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



Population Change and The Cooperative Society


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





An Overview of the Cooperative Society Project

the cooperative societyThe Cooperative Society Newsletter
March 2017, Issue 2
by E.G. and Luc Nadeau

What started out in the fall of 2015 as an idea for a single brief book has expanded into a planned 14-year project – with the possibility of continuing after that.

As many of you know, the premise of the book, The Cooperative Society: the next stage of human history is that “humans may be on the threshold of a new historical stage, one characterized by cooperation, democracy, the equitable distribution of resources and a sustainable relationship with nature.”

The book uses seven broad measures to “test” whether in fact we are moving toward a more cooperative society. The results are mixed. In some ways we are becoming more cooperative; and in other ways we are not.

You may download a PDF copy of the book here.

We decided that a one-time snapshot of where we are headed as humans was not enough. As a result, we are planning a second edition of the book in the fall of 2018 that updates the 2016 analysis, and provides additional evidence on the direction in which our species is evolving.

In addition, we are planning to prepare a co-op society video in 2018, the details of which are not yet developed. The newsletters will also continue, sometimes featuring in-depth analyses of issues related to the cooperative transition. For example, an analysis of the effects of population change on future human society is planned for May 2017.

If enough people are interested, we may also form a not-for-profit, membership organization to promote the goals of the Cooperative Society Project.

All in all, our intention is to publish revised editions of the book every two years between 2018 and 2030, and to continue to provide other written and visual materials along the way.

2030 is a key year because both the current rounds of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Climate Change Goals are scheduled for review and revision that year.

We would love to get your feedback on these initial plans for a long-term Cooperative Society Project.

Trumpus Rex: A Damage Assessment

trumpus rex
© 2017 Luc Nadeau

The Cooperative Society Newsletter     January 2017, Issue 1
by E.G. and Luc Nadeau

The lead-up to Donald Trump’s presidency has more the feel of a coronation than an inauguration. But like the emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s fable, there are many of us who question how well-clothed Trump is for the job. The purpose of this article is to lay bare (so to speak) the implications for his presidency on our social, economic, and environmental future.

It’s too early to determine the amount and kinds of havoc a Trump presidency will wreak in the coming years. But here are some predictions based on his pronouncements and actions during the past year.

For those of you who have not yet read The Cooperative Society, you should be aware that the book is not intended as a source for short-term political predictions. Instead, it looks 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 effect movement toward or away from a more cooperative society. 

  1. Growth of cooperatives. Neutral

Co-ops and mutuals enjoy support on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress. This is likely to continue.

Domestically, one area of caution is the long-term antipathy of the American Bankers Association toward credit unions, and its repeated efforts to remove the tax-exempt status from these member-owned financial institutions. It’s possible the Trump Administration will be more receptive to the banks on this issue than previous presidents.

 Internationally, Trump has threatened to cut back on foreign assistance, such as that provided through USAID. If his Administration follows through on this threat, it could have implications for the role the federal government and the cooperative community play in assisting co-op development in other countries. 

  1. Economic power of large corporations. Negative

Trump has consistently railed against “overregulation” and the high level of U.S. corporate taxes. To the extent that his Administration follows through on his campaign rhetoric, we’re likely to see an increase in the power of large, U.S.-based corporations in shaping our economic, political and environmental policies over the next few years.

 On a world scale, it’s not clear what effect the Trump Administration will have on foreign corporations and the economic policies of other countries. However, another consistent theme of his campaign has been an animosity toward trade agreements, which he perceives as detrimental to the economic interests of the United States — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), for example. There is an “isolationist” component to some of his pronouncements regarding international trade, especially related to China. So it remains unclear at this time how his campaign rhetoric will translate into trade policy and the interests of foreign corporations.

  1. Concentration of wealth and income. Negative

Trump has said that he wants to lower taxes on the wealthy. If his Administration does this, it will mean a significant increase in an already extremely skewed distribution of wealth and income in the United States. 

  1. Conflict. A crapshoot

Trump has said that he would like to reduce the role of the United States as the world’s policeman, although he also has said he would like to “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” In addition, Trump has gone out of his way to pick fights with China, such as his recent statements about recognizing Taiwan and revisiting the idea of a two-China policy. It’s too early to tell what impact his Administration will have on increasing or decreasing world conflict.

 Within the U.S, it’s also difficult to tell how Trump’s anti-immigrant — especially anti-Muslim and anti-Hispanic — rhetoric will translate into policy. If the U.S. were to expel 2 to 3 million illegal immigrants or crack down on the domestic Muslim population, these actions may precipitate increased domestic unrest.

Based on the overall gist of his comments, it appears that Trump will focus more on international economic issues than on military ones. The important caveat here, however, is that during the campaign, the president-elect has shown himself to be a loose cannon on many world issues, including war. 

  1. Increasing democracy. Negative

Trump hasn’t said anything directly to indicate a desire to weaken democracy at home or abroad.

At home, however, a draconian policy against illegal immigrants could undercut basic democratic rights. His comments about the rigged voting system in the United States bring the legitimacy of our election process into question. His frequent diatribes against reporters and the media as “disgusting,” “scum” and other pejorative terms may evolve into policies that limit the rights of a free press.

Internationally, Trump has shown a penchant for praising dictators. He has said that he admires Vladimir Putin, who “is doing a great job.” He has made similar comments praising other dictatorial leaders, including Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Benito Mussolini. These sentiments may translate into actions in support of repressive governments. Or, they may lead to U.S. inaction in the face of foreign aggression, such as Russia threatening the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

  1. Improving the quality of life. Negative

Domestically, the big quality-of-life issue featured in the Trump campaign was repealing Obamacare. Now that he is president-elect, the reality has set in that just repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would have immediate, dire consequences for the 20-30 million people who would be left without health insurance.

Now the primary discussion has shifted to a longer-term strategy for terminating parts of the ACA and gradually phasing in a replacement national health insurance system. The result is likely to be less comprehensive than the ACA, but not as onerous as some of us have feared. And, as described earlier, the Trump Administration’s policy toward Muslims and Hispanics could have serious implications for their quality of life.

On a world scale, the negative impacts of the Trump Administration on people’s lives may be far worse than at home. The U.S. is a signatory to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious set of 17 goals to improve the quality of life around the world. If the Administration pulls back from the U.S. commitment to this agreement or significantly reduces financial support for it, hundreds of millions of people around the world will suffer the consequences.

  1. Creating a more sustainable environment. Negative

Trump’s pronouncements during his campaign have indicated that he does not believe in human-created climate change. Since being elected, his selection of nominees for key positions in his government underlines the seriousness of this threat. He has chosen Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, an avowed climate change skeptic and staunch supporter of oil and gas drilling in the U.S., as his nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Trump has nominated Rick Perry, former Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, to head the Department of Energy — an agency which in the past, Perry said he wanted to abolish.

The Administration-in-waiting also distributed a survey to the Energy Department, asking about the past involvement of its employees in climate change-related issues. The survey is reminiscent of a McCarthy era attack — “Are you now or have you ever been a believer in climate change?”

Internationally, the negative signals are equally strong. Trump’s nominee to head the State Department is Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, the largest oil and gas company in the world. Trump also has threatened to repudiate the Paris Accord on Climate Change. With the United States as the world’s second-largest generator of greenhouse gases after China, noncompliance by the U.S. would greatly weaken the impact of this accord reached by more than 150 countries in 2016. Interestingly, other signatories to the agreement are threatening to put tariffs on U.S. exports proportional to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during their manufacture. Such an action would put the Trump Administration in a difficult spot — on the one hand disavowing climate change, and on the other, being the subject of an international economic sanction. 

Our take 

With a combined score of five “negatives” and two “not sures,” the Trump Administration’s impact on the transition toward a more cooperative society over the next few years looks dismal.

That said, although some of the negative impacts of Trump’s reign could have long-term implications, the transition to a cooperative society occurs on a grander, more long-term scale.

As we say in The Cooperative Society, “We as a species are not destined to destroy ourselves and our planet.” Achieving a cooperative society requires vigilance and perseverance against the forces that promote division and conflict.

Ironically, 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.

Unless Trump, the bloviarch, triggers a nuclear cataclysm, a devastating international trade war resulting in a global depression, or an irreparable acceleration in global warming, we will be set back only a few years by his administration.

In the meantime, let’s do what we can — individually and collectively — to limit the damage to democracy, world peace, economic fairness, quality of life, and the environment during the next four years.