Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Beginning-of-the-Year Post: How Echidne Would Rule This Globe

If I were the dictator of this planet my long-term policies would be these:

1. Address climate change.  It may well be the case (as this dismal article about our likely future argues) that humans are simply not psychologically equipped to cope with the large short-term costs of trying to ameliorate it.  But the alternative truly is too dismal.  I like reading dystopian science fiction.  I don't want to live in it.

2.  Address the funding of  economic development in poor countries.  That means real money expenditure, real attention to curbing corrupt governments and elites from taking all the money, and real emphasis on education.  I'm an education fanatic, because I believe it is the one thing which will work best in the longer run.

As with the attempts to slow down climate change, the short-run costs of these policies are likely to be large and include, for example, the prioritizing of education over many other urgent needs.  But the alternative here, too, is dire, and includes vast floods of migrants who leave areas without any employment opportunities but also who do not have the education to be gainfully employed in the countries they try to reach.

3.  Reduce population growth.   This is no longer a popular goal for either side of the American political aisle.  But I believe it is absolutely necessary if we are to have less climate change and space for all the other animals and wilderness, too. 

One argument that has recently become popular is that the earth can house many more people if only all of us agree to live very frugally forevermore.  From that angle it is the wealthiest twenty percent (us) who should cut back on our excess consumption, and that, indeed,  is desirable from the climate change control angle. 

But the eighty percent who are less wealthy don't want the rest of us to become equally poor; they want to become as wealthy as we are, to own SUVs and computers and so on.

To enable all people on earth to have an equally high standard of living we simply must become fewer than we are right now.  And cutting back on fertility is a far kinder way of achieving that goal than the alternatives:  War, famine and disease.


Many of the current violent conflicts have at least some of their roots in conflicts over resources, and resource conflicts are created by a mismatch between the size of available resources and the number of people wanting them.  Climate change affects agricultural resources.  Thus, all three of the above policies Echidne-The-Dictator would impose would also reduce the likelihood of warfare.


4.  Maintain a focus on human rights and economic equality.  There are signs which suggest much less emphasis on human rights, including the equality of men and women.  The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report for 2017 shows, for the first time since the reports were begun, a widening of the gap between men and women.  Progress seems to have stalled in some key areas and in a sufficient number of countries to affect the overall figures.  

The election of Donald Trump and the strong whiffs of dictatorship coming from Russia, Turkey and Hungary also suggest a retreat from human rights and from relative economic equality.  Austerity politicians in many European countries are like mice gnawing on the strands of the social safety nets and I see no progress toward creating such safety nets in other parts of the world.

This last policy matters, not only because I believe in its basic values, but because it interacts with the previous three policies.  Increasing economic opportunity in the poorest countries must not mean the development of a small, rich and powerful local elite, at the expense of everyone else.  If that is what happens, the migrant flows will not stop.  

Likewise, ignoring girls' rights to a childhood and education will cause the education initiative to fail.  Early marriage, for example,  handicaps girls for life, because it limits their ability to acquire skills for the labor market.  Early marriage is also likely to result in unequal marriages and large family sizes.  

The custom of early marriage is at least partly based on the view of girls and women as largely reproductive and sexual resources, to be bartered between families.  A focus on women's human rights makes that less likely and also supports the population control initiative, because more educated women have fewer children.


I am not the dictator of this globe and these policies will not be pursued, of course.  But I think the world would be a better place if I ran it. Mmm.