Dear Jeff Bezos, what are you going to do with all that money?

Economist Jeffrey Sachs discusses how the megarich can help millions of children by donating 1 percent of their wealth.

Jeffrey Sachs: One of the astounding facts of our time is the gusher of wealth going to the very top; of the wealth distribution in the world. It's mind-boggling.

Mind-boggling to think about Jeff Bezos, for example, with a net worth—personally, individual net worth of…
hold onto your chair, how about $163 billion? That's a lot of money. I am myself an Amazon user. I think it's an awfully good service and product that he's developed, but $163 billion in a world where a lot of his workers struggle to get by, a lot of the people in Seattle (where Amazon is headquartered) are homeless, where there are incredible needs, that a tiny fraction of that wealth could keep millions of kids alive and in school. You have to say, "All right, world economy is dynamic, but it's not really exactly fair, and it's not really oriented towards addressing everyone's basic human rights and needs."

What's happened to the wealth at the top, it's amazing. Back in 2006 there were about 700 billionaires or so, that was a lot, and they had a net worth, if you added up all of their stocks and bonds and other assets, of something on the order of about $3 trillion, and we'd sit there and say oh my god can you imagine this? And in just a dozen years — a dozen years! Even in a dozen years with a mega financial crisis in between, the billionaires went from about 700 or so to now 2,208 on the most recent Forbes magazine list of billionaires. And their net worth went from around $3 trillion, which was absolutely mind-boggling to begin with, to $9.1 trillion at the start of 2018 when Forbes published the list, and now almost surely well above it $10 trillion, including this phenomenal wealth of Mr. Bezos the richest person in the world, but many others. Now Bill Gates, who is far and away the world's leading philanthropist because he was long the richest person in the world and he and Melinda Gates very rightly, generously, wisely, boldly, in a visionary way, said, "We're going to give this away," created the biggest foundation in the world: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

They've been putting in several billion dollars a year to fighting disease and doing a fantastic job. But consider this, in 2010 Bill Gates called on other billionaires join in and make a pledge, called A Giving Pledge, to give away at least half of your wealth during your lifetime. And Bill Gates took that pledge himself. At that point his net worth was about $50 billion. He's been giving away roughly $4 billion a year since then, and you might think his net worth has gone down a bit given that generosity, but his net worth now is $93 billion.

So the wealth is such a gusher that you could give billions away and it just keeps growing and growing and growing beyond anything that most of us mortals can even imagine.

What I know — as an economist that has worked all over the world, including in the poorest places in the world — little bits can save lives and make futures for the children of this world at unbelievably low costs, and it just gets me that we have $10 trillion here and we have kids who are hungry, dying and out — no school over here, and can't we make the connection? And the answer is we have to.

So my thought is at a minimum $10 trillion, come on! And put in at least one percent. That's such a tiny amount because your wealth grows at much more than that — put in 1 percent of your net worth, per year, minimum, to help the kids. One percent of $10 trillion is $100 billion. And if you take out your paper and pencil — or your Excel spreadsheet — you can show that for $100 billion a year, 1 percent of the net worth of just 2,208 individuals, you could get every kid in school all the way through upper-secondary education and you could establish universal health coverage for everybody in every low-income country in the world. That's a pretty good gig for 2,208 people, but they've got to get on with it. I think they have enough yachts, enough mansions, enough of everything, and it's really time for that wealth to be deployed for the purposes of our generation, of children who utterly and desperately need it. And I say do it voluntarily, or if you don't do it voluntarily, fine: we'll put on a levy, and SDG levy, a Sustainable Development Goals levy of 1 percent of your net worth, because we're going to get this job done. We're going to get every child healthcare. We're going to get every child into school.

  • In 2006 there were about 700 billionaires with a total net worth of about $3 trillion. Today there are 2,208 billionaires with a total net worth of $9.1 trillion. A tiny fraction of that wealth could keep millions of kids alive and in school.
  • Jeffrey Sachs, who argues that the world economy isn't "exactly fair," proposes the ultra rich give 1 percent of their collective wealth — about $100 billion — to help meet everyone's basic needs. "What I know — as an economist that has worked all over the world, including in the poorest places in the world— [is that] little bits can save lives and make futures for the children of this world..."
  • If plutocrats don't give voluntarily, Sachs recommends putting an SDG levy, a Sustainable Development Goals levy, on 1 percent of their collective wealth. "We're going to get this job done. We're going to get every child healthcare. We're going to get every child into school."

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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
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  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.