Developing Strategies for U.S. and Global Green New Deals

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
January 2019, Issue 13
by E.G. Nadeau, Ph.D.

We’ve written two books about the societal transformation that we believe is taking place. Our hypotheses are based on our research of seven broad sets of variables such as economic power, the environment, quality of life, and more. If this is of interest to you – and it quite possibly is because you’re here at our website – we invite you to download a free PDF of our book, The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History, Second Edition, or find information on buying the book here. Thank you.

What is a Green New Deal?
There has been a lot of buzz recently about launching a Green New Deal in the United States, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (often referred to as AOC), the new congresswoman from New York, playing a lead role in championing this initiative.[1]

However, questions abound. What is a Green New Deal? Can this catchy title be turned into a pragmatic set of new policies? Can there be a global counterpart to this progressive American idea?

What a Green New Deal is depends on whom you ask. In a comprehensive article that appeared in early January in Vox magazine, David Roberts defined it this way:

“It refers, in the loosest sense, to a massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy. It is meant both to decarbonize the economy and to make it fairer and more just.”[2]

green new deal

To elaborate, Roberts’ definition would combine a variety of initiatives to reduce global warming, decrease poverty, create jobs, and effectively implement a green paradigm for the American economy. This new economic model would prioritize human and environmental needs, reduce the economic influence of large corporations, and reduce economic inequality.

Some question the overarching and complicated nature of such a transformation in American energy and economic policy. Some see it as a threat to fossil-fuel-based corporations, and to an entire society that has been dependent on fossil fuels almost since capitalism began. Others worry about the difficulty of implementing such a wide array of changes at the same time. By taking on too much at once, they fear that we may end up with nothing or very little. Effective climate action could get lost in the shuffle.[3]

green new deal

The same kinds of comments can be made about an international version of a Green New Deal. Some observers laud such a possibility, while others worry about losing a worldwide consensus (we’ve already lost the Trump administration) on the urgent need for climate reform by the addition of too much additional baggage. 

When was it first proposed?
The “New Deal” part of the phrase originated with the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, whose administration used this catchphrase to encompass an array of programs intended to pull the United States out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was not one massive reform, but a series of separate programs and regulations that together constituted major changes in the federal government’s role in creating jobs and increasing economic and social security.[4]

The New York Times columnist and author, Thomas Friedman, is credited with first using the phrase “Green New Deal” in 2007. In early January 2019, Friedman wrote another op-ed, “The Green New Deal Rises Again,” in which he expressed support for the renewed sense of urgency in addressing climate-change problems.[5]

Presidential candidate Barack Obama included the phrase Green New Deal in his platform in 2008. [6] And in 2009, the United Nations produced a report entitled “Global Green New Deal.”[7] But then, domestic and international concerns shifted to addressing problems created by the Great Recession, and the momentum for a comprehensive approach to climate change temporarily hit the skids.[8]

cooperative green society

The phrase Green New Deal reemerged during the 2018 midterm election campaigns of several progressive, Democratic candidates for Congress. This time around, the concept has received a lot of attention – both positive and negative – in the press and among politicians and environmental and social activists. It is too soon to tell whether or not the momentum toward implementing some version of a Green New Deal – at the national and international levels – will stick this time or fade into the background again.

A survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication in mid-December shows “overwhelming support for the Green New Deal, with 81% of registered voters saying they either ‘strongly support’ (40%) or ‘somewhat support’ (41%) this plan.”[9] 

What might a pragmatic version of this idea look like in the United States?
The young progressives in Congress who are championing a Green New Deal for the United States (and for the world) are already being “put in their place” by their congressional elders. For example, AOC and her fellow insurgent colleagues have already lost the fight to have a special committee established to focus on preparing the way for the implementation of Green New Deal legislation.[10]

But that doesn’t mean they have lost the war. They and other advocates are already gearing up for the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. They plan to keep pushing their message for the urgent need to link climate change and positive economic change in order to simultaneously reduce the risk of catastrophic global warming and create an economy that provides well-paying jobs and economic security.[11]

I have one piece of advice for these Green New Deal advocates: Just as the Roosevelt administration did so successfully with the New Deal, think in terms of a set of reforms rather than one massive program. These reforms could include increased federal and state incentives for conversion to solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy, for electric vehicles, and for energy-efficient buildings. They also could include job training and job creation for a green economy; increased taxes on the wealthy and/or taxes on carbon-dioxide emissions; and economic benefits for the poor tied to climate change, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.

electric vehicles

As a global initiative?
The reemergent Global Green New Deal has not yet been articulated in any detail, although it is considered by proponents to be an extension of the reform program being articulated for the United States.

What would the global version entail? The United Nations has already established a Green Climate Fund, the primary purpose of which is to assist poorer countries to implement carbon-reducing initiatives, and to adapt to the problems created by global warming – for example, protection against rising sea levels and agricultural practices that are more resilient to droughts and floods.[12]

bio farming

A key problem is, however, that there is not nearly enough money in this Fund to address the magnitude of the problems. It is not clear at this time how the size of the Fund could be rapidly and massively expanded.

There are also other bilateral, multilateral, and private-sector aid and economic assistance programs to accelerate climate reforms in developing countries. But, again, they do not match the urgency of the problem.

From my own research and my review of the literature, I am aware of a number of initiatives that could provide tens of millions of jobs in developing countries in the fight against global warming. They include forest-based carbon sequestration;[13] installation of solar-panel microgrids;[14] the rapid deployment of low-cost, electric vehicles; accelerated increases in the energy efficiency of buildings; and financial assistance in weaning countries off of dependency on fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy.[15]

The most recent studies are projecting that we have a little over 10 years to radically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions before the world will be subjected to major increases in climate-related disasters.[16] The proponents of domestic and international Green New Deals recognize the sense of urgency with which we need to mobilize our resources to counter this worldwide threat.

My primary caution is to follow the same type of multi-pronged strategy of the original “New Deal.” Let’s not try to do everything at once in one massive package. We can simultaneously benefit the planet and the economic circumstances of the people who inhabit it by introducing a broad set of reforms that vary by community and by country, rather than by striving for a holy grail, mega-reform that is likely to get snarled in its own complexity.

[1] Hand, Mark, December 4, 2018, “Ocasio-Cortez wants to unite generations of climate action efforts under the Green New Deal,” ThinkProgress.

[2] Roberts, David, January 7, 2019, “The Green New Deal, explained,” Vox Magazine.

[3] Gulker, Max, December 4, 2018, “The Inconvenient Truth About the Green New Deal,” American Institute for Economic Research.

[4] Wikipedia, January 8, 2019, “New Deal.”

[5] Friedman, Thomas, January 8, 2019, “The Green New Deal Rises Again,” New York Times.

[6] Kaufman, Alexander C., June 27, 2018, “The Surprising Origins of What Could Be The ‘Medicare For All’ Of Climate Change,” Huffington Post.

[7] Barbier, Edward, 2009, “A Global Green New Deal,” Report prepared for the Green Economy Initiative of UNEP.

[8] Ibid., Roberts.

[9] Gustafson, Abel et al, December 14, 2018, “The Green New Deal has Strong Bipartisan Support,” Yale Project on Climate Communication.

[10] Cama, Timothy, January 2, 2019, “House Dems formalize climate committee plans without Green New Deal language,” The Hill.

[11] Krieg, Gregory, January 8, 2019, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, activist groups map out next steps in Green New Deal fight,” CNN.

[12] Green Climate Fund, accessed January 9, 2019.

[13] Forestry paper.

[14] Nadeau, E.G., September 2018, “Can we Electrify the World by 2030?” The Cooperative Society Newsletter.

[15] Cimons, Marlene, December 29, 2018, “24 Million Jobs Could Be Created from Meeting Paris Climate Agreement Targets,” Clean Technica, originally published by Nexus Media.

[16] World Energy Outlook 2018, International Energy Agency, November 2018.

small-scale solar energy


Critical Thinking, Constructive Action, and the Climate Crisis

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
November 2018, Issue 12
by E.G. Nadeau, Ph.D.

climate changeAs I thought about what to write in this November article, two topics came to mind: critical thinking and the climate crisis.

Choosing a topic
The focus on critical thinking results from my fear that the ability, or at least the tendency, to “objectively analyze and evaluate an issue in order to form a judgment”[1] is becoming an increasingly rare commodity in the divisive, politically charged discourse in the United States, and also in a number of other countries that are experiencing polarization and acrimony around issues such as abuse of power, immigration, gender, ethnicity, religion, race, climate change, and others.

My alarm about the climate crisis increased because of the report just released in October by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), entitled “Global Warming of 1.5° Celsius”[2] [2.7°F]. The reference in the report title is to the goal of keeping the increase in the Earth’s surface temperature less than 1.5°C above what the temperature was at the beginning of the industrial era. The report presents a dire warning of damage that would be done to the world if we exceed that temperature level by 2040 – which we are on track to do.

Then it dawned on me that these two topics are inextricably linked if we are going to avoid a climate crisis in the next 20 years or so. That is, if we as a species don’t think critically and act constructively during this time, we will be acquiescing to a predictable and avoidable worldwide series of climate-related disasters that will last into the 22nd century and, possibly, beyond.

So, these two interlinked topics are the subject of this article.

Back to basics
When I was a freshman at Harvard in 1966, I took a course called “Expository Writing.” All freshmen were required to take this seminar, which was taught in small groups by graduate students and junior faculty. An expository essay explains or analyzes something based on factual analysis and/or logic. The course consisted of students preparing a dozen or so brief essays which were then critiqued by the instructor.

I don’t remember the topic of my first essay, but I do remember the result. The instructor’s criticisms were about as long as the paper itself, and I got a D for my efforts. Why? Because I had no idea of how to think critically. My approach to a short essay was to propound a series of opinions and assertions without backing them up with real facts or careful analysis.

In retrospect, Expository Writing was the most valuable course I took as an undergraduate. It taught me to reason, to do research, to analyze, and to present the results in a clear, succinct manner to the reader.

I refer to this personal experience in order to call attention to, what I consider to be, a crisis of ignorance today in the United States, as well as in many other countries. When we don’t think about the causes of, and realistic solutions to, the problems of our day, we leave ourselves open to all kinds of bad results: rule by demagogues, ethnic and racial hatred, cold and hot wars, needless suffering, and a failure to address – and even an exacerbation of – real problems such as global warming, and quality-of-life issues such as hundreds of millions of people lacking access to  an adequate diet and healthcare, and living in extreme poverty.

climate changeAn example of critical thinking
Let’s focus on the recent climate-change report to illustrate the importance of critical thinking and constructive action, both by our leaders and by the rest of us.

  1. Ascertain the facts.
    There is an overwhelming consensus by the scientific community around the world that the surface temperature of the planet has been warming since the beginning of the industrial era, and that the rate of warming has been increasing in the early 21st century. The warmest four years since the late 1800s, when scientists first reliably collected data on the earth’s surface temperature, were 2014-2017.

The links between human actions – especially the burning of fossil fuels – and climate change have been well researched by scientists for decades. The increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere not only have warmed the Earth’s surface to levels that have not been seen for over 100,000 years, but have also resulted in a range of other negative impacts, such as life-threatening heat waves, droughts, major rain events, flooding, more intense hurricanes, the extinction of animal and plant species, rising sea levels and temperatures, and many other problems.

  1. Determine what can be done to slow, and then reverse the rate of global warming.
    We know what we need to do. We are just not doing enough of it, nor as quickly as we need to. We need to wean ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels, especially coal, and rapidly convert to sustainable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric. We also need to sequester carbon and other greenhouse gases to reduce their release into the atmosphere. Managing our forests better, reducing deforestation, and increasing afforestation are the best natural means to sequester carbon.
  2. Implement a plan for reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
    The Paris Agreement is intended to secure commitments from all of the countries in the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It has been signed by 195 countries (although Donald Trump has announced that the United States will withdraw from the agreement in 2020). Aside from the irresponsible actions of the US President and his administration, the biggest problem with planning under the Paris Agreement is that the projected, cumulative impact of national goals related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not sufficient to keep the increase in the Earth’s surface temperature below 1.5°C by 2040. So, the plans are in place, but in their current form they won’t prevent the climate from reaching a negative tipping point in the next 20 years or so.
  3. Review and revise the plans and implementation practices periodically.
    The Paris Agreement includes periodic evaluations of its effectiveness, compliance by plan participants, improvements in remediation approaches, and movement toward the goal of no more than 1.5°C by 2040. The first major evaluation is scheduled for 2023, followed by a review and revision in 2028, and, theoretically, every five years thereafter. So, there are opportunities for countries to strengthen their plans during the next decade and beyond, but, according to the IPCC Report, major revisions need to start right away – not in 2023 – if the 2040 crisis is to be avoided.

Given the severity of the climate crisis, the five-year review process isn’t good enough. Instead, each country’s performance should be evaluated and updated every year.

Heading off a climate crisis before 2040 is achievable. We understand the causes and effects of global warming. We understand the basic changes that need to be made in our sources and uses of energy. We have developed many of the renewable-energy, energy-efficiency and carbon-sequestration technologies required to make the changes. We even have a worldwide plan to implement these changes. The major missing ingredient is the urgent commitment to action by national, regional, and local governments; by businesses; and by all of us as citizens and consumers.

My son, Luc, and I just published the second edition of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History. Our 148-page full-color book is available for purchase through bookstores and Amazon, or download a free PDF of [Download not found]

Can We Electrify the World by 2030?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
September 2018, Issue 11
by E.G. Nadeau, Ph.D.

small scale solarA little over a billion people have no access to electricity. That’s 1/7th of the world’s population. There are hundreds of millions more whose energy is unreliable, dirty, unhealthy, inadequate, unsustainable, and/or expensive – for example, kerosene, diesel, wood, and candles.[1]

At the same time, almost every country in the world has made a commitment through the United Nations Paris Agreement to significantly cut back by 2030 on their use of energy sources that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.[2] (Note that the Trump administration is planning to withdraw the United States from the agreement in January 2020.)[3]

On top of all that, these same countries have made commitments through the UN’s Sustainable Development Program to dramatically improve the quality of life around the world by 2030. One of the Program’s goals is to, “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”[4]

There are many ways in which universal access to electricity will improve the quality of people’s lives; for example, creating job opportunities, reducing the workload of women by saving on average an hour a day that is currently spent searching for firewood, and preventing almost 2-million premature deaths per year from household air pollution. There would also be a net reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions because of lower use of biomass fuel for cooking, and the virtual elimination of kerosene and other dirty fuels as sources of heat and light.[5]

How can these divergent problems and goals be reconciled?

The broad answer is to dramatically increase the use of renewable energy to meet the world’s unmet and under-met needs for electricity. This article provides a brief overview of recent changes in electrical access and outlines a path toward universal electrification by 2030 with a focus on community-based solar energy.

Recent and projected progress in electrification
There has been a pattern since 2000 of accelerating access to electricity for unserved and underserved populations. Data from the World Energy Outlook 2017 Special Report[6] indicate that in 2000, there were about 1.7 billion people without access to electricity. This number dropped to 1.1 billion in 2016. The “vast majority (97%) of new electricity connections” has been provided through primarily fossil-fuel-based grid extensions. Less than 1% of new electricity access has been via decentralized systems.[7]

The report goes on to say that between now and 2030, fossil fuels will largely be replaced by renewable energy – especially solar energy – as the primary source for new electricity connections. “The rapidly declining costs of solar PV [photovoltaics], battery technologies, and energy-efficient appliances (especially light-emitting diode [LED] lighting) are making decentralized renewable energy systems more affordable. This is particularly the case for rural and dispersed communities not served by a main grid and where it may take years for one to arrive. Decentralized systems can also be attractive in areas with grid access but an unreliable power supply.”[8]

Growth of solar and other renewable sources of electrification
There are a number of exciting, renewable-energy options that are beginning to electrify the world. For example, large solar arrays are being developed across northern Africa that could eventually replace much of the fossil-fuel energy of Europe. One analyst estimates that putting solar panels on 2% of the Sahara Desert could meet all of the world’s electricity needs.[9]

Building underwater transmission cables from the Sahara to Europe is quite feasible. The same is not true for transmission to the Americas. There are other examples of desert-based large-scale solar projects in Saudi Arabia, China, the Navajo reservation in the United States, and elsewhere. Together, these systems are likely to provide a huge addition to affordable, renewable energy by 2030.

And, we can’t forget about wind. Wind turbines are still cheaper than solar panels in many situations and will continue to be a critical part of any future mix of renewable-energy sources.

Both solar and wind must be supplemented by other sources of energy and energy storage systems. Lithium ion batteries and other means of storage are an important and increasingly cost-effective way to expand the use of renewable energy at every level, from individual buildings to large power plants.

Community-based solar energy
Many of the billion-plus people who don’t have access to electricity live in fairly remote areas that are not easily connected to major power grids. As a result, large-scale renewable options don’t apply to them and are not likely to in the near future because of the high cost of transmission lines.

Households and businesses, and clusters of electrical consumers at the village level, can be most economically and efficiently served by electricity generated right at the community level.

In projecting future expansion of access to electricity, the World Energy Outlook Report lays out an “energy-for-all” scenario, which is based on the goal of universal electrification by 2030.[10]

Figuring in population growth, this would mean expanding electrical coverage to 1.3 billion additional people at an approximate cost of almost $800 billion. The report concludes that over 50% of this electricity would be powered by solar energy, and less than 25% by fossil fuels. Furthermore, more than 60% of new electrical energy will be generated by mini-grid and off-grid systems. (For the most part, “off-grid” systems power individual homes and other buildings.)[11]

Below are four examples that include community-based solar components, followed by a discussion of how community solar could be expanded and made more efficient so that many millions more people around the world could benefit from renewable, reliable, and locally controlled electricity.

The newly formed Totota Co-op in rural Liberia has just begun operating a community solar co-op. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and Bandera Electric Co-op, one of NRECA’s member cooperatives in the United States, assisted the village to organize the co-op and install solar panels, a battery-storage unit, and other equipment.[12] NRECA is working with 12 Liberian coastal villages to expand the community solar model to them.

Rural India
When Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India in 2014, 300 million households were without electricity. Every village in India now has electricity, but there are still 30 million households without it. President Modi promises to electrify all of these remaining households by April 2019 through a combination of hooking them up to the national grid and through mini-grid and off-grid installations.[13] Many communities have formed Village Electric Committees to oversee the operation of their solar facilities. According to one observer, “most Indian solar microgrids are democratic, with power controlled by village committees.”[14]

The Caribbean
Islands, big and small, face special challenges in meeting their electrical service needs.  Most don’t have local sources of energy, although some use wood, other kinds of biomass, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy. Importing fuel, such as diesel, is expensive and polluting. Many islands are also vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes that play havoc with transmission lines and other components of the electrical system. Consider the damage that Hurricane Maria caused in Puerto Rico last year, including the estimated loss of about 3,000 lives, and from which the island is still recovering.

Forty island countries and other territories in the Caribbean formed the $1-billion Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator in August 2018 to create more self-sufficient and resilient energy systems.[15]

The Sahel Region of Africa
Along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert is a huge savanna region called the Sahel. At over 1,000,000 mi.², it is one-third the size of the Sahara.

“The Desert to Power Program . . . seeks to make use of this massive swathe of territory to develop 10,000 megawatts (MW) worth of solar energy to provide electricity to 250 million people — including for 90 million off-grid.”[16]

Here are some strengths of the community-based solar model:

      • Relatively inexpensive
      • Can have its own microgrid, independent of a large-scale transmission grid
      • Easy to transport, install, and maintain
      • Costs can be based on usage
      • Decision-making can be through cooperative or other locally elected boards
      • Can generate jobs and new business activity
      • Can improve the quality of everyday life and health

And here are some of the challenges to expanding the model so that it reaches as many communities as possible:

      • Start-up capital
      • Expertise to source materials and set up local systems
      • Ongoing monitoring and support

There are a number of international and national programs, both public and private, that are expanding their involvement in the creation of community solar programs. There is still a long way to go to provide renewable energy to the billion-plus people who have little or no access to it now. However, based on the analysis of the World Energy Outlook Report, “energy for all” by 2030 is an achievable goal.

small-scale solar energy


[1] World Energy Outlook 2017: From Poverty to Prosperity, International, International Energy Agency.

[2] The Paris Agreement, United Nations Climate Change, 2018.

[3] Plumer, Brad, Trump Will Withdraw U.S. From Paris Climate Agreement, New York Times, June 1, 2017.

[4] Sustainable Development Goal 7, United Nations, 2017.

[5] Universal energy access by 2030 is now within reach thanks to growing political will and falling costs, International Energy Agency, 19 October 2017

[6] World Energy Outlook, op. cit.

[7] Ibid., p. 44.

[8] Ibid., p. 44.

[9] Michelsen, Charis, Solar Energy From the Sahara Desert Could Power the World – But Will It? December 14th, 2011.

[10] Ibid., pp. 53-55.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Chapa, Sergio, Solar microgrid designed in Texas Hill Country deployed in West Africa, San Antonio Business Journal, June 27, 2018.

[13]  Doshi, Vidhi, Every village in India now has electricity. But millions still live in darkness, Washington Post, April 30, 2018.

[14] Pearce, Fred, In Rural India, Solar-Powered Microgrids Show Mixed Success, Yale Environment 360, January 14, 2016.

[15] Hill, Joshua S., Caribbean Nations Partner With Global Superstars & Corporate Giants For $1 Billion Climate Accelerator, August 14th, 2018.

[16] Hutchins Mark, African development bank launches ‘Desert to Power’ program, targeting 10 GW of solar, PV Magazine, May 30, 2018.


Are You Searching for an Antidote for Doom and Gloom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more and take action  

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

Praise for the 2016 edition of The Cooperative Society

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

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

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

You can purchase the book or download a free PDF copy of it beginning October 1, 2018. See for more information.

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

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

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

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

A brief overview of the books and their authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The books have some pitfalls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking toward the future

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

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

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

Climate Update: A Race Against Time

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
March 2018, Issue 8
By E.G. Nadeau

NASA Global Temperature Maps: Dark blue shows areas cooler than average; dark red shows areas warmer than average. The five warmest years in the global record have all occurred since 2010. Source:

In the July 2017 issue of The Cooperative Society Project newsletter, we wrote an article entitled “Trump Withdraws from the Climate Change Agreement, but the Rest of the World Is Still In.”

A lot has happened in the last six months – ugly, bad, and good – that affects the trajectory of world climate change. In this article, we chronicle and evaluate some of the most important factors related to carbon dioxide emissions and propose the makings of a successful strategy for reducing them.

Let’s start with ugly
At the top of this category are the actions of the fossil-fuel driven Trump administration. With the United States as the second-largest carbon-emitting country in the world – and the largest per capita emitter – the U.S. federal government is doing its best to make carbon emissions even worse. Several key Trump appointees in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies are rolling back clean-energy regulations, and effectively providing a license to increase pollution to the coal, gas, and oil industries.

In addition to these specific backward actions favoring fossil fuels, Trump announced the ugliest action of all in June 2017 with his stated intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, thus abdicating U.S. responsibility to shoulder its share of the global initiative’s reduction of carbon emissions (although in late January 2018, he mentioned that the U.S. might consider rejoining the Agreement[1]).

Two bads
The planet experienced its third-warmest surface temperature in 2017 since reliable measures were developed in the late 1800s. What’s worse is that, if the lack of El Niño warming last year is taken into account, 2017 was the hottest ever recorded. The warmest temperatures experienced by the planet since the late 1800s have occurred at the beginning of the 21st century.[2] Global warming has shifted from a serious long-term problem to an urgent near-term crisis. There are other indicators – such as the accelerated warming of the Arctic and the rapid melting of the glaciers in Newfoundland – that show climate change proceeding at a substantially faster pace than had been projected just a few years ago.[3]

Also on the negative side of the ledger, The United Nations Emissions Gap Report, published in November 2017, concluded that: “The NDCs [Nationally Determined Contributions] that form the foundation of the Paris Agreement cover only approximately one-third of the emissions reductions needed to . . . [keep the increase in the earth’s surface temperature well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels]. The gap between the reductions needed and the national pledges made in Paris is alarmingly high.”[4]

Several goods
There was a flurry of positive actions and meetings in November and December 2017.

As mentioned in our July 2017 newsletter, a number of U.S. states, cities, businesses, and other organizations responded to Trump’s proposed withdrawal from the Paris Agreement by affirming that “they were still in.” This announcement was followed by the America’s Pledge Phase 1 Report published in November 2017, which documents the current commitments of U.S. states, cities and businesses to dramatically reduce carbon emissions by 2025. A Phase 2 Report to be completed later this year “will develop a more comprehensive analysis focusing on bottom-up non-federal contributions to 2025 U.S. emissions outcomes.” [5]

The U.N. Climate Change Conference was hosted by Fiji and held in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017. This was a follow-up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which almost all the countries of the world reaffirmed and clarified their commitments to reduced carbon emissions.[6] Of all the 197 signers of the Paris Agreement, only one country, the United States, has ceased to be active in its implementation.

The One Planet Summit was held in Paris in December 2017. Its focus was on “public and private finance in support of climate action.” A second One Planet Summit will be held in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland.[7]

Thus, it was heartening to see national governments, subnational entities, businesses and other organizations distance themselves from Trump’s dystopian actions.

A race against time
The most dramatic information presented above is The Emission Gap Report’s conclusion regarding the inadequacy of the combined national commitments of carbon emission reductions in the Paris Agreement.

The two-thirds shortfall in emissions reductions may appear to be an almost insurmountable gap. However, the Report offers a number of ways to make up the difference through a set of new commitments to be made by the end of 2020.

Under current national commitments, “Annual Global Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GtCO2e)” will rise from about 50 units in 2016 to 53 units in 2030. In order to avoid a trajectory that would lead to a temperature warming of 2° or more Celsius by the end of the century, we will need to reduce the GtCO2e to about 42 units by 2030. (See the accompanying graph.)

Carbon Emissions Gap:
Although fully implementing the Paris Agreement will lead to fewer carbon emissions than the world’s current policy trajectory, it will still be about 11 GtCO2e per year more in 2030 than what is necessary to keep global temperatures from rising 2 deg C by the end of the century.

In other words, there is at least an 11 GtCO2e difference between the emissions goals we need to set for 2030 and where they are currently set. Missing the 2020 revisions of nationally determined contributions “would make closing the 2030 emissions gap practically impossible.”[8]

So, what must be done?
The signatories of the Paris Agreement are scheduled to revise their commitments by the end of 2020. Thus, in a little less than two years, almost all of the countries of the world will need to agree to strengthen their commitments to reducing carbon emissions significantly beyond the goals they have already set.

The good news, according to the Emissions Gap Report, is that:

Emissions could be reduced by up to 30 to 40 GtCO2e per annum, with costs below US$100/tCO2e. It is remarkable that a large part of this potential comes from just six relatively standardized categories: solar and wind energy, efficient appliances, efficient passenger cars, afforestation and stopping deforestation. These six present a combined potential of up to 22 GtCO2e per annum.[9]

A reduction of 22 GtCO2e per annum would take us well below the 42 GtCO2e level by 2030, thus putting the world on a trajectory that would keep us below the 2° level throughout the rest of the 21st century.

The Report cautions, however, that:

To realize the full emission-reduction potential, countries need to implement ambitious policies immediately, to enable and accelerate the implementation of the full socio-economic potential of available measures and technologies. Most of the studies used for the bottom-up assessment of sectoral emission-reduction potentials assume that implementation of measures start immediately, underscoring the urgency of pre-2020 mitigation action.[10]

Avoiding building new coal-fired power plants and phasing out existing ones is crucial to closing the emissions gap. This will require careful handling of issues such as employment impacts, investor interests, grid stability and energy access to achieve a just transition.[11]

Action by subnational and non-state actors, including regional and local governments and businesses, is key to enhancing future ambition. . . . Enhanced monitoring and reporting of non-state actions, and the resulting emissions reductions, will be essential to making pledged actions transparent and credible.[12]

What we as individuals and community members can do
Take a look above at the six carbon emission categories identified as high priorities for reduction in The Emissions Gap Report. We can take actions directly related to all of these categories. We can promote solar and wind energy in our communities and organize against the use of coal-fired utilities, for example, through the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal initiative.[13] We can buy energy-efficient appliances and strengthen local codes regarding them. We can buy hybrid and electric vehicles and help to establish strict state and local policies regarding vehicle emissions and the phasing out of gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. And we can improve forestry practices in our communities that increase carbon sequestration. (On the topic of improved forestry practices, Luc and I wrote an article entitled “The role of forestry cooperatives in climate-change mitigation.[14])

Problems associated with climate change are getting worse faster than we thought, and the current proposed solutions are inadequate to avert a large increase in the Earth’s surface temperature. It’s not too late for the countries of the world, businesses and subnational actors to ratchet up their efforts to head off catastrophe, but these efforts must be accelerated in the next two or three years for this to happen.





[4] , p. xiii




[8] , pp. xiv-xv

[9] , p. xix

[10], p. 61

[11], p.21

[12], p. xiv



Businesses With A Heart

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
January 2018, Issue 7
E.G. Nadeau

The Cooperative SocietyThe underlying theme of the first Cooperative Society newsletter article of 2018 is that private-sector organizations can do good and do well at the same time. Companies in the Forbes Global 2000 can create social and environmental benefits as well as provide financial returns to their investors. Small businesses can play a positive role in their local communities and thrive economically. And social enterprises – businesses that put service before profit – have become far more numerous and visible in the past three decades.

A growing number of cooperatives and mutual insurance companies as well as non-profit and for-profit businesses meet the definition of social enterprises. Foundations, that are not engaged directly in business activities, can also have huge positive impacts.

For the purposes of this article, let’s call these varied private-sector approaches to doing good “the social economy.”[1]

Why is the rapid increase in the social and environmental commitments of these organizations during the past two or three decades such a big deal? Because they can be a means for improving the quality of life for billions of people around the world and for addressing a wide variety of community and environmental problems. Rather than analyze the broad socio-economic movement, the purpose of this brief essay is to provide an introduction to the fastest-growing part of this phenomenon – social enterprises – and to their contribution to the development of a more cooperative society. The article also raises some concerns about this expanding business form, and makes a few recommendations for improvements.

Let’s start with a few examples.

Goodwill Industries International
Goodwill, a nonprofit organization operating in the United States and Canada, is an example of a social enterprise that has been around for 115 years. It receives free donations of used clothing, furniture and other items, refurbishes them, and sells them through retail and wholesale outlets (and, more recently, online). The company also employs and trains people who have had difficulties in finding regular employment due to disabilities, a lack of skills and other factors. For many, the organization serves as a steppingstone into or back into the workforce.

Goodwill was founded in 1902 in Boston, Massachusetts, with the mission of “enhancing the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.” In 2016, Goodwill had more than 3,200 retail stores, generated $5.7 billion in revenue and assisted more than 300,000 people to find jobs.[2] Goodwill has come under criticism in recent years, in particular for overpaying its top executives and underpaying some of its rank-and-file employees.[3]

Italian social cooperatives
The earliest social co-ops in Italy were formed in the late 1970s. In 1991, the Italian government established an official status for these cooperatives, divided into two main categories: “Co-ops that carry out activities in the area of health, social or educational services; and co-ops that act as agencies for integrating disadvantaged people in the labor market.”[4]

In 2017, there were an estimated 60,000 cooperatives in these two categories. In many communities, these co-ops are an important part of the service network. For example, the city of Bologna contracts for about 85% of its social services through these co-ops, including childcare, eldercare and a wide range of other services.[5]

Social enterprises in other European countries
Since the official recognition of the Italian social cooperatives, six other European countries – Belgium, France, Ireland, Poland, Slovakia and Spain – have established statutes for social enterprises. There are approximately 230,000 social enterprises in these six countries with an estimated 1.5 million employees.[6]

Microfinance institutions around the world
Access to small-scale loans, savings accounts and insurance programs for low- income people has increased dramatically since Mohammad Yunus formed the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1983. According to Convergence, an international organization that researches and facilitates microfinance institutions, “Global figures testify to significant levels of development, with a portfolio of USD87 billion and 111 million clients in 2014, and an estimated growth of 10% in outstanding portfolio and 15.8% in borrowers in 2015.”[7]

 It is important to keep in mind a couple of things about microfinance institutions. Not all meet the definition of social enterprises – putting social services before profit. Some have come under criticism during the past decade for charging exorbitant rates, for corrupt or greedy practices by lenders, and for ineffectiveness at assisting people out of poverty. If well organized and managed, however, they have proven to be a very useful means to provide loans, savings accounts and insurance for the poor.

co2online is a German nonprofit enterprise that assists private households to decrease their consumption of energy and to lower their CO2 emissions. Their service provides a double win – for the environment and for consumers who lower their energy costs.[8] There are not yet many social enterprises addressing environmental goals, but their potential for solving problems related to climate change and other environmental issues is significant.

The five examples of social enterprises, cited above, have greatly expanded a business model that puts social, community and environmental services above profits.

Growing pains
Despite the rapid growth of social enterprises in the past couple of decades, we are still at an early stage in the development of this business model. For example:

  • There is not yet one agreed-upon definition of “social enterprise.”
  • There has been very limited analysis of the effectiveness of various approaches within the model.
  • There is no consistent certification system identifying which enterprises are truly putting social and environmental services before profits, and how effectively they are doing so.

Three of the most important steps in furthering this model will be: to define what is, and what is not, a social enterprise; to establish clear, consistent legislation for social enterprises in developing and developed countries; and to create transparent means to measure and report on their performance in achieving social, community and environmental objectives.

Despite these growing pains and the need for greater consistency and accountability, there is a tremendous upside for the growth and diversification of social enterprises.


[1] For further reading on this topic, see, for example: European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (2016): Social Enterprises and their Eco-systems: Developments in Europe. Authors: Carlo Borzaga and Giulia Galera.



[4] Borzaga, Carlo and Jacques Defourny (eds., 2004), The Emergence of Social Enterprise, p. 171.


[6] Estimates derived from Social Enterprises and their Eco-systems (op. cit.), p. 41.




An Introduction To Community-Based Healthcare In Developing Countries

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
November 2017, Issue 6
by E.G. Nadeau

community based health
Community health workers in Kenya

The major challenges facing access to healthcare in Africa and other developing countries include: a shortage of doctors and other health professionals, a high percentage of people living in rural areas, and a shortage of funds for services and treatments.

As a result, many people die prematurely from causes that are often easily and inexpensively prevented or treated. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa:

  • In 2015, the average life expectancy at birth was 60 years compared to a world average of 72 years.[1]
  • In 2013, there were 510 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births compared to 16 such deaths in developed countries.[2]
  • In 2015, out of every thousand children, 86 died before they reach the age of five. This compares to 6 child deaths per 1,000 in developed countries.[3]
  • HIV/AIDS killed 1.6 million people in 2013 – 75% of all HIV/AIDS deaths in the world that year – although the survival rate for people with HIV/AIDS has gone up dramatically in the past few years because of the availability of antiretroviral drugs.[4]

Clearly, the number of preventable deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa and some other developing countries remains far too high. However, there are a lot fewer of them than there were just 15 years ago. A significant reason for this is the United Nations Millennium Development Goal Program that has helped many countries to reduce premature deaths by 50% or more.[5]

This program began in 2000 and ended in 2015. It was replaced by the UN Sustainable Development Goal Program which began in 2016 and will continue through 2030.[6] The new program has ambitious goals to reduce these mortality rates much further. Below, I briefly describe a healthcare project that could serve as a model for reducing mortality in the years ahead.

A few years ago, I conducted research on a community healthcare initiative in Kenya coordinated by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), a US-based organization that provides international development assistance.

Five main things struck me about this program:

  • Community health workers, selected by their fellow villagers, received training to address basic health needs. As a result, scarce health professionals served as secondary resources rather than primary ones for local healthcare.
  • There was an emphasis on self-reliance at the village level, both in terms of healthcare planning and implementation.
  • The program operated at a very low cost per village resident.
  • Village initiatives were designed to be sustainable after NCBA staff left.
  • In just a few years, the program expanded to include several thousand villages and millions of local residents.

This kind of community-based healthcare model has the potential to save millions of lives in Sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions of the world between now and 2030 – especially if it is promoted through the UN Sustainable Development Goal Program, international health assistance programs, and healthcare ministries in developing countries.

If you’d like to learn more about lessons from the community healthcare in Kenya, [pdf-embedder url=”” title=”Click Here”]







Tax and Spend – Fairly and Effectively

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
September 2017, Issue 5
by E.G. Nadeau

Did you know that the United States has one of the highest educational costs per student of all of the countries in the world? Despite these big expenditures, American kids score badly on literacy, numeracy, and problem solving compared to most other developed countries.[1]

This is just one of many examples in which US tax dollars aren’t getting a good return on their investment. Despite what appears to be a progressive taxation system in the United States, the overall low level of taxes, numerous tax loopholes, and low expenditures on social and infrastructure programs reward the rich and punish the poor and middle-class. What would a good system look like in which an adequate amount of taxes was collected in a fair manner, and the revenue was used to provide a set of goods and services that meets the needs of the country’s residents?

Most developed countries in the world are doing a much better job than the US on cost-effectively addressing their economic, social, and environmental responsibilities. All of us – in rich, middle-income, and poor countries – can learn from these successes.

Unfair taxation and ineffective expenditures
After a dismal failure during the summer to repeal and replace Obamacare, the next big target for Trump and Republicans in the House and Senate is the restructuring of the federal tax system. This has all the earmarks of another thunderous, drawn-out flop. What would be even worse, however, is if this triumvirate of discord actually passed and approved a tax-reform bill.

Given the draft bills and talking points under consideration, the likely outcome of such a bill would be a massive transfer of wealth to the already-wealthy and to corporations, a minor financial sop to the middle class, an undercutting of basic services to the poor, the sick, and the elderly, and a substantial increase in the federal debt to pay for the giveaways.[2]

Taxes are the major source of most governments’ revenues. As with any ledger, we need to look at revenues, expenditures, and the bottom line to evaluate a national budget. What are the sources of revenue? What are citizens getting for their tax money? A review of past US budgets shows that elected officials have been doing a bad job on both the revenue generation and the expenditure sides of the ledger.

This is not a new problem. It goes back decades to both Democratic and Republican administrations. We can’t blame the current president and Republican majority in Congress yet for these bad, historical fiscal results. As we mentioned above, however, if they get their way in the next few months, it will make future results even worse.

A look at revenue generation
Let’s look at the revenue side first. As others have pointed out, the United States has a relatively progressive income tax, and a relatively high corporate tax. But both kinds of taxes need closer examination. The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) comprises 32 of the wealthiest, democratically-oriented countries in the world. Recent data show that the US does have the most progressive income tax structure of all OECD countries. The data also show that the US has the top corporate tax rate (39%, if one includes the average state corporate tax) among OECD members.

But there are problems with these superficial comparisons. Out of 31 OECD countries in 2014, the US collected the least amount of tax revenue as a percentage of GDP. It also spent one of the lowest per-household amounts on “cash transfers,” such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, and a variety of programs for the poor. The net effect of this taxation and expenditure system has been that the US has the fourth-highest level of income inequality of OECD members after taking into account taxes and cash payments.[3]

In other words, the US tax system may be progressive, but it doesn’t collect much revenue relative to other developed countries and it spends relatively little on programs that benefit its citizens. So, high-income and wealthy people continue to be disproportionately enriched relative to others in American society, despite a nominally progressive tax system.

In terms of corporate taxes, statutory rates are one thing, and actual rates paid after tax breaks and loopholes are another. According to recent Treasury Department data, American corporations pay 28% in US and foreign taxes compared to 29% for corporations based in other G-7 countries. In other words, the effective tax rate is virtually the same for US corporations and those based in the world’s other largest countries.[4] So, the “unlevel playing field” claimed by proponents of reducing the US corporate tax rate is a spurious argument.

 A comparison of budget effectiveness in the US and other countries
There are even more problems on the expenditure side. What kind of a return are Americans getting from their taxes? Not much, when compared to other OECD countries. For example:

  • The United States spends more on its military than the combined expenditures of the eight countries with the next-largest military budgets.[5] Many, on both the right and left, have argued that the US could continue to have an effective military presence in the world with a far lower defense budget.[6]
  • The US has by far the largest prison population and the largest proportion of its residents in prison of all of the countries in the world.[7] So, “the land of the free” is the least free in the world when it comes to locking people up. It is worth noting that imprisonment is a far more expensive way to deal with nonviolent offenders than community-based treatment – both while offenders are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and in terms of their future likelihood of running afoul of the law.[8]
  • As alluded to in the introductory paragraph, the US spends more per capita on education than almost every other country in the world, but gets relatively poor results compared to most other developed countries – 19th out of 22 countries on literacy skills; 20th out of 22 countries on numeracy skills; and 18th out of 19 countries on problem-solving skills.[9]
  • The US also spends more money per capita on healthcare than any other country in the world, again with relatively poor results in terms of longevity, maternal mortality, childhood mortality, insurance coverage, and many other measures. If the Republican repeal and replacement of Obamacare were to go into effect, things would get even worse as an estimated 22 million more people would be without health insurance.[10]
  • The list of poor returns on US tax investments goes on and on: environmental programs, including reduction of carbon emissions, lagging maintenance and upgrading of its infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports, etc.), and social safety-net programs, including Social Security and a variety of programs for the poor.[11]

Can the US improve its tax-and-spend performance vis-à-vis other countries?
For the most part, there are not many surprises in the list of countries that do best on the above indicators. Nordic countries tend to be near the top of the class in many categories, followed by other northern European countries. Japan and Korea generally score well also. Estonia and the Czech Republic do well on educational performance measures, and Canada has one-seventh the rate of imprisonment as the United States. There are literally hundreds of lessons that can be derived from the ability of some countries to perform better and more cost-effectively on a variety of measures of returns on tax investments than the United States.

Trump and the Republican Congress are intent on making the US perform even more poorly on a range of economic, social, and environmental indicators as they “simplify” the income and corporate tax system and the budget this fall. “Simplify” is a code word meaning, “Reduce taxes on the wealthy, and reduce benefits derived from tax revenue, especially benefits for the poor.”

It is interesting to note that there is another version of a tax- and budgetary-reform bill floating around Washington. It’s a tax-reform proposal prepared by Bernie Sanders in 2016 when he was competing for the Democratic nomination for president. The Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, did a detailed, independent analysis of this proposal.[12] Such a reform bill, if passed, would do a great deal to move the United States from near the bottom of OECD countries to near the top on a variety of social, economic, and environmental measures.

It is highly unlikely that such progressive budget reforms will be enacted in 2017 or the following three years. But, keeping in mind that major changes don’t take place overnight, why not in 2021?

[1] The data to back up these conclusions can be found in OECD, “Society at a Glance 2016: OECD Social Indicators,” Pp. 94-96,

[2] For example, Burman, Leonard E. et al, “An Analysis of the House GOP Tax Plan,” Columbia Journal of Tax Law, April 4, 2017,

[3] Huang, Chye-Ching and Nathaniel Frentz, “What Do OECD Data Really Show About U.S. Taxes and Reducing Inequality?,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 13, 2014,

[4] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Actual US corporate tax rates are in line with comparable countries,” April 25, 2017,

[5] Peter G. Peterson Foundation, “US Defense Spending Compared to Other Countries,” June 1, 2017,

[6] For example, Preble, Christopher, “The Right Way to Cut Wasteful Defense Spending,” Politico, January 18, 2017,

[7] International Centre for Prison Studies, 2013

[8] Deady, Carolyn W., “Incarceration and Recidivism: Lessons from Abroad,” Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, March 2014

[9] Op. cit., OECD, “Society at a Glance 2016: OECD Social Indicators,” pp. 94-96,

[10]Peter G. Peterson Foundation, “Per Capita Healthcare Costs – An International Comparison, October 17, 2016,

[11] Kaplan, Thomas and Robert Pearjune, “Senate Health Bill in Peril as C.B.O. Predicts 22 Million More Uninsured,” New York Times, June 26, 2017,

[12] Mermin, Gordon et al., “An Analysis of Senator Bernie Sanders’ Tax and Transfer Proposals,” Tax Policy Center, May 9, 2016

Trump Withdraws from the Climate Change Agreement, but the Rest of the World Is Still In

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2017, Issue 4
by E.G. Nadeau

I felt physically ill when Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. By doing so, he demonstrated his abysmal ignorance of, or worse, indifference to, the devastating, long-term consequences to the planet from continued global warming. He also gave the finger to the world community and to future generations in the name of a futile, economically irrational effort to support the US coal and oil industries.

But then, the rest of the world and many American states, cities, businesses, and other institutions announced that “they were still in,” and in a number of cases that they would redouble their efforts to achieve the 2030 climate-change goals. Many signs point to their ability to pull it off.

One of seven measures
Those of you who have read The Cooperative Society know that climate change is a key measure in the book, indicating whether or not we are moving toward greater worldwide cooperation. (Those of you who have not read the book can download it from our website , or purchase it from your local bookstore or from Amazon.)

In the book, my son Luc and I summarized scientific findings that show unequivocally that the surface temperature of the earth has continued to increase thus far in the 21st century – and at a faster pace than it had during the late 20th century. Thus, we rated climate change as a negative in terms of its impact on moving toward a more cooperative society. At the same time, we were encouraged by the passage of the Paris Agreement in 2015 because it signaled a concerted worldwide effort to stabilize the earth’s surface temperature by 2030, thus reducing catastrophic weather-related events in the remainder of the 21st century.

Pulling out and staying in
On June 1, 2017, in a major setback to this landmark agreement, the president of the second-largest carbon-emitting country in the world – guess who – announced that he was pulling out of the accord signed by his predecessor and the leaders of 194 other countries.[1]

Just four days later, however, hundreds of U.S. governors, mayors, university presidents, business and nonprofit leaders, and others signed a statement pledging that “they are still in,” and that they would achieve and eventually exceed America’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.[2]

In addition, world leaders provided assurances that they were still in too, and that, even without the participation of the federal government of the United States, they would achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement. On July 8, all of the members of the G20, except the United States, reiterated their “strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly toward its full implementation . . . .”[3] The G20 represents the largest developed and developing economies in the world.

The key question is: Can subnational and private entities in the United States, and national leaders from all over the planet, achieve the reductions in carbon emissions necessary to stabilize the world’s temperature without the support of the Trump administration?

Factors affecting carbon emissions
It’s too early to tell for sure because there are many factors that will affect carbon emissions and the world temperature over the next several decades. Following are some key issues to take into account:

  1. The biggest negative in the U.S. is the dismantling of regulations related to emissions by coal-fired plants. Since coal is by far the biggest greenhouse gas emitter of all fossil fuels, the laissez-faire approach taken by the current administration will mean continued massive carbon and other toxic emissions by the coal sector for as long as it is permitted to pollute at will.[4]
  2. On the other hand, just in economic terms alone, coal is not competitive with natural gas (a fossil fuel that emits only about half the amount of carbon as coal), wind, and solar.[5] So, even with Trump’s embrace of the coal industry, there will not be a resurgence of coal mines, coal-fired plants, and the jobs that go with them during the next few years. Trump has given them a reprieve, but not the makings of a resurgence.
  3. Speaking of coal, the three other top carbon polluters in the world – China, India, and the European Union – are all moving away from this dirtiest of energy sources at a pace that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.[6]
  4. In the last couple of years, the fastest-growing sources of electrical energy in the United States, China, India, and the European Union have been wind and solar, both because of their lack of carbon emissions and also because their costs have gone down rapidly.[7] This bodes well for a transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2050.
  5. We also have to keep in mind, however, that electrical energy is only one of the “big three” kinds of energy use and abuse. The other two are transportation and energy inefficiency in the heating and cooling of buildings. Increased fuel efficiency for vehicles, a rapid transition to electric vehicles, and increased energy efficiency in buildings are all part of the equation to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
  6. A note of caution: Even though 194 countries have made commitments under the Paris Agreement, the cumulative projected result of these national decarbonization goals falls short of stabilizing the world’s temperature by 2030. There will need to be revised commitments in order to achieve temperature stabilization or reduction by 2030.[8]
  7. Another note of caution: Christiana Figueres, former executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, co-authored an article in the June 28 issue of Nature entitled “Three Years to Safeguard Our Climate.” The article provides a dire warning about the consequences if we as a planetary community fail to ratchet up our commitment to decarbonization by 2020.[9]

In summary, the bad news is the abdication of responsibility by the Trump administration to participate in a worldwide agreement to reduce carbon emissions and global warming.

The good news is that many U.S. states, cities, businesses, and others have affirmed their commitments to this agreement despite the lack of national leadership. More good news is that the other nations of the world have also announced their continued participation.

The uncertain news is whether, despite this overwhelming commitment, we will be able to act fast enough to head off serious damage to our planet and our species.


[1] Shear, Michael D., June 1, 2017 “Trump Will Withdraw U.S. From Paris Climate Agreement,”


[3] “G20 Leaders ́ Declaration Shaping an Interconnected World,” Hamburg, July 7-8, 2017

[4] Dennis Brady and Juliet Eilperin, March 28, 2017, “Trump signs order at the EPA to dismantle environmental protections,”

[5] Vaughan, Adam, March 22, 2017, “Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds,”

[6] Ryan, Joe, Chris Martin and Jim Polson, “Economics to Keep Wind and Solar Energy Thriving With Trump,” November 23, 2016,

[7] Cleetus, Rachel, May 26, 2017, “Renewable Energy Surges Globally with China and India in the Lead”


[9] Figueres, Christiana et al, June 28, 2017, “Three years to safeguard our climate,” 28 June 2017, Nature 546, 593–595