On December 14th, 2012, Adam Lanza fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members in a mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At the time, some believed that this horrific event could usher in some badly needed reforms to US gun laws. I guess that didn’t turn out as intended. Here are the gun deaths since then:
In 1989, 24 years ago tomorrow, a pro-democracy demonstration by Chinese students ended in bloodshed as soldiers tried to clear Tienanmen Square in the center of Beijing. No one knows for sure but thousands may have died. The Chinese government puts the number at 241 dead, and continues to pretend that really nothing important happened. Here’s the story of the event, told by way of maps:
On June 3rd, thousands of troops converge on the square from all directions. The protesters take to the street in order to block the troops. The latter then open fire. Many are believed to have been killed by tanks driving over people.
Here’s another map, showing the places where 176 victims were killed or the hospitals to which their bodies were taken (nothing is known about most of the other victims):
(source, click image to enlarge)
The story of the “tank man” has come to symbolize the events. The day after the crackdown, an unknown man carrying shopping bags steps out in front of a column of tanks. The first tank tries to drive around him, but the man moves sideways to block its advance. Ultimately, he even climbs on top of the first tank and argues with the driver. He is then pulled away by “onlookers” and “disappears”.
Here’s a video:
Democracy is a human right. But how do we justify this right? One common argument is that democracies tend to be wealthier than non-democracies. However, there’s some disagreement about this argument: not about the goodness of wealth and wealth-enhancing institutions, but about whether democracies are in fact such institutions. Impressive economic growth rates in non-democratic countries such as China have planted doubts in many people’s minds.
Some time ago, I offered a rather “philosophical” argument against the view that democracies perform worse economically than some types of authoritarian government (i.e. China-style). But in fact we’re dealing with empirically verifiable hypotheses here. So I looked for some numbers and found this article by Dani Rodrik:
The relationship between a nation’s politics and its economic prospects is one of the most fundamental – and most studied – subjects in all of social science. Which is better for economic growth – a strong guiding hand that is free from the pressure of political competition, or a plurality of competing interests that fosters openness to new ideas and new political players? …
Democracies not only out-perform dictatorships when it comes to long-term economic growth, but also outdo them in several other important respects. They provide much greater economic stability, measured by the ups and downs of the business cycle. They are better at adjusting to external economic shocks (such as terms-of-trade declines or sudden stops in capital inflows). They generate more investment in human capital – health and education. And they produce more equitable societies.
Authoritarian regimes, by contrast, ultimately produce economies that are as fragile as their political systems. Their economic potency, when it exists, rests on the strength of individual leaders, or on favorable but temporary circumstances. They cannot aspire to continued economic innovation or to global economic leadership. (source)
Some data on democracy and growth are here.
The darling of the “authoritarian=efficient” crowd is, of course, China. China has indeed performed extremely well economically under a rather authoritarian government. However, that government is much less authoritarian than it was during the post-WWII decades of stagnation and extreme poverty. So maybe it’s the relative move towards greater freedom that is the true cause of China’s economic performance, rather than its authoritarian government per se.
Moreover, China has done very well in terms of growth and poverty reduction, but in terms of levels of prosperity it’s still way behind most countries that are much more free. Its astounding progress is partly due to the very low starting point that was engineered by its authoritarian rulers.
And finally, the supposed economic success of authoritarianism in China – if it exists – isn’t necessarily proof of the economic ability of authoritarianism in general (authoritarian disaster stories are unfortunately far more common than authoritarian success stories). It may not even be proof of the economic ability of authoritarianism in China, since correlation doesn’t imply causation, especially not if there are only very few observations: China’s economic success may be due to other factors – and maybe this success would have been even greater without authoritarian government.
The economic case for authoritarianism is a bit like this: usually, people don’t return from the dead. But there’s this one guy, Lazarus, who did. Some claim that there was this other fellow, Jesus, who done the deed and made Lazarus walk again. There are no other Jesuses around, and this one Jesus only did his trick once. Nobody quite knows how he did it. Some say he just happened to be around when it occurred and people put one and one together. Lazarus would have walked anyway, perhaps even sooner had this other fellow not stolen all the attention.
- The heavy hand (economist.com)
- Where will China’s long march end? (telegraph.co.uk)
- Is Democracy Necessary for Economic Success? (curiouscapitalist.blogs.time.com)
- India or China: Which Model for the Developing World? (curiouscapitalist.blogs.time.com)
- Democracy or Autocracy: Which is Better for Economic Growth? Becker (becker-posner-blog.com)
Democracy is a human right. In the past, I’ve listed a number of reasons why we should prefer democracy over other forms of government (here and here for example). I’ve now come across another reason, one that may not be convincing or relevant to everyone, but still it’s mildly interesting:
All things — including wealth — being equal, earthquakes kill more people in dictatorships than in democracies, write NYU political scientists Alastair Smith and Alejandro Quiroz Flores. The reason that democratically elected leaders prepare their countries for disaster better is because they fear they’ll be voted out of office if their governments are caught unprepared. (Dictators obviously tend to worry less about election outcomes.) A recent World Bank study backs up this argument, with an added wrinkle: institutionalized autocracies, like China’s, tend to outperform non-institutionalized or corrupt autocracies as well as young democracies when it comes to preventing earthquake deaths. Still, another study finds that politicians in democratic elections benefit even more from doling out disaster relief after a catastrophe than they do from preparing for disasters yet to come. (source)
The days when border guards deliberately shot and killed would-be migrants are over, with a few exceptions. However, illegal migration remains a risky business in many parts of the world. Border fortifications, unsafe means of transportation (such as containers, inappropriate boats or the wheel storage rooms of aircraft), travel by night, unscrupulous “coyotes” combined with a choice of dangerous routes such as deserts (where there’s less border patrolling) result in numerous fatalities among would-be illegal immigrants. Here are some data:
(source, click image to enlarge)
(source, click image to enlarge)
And yet another version:
Even those illegal immigrants who manage to survive their journey – a large majority fortunately – face risks in the places where they live: internment (see the “camps” in the map above), racist attacks, police brutality etc. Not always fatal, but always bad enough.
See also this depressing anecdote.
More maps on migration are here.
It’s hard to believe, but at this very moment an estimated 10% to 20% of the population of Mauritania – 340,000 to 680,000 people – still live in slavery. This is despite the fact that in 2007, the country became the last in the world to outlaw the practice. Anti-slavery activists are arrested and the government acts as if there is no problem. Only one slave owner has been successfully prosecuted.
It’s the nuances of a person’s skin color and family history that determine whether he or she will be free or enslaved. Most slave families in Mauritania consist of dark-skinned people whose ancestors were captured by lighter-skinned Arab Berbers centuries ago. Slaves typically are not bought and sold — only given as gifts, and bound for life. Their offspring automatically become slaves, too.
The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina was besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 during the Bosnian War. They assaulted the city from the surrounding hills. An estimated 12,000 civilians were killed or went missing.
The Sarajevo Red Line is the name of a memorial event commemorating the Siege’s 20th anniversary. The installation of 11.541 chairs represents the number of people killed in Sarajevo.
People have a right
to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits (art. 27 of the Universal Declaration)
Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says it like this:
All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
This right is meant to protect the cultural identity or way of life of different groups of people, usually indigenous people or other people who have a distinct culture, distinct cultural practices or their own language. Some of these groups have a legitimate fear that their identity and way of life are under threat, either
- by their own government (through policies that for example impose an official language and marginalize other languages)
- by an occuying government (such as the case of Tibet) or
- by national or global economic and social forces (e.g. deforestation, cultural hegemony etc.).
There are different ways of determining which groups are under threat, and none of them is straightforward. There’s disagreement about both the definition of a cultural group and the definition and meaning of cultural rights (more about that here). One attempt is the Peoples Under Threat index from Minority Rights Group International:
(source, where you can find an interactive version)
There’s also the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages:
(source, click image to enlarge)
It looks like there’s no substantial overlap between this index and the previous one. There’s also a Google project, appropriately called the Endangered Languages Project, which tries to catalog endangered languages before they are gone forever:
(source, where you can find an interactive version)
Experts estimate that only 50% of the languages that are alive today will be spoken by the year 2100.
Another example of the “poverty kills” principle: in low-income neighborhoods in NYC, children face a higher risk from traffic. The same is probably true in any other city, but I only have data for NYC:
Intersections near public housing appear to be particularly dangerous for children trying to cross the street. That is the case even after correction for a neighborhood’s population size. The design of roads, intersections and public housing complexes is probably one of the major causes of this, together with the fact that poor people and poor children in particular are more likely to use the roads as pedestrians (they have less entertainment alternatives and make less use of cars).
More human rights maps here.
Here’s an interesting question: do people really want to live in the states they live in? I know that many want to migrate, but those who want to stay may also want to live in a different state.
If we want to respond positively to some people’s desires for a different set of international borders I assume we have to do so democratically. But how do we decide which is the “people” that can vote democratically to change the borders of the state it lives in? A minority which wants to secede? What about the wishes of the rest of the citizens of the existing state?
I guess one principle we could use in deciding whether or not to allow the redrawing of borders is self-government. The purpose of borders and therefore also of the redrawing of borders is to give more groups of people more self-government. If new borders yield more self-government then that’s one good reason to go ahead. Yet I doubt that this is the only principle that has to be taken into consideration. After all, if it were the only principle, single person states would be optimal, and that’s an absurd conclusion.
So, in other words: to what extent should a democratic vote be allowed to result in new states or state borders, and what does a democratic vote mean in this setting? Does a majority or a minority within an existing democracy have a right to secede if it democratically votes for secession? And is a democratic vote for secession a vote within the group that wants to secede? Or a vote among everyone in the existing state? Do those left behind have a right to stop secession? If so, what would be the basis of this right? It can’t be self-government. Those left behind would end up with more self-government, even if they oppose secession.
If self-government is an important right – as it surely is – then is it not the case that secession is also an important right if and when it results in more and better self-government? Perhaps it is. But if it is, how far does it go? It should obviously stop short of the one person state, at least if we agree that the notion of the state as we have it now remains useful – in other words, if we’re not anarchists. Another way of asking this question: what is the optimal state configuration from the point of view of self-government? Clearly, if a state contains marginalized minorities which are also territorially concentrated, and if democratic reforms meant to help those minorities are unsuccessful, then the size of this state is not optimal. The same is true when groups spread over different states have a strong urge to live together and self-govern their destiny. But what of other cases?
For the moment, I don’t intend to examine these questions any further. I’ll instead limit myself to an example: if people in the Middle East could democratically choose what country they lived in, would they choose the one they are in now? It seems not:
This map is conjecture, of course, since people haven’t been asked their opinion. Nor will they any time soon. Imagine current leaders giving up oil fields. Right, you can’t.
However, maybe the Arab Spring makes some things more likely. People don’t only question rulers but also states, and the popular uprisings in the Middle East intensifies this questioning. Listen to the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, to the Baha’i in Iran, etc. Part of the reason is the artificial nature of many borders in the Middle East.
In the Middle East … the countries are mostly the product of a British-French agreement made in 1916 (Sykes-Picot) that paid little attention to local sociopolitical realities. As a result, few possess the historical roots, social cohesion, and legitimacy necessary to nurture the complex institutions that are a prerequisite for development and democracy. On the contrary, most suffer from both sectarian divisions and weak government—the causes of state fragility. (source)
Not that this problem is limited to the Middle East (see here), but it can become more salient during popular uprisings or violent conflict. For example, here’s an animation showing the current borders of African countries and what they will become if different separatist or independence movements will have their way:
(source, where you can also find an interactive version)
More human rights maps here.
Europe – contrary to the European Union, the Council of Europe or individual European countries – is not a legal entity; it’s just an idea. And not a very clear one at that. The vagueness here isn’t limited to concepts such as the “European identity”, the “European culture” or the “European people” (what is the most defining characteristic of Europe: Christianity, humanism, economics or liberty/equality/fraternity?). Even the geographic extent of the “continent” is disputed and changes over time. The geographical uncertainty is in part the consequence of the conceptual uncertainty, although there are also some purely geographical reasons why it’s difficult to say where exactly Europe is. Changes in the geographical meaning of Europe sometimes follow from conceptual changes, as I will make clear below. I will also argue that this has some relevance for human rights.
But before that, a bit of history. Europe is not like Africa or America. It doesn’t have a nice clean shape with natural borders. The northern, western and southern borders are pretty evident since those are formed by the coastlines of the Arctic Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea respectively. But there has always been and there continues to be fervent disagreement about the eastern border. Some use geographical facts, such as the Ural mountains, the Black Sea and the Dardanelles (or Hellespont) in order to say where Europe stops in the east. That would result in the exclusion of Turkey – or most of Turkey.
However, these geographical facts are hardly determinant, or at least not as determinant as the geographical facts that determine the other three borders. They often have an arbitrary ring to them. Which is why discussions about the eastern border are really about non-geographical facts even if they are ostensibly about geographical ones. They are about identity, culture and religion. The elusive concept of a European cultural identity is central to determining the geographical concept of Europe: can Muslims be Europeans? Or only Christians? Or is religion irrelevant? Answers to these questions will determine the geography.
(Of course, generally speaking it’s quite correct to say that geographical issues may be independently determinant in discussions about the composition of continents: it’s unlikely that a continent includes a land area thousands of miles away from the main land area of the continent and separated from it by countries belonging to another continent; e.g. South Africa will never be European, even if a large segment of its population is culturally European, whatever that means. In the case of the eastern border of Europe, however, geography cannot be determinant).
Those who focus on identity, religion and culture to determine the nature of Europe often use the history of geography as a means to exclude Muslim countries in general and Turkey in particular. They can do so because historically, the word “Europe” had a very limited meaning:
Europe was merely that bit of land on the continent that the Persians had to cross to get from the Hellespont to Greece proper. (source)
This is the Hellespont:
That the area above the Hellespont was originally called “Europe” can still be seen from this Roman map:
Extrapolating from this historical fact, one can argue that Europe stops at the mainland of Turkey – Istanbul and everything north of the Hellespont is then still European, the rest of Turkey is not. And one can also argue that those “European” areas of Turkey – often called Thrace although Thrace was originally smaller than that – aren’t really Muslim anyway, since Istanbul was once Constantinople and as such a center of Christianity.
However, it’s just as easy to use the same historical reference in order to argue that Turkey does, historically, belong to Europe: if the “original” Europe was in Turkey, why shouldn’t Turkey be in today’s Europe? Again, geography by itself does not determine the nature and extent of Europe.
The more northern part of the eastern border is less controversial than the southern part – at least it is now. Most do now agree that the Ural mountains are a nice and convenient natural border. There aren’t any cultural or religious issues in play here. In other words, there aren’t any Muslims there we need to keep out. The only problem that had to be solved is Russia: difficult to exclude completely from Europe – they are Christian after all – but equally difficult to include entirely. If you include it entirely, then why not also Mongolia, Alaska and some of the old Soviet republics? So people have come to accept the more or less arbitrary geographical cut in the middle of Russia. However, this decision followed centuries of uncertainty and movement, as you can see from this map:
Some continue to dispute even this. The Ural doesn’t neatly cut Russia in two: what about the areas above and below the Ural? And why the Caucasus?
The conclusion of all this is that discussions about the geographical extent of Europe – and therefore also discussions about the nature of Europe – are difficult and far from settled. As a result, there’s a wide variety of views. Some claim that Europe is the collection of the countries that cover the relatively small area of that curvy western peninsula of the larger Asian continent that starts at the Atlantic Ocean and stops at the border of Turkey, or perhaps even at the borders of the Balkan countries (some of which are Muslim as well). Others see Europe as a giant continent spanning the globe from Iceland on one side – Iceland being geographically closer to America than to the European mainland – to the Bering Strait, close to Alaska, on the other side. Some include the UK, others do not. Etc. The maximalist view would include some 50 countries in Europe, including Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
Why mention all of this under the heading of “human rights maps”? Questions such as “what is Europe?”, “where is Europe?”, “how far does Europe reach?” and “which countries belong to Europe?” have a cultural and historical significance, but they can also have an impact on human rights. For example, if Europeans – whoever they are – agree that a country is inside Europe, then it can become a member of the European Union (if also certain other conditions are fulfilled). This membership offers a lot of advantages to the citizens of member countries and many of these advantages mean better protection for certain rights: freedom of movement, easier reunion with family members already living in a “European” country, looser visa restrictions for traveling to certain countries outside of the European Union, the advantages of free trade, subsidies, bailouts etc. Membership of the Council of Europe is also reserved to “European” countries, and this membership offers citizens access to the European Court of Human Rights, the most powerful international court for the protection of human rights. I’m sure many Turkish citizens are eager to profit from being accepted as Europeans, as do the citizens of other countries that may or may not be European.
So the question about the definition of Europe is an important one. Below are some bonus maps illustrating the uncertainty about the extent of Europe. This one seems to suggest that certain parts of the Middle East belong to Europe (the Judeo-Christian parts):
(source, click image to enlarge)
And this one omits Greece and the other territories occupied by the Ottoman empire:
(source, click image to enlarge)
When the Turks controlled large parts of the Balkans, those areas were considered to be beyond Europe, the eastern edge of which was the border between the Austrian and Ottoman Empires. (source)
More human rights maps are here.
It’s a common enough refrain: the poor in rich countries such as the U.S. – or at least the majority of the poor who aren’t homeless – are not really poor. Historically speaking they are better off than their richest ancestors from some centuries ago. They have stuff the Lords of yesteryear could not have imagined. And the same is true if you compare them to the utterly destitute in the Third World.
This story is wrong on many levels:
- First, you need a lot more stuff to be able to earn a decent living in an industrial society than you do in an agricultural one.
- Second, people often think in relative terms when they are asked what “poverty” is, which means that they see poverty not just as absolute destitution but also as the inability to participate in society (poverty is as much a feeling as an objective reality: it’s both a sense of deprivation, inadequacy and exclusion and a lack of nutrition and shelter).
- Third, relative poverty can cause or aggravate absolute poverty: see here and here.
- And fourth, there’s some evidence that relative poverty causes certain harms irrespective of its effects on absolute poverty.
However, none of this seems to persuade those who look at the absolute living standards of the poor in developed countries and compare them to the distant and historical poor. One of the more common arguments: “if the poor in the West are really poor, how come so many of them are fat?” (One example of this argument is here).
The basis of the argument is correct, but not the conclusions drawn from it: the poor in the U.S for instance (but probably in other developed countries as well) are relatively more likely to suffer from overweight (although there are some who contest the data). This is particularly the case for poor women and children:
Even among the homeless in the US – the subset of the poor whose food supply is probably most insecure – one third are obese.
The data seem to give support to those who claim that the poor can’t really be poor: if many of them are obese, they must have abundant food supplies, which means they have a financial surplus. But maybe it’s not abundance but the lack of quality food that causes overweight. Those who are poor and obese may live in neighborhoods where they can’t rely on public transportation as a means to diversify their diet (hence the concept of “food deserts”). Maybe kids in poor neighborhoods can’t enjoy good school meals or healthy exercise in public playgrounds. Maybe poor people also live in unsafe neighborhoods and feel that it’s better to stay inside as much as they can, etc.
Once you’ve considered the possibility that the poor are on average heavier than the rest of us because of reasons likes this, then you’ll understand that they can be both poor and overweight at the same time. Of course, it’s not clear if people will actually eat better and exercise more if they have the options to do so. There’s no single straight line from poverty to obesity, and obesity isn’t just the result of poverty and of the lack of access to healthy food and of physical exercise that it entails. Personal choices also play a role, as does genetics, pollution, lower rates of smoking, medical consumption etc.
Also, in case you’re wondering why this is a human rights issue: poverty causes obesity, obesity causes ill health, and ill health causes poverty. And both ill health and poverty are human rights violations (see here and here respectively). So plenty of reasons to link obesity and human rights.
[We] have been engaged in drawing lines upon maps where no white man’s foot ever trod, we have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where the mountains and rivers and lakes were. Lord Salisbury
It’s common knowledge that the territories of African countries are an inheritance of colonial rule. These territories correspond to the borders between the old colonial empires, which in turn were the result of occupation, aggression, imperialism and balance of power politics. The “scramble for Africa” resulted in a partition of the continent that took little notice of ethnic groups or pre-colonial African states and that has survived the end of colonialism:
[T]he “Scramble for Africa” … started with the Berlin Conference of 1884–85 and was completed by the turn of the 20th century. In this brief period, the prospective colonisers partitioned Africa into spheres of influence, protectorates, colonies, and free-trade areas. The borders were designed in European capitals at a time when Europeans had barely settled in Africa with little knowledge of the geography and ethnic composition of the areas whose borders they were designing. Despite their arbitrariness these boundaries endured after African independence. As a result, in most African countries a significant fraction (around 40-45%) of the population belongs to groups that have been partitioned by a national border. (source)
However, before we get into the story about the link between this historic fact and current ethnic troubles in Africa, I have to make a few general remarks about borders and diversity. All countries, not just those in Africa, are culturally and ethnically diverse. They are all the product of aggression and none of them correspond to divisions between ethnic groups. And this diversity is not in itself a problem. On the contrary: diversity is good because it helps to promote tolerance and it enriches our thinking and feeling. Purity, on the other hand, leads to exclusion and expulsion. The ideal of national purity is therefore not acceptable.
It follows that political states which do not perfectly align with pre-existing ethnic or national communities are not, by definition, problematic. And neither are they “unnatural”. If anything, ethnic diversity is the natural condition of states.
At the same time, we have to admit that national or ethnic groups may desire national self-determination and a state of their own, separate from other groups. This desire may spring from a history of hostility between groups, a hostility which is believed to endanger the cultural, linguistic or ethnic survival of groups. In extreme cases, this hostility leads to more than just difficult cohabitation and results in separatist conflict and civil war. To some extent, this is also the case in Africa. With the emphasis on “also”.
We should also remember that well-functioning democracies can deal with such problems, to a certain extent, and can do so a lot better than alternative forms of government. A democracy protects minority rights, religious freedom, tolerance and local self-government. The idea that a strong government is necessary to keep hostile groups from attacking each other is a myth. Violent suppression of antagonism will only make it worse in the long run.
However, those democratic solutions may not always prevent extreme hostilities between ethnic groups within a political state. Hence, secession or other ways of redrawing borders may be necessary.
The fact that many African countries have their fair share of ethnic conflict is, in part, the consequence of dysfunctional or absent democratic governance, but also of the history of colonialism. The colonial powers imposed the borders of African countries without consulting the populations or their leaders. These powers had neither self-determination nor peaceful coexistence in mind, only their own interests. African national liberation movements took those borders as given and had no interest in questioning them, which was understandable given the risks of conflicts with newly independent neighboring countries.
Because African borders cut across ethnic lines, politics in many African countries has, to this day, a strong ethnic and tribal component. (But, again, the same is true in many countries outside Africa). When combined with dysfunctional or absent democratic governance, tribal politics often leads to violence: minority ethnic groups feel excluded from power or discriminated in other ways; ethnic brethren in neighboring countries may feel the need to intervene; and so on. Difficult to say which is the dominant cause: 19th century map drawing or bad governance, or perhaps something else entirely, such poverty, resources or crime.
When we look at governance, the Europeans share part of the blame for present-day authoritarianism in Africa:
Africans often didn’t live in anything like the absolutist ethnic states which Europeans wanted them to live in — which would have made it easier to govern them [and extract labor and resources] — so Europeans colonial administrators worked very hard to create absolutist ethnic tribal groups and then force Africans to live in them. This is not to say that ethnicity didn’t exist before colonization; that sort of generalization is also hard to sustain, as most continental level generalizations are. But the general rule was that the sort of political state which was suited for organizing and controlling a population’s labor and resources did not exist before colonial rule, and had to be invented, and was, by Europeans. (source)
And Europeans also share part of the blame for the role of ethnicity in present-day conflicts. Not only did they draw the borders without regard for ethnicity, they in a sense enhanced the importance of ethnicity in Africa:
“Gikuyu,” for example, means “farmer,” and it distinguished the people (in what is now Kenya) who lived by farming, and took a pride in it, from the people who lived a more pastoral life in the same area, and spoke a different language. But the groups intermarried, crossed over, and traded with each other when they felt like it, and neither was a single political group anyway; there was no Maasai state or nation, nor was there a Gikuyu nation. That is, until Europeans — with their maps and censuses — decided that there was, and codified it into colonial law. After that, there were such “ethnic” groups. (source)
Not surprising then that there’s authoritarianism and tribalism in Africa today. However, there’s more than that. The colonial experience and the colonial need for authoritarian government created long running authoritarian national structures as well as national feelings and “peoples”, despite the artificial nature of African states. That’s why there are strong feelings of patriotism across ethnic groups in most African countries. Again, just like anywhere else in the world.
So, with this bit of context, I hope we can avoid simplistic and monocausal narratives about artificial African countries torn apart by ancient tribalism, and about the long term effects of 19th century map drawing by ignorant and self-interested Europeans. A lot of other stuff also explains current violence in Africa, and Africans aren’t simply tribalists.
how arbitrary border decisions have affected war and civil unrest in Africa, particularly among split ethnic groups and their neighbors. Not surprisingly, the length of a conflict and its casualty rate is 25 percent higher in areas where an ethnicity is divided by a national border as opposed to areas where ethnicities have a united homeland. Examples of divided (and conflicted) groups are the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania, and the Anyi of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The conflict rate is also higher for people living in areas close to ethnic-partitioned hot-spots. … Using a 1959 ethnic homeland map from ethnolinguist George Peter Murdock, the authors studied African conflicts from 1970 – 2005 (the “post-independence period”) and found that “civil conflict is concentrated in the historical homeland of partitioned ethnicities.” (source)
(source, click image to enlarge)
Here’s a more detailed version of the Murdock map:
And here’s a simplified version of the ethnic map of Africa:
(source, click image to enlarge)
The following map shows that African borders correspond less to ethnicity than borders in most other parts of the world:
In the early spring of 2011, in the middle of the conflict in Libya, 72 desperate sub-Saharan men, women and children tried to get to Lampedusa. Instead, they were left to die in a small, overcrowded inflatable rubber dinghy as their calls for help went unheeded. When things first started to go wrong and fuel and food supplies were dwindling, a call was made from a satellite phone to Father Zerai, a contact person whose number they had been given in case of an emergency and who subsequently notified the Italian coast guard. By that time, the boat was drifting with little fuel left and taking in water. The phone call enabled the Italian coast guard to establish the boat’s location. A helicopter was sent to drop some drinking water and food.
The boat was now drifting in the middle of the Mediterranean. Rough waters threw some people overboard and currents sent the boat back to Libya. Fishing boats in the vicinity ignored the vessel. On the 5th day at sea, people started dying onboard. A large military vessel also failed to assist. On the 15th day, only 11 people were still alive. On April 10th, the boat stranded on the Libyan coast. The 11 survivors were arrested. One died in custody due to lack of care.
Here’s an animated map depicting the events:
Those who ignored the boat could possibly be facing judicial action.
In light of the recent Trayvon Martin case, a few historical examples of how fear of the “other” has led many Americans to acts of intolerance and discrimination:
- In 1654, Peter Stuyvesant, director-general of New Netherland, tried to have Jewish refugees expelled, claiming they would “infect” the colony.
- In 1732, founders of the Georgia colony, which was seen as a religious haven, drew up a charter that explicitly bans Catholicism.
- In 1844, Mormon founder Joseph Smith is murdered in an Illinois prison by a lynch mob. Soon after, many of his followers migrated to Utah.
- In 1854-56, nativists formed the Know Nothing Party (yes, that was their name), which called for strict limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries.
- In 1865-66, following the end of the Civil War, riots erupted during Reconstruction, and African American churches and schools were burned in Memphis and New Orleans.
- In 1882, strong anti-Chinese sentiment in California led to the federal Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended immigration from the East.
- In 1883, the Department of Interior declared many Native American rituals to be “offenses” punishable by jail sentences of up to 30 years.
- In 1942, FDR signed an executive order establishing “exclusion zones,” which led to the forced internment of some 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans. (source)
Needless to say, fear of the other isn’t a exclusively American problem.
The poor tend to become a number, a statistic, an undifferentiated mass, especially here on this blog. Talk of the “bottom billion” and the one-dollar-a-day people only makes things worse. Of course, it’s important to know the numbers, if only to see how well we are doing in the struggle against poverty. But to actually know what we have to do, we need to know what poverty actually means to poor people. How do these people live? Which problems do they face? Who are they? None of this can be captured in numbers or statistics. Pure quantitative analysis doesn’t help. We need qualitative stories here, and these stories will necessarily differentiate between groups of people because poverty means different things to different people.
Keeping in mind the caveat that poverty is “multidimensional” and that it varies with the circumstances, is it possible to give a more or less general impression of the “lives of the poor”? There’s an interesting attempt here. Banerjee and Duflo analyzed survey data from 13 countries in order to distill a picture of the way people live on less than one dollar a day, of the choices they have and the limits and challenges they face.
The countries are Cote d’Ivoire, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, South Africa, Tanzania, and Timor Leste. Obviously, the lives of the poor are very different in these different countries, and vary even for different groups within each country. Still, some general information can be extracted:
- The number of adults (i.e. those over 18) living in a family ranges from about 2.5 to about 5, with a median of about 3, which suggests a family structure where it is common for adults to live with people they are not conjugally related to (parents, siblings, uncles, cousins, etc.). When every penny counts, it helps to spread the fixed costs of living (like housing) over a larger number of people. Poverty has consequences for family structure, and vice versa.
- Poor families have more children living with them. The fact that there are a large number of children in these families does not necessarily imply high levels of fertility, as families often have multiple adult women.
- The poor of the world are very young on average. Older people tend to be richer simply because they have had more time to accumulate resources.
- Food typically represents from 56 to 78 percent of consumption expenses among rural households, and 56 to 74 percent in urban areas.
- The poor consume on average slightly less than 1400 calories a day. This is about half of what the Indian government recommends for a man with moderate activity, or a woman with heavy physical activity. As a result, health is definitely a reason for concern. Among the poor adults in Udaipur, the average “body mass index” (that is, weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters) is 17.8. Sixty-five percent of poor adult men and 40 percent of adult women have a body mass index below 18.5, the standard cutoff for being underweight. Eating more would improve their BMI and their health, and yet they choose to spend relatively large amounts on entertainment. Which just shows that the poor have the same desires as anyone else and choose their priorities accordingly.
- The poor see themselves as having a significant amount of choice, and choose not to exercise it in the direction of spending more on food. The typical poor household in Udaipur could spend up to 30 percent more on food than it actually does, just based on what it spends on alcohol, tobacco, and festivals. Indeed, in most of the surveys the share spent on food is about the same for the poor and the extremely poor, suggesting that the extremely poor do not feel the need to purchase more calories. This conclusion echoes an old finding in the literature on nutrition: Even the extremely poor do not seem to be as hungry for additional calories as one might expect.
- Tap water and electricity are extremely rare among the poor.
- Many poor households have multiple occupations. They may operate their own one-man business, sometimes more than one, but do so with almost no productive assets. They also have jobs as laborers, often in agriculture. And they cultivate a piece of land they own. Yet, agriculture is not the mainstay of most of these households. Where do they find non-agricultural work? They migrate. The businesses they operate are very small, lacking economies of scale and without employment opportunities for people outside the family. That’s a vicious circle because it means that few people can find a job and are forced to start petty businesses themselves. This circle makes economies of scale very difficult.
- The poor tend not to become too specialized, which has its costs. As short-term migrants, they have little chance of learning their jobs better, ending up in a job that suits their specific talents or being promoted. Even the non-agricultural businesses that the poor operate typically require relatively little specific skills. The reason for this lack of specialization is probably risk spreading. If the weather is bad and crop yields are low, people can move to another occupation.
- The poor don’t save a lot, unsurprisingly. Some of it has to do with inadequate access to credit and insurance markets. Banks and insurers are unwilling to give access to the poor and saving at home is hard to do; it’s unsafe and the presence of money at home increases the temptation to spend (that’s true for all of us by the way).
- In 12 of the 13 countries in the sample, with the exception of Cote d’Ivoire, at least 50 percent of both boys and girls aged 7 to 12 in extremely poor households are in school. Schooling doesn’t take a large bite from the family budget of the poor because children in poor households typically attend public schools or other schools that do not charge a fee.
- Victorian poor records go online (bbc.co.uk)
- What about the pursuit of happiness? | Mukoma Wa Ngugi (guardian.co.uk)
After a previous post comparing North and South Korea – a natural experiment for assessing the value of political freedom – I stumbled across the work of photographer Stefan Koppelkamm who has done something similar in Germany:
During a trip to East Germany in 1990, photographer Stefan Koppelkamm discovered buildings that had survived both the war and the construction mania of the East German authorities. Ten years later, he returned to photograph the buildings again. (source)
Here are some examples:
I don’t know what this is supposed to represent, but it’s probably some form of commentary on Africa’s “exploding” problems:
Here’s another version:
If it’s a denunciation of Africa’s problems, then I have to say it’s a bad case of overacting. As if everywhere in Africa life is horribly miserable, brutal and short. In fact, things are looking up.
This one, by the same artist, is even more offensive:
The US Administration has published declassified images that illustrate the disproportionate nature of the Assad regime’s violence against its own people and its willingness to attack civilian targets.
The first image below shows the Syrian army’s artillery aimed at the city of Homs and the fires in the city resulting from artillery shots. Those shots are supposedly aimed at armed opposition groups (that do not have artillery to shoot back, by the way) but they also hit civilians hiding in the city.
The second image – a “before and after” image – shows some of the damage in Homs:
This is the same area from another angle:
And this is a before-and-after image of damage to a hospital:
The impact scars are said to be consistent with the equipment shown in the first picture and are evidence of the Syrian government’s indiscriminate use of heavy weaponry against civilians.
More posts in this series are here.
Just after midnight on January 28, 2011, the government of Egypt, rocked by three straight days of massive antiregime protests organized in part through Facebook and other online social networks, did something unprecedented in the history of 21st-century telecommunications: it turned off the Internet. Exactly how it did this remains unclear, but the evidence suggests that five well-placed phone calls—one to each of the country’s biggest Internet service providers (ISPs)—may have been all it took. …
Both strategically and tactically, the Internet blackout accomplished little—the crowds that day were the biggest yet, and in the end, the demonstrators prevailed. But as an object lesson in the Internet’s vulnerability to top-down control, the shutdown was alarmingly instructive and perhaps long overdue. …
[F]or years China’s “great firewall” has given the government the ability to block whatever sites it chooses. In Western democracies, consolidation of Internet service providers has put a shrinking number of corporate entities in control of growing shares of Internet traffic, giving companies such as Comcast and AT&T both the incentive and the power to speed traffic served by their own media partners at the expense of competitors. (source)
More on internet censorship here.
U.S. military intervention abroad isn’t necessarily incompatible with respect for human rights. Sometimes it’s the only means to stop large scale violations. While military intervention always means imposing a certain level of harm on the local population, it’s possible to argue that in some cases intervention results in a net benefit. WWII could be viewed as belonging to this category of cases. Had the U.S. intervened in the Rwandan genocide, that could also have been a net benefit even if many Rwandans had died in the process. Of course, there are strict limitations to this kind of calculus – normally, it’s not OK to kill two in order to save three. However, in catastrophic circumstances, some sacrifices are probably morally acceptable if they are necessary to save thousands or even millions. That’s even more true if those who are sacrificed are responsible for the harm that triggered the intervention. (More on so-called humanitarian intervention here).
The argument that foreign intervention is necessary in order to protect the rights of U.S. citizens at home is somewhat harder to make. That was the rationale for the invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq, but those probably did not help to reduce the terror threat at home. Perhaps the contrary was the case. And if you count the harm done to the invaded populations – as you should – then the net result is clearly negative, even if the invasions did succeed in reducing the terror threat in the U.S.
Furthermore, very few if any of all the military interventions ever carried out by the U.S. – either before or during the War on Terror - were meant to protect anyone’s human rights – neither those of Americans, not those of the people in the invaded countries. The central concerns were about spheres of interest, balance of power, economic profit etc., and the usual outcome was a human rights disaster.
Those interventions were numerous, especially if you add the quasi-military ones, namely those that involved support for local guerillas, assassinations etc. Many interventions had long-lasting effects: military bases were established, autocrats received military training and long-term financial support and so on. In fact, there have been so many interventions that they can’t all fit on a single map, unless you want to have something awful like this. Here’s a better map showing some of the American interventions in one part of the world:
(source, click image to enlarge)
Here’s a map from an earlier period in history, just to show that this is nothing new:
(source, click image to enlarge)
The number of troops or military bases abroad is another way to represent the extent of U.S. intervention in the world:
(source, the sharp increase in the late 60s is of course due to the Vietnam war, the sharp decline in the early 90s follows the fall of the Iron Curtain)
(source, click image to enlarge)
Here’s a map of US military bases in the Middle East:
- Human Rights Maps (158): Women with Unmet Need for Family Planning (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
- Human Rights Maps (153): Female Life Expectancy in the U.S. (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
Anti-discrimination legislation tends to become more inclusive over time, in two ways:
- more groups enjoy protection against discrimination (the disabled, transsexuals, older people, short people etc.) and
- discrimination becomes illegal in more social settings (employment, trade etc.).
I’ll focus here on employment discrimination, and more specifically discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Employment Discrimination laws seek to prevent discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, physical disability, and age by employers. A growing body of law also seeks to prevent employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Discriminatory practices include bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, compensation, retaliation, and various types of harassment. (source)
In the U.S., many states have laws that protect all public employees against employment discrimination, including discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many large cities and other localities have similar rules. A minority of states ban this type of discrimination in private employment: 21 states plus DC have laws banning discrimination in private employment that also cover sexual orientation, and 15 plus DC have laws that also cover gender identity.
Here’s a map showing those 21 and 15 states:
And here’s a map showing legislation covering both private and public employment:
Here’s another version, animated this time:
(source, click image to start animation)
An interesting new development: employers seem to be discriminating against the unemployed. When evaluating candidates for positions, employers prefer to hire someone who already has a job elsewhere. They often even announce in their job postings that they don’t hire applicants who aren’t currently working. Unemployed candidates, even if they have the same qualifications, are refused because their current lack of a job is supposed to signal laziness or other disqualifying characteristics. Some therefore propose to include also discrimination of the unemployed in legislation prohibiting employment discrimination. Others think that would be a bad idea subjecting businesses to frivolous lawsuits every time an unemployed person fails to get a job.
Another sign that human rights are becoming the morality of the world:
However, international law may be no more than window-dressing, at least in this case. In large parts of the world, national law does not conform to the obligation of CEDAW or it’s not enforced when it conforms:
(source, click images to enlarge)
I’ve expressed my views on hate crime laws many times before, and I don’t want to rehash the old arguments: that it’s wrong to equate hate crime laws with hate speech laws, that there is no free speech, freedom of thought or freedom of religion problem here etc. So let’s cut to the chase.
Here are the States of the US that have hate crime laws covering crimes motivated by race, religion or ethnicity:
An interesting question is to what extent the concept of hate crime should be open to modification: when is it appropriate or necessary to include new groups? Whereas a lot of hate crime legislation is limited to attacks on racial or religious groups, other laws include sexual orientation and gender identity, in which case homosexuals and transgendered people enjoy added protection:
(source, click image to enlarge)
Data on Europe are below:
As I stated before, economic theory suggests that income inequality is a necessary price to pay for economic efficiency: unequal rewards incite those with talents, skill and perseverance to innovate and to be productive, so they can reap higher benefits. Ultimately, this serves the welfare of the whole of society (a process which is then caricatured in trickle down economics). The mirror image of this is reductions of inequality that take away incentives for doing well, and that therefore result in economic inefficiency and less prosperity for all.
Tyler Cowen has framed it like this:
Redistribution of wealth has some role in maintaining a stable democracy and preventing starvation. But the power of wealth redistribution to produce net value is quite limited. The power of wealth creation to produce net value is extraordinary … We should be putting our resources, including our advocacy and our intellectual resources, into wealth creation as much as we can. (source)
But is that really true? There is some evidence that reducing inequality through redistribution actually promotes wealth creation. What’s the mechanism? Sam Bowles claims to have identified one element of it:
Inequality breeds conflict, and conflict breeds wasted resources … [I]n a very unequal society, the people at the top have to spend a lot of time and energy keeping the lower classes obedient and productive. Inequality leads to an excess of what Bowles calls “guard labor”. (source)
Poverty causes credit constraints. This stops the poor investing in businesses or education; the low aspirations caused by poverty can have the same effect. … Inequality can create the threat of redistribution which can blunt incentives to invest. Or it can lead to state interventions – such as the minimum wage – that harm wealth creation. … The backlash against wealth-creating processes such as globalization, offshoring and private equity in the UK and US are founded in the view that they create inequality. If we had better redistribution mechanisms (say, a basic income) such backlashes would be reduced, and the wealth creation process enhanced. (source)
That sounds persuasive and I want to see some evidence. In the meantime, it’s perhaps a bit glib to announce that “the power of wealth redistribution to produce net value is quite limited”.
These are the locations of prisons and burial sites during the Cambodian genocide:
This more or less tracks population density:
More human rights maps here.
All national borders are the locus of strict enforcement: there is no country on earth where foreigners can just come in as they wish, and all states are eager to defend the integrity and completeness of their territory and the security of their citizens against attacks by other states or by terrorist infiltrators. Some authoritarian states also use force to keep their people inside their territory.
However, certain borders are fortified more than others. The US-Mexican border, the India-Pakistan border, the separation wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories, and the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea are among the places where the toughest national security and anti-movement policies are in force. Below are some maps and aerial images that illustrate the extent of these policies.
The US-Mexican border
The US is constructing a border fence in order to stop illegal Mexican immigrants - as well as “terrorists” according to some. This fence currently covers about a third of the border. Right wing politicians want to expand it, even though the non-fenced areas are so remote or rugged as to make a fence pointless or impractical. Together with drone aircraft, helicopters, video surveillance, seismic sensors, infrared sensors, private vigilantes and thousands of border patrol guards in all-terrain vehicles and on horse-back, it has indeed driven down the numbers of illegal immigrants – although the recession has also done its bit.
(source, click image to enlarge)
Some question the strength of the US-Mexican border, not always without good reason as can be seen from this image:
The India-Pakistan border
The border between these two countries is hotly contested, especially in the region of Kashmir. India is also wary of terrorist infiltration along the entire border. Sometimes called the “Berlin Wall of Asia”, the border has only one road crossing. Half of the border is floodlit, and hence can be seen from space:
The separation wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories
To so-called Westbank Barrier between the West Bank and Israel will be approximately 760 kilometres upon completion. In some places it’s a concrete wall. 12% of the West Bank area is on the Israel side of the barrier, meaning that parts of the occupied territories captured by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 are now “in Israel”. The main rationale for the barrier is protection against terrorist incursions, specifically by suicide bombers. The barrier severely disrupts free movement in the Westbank as well as access to Israel for Palestinians working there. Some Jewish settlers, on the other hand, condemn the barrier for appearing to renounce the Jewish claim to the whole of the “Land of Israel”.
The DMZ between North and South Korea
Since the end of the Korean war, there’s a country-wide demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, cutting the Korean Peninsula roughly in half along the 38th parallel. It’s 250 kilometres long – plus extensions into the sea – and approximately 4 km wide. It’s the most heavily militarized border in the world.
The South has discovered four tunnels crossing the DMZ, dug by North Korea. The North claimed they were for coal mining but no coal has been found in the tunnels, which are dug through granite. Some of the tunnel walls have been painted black to give the appearance of anthracite. Not very cunning. The tunnels are believed to have been planned as military invasion routes.
The border is visible from space at night, not because it’s floodlit but because of the large difference in electricity use between the prosperous South and the impoverished North:
And, no, it’s not dark because they’re all building tunnels…
Here’s an overview:
(source, click image to enlarge)
All these borders are sad reminders of humanity’s penchant for xenophobia, exclusion, parochialism, national hostility and war. And a testimony to almost universally shared misconceptions about property rights over the earth, about freedom of movement and about the value of diversity and equal opportunity.
More than 60 million Chinese and more than 20 million Indians live abroad. If all of the world’s migrants from all nationalities would form a separate nation, it would be the world’s fifth-largest.
Another version, only for China:
(interactive version here)
Within the US, this is the distribution of the Chinese population:
Also interesting, but without information about the origin of the migrants:
|Dubai||United Arab Emirates|
The Food Security Risk Index (FSRI), released by Maplecroft, is a combination of 12 indicators, measuring the availability, access and stability of food supplies across all countries, as well as the nutritional and health status of populations. Risk factors include conflict, displacement, low capacity to combat the effects of extreme weather events such as drought, water shortages, land degradation, prevalence of poverty and failing infrastructures undermining both food production and emergency food distribution capacity. In 2011, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo ranked lowest in the world:
(source, click image to enlarge)
A somewhat related map, showing the percentages of food spending in total spending:
In general, a higher percentage means more average poverty. And also higher vulnerability. If you spend 50% rather than only 10% of your income on food, you’ll be hit much harder by price hikes or income loss. And, as a result, your food supply is much more insecure.
After the attack, [Gulnaz] hid what happened as long as she could. But soon she began vomiting in the mornings and showing signs of pregnancy. It was her attacker’s child.
In Afghanistan, this brought her not sympathy, but prosecution. Aged just 19, she was found guilty by the courts of sex outside of marriage — adultery — and sentenced to twelve years in jail.
Now inside Kabul’s Badam Bagh jail, she and her child are serving her sentence together.
Sitting with the baby in her lap, her face carefully covered, she explains the only choice she has that would end her incarceration.
The only way around the dishonor of rape, or adultery in the eyes of Afghans, is to marry her attacker. This will, in the eyes of some, give her child a family and restore her honor.
Incredibly, this is something that Gulnaz is willing to do. …
We found Gulnaz’s convicted rapist in a jail across town. While he denied raping her, he agreed that she would likely be killed if she gets out of jail. But he insists that it will be her family, not his, that will kill her, “out of shame.” (source)
Last year, … in Morocco, a judge ordered a 16-year-old girl named Amina Filali to marry the man who raped her. She committed suicide in March, prompting widespread outrage and condemnation of article 475, which allows a rapist to marry his victim in order to escape jail. (source)
More absurd human rights violations here.
A combination of better law enforcement and an economic recession has resulted in a steep decline of illegal immigration from Mexico to the US. One way to measure illegal immigration is to extrapolate on the basis of the number of Border Patrol apprehensions. These went down fast, as is shown by this map:
Here are the total numbers:
I personally regret this since I’m in favor of open borders (see here). If it’s the recession that drives down illegal immigration, then that means an increase in poverty or at least an absence of a decrease. And if it’s border apprehensions that drive it down, then that means a violation of people’s freedom of movement, freedom of association etc.
Another version of the same map, less legible I’m afraid:
And here’s a somewhat earlier map from 1837, showing the “moral and political” composition of the world (by engraver William C. Woodbridge):
(source, click image to enlarge)
A zoom of the legend:
(a high resol
There’s some overlap between the two maps, but many areas of the world are viewed differently.
I’ve written before about some very significant health disparities across segments of the population of the U.S. (see here, here. here, here, here and here). Health disparities across racial, gender or income groups are a strong indication of injustice since most if not all such disparities have no basis in biology and must therefore have social or political causes. They lead to a shorter life and a lower quality of life for the average person in certain social groups. For example, this study shows that
the life expectancy gap between the 3.4 million high-risk urban black males and the 5.6 million Asian females was 20.7 years in 2001.
See also these graphs:
The causes of disparities like these are other types of disparities:
- differences in health care access and utilization (through differences in health insurance and different access to good quality medical facilities)
- different homicide rates
- different HIV rates
- differences in nutritional behavior and food availability (see the concept of “food deserts”)
- different poverty rates
More data on life expectancy here.
So, today is Universal Children’s Day, the day we remember the Declaration of the Rights of the Child signed on this day in 1959. Although I do hope we also remember it all other days. Usually I don’t like to write about such commemorative days. There seems to be a Day of Something almost every day, and I admit I find the whole idea of “Day of …” a bit artificial, a ploy to get journalists to publish something.
However, I make an exception today because of this fine infographic, sent to me by Sarah Fudin of the University of Southern California:
More on children’s rights here.
As of this writing,
Feodor Vassilyev is apparently notable enough for a Wikipedia article because his wife sets the record for the most children birthed by a single woman [69 in total]. Just to reiterate, it is Mr. Vassilyev and not Mrs. Vassilyev who is deemed notable enough to have a Wikipedia article here. (source)
On the one hand, it’s no surprise that gender bias should find its way into Wikipedia. After all, its a widespread social phenomenon and Wikipedia editors are part of society. Perhaps it also has something to do with the fact less than 15% of Wikipedia editors are female. Or maybe we were even more biased in the 18th century – the time when the Vassilyevs set their record – and Wikipedia simply transmits historical bias.
On the other hand, one can reasonably expect better from Wikipedia. It’s a knowledge base, and as such it should try to correct rather than reflect social bias.
The map below shows the percentage of fertile women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years) who are married or in a consensual union, who are not using contraception, and who report that they do not want children or want their next child with a delay of two years or more:
Women who have unwanted children may not be able to fully enjoy several of their human rights: they may have to abandon their education or quit their job, and they may be forced to marry someone. Education, work and marriage are all human rights.
More human rights maps here.
Apparently, it’s more dangerous to be a male black person in NYC than a person of any other race or gender:
(source, where you can find an interactive version of these maps)
African Americans represent only 25% of NYCs population, but 61% of murder victims. The racial distribution of the perpetrators is strikingly similar to the racial distribution of the victims; and men are not only the main victims but also the perpetrators in 92% of cases.
A note of caution: correlation doesn’t imply causation. In this case, this means that the race of most of the perpetrators shouldn’t lead you to the conclusion that black people are more likely to engage in murder because they are black. A third element, hidden in the correlation and more common among blacks, is most probably the cause of the high murder rate (perhaps poverty). In which case, distorted homicide rates may be a symptom of racism and discrimination.
Another note of caution: a common feature of a lot of statistical data in map form is that they exaggerate the prevalence of the phenomenon that is measured, and so it is with these images of murder in NYC. The town is full of it, if you can believe the images. But that’s obviously not true. 500 or so homicides per year, on a total population of 8 million, amounts to one murder per 16.000 people, only slightly higher than the 1 in 18.000 for the US nationwide (it’s not surprising that it’s higher for a densely populated urban area).
Also, the numbers have trended downwards in NYC:
Apparently the same pattern can be seen in Chicago:
And Washington DC as well – data are here:
(source, where you can find an interactive version)
Here’s an overview of the countries that have progressed most in terms of the 1st, 4th and 5th Millennium Development Goals (respectively: reduce the number of people living on less that $1.25 a day, reduce under age 5 mortality rate and increase the number of births attended by skilled personnel):
(source, these are the countries that have improved by the largest margins compared to the initial measurement, regardless of their initial conditions or initial distance from the targets)
If I didn’t manage to convince you of the stupidity of deterrent talk in my two previous posts (here and here), then neither will I manage today. Still, I’m a hopeless optimist by nature, so I’ll try anyway. A vital presupposition in the deterrence argument in favor of capital punishment (or any type of punishment by the way) is the minimally rational nature of criminals: if criminals don’t weigh the costs and benefits of actions before they undertake them, an extra cost as heavy as death won’t make any difference to their actions. And they don’t:
The tenet that harsher penalties could substantially reduce crime rates rests on the assumption that currently active criminals weigh the costs and benefits of their contemplated acts. Existing and proposed crime strategies exhibit this belief, as does a large and growing segment of the crime literature. This study examines the premise that criminals make informed and calculated decisions. The findings suggest that 76% of active criminals and 89% of the most violent criminals either perceive no risk of apprehension or are incognizant of the likely punishments for their crimes. (source)
It seems that criminals, like the rest of us, are seldom the cold, mechanical and calculating types. And the best thing about this: even if it was all wrong and capital punishment could deter, it would still be unacceptable for other reasons.