tallying up the ways in which life is getting better rather than understanding it as an interactive process in which the various components build on (or tear down) one another.

A dramatic example is the relationship between climate change and the range of other variables that affect our world. One could argue that the harnessing of fossil fuel was one of the most important engines of economic growth over the past 200 years. But now, dependence on fossil-fuel energy is the biggest threat to our quality of life and that of the planet going forward. We need to change our energy paradigm in order to avoid catastrophe.

One could make a similar argument regarding capitalism. The insatiable quest for profit and the concentration of economic decision-making in the hands of a small number of corporations and government leaders may be just as unsustainable as a fossil-fuel-powered energy system.

Looking toward the future

None of the authors take a big-picture approach to economic and political change. Yet if we’re going to continue to improve the quality of life, there’s a high likelihood that we’ll need to change our international economic and political system to do so. It has evolved dramatically over time. The market economy of mercantilism in 16th-century Europe was far different from the internationally regulated, technology-driven market economy of the early 21st century. So, why shouldn’t we expect continued dramatic change in the international economy of the future? In what ways should it evolve in order to better sustain human beings and the planet on which we live?

the cooperative societyMy son Luc and I are writing the second edition of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History to be published in August. Our main goals in the book are to evaluate whether or not we as a species are moving toward a fundamentally different kind of society based on cooperation, democracy, the equitable distribution of resources, and a sustainable relationship with the environment. We realistically assess where human society is getting better and where it is not, and we make recommendations about ways in which we can make a transition toward such a society.

Our book—and those by Pinker, Easterbrook and Rosling—have in common the use of science-based measurement to gauge human progress. However, we differ in three important ways. Our research shows that some things are getting better (such as the quality-of-life improvements cited by the three authors), but others are not (climate change, and economic and political inequality). We take a comprehensive view of the interplay among a variety of factors in determining our future in addition to presenting an item-by-item scorecard. And, most importantly, we stress that humans are not just objects of history but can play active roles in making our society better.

Population Change and The Cooperative Society

 

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
May 2017, Issue 3
by E.G. Nadeau

The Capital Times (or Cap Times), a Madison, Wis.-based newspaper, published my op-ed, “A sustainable planet needs a sustainable population,” on Earth Day, April 22. You can read it in the sidebar at right. I’m following up on that article with a more detailed analysis of what we should and should not be doing to curb population growth in the remainder of the 21st century. 

Access to birth control
A few years ago, I participated in several women’s group meetings in rural Kenya. The primary topics of discussion were reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. The women in these groups were knowledgeable about different kinds of birth control and shared concerns about the risks of getting infected by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Many of the women were worried about lack of access to birth control, including female condoms, which can prevent HIV transmission; birth control injections, which can prevent conception for months or even years; and morning-after pills, also known as emergency contraception.

One of their big complaints was that rural pharmacies didn’t consistently keep these birth-control resources in stock. We discussed the possibility of villagers forming their own cooperative pharmacies to ensure a more consistent and lower-cost supply of birth control, as well as other health-related items. At the time, the Kenyan government did not allow for this kind of pharmacy staffed by community health workers.

Education and reproductive health
Altogether, I visited about 20 Kenyan villages in 2008 and 2009, to review a community health program led by NCBA CLUSA, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. I came away extremely impressed by these village health sites. The program involved more than 2,000 villages – with over 2 million inhabitants – and operated in Kenya for more than a decade in the early 2000s. Reproductive health and HIV/AIDS education were only part of the broad health mission of the program.

The point of the story is that poor female villagers with little formal education, in remote areas of Kenya, were knowledgeable about reproductive health and made use of a variety of birth-control methods and HIV-prevention resources, when given the opportunity. The emphasis in that sentence is “when given the opportunity.”

This interest in birth control is echoed throughout the least-developed countries of the world. This quote from the 2015 UN World Population Prospects report underscores my personal observations:

To realize [a] substantial reduction in fertility . . . it is essential to invest in reproductive health and family planning, particularly in the least-developed countries, so that women and couples can achieve their desired family size. In 2015, the use of modern contraceptive methods in the least-developed countries was estimated at around 34% among women of reproductive age who were married or in a union. A further 22% of such women had an unmet need for family planning, meaning that they were not using any method of contraception, despite a stated desire or intention to avoid or delay childbearing.

Access to family planning for that 22% would mean an annual reduction of tens of millions of unwanted births per year, adding up to a significant reduction in world population growth.

Sadly, the Trump Administration is going backwards when it comes to population policy and reproductive health.

Setbacks in US legislation and funding
In the first 100 days of his presidency, Trump signed two executive orders and a piece of legislation undermining the goal of slowing the rate of population growth:

  • In late January, he prohibited U.S. funding to any reproductive health organization that provides abortions or abortion counseling, including organizations that do not use U.S. governmental funds for these purposes. That comes to about $600 million of defunding during Trump’s first term.
  • In the first week of April, Trump rescinded U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund, accusing it of supporting “coercive abortions” in China, despite strong denials by the UN. That comes to another nearly $130 million over the next four years taken away from reproductive health services.
  • In the second week of April, the president signed legislation enabling states to defund Planned Parenthood programs of all kinds, even though Planned Parenthood uses no public funding for abortion-related activities. It is not clear what the dollar implications of this new law will be.

Implications for worldwide family planning
Health research organizations are gathering data that can be used to measure the impact of these policy shifts. For example, the Guttmacher Institute, a leading research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the U.S., conducts collaborative research with organizations such as the World Health Organization, Columbia University and the United Nations Population Fund. Based on the institute’s data projections for the health consequences to women and children resulting from a reduction in reproductive health services, we estimate that about 100,000 children’s deaths and approximately 10,000 maternal deaths will result from the Trump Administration’s cuts to reproductive health programs during the next four years.

Numerous studies, including articles appearing in the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, indicate that family-planning services significantly reduce the number of abortions in developing countries. The main reason for this is obvious. The more knowledgeable women are about contraception and the better their access to birth-control options, the less likely they are to have unwanted pregnancies and to terminate those pregnancies through abortion. Ultimately, reducing funds to reproductive health organizations increases the number of abortions.

Forecast for the future
On the positive side of the ledger, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of neo-natal deaths during the past couple of decades because of greater access by women in developing countries to reproductive health services. Women are much more likely than ever before to see a health professional during pregnancy, to deliver their babies with the assistance of a skilled birth attendant, to receive training in infant care, and to have access to support services when their children are young.

With the decrease in the funding of reproductive health services precipitated by the Trump Administration, we expect infant and maternal deaths (and abortions) to spike.

This reduced access to reproductive health services means a slightly faster world population growth rate, an increase in world poverty, more energy consumption, the likelihood of increased political instability, and more migration from poor countries to rich ones.

Faster population growth is not just a problem of poor countries; it’s a world problem. The current world population is about 7.5 billion people. The graph below shows a range of projections for population growth during the 21st century.

Population of the world: estimates, 1950-2015, medium-variant projection and 80 and 95% confidence intervals, 2015-2100.

population estimates
Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision. New York: United Nations.

The main factors responsible for continued high birth rates in developing countries include:

  • High levels of poverty.
  • Lack of access to birth control education and resources.
  • Cultural beliefs that inhibit use of birth control. For example, Catholic and Muslim teachings against birth control; the belief by some ethnic groups in the value of large families; and the belief in some cultures that large families reflect the “manliness” of the husband.

As I discussed in “A sustainable planet needs a sustainable population,” reducing poverty, increasing knowledge about reproductive health, and increasing access to birth control resources are keys to reducing population growth.

This information shows that we, as a world society, have the ability to dramatically reduce population growth in the 21st century — not by coercive measures, but by improving economic conditions of the poor and by meeting the educational and resource needs of women and men who want to limit their family size. Slowing population growth will play an important role in creating a more sustainable and cooperative planet.