Newsletters

Conflict and democracy in the COVID era

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2021, Issue 29
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

This is the second of a four-part series of newsletter articles on the impact of the pandemic on major issues affecting progress toward a more cooperative society. The May article focused on economic concentration and wealth inequality. Upcoming articles will look at effects on population change, quality of life, and the climate crisis.

An overview of conflict and democracy

During the course of the 20th century, we made significant progress in reducing conflict and increasing democracy. There has been a dramatic reduction in deaths from war-related violence since the end of World War II and a rapid increase in the number of democratic governments beginning about the same time. Historical data also indicate that the rate of homicides has been decreasing for centuries.

But in the past 15-20 years, these positive trends have faltered. This has been especially true in the erosion of democracy in some countries; an increasing incidence of wars, within-country violence, and terrorist activities; and a wide divergence in homicide rates from country to country. These patterns are chronicled in our book, The Cooperative Society (2nd edition, 2018), and “The Cooperative Society 2020 Report.”

How has violence been affected by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021?

The simple answer is that there has been a mixed pattern of violence in the past year and a half.

ACLED, an international organization that monitors global violence, reports a small decrease in fatalities caused by violent events between 2019 and 2020, and then an upsurge in the first half of 2021 that returned the death rate to the 2019 level. These data suggest a temporary reduction in conflict deaths caused by the virus, but a return to “business as usual” in 2021.

An example of peaceful protests accelerated in the early months of the pandemic, resulting from George Floyd’s murder by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. Under the banner of “Black Lives Matter,” Floyd’s death sparked protests across the United States and in many other countries. According to the Washington Post, over 96% of protest marches in the U.S. were peaceful. The reaction to Floyd’s death and the conviction of Chauvin for murder appear to have initiated a broad movement to decrease violence by police against Blacks and other minorities.

Homicides and domestic violence appear to have increased during the pandemic.Some analysts have concluded that economic disruptions and restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus increased these kinds of violence. More data on these kinds of violence will be forthcoming in the next year or so.

Has democracy eroded at a faster pace during the pandemic?

Two well-known, annual reports on the state of democracy in the world conclude that there was a significant decline in democracy in 2020.

The Economic Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2020 reports that:

Democracy was dealt a major blow in 2020. Almost 70% of countries covered by the Index … recorded a decline in their overall score, as country after country locked down to protect lives from a novel coronavirus. The global average score fell to its lowest level since the index began in 2006.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 sounded a similar theme.

As a lethal pandemic, economic and physical insecurity, and violent conflict ravaged the world in 2020, democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny. Incumbent leaders increasingly used force to crush opponents and settle scores, sometimes in the name of public health, while beleaguered activists—lacking effective international support—faced heavy jail sentences, torture, or murder in many settings.

These withering blows marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006.

The chart shown above is a screenshot from the Freedom House website: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2021/democracy-under-siege

As both of the excerpts from these reports indicate, part of the increase in anti-democratic tendencies during the pandemic may be temporary. That is, government efforts to enforce mask wearing, social distancing, and other actions to reduce the coronavirus infection rate limit freedom of action in the short term but may not signal a long-term increase in repression. Thus, in the latter half of 2021 and beyond, freedom of action may very well show a rebound.

Not all of democracy’s troubles in 2020 and the first half of 2021 can be attributed to the pandemic. For one thing, both of the above reports indicate a long-term trend in the weakening of democracy going back to 2006. The pandemic may have exacerbated anti-democratic tendencies, but the gradual erosion of democracy around the world has been occurring for well over a decade.

Democracy is under threat in the United States, not primarily because of COVID-19, but because of the anti-democratic words and actions of Donald Trump and his followers. In particular, he, many Republican elected officials at state and federal levels, and some rank-and-file GOP members have refused to acknowledge the reality of his loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s continued promotion of “the big lie” led to the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., in which over 500 rioters have been arrested so far.

As part of this Trump and Republican-led effort to undermine democracy in the U.S., more than 20 state laws have been passed as of May of this year that make it harder for Americans to vote. President Biden and others have excoriated these and other proposed voting restrictions as the biggest threat to American democracy since the Civil War.

What changes should we expect?

What changes should we expect in conflict and democracy in the next couple of years?

It is difficult to predict future changes in conflict levels. The number of deaths from violent events around the world will depend on reforms in international and national policies and actions related to these events. At this time, there are no apparent trends, either positive or negative, that are likely to cause a significant change from the status quo.

Future trends in homicide are also unclear. On the one hand, there appears to be pent-up anger and frustration caused by the pandemic that have raised the worldwide level of homicides and assaults. On the other hand, as we gain more control over the pandemic, these sources of violence may subside. One hopeful note may be that in the United States and possibly in other countries, police violence against minorities may be reduced as a result of strong public protests against such violence. However, continued easy access to guns in the United States and gang activity in Central and South America are likely to increase homicides in the near future.

As stated above, some of the reduction in democratic freedom during the pandemic may disappear as restrictive measures intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus are eliminated. But this change is a separate issue from the erosion of democracy during the past 15 years or so. Future trends in this long-term pattern are not readily predictable.

Then there is the anti-democratic cult of Trump and his sycophants in the Republican party. What will happen in the U.S. between now and the 2022 elections? Will we restore democratic norms or move increasingly toward authoritarianism?

Stay tuned. Or, better yet, play an active role in exposing “the big lie” and championing free and fair elections.

The impact of Covid-19: The pandemic’s effects on progress toward a more cooperative world society in 2020 and 2021

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
May 2021, Issue 28
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

We have been writing about whether or not humans have been moving toward or away from a more cooperative society since 2016. The pandemic, which began in December 2019, has had a profound effect not only on our health and mortality, but on the world’s economy, political landscape, social well-being, and the environment. That impact is continuing in 2021, and very probably will have significant consequences in subsequent years.

We will talk about the effects of Covid-19 on our lives in three installments of The Cooperative Society Newsletter, beginning with this May issue and continuing in July and September.

First, a little background on The Cooperative Society Project.

There are three core premises to the Project:

  • We have reached a point in human history at which there are adequate resources for all human beings to experience a decent quality of life. Similarly, humans are now able to establish and maintain a sustainable relationship with nature. The problem is: We are not yet achieving these goals.
  • It is important to measure the extent to which we humans are moving toward a sustainable quality of life for all and a sustainable environment, and, when we are falling short, to take corrective action.
  • Achieving these goals does not depend on forces outside of our control. We have the power to shape the conditions of our lives and those of future generations. We are the agents of history, not its powerless subjects.

The 2018 edition of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History and “The Cooperative Society 2020 Report” both review progress (or the lack of it) related to seven measures: economic power, the distribution of wealth, conflict, democracy, population, quality of life, and the environment.

Following is an update on the first two of these variables – economic power and wealth distribution. The other five measures will be addressed in the next two newsletters.

Economic Power

Key questions
To what extent has the pandemic affected the concentration of corporate and country-related domination of the world’s economy in 2020 and so far in 2021? Are checks and balances, along with alternative forms of business, being applied and planned to reduce the nega­tive consequences of this concentration?

Importance of this measure
As long as economic decision-making is dominated by the few, the rest of us are dependent on the choices that they make. This concentrated economic power is the primary cause of periodic, large-scale disruptions to the economy (for example the Great Recession of 2008-2010). It also has a significant impact on how we deal with crises such as those precipitated by the pandemic and global warming.

Major trends in economic concentration in 2020 and 2021:

  • The largest, publicly traded corporations in the world increased their combined market value by 47% between mid-April 2000 and mid-April 2021 – from $54 trillion to $80 trillion.
  • The United States and China are headquarters for the world’s corporations with the largest combined market values. As of April 2021, the U.S. accounted for 35% and China 7% of the market value of the top 100 corporations in the world.
  • Due to the pandemic, the world gross product (WGP) – the combined value of the goods and services produced by all countries – declined by a little over 4% in 2020. The only other time in the last 50 years there has been a decline in WGP was in 2009 during the Great Recession, and the drop that year was only .1%.
123RF.com: Fabian Plock

Analysis

These data indicate that the world’s most powerful corporations and the countries in which they are located became even more powerful during the pandemic. This was at a time when the rest of the world economy made a significant downturn.

Corrective action

The biggest factors that would reduce the power of these corporations are changes in the policies of International bodies such as the United Nations and the world’s most developed countries toward them. 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 their inordinate influence on the world economy. Taking actions to strengthen small- and medium-size businesses, and including cooperatives and social enterprises, would also make a huge difference. These approaches to creating a fairer world economy in the post-pandemic era are increasingly being discussed by world leaders, including President Biden, but so far, there has been little action.

Wealth distribution

Key question
Is the distribution of wealth becoming more or less unequal around the globe?

Importance of this measure
The concentra­tion of wealth has consequences for everyone’s economic and social well-being. Large differ­ences in wealth and income mean that many of us earn less, receive fewer social benefits, and have less influence over the political decision-making that affects our day-to-day lives than we would have in a more equi­table society. Inequality also leads to social unrest and conflict.

Major trends in wealth inequality during the pandemic:

  • According to Oxfam:
    • We could face the greatest rise in inequality since records began, with the pandemic increasing economic inequality in almost every country at once. 

    • It could take more than a decade for billions of the world’s poorest people to recover from the economic hit of the pandemic while the 1,000 richest people recouped their COVID-19 losses within just nine months.

    • Just 10 people – the world’s richest billionaires, all men – have seen their combined wealth skyrocket by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began. That’s more than enough to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone and to prevent the pandemic from pushing anyone into poverty.
  • The World Bank estimates that the number of people living in extreme poverty – defined as $1.90 per day or less – increased by between $119 and $124 million in 2020 because of the pandemic. This is the first increase in extreme poverty in 20 years.

  • The World Food Programme estimates that the total number of acutely food-insecure people increased to 272 million in 2020, compared to 149 million people in 2019.

  • According to the United Nations, the pandemic could force almost a billion people into destitution by 2030 “unless nations introduce energy, food and climate reforms.”
123RF.com: takkuu

Analysis

The above data clearly indicate that the pandemic has “made the rich richer and the poor poorer.” Although there has been a long-term pattern of increasing concentration of wealth around the world, the level of extreme poverty had been dropping dramatically during the two decades prior to 2020. But the pandemic reversed the long-term trend in the decrease of extreme poverty.

Corrective action

This projection of widening inequality in the decade ahead is not a foregone conclusion. It can be addressed in two primary ways: by increasing taxes on the wealthy, and by implementing reforms to drive down the poverty rate.

Along with an increase in corporate taxes, President Biden is proposing more progressive taxes on individuals and families that would particularly focus on the very wealthy. Other developed countries have instituted such tax reforms, or are considering doing so.

International economic reforms could get the world back on track in reducing extreme poverty between now and 2030. According to the United Nations Development Programme,

“These measures include investments aimed at changing patterns of food, energy, and water consumption and increasing internet access as well as supporting low-carbon economies.    

Rich nations also face calls to look beyond their own economic woes and support developing countries by increasing foreign aid, cancelling debt, and financing affordable vaccines.”

123RF.com: Herman Lumanog 

Conclusion

Both the trends of increasing economic power of large corporations and increasing inequality between the wealthy and the rest of us accelerated as a result of the pandemic in 2020 and the first half of 2021. In addition, the progress that had been made in reducing extreme poverty during the past 20 years suffered a significant reversal.

But, progressive policies during the next decade can reduce the power of large corporations and decrease the wealth gap between the rich and the poor.

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

Trump’s true believers. How many will see the light of reason by 2022?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
January 2021, Issue 26
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.” Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

Hoffer could easily have been talking about Donald Trump, except that he wrote these words 70 years ago.

The purpose of this article is to understand why so many Americans became true believers in Trump’s skewed view of the world during the past five years, and how some of them may get back in touch with reality prior to the 2022 elections.

Why?

The “why” issue is a tricky one. There are many paths to becoming a true believer, defined as, “One who sticks to one’s dogma … irrespective of the facts.”

Some people are more susceptible than others to putting their preconceptions of the world ahead of reality. This predisposition itself requires a rationale, one for which I have an incomplete explanation.

Some people who feel angry, alienated, oppressed, and/or beaten down by the world around them turn to faith in something or someone that gives them hope, purpose, and a sense of belonging. This transformation is often accompanied by finding like-minded groups of people who share and reinforce the same fervor of distrust, hatred, and/or shared belief in a cause.

Who?

Regardless of an incomplete understanding of the “why,” these true believers need a “who” to pin their hopes and aspirations on. Along came presidential candidate Donald Trump to fill this role of validator of their discontent.

Trump’s true believers don’t need to share the same detailed set of beliefs to swear their fealty to him. Some see him warding off the waves of migrating brown people from Latin America. Some identify with his antipathy to Muslims and/or Blacks. Some are reinforced by his promise to drain the swamp of deep-state politicians and bureaucrats in Washington. Some identify with his disdain for the scientists involved in battling COVID-19 or climate change. In any case, they coalesce around his promise to vanquish these “others” whom they distrust, fear, and hate.

In the unfettered world of social media, Trump and his followers find “enablers” who reinforce their beliefs regardless of the lack of facts supporting them. Lies repeated often enough become the truth, particularly for those who seek information only from sources with which they agree. Trump, his disciples, and their enablers in social media use the term “fake news” to characterize mainstream (“lame stream”) media in an Orwellian disparagement of factual information.

Another crucial set of enablers has been Republican leaders, particularly in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, who, for the most part, have kowtowed to Trump, despite his false and often bizarre pronouncements and actions. (Remember his musings on injecting bleach to cure COVID-19?)

The Washington Post’s mind-numbing chronicling of Trump’s 30,000-plus lies during his four years in office have affected his true believers like water off a duck’s back.

So, back to one of the original questions of this article: Can Trump’s true believers see the light of reason by 2022?

Recovering Trumpaholics

More than 70 million Americans voted for Trump on November 3, 2020. Most of these voters continue to believe that Trump won the election. They hold this belief in the face of overwhelming evidence that he lost by a significant margin.

Trump’s false claims about election fraud began in April 2020, more than six months before the election. He publicly repeated these claims more than 150 times before November 3. The expectation of a stolen election that he instilled in his followers culminated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

But this time, his egging on of violent protesters received condemnation by most people across the country and resulted in his unprecedented second impeachment. As a result, he ended his presidency with his highest disapproval rating since taking office.

Even many of the Proud Boys and QAnon fanatics have disavowed him.

Will this erosion of support continue? There are several indications that it will. Trump has lost much of his access to social media. He is now shunned by many of his previous business donors.

There is a split in the Republican Party between those who retain loyalty to him and those who are trying to distance themselves from him. He is facing numerous civil and criminal charges and huge financial debts that must be repaid in the next couple of years. The reality of Biden’s victory is gradually sinking into the minds of some “forever” Trumpers.

Trump’s true believers seeing the light of reason won’t happen all at once. And it won’t happen to all of them. Perhaps 40 million or so of Trump’s true believers will see the light of reason in time to put America’s democracy back on a solid track in the next two years. Many will not suddenly become moderates or liberals, but they have the potential to improve their ability to differentiate truth from lies, and to keep their political beliefs and actions within the bounds of a democratic society.

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Announcing a new book from The Cooperative Society Project

I’m pleased to announce that Strengthening the Cooperative Community will be available starting Monday, March 1, as a free PDF on this website and as a print book through Amazon and local booksellers. Many of the case studies and recommendations in the book are based on my 50 years of international cooperative research and development experience.

Some comments on the advance review copy include these perspectives:

“Anyone interested in concrete ideas for reducing inequality domestically or internationally should read this book, . . . —Dave Grace, Managing Partner, Dave Grace and Associates

“Thank you for this lively, agile, and accessible introduction to the cooperative world, . . . ”— Gianluca Salvatori, CEO, Euricse

“E.G. has made a major contribution to the history and future impact of cooperative enterprise . . . I hope the 16 recommendations in this narrative will be given serious consideration by cooperative leadership at the global, regional, national and local levels across all sectors.”—Dr. Martin Lowery, Executive Vice President Emeritus, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, International Cooperative Alliance board member and Chair, ICA Cooperative Identity Committee

See our press release here.

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.

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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

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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