Liberty Mutual, get your head out of the tar sands!

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
November 2020, Issue 25
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

Those of you who live in the U.S. are probably familiar with a series of inane TV ads featuring an emu and his intellectually challenged human partner. The ads are for Liberty Mutual, a Boston-based insurance company that is one of the largest in the world.

It turns out that the company not only insures coal, tar sands, and other fossil fuel projects. It also owns at least one coal company in Australia. Among environmentalists, Liberty Mutual is considered both a bad actor and a sleazy one. Bad because for years it has contributed to worldwide carbon emissions, and sleazy because it pretends to be “sustainable” while continuing major involvement in fossil fuel projects.

As many of you know, I am a big proponent of cooperatives. Mutual insurance companies are close cousins of co-ops because they are (in theory) democratically controlled by their policyholders, very much like the one-member, one-vote control that cooperators have over their cooperatives. Thus, I am reluctant to badmouth members of the co-op family.

But, Liberty Mutual is no longer a mutual, and hasn’t been since 2001. At that time it changed its corporate status to a mutual insurance holding company. Without going into the down-and-dirty details, the company is no longer controlled by its policyholders but rather, primarily, by corporate executives and stockholders.

Mutual insurance companies can’t own non-insurance businesses, but mutual insurance holding companies can. Thus Liberty’s ownership of the Mount Ramsay Coal Company in Australia, which is drawing major criticism from local community residents for its environmental irresponsibility.

Closer to home, Liberty is also under fire for insuring Keystone XL, Trans Mountain, and other tar sands pipelines. In both the Australian and the North American projects, Liberty is not only a climate change villain, it is also harming indigenous people through its fossil fuel projects.

While a number of other major financial institutions and insurance companies have made commitments to cease their support for fossil fuel projects, Liberty continues to engage in greenwashing rather than meaningful action.

So, until Liberty’s egregious behavior ceases, I recommend that we all ignore the entreaties of the emu and his partner and buy our auto, home, and other insurance products elsewhere.

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.

Africa is managing COVID-19 very well so far

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2020, Issue 23
by E.G. Nadeau

Why an article on the coronavirus in Africa? Two reasons: I have spent much of my 50-year co-op career living and working in about 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, so I have a personal interest. Secondly, there is not a lot written in the Western press about the impact of coronavirus on the continent, and much of that is ill-informed.

Slogging through the morass of data and conflicting projections of the impact of the coronavirus on deaths, poverty, and hunger in Africa is a daunting task. This is a brief report of some findings.

Here is what we know, or think we know, about the impact to-date of the virus on this continent of 54 countries and 1.3 billion inhabitants – a population that exceeds that of Europe and North America combined.

  • As of July 27, there were almost 850,000 cases of the virus and almost 18,000 deaths attributed to it in Africa.* (The State of New York alone has almost 33,000 coronavirus deaths – approaching twice the number for all of Africa.) The level of infection in Africa is far less than many international organizations projected back in April. For example, one UN report stated that there could be up to 3.3 million deaths within a year.
    * Note that some observers believe that Africa’s cases and deaths are being undercounted.
  • Those deaths still may happen, but it is highly unlikely given the current trend. Africa has the lowest rate of infection of any continent except Antarctica. About one in 1,500 Africanshave been infected so far, compared to almost one in 75 Americans – a rate about 20 times that of Africa.
An African farmer takes her goods to market.  iStock/gaelgogo
  • Most African countries have done a good job since March of imposing travel restrictions, sheltering in place, and enforcing other measures to reduce the spread of the virus. In the two-week period from July 13 through July 26, 21 African countries and territories experienced an increase in the number of new coronavirus cases, 13 decreased the number, and 17 were stable or had no cases.In contrast, during the same time period, 32 U.S. states had increasing numbers of cases, 16 maintained approximately the same level, and two had decreases.
  • COVID-19 has not spread as widely in Africa as originally predicted, primarily as a result of the public health policies mentioned above, but also for a variety of other reasons, including limited travel into the continent by people from infected areas of the world, and the high percentage of rural residents in many African countries. 
  • Despite the relatively gradual trajectory of the virus in most of Africa to date, it is nonetheless taking a big toll on the economy of the continent. For example, the International Monetary Fund projects that gross national product will drop by over 4% in 2020.
  • Food shortages are already an issue in some countries, for example in Zimbabwe. The United Nation’s World Food Program is stocking up on food supplies to meet what could be a food crisis in Africa.
  • There is plenty of uncertainty and disagreement about what is likely to happen in the next year. Some sources suggest that Africa is experiencing a lag in the spread of the pandemic, and that it is still going to face a large increase of cases and deaths in the months ahead, while others are more sanguine about the continent’s prospects for avoiding such a disastrous near-term future.
  • The availability of a vaccine within the next six months to a year may be the biggest factor in containing the pandemic and resuscitating the economy in Africa.

To conclude this brief review of the coronavirus in Africa, it’s good news that the continent has had as few cases and deaths as it has thus far. But, it is way too soon to predict that these low rates will continue during the next year.

If you want to keep an eye on what’s going on with the coronavirus in Africa, I recommend this BBC website.

Unfortunately, I don’t recommend the WHO website on Africa. For some reason that WHO doesn’t clearly explain, the site covers 47 African countries and not the entire continent, and thus its data are incomplete and misleading.

_______________________________________________________________

A heads-up on an upcoming book from The Cooperative Society Project

The working title of the book is Strengthening the International Cooperative Community. It is scheduled for publication late this fall. Many of the case studies and recommendations in the book are based on my 50 years of international cooperative research and development experience. The book will be available through The Cooperative Society website, Amazon, and local booksellers.

E.G. with colleagues, working on a cocoa co-op project in Madagascar in 2008

______________________________________________________________

The Cooperative Society 2020 Report is available as a PDF on our website. We encourage you to read the report, share it with colleagues and friends, and send us a note about your own observations and interpretations as to how to make our world a better place.

We appreciate your interest in and support of The Cooperative Society Project. Thank you.
—E.G. Nadeau and Luc Nadeau

Will the coronavirus pandemic help us to solve the climate crisis?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
May 2020, Issue 22
by E.G. Nadeau

Will the coronavirus pandemic help us to solve the climate crisis?

One’s first tendency is probably to respond, “No way! The pandemic will set back our efforts to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.”

But there are several reasons to think that getting the virus under control during the next year or so may in fact set the stage for a more serious and effective long-term approach to addressing the problem of climate change. However, there are also several counter-tendencies that may offset this potential progress.

2020 is forecast to see the largest drop
in energy usage since the end of World War II.

According to a report issued by the International Energy Agency in late April 2020, global carbon dioxide emissions are projected to decrease 8% in 2020, primarily as a result of the slowdown of the international economy – especially manufacturing and transportation – caused by the pandemic.

This 8% figure is important because it slightly exceeds the 7.6% carbon reduction goal set by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The caveat, however, is that the world needs to achieve this goal each year through 2030 in order to limit global warming to less than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial temperatures.

In the past, for example in the 2008-2010 recession, an initial drop in energy usage was followed by a big increase the following year. So, if the same thing happens in 2021 or 2022, the reduction in fossil fuel use during the pandemic will just be a blip, and not an indicator of a long-term decline in carbon emissions.

The economic competitiveness of fossil fuels with renewable energy
is expected to continue to weaken in 2020 .

Onshore wind and large-scale solar projects continue to be far cheaper than coal and slightly cheaper than natural gas in most parts of the world. Renewable energy storage costs are declining rapidly, and will further tilt the field in favor of renewables. Many large banks and investment funds have announced that they will no longer make loans to large fossil-fuel projects, especially coal plants.

However, it would be premature to conclude that fossil fuels are facing long-term declines. In particular, China is focusing on coal as a major part of its post-Wuhan economic recovery strategy. Not only that, China is also a major developer and financer of new coal mining operations in other countries. India also appears to be committed to continued dependence on coal as a cornerstone of its economy. Australia, despite domestic opposition and some commitment to renewables, is also counting on coal and natural gas for its future prosperity. Russia’s dependence on oil and natural gas production and exporting shows no signs of easing.

Given the economic disadvantages that fossil-fuel energy has vis-à-vis renewable energy, combined with its exacerbation of the climate-change crisis, it’s hard to understand the continued fixation of these countries on coal, oil, and natural gas. As many projects around the world have already discovered, they are facing a strong potential for big losses in “stranded assets” because of their inability to be cost-competitive with renewables. For example, for the first time ever, coal provided less than 50% of the electrical energy in the United States in 2019. US coal plants continue to close or go into bankruptcy in 2020.

Some world leaders and economists are championing
a “green stimulus” that would base the
economic recovery from the pandemic
on renewable energy and jobs.

The Guardian recently summarized the conclusion of an article from the Oxford Review of Economic Policy:

Projects which cut greenhouse gas emissions as well as stimulating economic growth deliver higher returns on government spending, in the short term and in the longer term, than conventional stimulus spending.

Also reported by The Guardian, the UN Secretary-General recently cautioned that:

Governments should not use taxpayer cash to rescue fossil fuel companies and carbon-intensive industries, but should devote economic rescue packages for the coronavirus crisis to businesses that cut greenhouse-gas emissions and create green jobs.

A number of European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, reiterated recently their countries’ continued commitments to ambitious climate targets and their encouragement of other responsible governments to do the same.

As of mid-2020, the world is in a tug-of-war
between the green stimulus proponents and the fossil fuel diehards.

It is not at all clear whether we will see a continued decrease in fossil fuel use in 2021. Given the huge volume of coal and other fossil fuels produced and consumed by China, India, Russia, and Australia, I’m afraid that the clean-energy advocates will suffer a setback next year.

But, here’s a strategy that may help to get climate change back on track in 2022 – border carbon taxes. Such taxes are already under discussion by various governments, especially European Union members. The basic idea is that products manufactured using energy sources that generate large amounts of carbon dioxide would be taxed before they could be exported to low-carbon countries. For example, a computer made in China that is produced with 70% coal and/or other fossil fuel energy would be taxed by France or another European Union country to which it is being exported.

Such a border tax would further strengthen the economic advantage of renewable energy development and increase the likelihood that the 2030 goals for reducing carbon emissions will be achieved.

One big unknown related to the enactment of such a tax will be the outcome of the November election in the United States. President Trump has been a staunch denier of climate change and an equally fervid supporter of fossil fuel companies. If he loses the November election, there is a strong likelihood that his successor, probably Joe Biden, will look far more favorably at reactivating the participation of the United States in the Paris Agreement, an international carbon border-tax program, and other actions to reduce carbon emissions.

Note
You may recall that on March 24 of this year, we released The Cooperative Society 2020 Report. The purpose of the report is to update the information we presented in the 2016 and 2018 editions of our book The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History and to make revised recommendations on how to make our world a better place in which to live.

We continue to ask this question: 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?

Based on the results of our research, we assign some order to the seven measures of human and environmental well-being by which we attempt to evaluate human activity: Economic Power, Wealth, Conflict, Democracy, Population, Quality of Life, and Environment.

The Cooperative Society 2020 Report is available as a PDF on our website. We encourage you to read the report, share it with colleagues and friends, and send us a note about your own observations and interpretations as to how to make our world a better place. Thank you. -E.G. Nadeau and Luc Nadeau

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

How have we been doing lately on reducing conflict in the world?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
November 2019, Issue 19
by E.G. Nadeau

The short answer to this question is: There have been minor improvements in the last few years. Let’s review the numbers and a few examples.

To provide a longer answer, it is important to distinguish between two kinds of violence: Deaths from armed conflicts, and homicides.

Armed conflicts

The planet has become a much more peaceful place since the end of World War II. This is the case, despite the hundreds of regional wars, civil wars, and other armed conflicts that have occurred over the past 75 years.

In the past decade or so there has been an uptick in the number of deadly conflicts, but, counterintuitively, a reduction in the number of fatalities resulting from these conflicts.

According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP):

The number of fatalities in organized violence decreased for the fourth consecutive year [in 2018], to reach the lowest level since 2012. In 2018, UCDP recorded almost 76,000 deaths – a decrease of 20% compared to 2017, and 43% compared to the latest peak in 2014. . . .

The general decline in fatalities from organized violence does not correspond with the trend in the number of active conflicts. In fact, the world has seen a new peak in the number of conflicts after 2014, matched only by the number of conflicts in the early 1990s.[1]

The following figures illustrate this pattern of decreasing fatalities despite the increasing number of conflicts:

[2]

Note, in particular, the steep rise in the number of armed conflicts from 2014 to 2018, and the steep decline in the number of fatalities during the same time period.

This pattern of reduced conflict-related fatalities is also reflected in more recent data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).[3] ACLED’s highly detailed dataset on “political violence and protest events” shows a decline of fatalities between the first ten months of 2018 and the same time period in 2019 from about 254,000 to 129,000. That’s a reduction of almost 50%.

It is too soon to tell if these data indicate a temporary reduction in conflict-related fatalities, or if they signal a long-term trend toward less lethal resolution of differences among conflicting parties.

Homicides

It is surprising to many of us, but intentional homicides are far more common than deaths from armed conflict – in recent years about five times more common.[4]

When viewed on a worldwide scale, intentional homicides have shown a gradual downward trend between 1990 and 2017 (the most recent year for which data are available). At the same time, however, there are major differences among regions and countries in terms of the number and causes and of homicides.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published a report in July 2019 estimating that:

 [A] total of 464,000 deaths were caused by intentional homicide worldwide in 2017. The largest share (37 per cent) was registered in the Americas, closely followed by Africa, which accounted for just over a third (35 per cent) of the total. Despite its large population, Asia accounted for less than a quarter of the total (23 per cent), while Europe (4.7 per cent) and Oceania (0.2 per cent) accounted for by far the smallest shares. . . .

At the global level, the homicide rate has been slowly decreasing for over two decades, from a peak of 7.4 per 100,000 in 1993 to 6.1 per 100,000 in 2017, including a period of steady decrease from 1993 to 2007 and a period of stability thereafter.[5] [6]

The following figure from the 2019 UNODC report illustrates both the gradual decline in worldwide homicides and the different levels and historical patterns of regional homicides.

           [7]

As a side note to these data, the homicide rate in the United States increased by 14 percent between 2010–2017, following several decades of decline.[8] The United States has one of the highest homicide rates of the 30 or so most developed countries in the world.[9]

What are the takeaways from these data on deaths from armed conflict and intentional homicide?

A key finding related to armed conflict is that the number of conflicts has been growing since the early 2000s, but the number of deaths resulting from these conflicts has been decreasing since 2014. It is not clear whether this pattern is temporary or marks a long-term approach to conflict that is less lethal than in the past.

Intentional homicides at the global level have been declining gradually, at least since the early 1990s. But regional and national levels and patterns of homicide vary dramatically. Central and South America, and parts of Africa, have maintained high homicide rates over the past 25 years, while other regions have had low and declining rates.

There are different causes for these regional homicide patterns. In Central and South America, many homicides are due to gang violence, especially related to the drug trade. In Africa, much of the unorganized violence stems from fighting among different ethnic groups. The discrepancy noted above between homicides in the United States versus other developed countries is often attributed to the much easier access to guns in the US than in these other countries.

All in all, there is a pattern of reduced violence in the world, but we have a long way to go before we can claim that we live on a peaceful planet.

Postscript to the November Newsletter

This newsletter is a partial preview, focusing on worldwide conflict, of the 2020 Cooperative Society Report to be published in February 2020.

This report will provide recent data on conflict as well as on six other measures of societal well-being: Economic power, wealth and income, democracy, population trends, quality of life, and the environment. The report addresses how well we are doing on these measures, and how we can do better.

The report will be summarized in the January newsletter, and the full report will be available as a free download on The Cooperative Society [insert proper link] website.

The second edition of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History will continue to be available for purchase, and as a free download from this website.

We appreciate your interest in and support of The Cooperative Society Project. Thank you.


[1] Pettersson, Therese et al, “Organized violence, 1989–2018 and peace agreements,”

Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Journal of Peace Research, 2019, Vol. 56(4) 589–603, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0022343319856046

[2] Ibid., p. 590.

[3] ACLED, Data Export Tool, accessed, November 2019, https://www.acleddata.com/data/

[4] A comparison of UNODC and Uppsala data.

[5] UNODC, Global Study on Homicide 2019, Booklet 2, Vienna, 2019,

http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/gsh/Booklet2.pdf

[6] UNODC, Global Study on Homicide 2019, Booklet 1, Vienna, 2019 https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/gsh/Booklet1.pdf

[7] Op.cit., UNODC Booklet 1, p.20.

[8] Op.cit., UNODC Booklet 2, p.46..

[9] Better Life Index, OECD, 2017, http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/safety/

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

Problems with the UN’s 2019 population report

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
June 2019, Issue 16
by E.G. Nadeau

The United Nations “World Population Prospects 2019” is hot off the press. But it is lukewarm in terms of some key methodological and strategic issues – in particular, long-term trends of overestimating population growth and underestimating people’s willingness to change their reproductive health practices.

The report projects that the world’s population will rise from 7.7 billion in 2019 to 10.9 billion by 2100. It states that: “Global population trends are driven largely by trends in fertility – especially in the average number of live births per woman over a lifetime – which has fallen markedly.”

The UN issues periodic population reports. The last one was in 2017. As Rick Gladstone pointed out in The Globe Is Going Gray Fast, U.N. Says in New Forecast (NYT, June 17, 2019): The 2017 report projected a world population in 2100 of 11.2 billion. That’s 300 million more people than the 2019 report projects.

Why the difference? As the UN itself observed: Birth rates have “fallen markedly.”

Unfortunately, the UN’s population projections have a long history of being on the high side. For example, its 1958 projection for the world’s population in 2000 was overestimated by more than 200 million people.

A key reason for these population projection problems is a bias toward underestimating the decline in birth rates.

Which brings us to the second major problem with the UN report: Although it cites the relationship between population change and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, it downplays the critical roles that reproductive health education, access to birth control, and improved economic well-being play in long-term decreases in birth rates.

For example, in a 2018 report, The UN Population Fund estimated that there were more than 200 million women in developing countries who “want to prevent or delay pregnancy but do not have access to contraceptives.”

Thus, the UN population report is methodologically flawed in its projection of birthrates, and strategically flawed in its failure to take into account the ability of women, couples, communities, countries, and international bodies like the UN to “bend the population curve” downward.