from the world's big
26 ultra-rich people own as much as the world's 3.8 billion poorest
The Oxfam report prompted Anand Giridharadas to tweet: "Don't be Pinkered into everything's-getting-better complacency."
- A new report by Oxfam argues that wealth inequality is causing poverty and misery around the world.
- In the last year, the world's billionaires saw their wealth increase by 12%, while the poorest 3.8 billion people on the planet lost 11% of their wealth.
- The report prompted Anand Giridharadas to tweet: "Don't be Pinkered into everything's-getting-better complacency." We explain what Steven Pinker's got to do with it.
A new report by Oxfam argues that inequality around the word is so out of hand that it is putting progress at risk. The report offers a scathing indictment of policies advanced around the world over the last few decades. The authors propose vast expansions of public services paid for by increasing taxes on the super wealthy to remedy the problems they examine in their report.
Inequality for all?
The report, titled 'Public Good or Private Wealth', praises the progress that has been made in eradicating extreme poverty around the world over the past few decades. It then warns us that the problems we face today place that progress at risk and even threaten to undo the efforts of countless individuals, governments, and NGOs.
It begins by revealing that the number of billionaires in the world has doubled since the financial crisis of 2008 and that they collectively grow richer by 2.5 billion dollars a day. This is made possible, it explains, by the ever-decreasing tax rates on high incomes and corporations. The choice to cut taxes means there is less money in the coffers to pay for public services and comes at a high cost to those who need them the most.
The figures explaining that cost are shocking. In the last year, the world's billionaires saw their wealth increase by 12 percent while the poorest 3.8 billion people on the planet lost 11 percent of their wealth. All of the wealth those 3.8 billion people do have adds up to the same amount held by the 26 wealthiest people on the planet.
As a direct result of lack of public services, people die and the poverty trap becomes harder to escape. The report explains that 10,000 people will die today due to lack of proper medical care, 262 million children will not be allowed to go to school for lack of funds, and the poorest women on the planet will do millions of hours of unpaid care work.
All of this means it should come as no surprise that the rate of poverty reduction is half of what it was in 2013. Even while the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day – the World Bank's line for extreme poverty – has continued to drop, 3.4 billion people still live on less than $5.50 a day, which is the benchmark for extreme poverty in an upper-middle income country. The authors hasten to add that in Sub-Saharan Africa the extreme poverty rate has started to increase.
While the report focuses on devolving nations, it references conditions in the United States several times. It mentions how social mobility in the United States has been declining for some time and how a black child born in the United States is more likely to die before their first birthday than a child born in Libya.
The report firmly lays the blame for these facts at the feet of declining public services, inequality, and policies that favor the rich, arguing that "Inequality is a political and a policy choice" and that the growth of the top 1% is preventing the reduction of poverty. One section in the report explains the poverty mentioned above:
This is a direct result of inequality, and of prosperity accruing disproportionately to those at the top for decades. The World Inequality Report 2018 showed that between 1980 and 2016 the poorest 50% of humanity only captured 12 cents in every dollar of global income growth. By contrast, the top 1% captured 27 cents of every dollar. The lesson is clear: to beat poverty, we must fight inequality.
The report also explores how these problems tend to harm women more than men. Since women tend to own less wealth than men, policies that benefit the rich are less likely to help them. Women are also expected in many cultures to take care of children, the sick, and the elderly – tasks made much harder if public services like health programs and childcare are cut back.
The Oxfam report tells us that if a corporation did all the unpaid care work the women of the world do and charged people for it, that business would be 43 times larger than Apple. If this work were to be supported by public services, we are told, women around the would be able to spend that time more effectively improving their situation.
How do they propose we fix this problem?
The report does not merely complain without offering a way forward. The authors point to the places where progress is being made on these issues and conclude that increased funding to public services financed by taxes on the super-rich will go a long way in solving them.
For example, a wealth tax placed on the top 1 percent of income earners would provide 418 billion dollars each year, enough to ensure that every child on the planet has access to an education – a necessity if global poverty rates are going to be reduced.
They propose universal health care and education, an end to privatizations of public services, public pensions and child care, and investments in public utilities to help fix inequality. They advise that all of these policies must be implemented in ways that "also work for women and girls" if they are to be successful.
What do Big Thinkers have to say about all this?
Anand Giridharadas, an author who has written extensively on inequality, took to Twitter to comment on the report. He has argued in his books that inequality prevents society from making progress on certain problems because the people with the most wealth will use that wealth to keep the system that made them wealthy in place, even at the cost of inhibiting social reform.
In line with his previous comments on inequality, he argues that these figures are a sign that:
"The tremendous gains that government action, markets, aid, labor unions, philanthropy and other things have made in improving the human condition are now imperiled by the wealth concentration those improvements have left unbothered."
He also takes aim at those who think this is a glitch in the system or that the problem will solve itself. In one particularly scathing tweet, he warns: "Don't be Pinkered into everything's-getting-better complacency."
Stunning new data:— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) January 21, 2019
The world’s 2,200 billionaires grew 12 percent wealthier in 2018. Meanwhile, the bottom half of the world got 11 percent poorer.
Don’t be Pinkered into everything’s-getting-better complacency.
The few are monopolizing progress.https://t.co/89ZZWFpz6S
What's Steven Pinker got to do with it?
Giridharadas' tweets mention Steven Pinker, a Canadian psychologist and author, who has yet to comment on the report publicly. Pinker is known for taking a nuanced but controversial attitude toward inequality.
In his book Enlightenment Now, Pinker explains why he doesn't think inequality is inherently bad. Instead, he argues that we should focus on questions of poverty and unfairness which are tied to the discussion around inequality. In one section he cites philosopher Harry Frankfurt to explain his stance:
"Frankfurt argues that inequality itself is not morally objectionable; what is objectionable is poverty. If a person lives a long, healthy, pleasurable, and stimulating life, then how much money the Joneses earn, how big their house is, and how many cars they drive are morally irrelevant. Frankfurt writes, "From the point of view of morality, it is not important everyone should have the same. What is morally important is that each should have enough." Indeed, a narrow focus on economic inequality can be destructive if it distracts us into killing Boris's goat instead of figuring out how Igor can get one."
How he would feel about a report which argues that massive inequality is itself causing an increase in poverty is an open question since it does move beyond viewing inequality as bad in itself and focuses more on how that inequality causes other problems. In the past, Pinker has critiqued those who say inequality is doing that by pointing to absolute improvements in living conditions over time, but he might not be able to do that for much longer.
Anand Giridharadas' above-mentioned "everything's-getting-better complacency" is a reference to Pinker's view that the world is getting better due to the scientific and humanistic worldviews that gained prominence during the Enlightenment. In his words, "the Enlightenment worked," and we are living in one of the better parts of human history because of it. He isn't blind to today's problems, he is just optimistic that those problems can and will be solved.
He also takes the view that the negative side effects of the systems that created these benefits, effects like the building of the atomic bomb, imperialism, and world wars, are "glitches" rather than the results of endemic problems. He has a history of giving various metrics for how the world is improving over time and is likely to continue to do so as long as we keep our Enlightenment worldview.
The global tendency to cut taxes and public services came at a high cost for the poorest. Now, inequality is so high that it threatens to cause progress in poverty reduction to stall or even reverse. While the question of how lousy inequality is in itself remains open, the fact that it has reached a level where it is causing other problems has been settled. What we do next may prove definitive in the battle against poverty or it may halt the progress of the last few decades.
Steven Pinker: Why libertarianism will never be a universal value
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Why do so many people encounter beings after smoking large doses of DMT?
- DMT is arguably the most powerful psychedelic drug on the planet, capable of producing intense hallucinations.
- Researchers recently surveyed more than 2,000 DMT users about their encounters with 'entities' while tripping, finding that respondents often considered these strange encounters to be positive and meaningful.
- The majority of respondents believed the beings they encountered were not hallucinations.
What are DMT beings?<p>Do DMT entities actually exist in some other dimension, or are they hallucinations that the brain generates when its visual processing system is overwhelmed by a powerful tryptamine?<br></p><p>The late American ethnobotanist Terence McKenna believed that DMT beings — which he called "machine elves" — were real. Here's how he once <a href="https://www.ranker.com/list/dmt-machine-elves-facts/inigo-gonzalez" target="_blank">described</a> one of his DMT experiences:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I sank to the floor. I [experienced] this hallucination of tumbling forward into these fractal geometric spaces made of light and then I found myself in the equivalent of the Pope's private chapel and there were insect elf machines proffering strange little tablets with strange writing on them, and I was aghast, completely appalled, because [in] a matter of seconds... my entire expectation of the nature of the world was just being shredded in front of me. I've never actually gotten over it.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">These self-transforming machine elf creatures were speaking in a colored language which condensed into rotating machines that were like Fabergé eggs but crafted out of luminescent superconducting ceramics and liquid crystal gels. All this stuff was just so weird and so alien and so un-English-able that it was a complete shock — I mean, the literal turning inside out of [my] intellectual universe!"</p><p>McKenna believed machine elves exist in alternate realities, which form a "<a href="https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/old-favourites-the-archaic-revival-1991-by-terence-mckenna-1.3924887" target="_blank">raging universe of active intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and extremely alien.</a>" But he was far from the first to believe that DMT is a doorway to other realms.</p><p>Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have used ayahuasca in religious ceremonies for centuries, though no one is quite sure when they first started experimenting with the psychedelic brew. The Jibaro people of the Ecuadorian rainforest believed ayahuasca allowed regular people, not just shamans, to <a href="https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10214/17902/RichardsonG_202004_HonThesis.pdf?sequence=3" target="_blank">speak directly to the gods</a>. The 19th-century Ecuadorian geographer Villavicencio wrote of other Amazonian shamans who used ahaysuca (known as the "vine of the dead") to contact spirits and foresee enemy battle plans.</p><p>In the West, research on DMT experiences has been sparse yet interesting. The psychiatrist Rick Strassman conducted some of the first human DMT trials at the University of New Mexico in the early 1990s. He found that <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">"at least half"</a> of his research subjects had encountered some form of entity after taking DMT.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for the frequency with which contact with beings occurred in our studies, nor the often utterly bizarre nature of these experiences," Strassman wrote in his book "DMT The Spirit Molecule".</p>
Manuel Medir / Getty<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Whenever I tried to pull any information out of the entities regarding themselves, the data that was given up was always relevant only to me. The elves could not give me any piece of data I did not already know, nor could their existence be sustained under any kind of prolonged scrutiny."</p><p>It's also worth noting that not all people who smoke DMT see beings, and that some see beings that look <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">nothing like elves or aliens</a>. The diversity of these reports seems to count against the argument that DMT beings exist in some objective alternate reality.</p><p>In other words, if DMT beings exist in some other dimension, shouldn't they appear the same to anyone who visits that dimension? Or do the beings assume a different appearance based on who's looking? Or are there many types of beings in the DMT universe, but most look like elves? </p><p>You might start seeing elves just trying to sort this stuff out.</p><p>Ultimately, nobody knows exactly why DMT beings take the forms they do, or whether they're just figments of overstimulated imaginations. And the answers might be beside the point. </p><p>In the recent survey, 60 percent of participants said their encounter with DMT beings "produced a desirable alteration in their conception of reality whereas only 1% indicated an undesirable alteration in their conception of reality."</p><p>DMT beings may be nothing more than projections of the subconscious mind. But these bizarre encounters do help some people find real meaning, whether it's through personal revelation or the raw power of ontological shock.</p>
So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.
- The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
- The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
- The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>Completing the race in 25 minutes means the cars will need to average about 110 miles per hour. So, while the race may end up being a bit slower than a typical Indy 500 competition, in which winners average speeds of over 160 mph, it's still set to be the fastest autonomous race featuring full-size cars.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is no human redundancy there," Matt Peak, managing director for Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that develops technology for the automation and energy sectors, told the <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2020/06/01/Indy-Autonomous-Challenge-Indy-500-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway-Ansys-Aptiv-self-driving-cars/stories/202005280137" target="_blank">Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>. "Either your car makes this happen or smash into the wall you go."</p>
Illustration of the Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>The Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://www.indyautonomouschallenge.com/rules" target="_blank">describes</a> itself as a "past-the-post" competition, which "refers to a binary, objective, measurable performance rather than a subjective evaluation, judgement, or recognition."</p><p>This competition design was inspired by the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, which tasked teams with developing driverless cars and sending them along a 150-mile route in Southern California for a chance to win $1 million. But that prize went unclaimed, because within a few hours after starting, all the vehicles had suffered some kind of critical failure.</p>
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>One factor that could prevent a similar outcome in the upcoming race is the ability to test-run cars on a virtual racetrack. The simulation software company Ansys Inc. has already developed a model of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which teams will test their algorithms as part of a series of qualifying rounds.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We can create, with physics, multiple real-life scenarios that are reflective of the real world," Ansys President Ajei Gopal told <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/autonomous-vehicles-to-race-at-indianapolis-motor-speedway-11595237401?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>. "We can use that to train the AI, so it starts to come up to speed."</p><p>Still, the race could reveal that self-driving cars aren't quite ready to race at speeds of over 110 mph. After all, regular self-driving cars already face enough logistical and technical roadblocks, including <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53349313#:~:text=Tesla%20will%20be%20able%20to,no%20driver%20input%2C%20he%20said." target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure, communication issues</a> and the <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/would-you-ride-in-a-car-thats-programmed-to-kill-you" target="_self">fateful moral decisions driverless cars will have to make in split seconds</a>.</p>But the Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5da73021d0636f4ec706fa0a/t/5dc0680c41954d4ef41ec2b2/1572890638793/Indy+Autonomous+Challenge+Ruleset+-+v5NOV2019+%282%29.pdf" target="_blank">says</a> its main goal is to advance the industry, by challenging "students around the world to imagine, invent, and prove a new generation of automated vehicle (AV) software and inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>