Adam Tooze, in a remarkable post, starting with the Brazilian agricultural revolution:
“The essential point about the Brazilian case from The Economist's point of view is that it is not simply a story of natural endowments. "So although it is true Brazil has a lot of spare farmland, it did not just have it hanging around, waiting to be ploughed. Embrapa had to create the land, in a sense, or make it fit for farming."
"This echoes key works on modern economic history by Paul David and Gavin Wright (1997). As they famously put it about the ascent of the United States as a mineral exporter after the civil war: 'natural resource abundance' is an "endogenous, 'socially constructed' condition that was not geologically preordained." The exploitation of natural resource potential is a function of "complex legal, institutional, technological and organizational adaptations that shaped the US supply-responses to the expanding domestic and international" demand for a particular resource. "Natural resources" are not separable from capital, scientific research, legal structures etc.”
Tooze quotes this story from The Economist:
"Between now and 2050 the world's population will rise from 7 billion to 9 billion. Its income is likely to rise by more than that and the total urban population will roughly double, changing diets as well as overall demand because city dwellers tend to eat more meat. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reckons grain output will have to rise by around half but meat output will have to double by 2050. This will be hard to achieve because, in the past decade, the growth in agricultural yields has stalled and water has become a greater constraint. By one estimate, only 40% of the increase in world grain output now comes from rises in yields and 60% comes from taking more land under cultivation. In the 1960s just a quarter came from more land and three-quarters came from higher yields. So if you were asked to describe the sort of food producer that will matter most in the next 40 years, you would probably say something like this: one that has boosted output a lot and looks capable of continuing to do so; one with land and water in reserve; one able to sustain a large cattle herd ...; one that is productive without massive state subsidies. ... In other words, you would describe Brazil.”
His post goes on to collapsing oxygen levels in the oceans.
From a Science paper: "The open ocean lost an estimated 2% (77 billion metric tons), of its oxygen over the past 50 years. Open-ocean oxygen-minimum zones (OMZs) have expanded by an area about the size of the European Union (4.5 million km2, based on water with <70 μmol kg−1 oxygen at 200 m of depth), and the volume of water completely devoid of oxygen (anoxic) has more than quadrupled over the same period. Upwelling of oxygen-depleted water has intensified in severity and duration along some coasts, with serious biological consequences.”
And: "The summer of 2017 witnessed the most massive dead zone [in the Gulf of Mexico] since records began."
Tooze continues: "The collapse of oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico turns out to be a story about the Mississippi. It is nitrogen and phosphates flowing down America's greatest river system that tip the chemical balance of the Gulf. … More nitrogen pollution flows into the Gulf every year than tonnage of oil was released by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. And what is responsible for these gigantic nitrogen and phosphorous run offs? Not the oil and gas industry in the Gulf, but Midwestern agriculture. … The scales of pollution are massive. They are driven by the high intensity agro-industrial complex centered on Tyson the giant meat producer and its feed suppliers. …
"More rapidly than at any time since the dustbowl era, American grassland have been brought into agricultural production.” From a paper in PNAS: “Our results show that rates of grassland conversion to corn/soy (1.0–5.4% annually) across a significant portion of the US Western Corn Belt (WCB) are comparable to deforestation rates in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia, countries in which tropical forests were the principal sources of new agricultural land, globally, during the 1980s and 1990s. Historically, comparable grassland conversion rates have not been seen in the Corn Belt since the 1920s and 1930s, the era of rapid mechanization of US agriculture. Across the WCB, more than 99% of presettlement tallgrass prairie has been converted to other land covers, mostly agricultural, with losses in Iowa approaching 99.9% of an original 12-million ha of tallgrass prairie."
He concludes: “we are now entering a phase when the number of people entering middle class affluence globally will hover around 160 million, per annum. The impact of their demand on the world food supply chain will be more spectacular than anything we have seen to date. We ain't seen nothing yet."
James Bridle on Medium:
"Whether it's Peppa Pig on children's TV or a Disney movie, ... they are carefully produced and monitored so that kids are essentially safe watching them, and can be trusted as such. This no longer applies when brand and content are disassociated by the platform, and so known and trusted content provides a seamless gateway to unverified and potentially harmful content.
(Yes, this is the exact same process as the delamination of trusted news media on Facebook feeds and in Google results that is currently wreaking such havoc on our cognitive and political systems) ...
"A huge number of these videos are essentially created by bots and viewed by bots, and even commented on by bots. … What I find somewhat disturbing about the proliferation of even (relatively) normal kids videos is the impossibility of determining the degree of automation which is at work here … This is content production in the age of algorithmic discovery — even if you're a human, you have to end up impersonating the machine. …
"what is concerning to me about the Peppa videos is how the obvious parodies and even the shadier knock-offs interact with the legions of algorithmic content producers until it is completely impossible to know what is going on. ("The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”) …
"online kids' content is one of the few alternative ways of making money from 3D animation because the aesthetic standards are lower and independent production can profit through scale. It uses existing and easily available content (such as character models and motion-capture libraries) and it can be repeated and revised endlessly and mostly meaninglessly because the algorithms don't discriminate — and neither do the kids. …
"YouTube and Google are complicit in that system. The architecture they have built to extract the maximum revenue from online video is being hacked by persons unknown to abuse children, perhaps not even deliberately, but at a massive scale. I believe they have an absolute responsibility to deal with this, just as they have a responsibility to deal with the radicalisation of (mostly) young (mostly) men via extremist videos — of any political persuasion. They have so far showed absolutely no inclination to do this, which is in itself despicable. However, a huge part of my troubled response to this issue is that I have no idea how they can respond without shutting down the service itself, and most systems which resemble it. We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible."
Jay Livingstone observes:
"the Republican leaders' obsequiousness to Trump after they'd passed the tax bill ...Paul Ryan: "Something this big, something this generational, something this profound could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership.” Mitch McConnell: "Mr. President … this has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the Trump administration."
This despite Trump having insulted them on Twitter ("Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan." "Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn't get it done.”) … I wondered how these leaders, public and important men, could fawn like this. Don't they know what they look like? Don't they know how others see them?
My sociological spider sense tells me to think about them the way we think about any small-group culture. American sociology, since its early days, has shown how groups develop a set of ideas about what they do, especially when what they do is seen by others as strange or wrong. Howie Becker's essays on marijuana-using musicians in the 1940s may be the best known example. … [T]he question implicit in Becker's Outsiders and all those other studies of deviance in groups: How do you insulate yourself from the perceptions of others?"
Grover Whitehurst at Brookings:
On the Tennessee pre-K follow up: "Using the state test data and the full randomized sample, the evaluators report negative impacts for reading, math, and science scores at the end of third grade for children assigned to TVPK. The negative impacts on math and science are statistically significant and substantive: children randomly assigned as preschoolers to TVPK had lost ground to their peers who had randomly not been offered admission to the pre-K program. The loss was equal to about 15 percent of the expected gap in test scores between black and white students at that age. In other words, children who were given the opportunity to attend TVPK were, on average, harmed by the experience in terms of their academic skills in elementary school. The reasons for this are not clear. One speculation is that the TVPK program was developmentally inappropriate, i.e., too much like kindergarten or first grade.
There is no longer a methodological escape hatch for people who want to dismiss the results of the evaluation. It, along with the national Head Start Impact study, are the only two large sample studies in the literature that have applied a random assignment design to modern scaled-up pre-K programs and followed children’s progress through school. Both show sizable positive effects for four-year-olds at the end of the pre-K year, but these effects either have either diminished to zero by the end of kindergarten year and stay there in later grades (Head Start) or actually turn negative (Tennessee). Advocates of greater public investment in state pre-K programs are beginning to incorporate these results into their thinking."
On Heckman and Abecedarian: "Abecedarian was a full-day, year-round program with a very low teacher-child ratio (1:3 for infants and 1:6 for five-year-olds), and unusually qualified staff and management [at UNC]. Children received their primary medical care on site through staff pediatricians, nurses, and physical therapists. There was a defined curriculum intended to foster language and cognitive skills and thereby increase IQ. Many efforts were made to involve families through voluntary programs. Supportive social services were provided to families facing problems with housing, food, and transportation. The annual direct expenditure per participant has been reported as roughly $19,000 in present dollars. ...
"Abecedarian is not a childcare intervention, nor a realistic model for one. It is a hothouse university-based program from nearly a half century ago for a few dozen children from very challenging circumstances who were deemed to be at risk of mental retardation. Its relevance to present day policies on childcare for the general population is uncertain, at best. Even ignoring this failure of external validity, the reported results from Abecedarian favoring the treatment participants are in doubt because the evaluation of Abecedarian’s impacts on participants is seriously compromised by a large imbalance in decline-to-participate rates by those assigned to the treatment vs. the control condition; and by the presence in the treatment group of an appreciable proportion children who were not randomized into that condition."
He concludes: "Go forward with promising ideas with a public acknowledgement of uncertainty and an approach designed to learn from error. Don’t place big and irrevocable bets on conclusions and recommendations that are far out in front of what a careful reading of the underlying evidence can support."
Pre-K Gains Fade Fast
Greg Duncan and others in WaPo:
“Why don't boosts in these early foundational skills lead to permanent advantages in the academic trajectories of disadvantaged kids? Our work suggests that much of what children learn in early-childhood intervention programs are skills that kids typically pick up in kindergarten or first grade anyway. Fadeout is really a process of other children catching up — learning their letters, learning to count, learning to control their emotions and impulses.
What holds disadvantaged kids back throughout their schooling is not a failure to master the basics. More fundamental to achievement are hard-to-change characteristics such as intelligence and conscientiousness, as well as persistent environmental factors that are difficult to change with a one-time educational intervention. ...
For lasting effects, we need to focus on skills that wouldn't otherwise develop, do more to change a child's environment and provide ongoing support, especially during sensitive periods of development such as early adolescence. …
Another worthy model for interventions targets not just children but their caregivers, with the idea that improving parent-child interactions can affect the whole course of a child's development [For example, Nurse-Family Partnerships]…
We need to focus on older children as well. Intensive interventions can help with mastery of advanced skills. A high school program offering a double dose of algebra classes has been shown to boost graduation rates. And students who attend career academies, which restructure large high schools into small learning communities and promote concrete vocational skills, can typically expect higher earnings as adults. Vocational skills, advanced math and literacy skills, and achievement-related beliefs and motivations are examples of what we call "trifecta skills" — skills that are malleable, fundamental to success and unlikely to develop in the absence of an intervention."
Poverty in Europe
"A broad ‘at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion rate’ indicator was proposed by the European Commission ... This indicator is an aggregate of three sub-indicators: monetary poverty, severe material deprivation and very low work intensity (the latter is limited to people aged 0 to 59). … People are counted only once in the headline indicator, even if they fall into more than one category.
Monetary poverty has been increasing gradually since 2005.
The number of people aged 0 to 59 living in households with very low work intensity declined between 2006 and 2008, but has since returned to the previous levels.
The number of severely materially deprived people has shown the largest swings compared to both 2005 and 2012, ... with significant reductions in recent years [2012-15]. … The decline in the amount of materially deprived people was mainly driven by improvements in Romania, Poland and Bulgaria [decrease between 7 and 10 pp]. …
"Greece, Cyprus and Spain experienced the most substantial increases in the share of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion, by 5-8 pp. ...
In 2015, 17.3 % of the EU population earned less than 60 % of their respective national median equivalised disposable income, the so-called poverty threshold. [2008: 16.5 %] ...
Most countries also experienced growth in the number of people below the monetary poverty line, regardless of whether they had low or high levels to begin with. Increases were most pronounced in Hungary, Sweden and Spain, with rises of between 2.3 and 2.5 percentage points. Croatia, Finland, Austria, the United Kingdom and Latvia were the exception, with monetary poverty in these countries decreasing. ...
The monetary poverty threshold is set at 60% of the median disposable income. That means that if the median income increases, but the inequality of the income distribution remains unchanged or even increases, the number of people below the poverty line does not decrease. Absolute poverty measures reflecting a person’s ability to afford basic goods, however, are likely to decrease during economic revivals when people are generally more financially better off.
Material deprivation is defined as living in households unable to afford 4+ items out of a list of 9 considered by most people to be desirable or even necessary for an adequate life. The nine items are: to pay their rent, mortgage or utility bills; to keep their home adequately warm; to face unexpected expenses; to eat meat or proteins regularly; to go on holiday; a television set; a washing machine; a car; a telephone. ...
Very low work intensity: the working-age members of the household worked no longer than 20 % of their potential working time during the previous year … Hungary, Germany and Poland showed substantial improvements in the work intensity of the working age population, with reductions ranging between 2.6 and 1.1 pp. The opposite was true in the southern European countries Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Portugal as well as Ireland, where the shares increased between 4.6 and 9.3 pp. ... In 2015, 7.7 % of the working EU population were at risk of poverty despite working full time …
"Single parents: had a 47.9 % chance of being at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2015. … large increases in Denmark and Finland (6.9 and 6.7 pp). The biggest falls, besides Malta, were in Latvia and Germany (-13.7 and -10.4 pp). …
Low education: In 2015, 65.6 % of children of parents with at most pre-primary and lower secondary education were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This was over six times higher than for children of parents with first or second stage tertiary education. Moreover, between 2010 and 2015 the increase in the risk of poverty or social exclusion was particularly high for children of parents with the lowest educational attainment while the increase was minimal for the other children. ...
Immigrants: In 2015, people living in the EU but born in a non-EU country had a 40.2 % risk of living in poverty or social exclusion. … The countries with the greatest difference in at-risk-of-poverty rate between people from non-EU countries and those living in their home country are Greece, Belgium and Spain (34, 34, and 31 pp gaps). [these numbers are just insanely high..]
Rural vs urban: The countries with the highest poverty rates in rural areas compared with urban areas are Romania and Bulgaria (26.7 and 23.1 pp higher). In other countries, such as Denmark, Austria, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany, the opposite is true: a clearly larger share of urban residents live in poverty or social exclusion compared with residents in rural areas or towns."
Claude Fischer writes: “But what about the voters who shifted from voting for Obama to voting for Trump?, some analysts ask. Do they not demonstrate the greater importance of economic complaints over racism? First, it is not clear that there were really that many such switchers, although they may well have been exquisitely located in the Great Lakes region. Second, the anomaly was not their Trump vote, but their Obama vote. Remember that in November, 2008 the economy seemed to be in free fall and fear of a crash moved some would-have-been McCain voters to Obama. In 2012, some of those stayed with the incumbent as the economy slowly rebounded. But the two Obama elections seemed to mask a longer, deeper trend–displayed in the rise of the Tea Party–of growing cultural grievances driving votes for the GOP. …
However gripping the story of the WWC, its members account for a minor portion of Trump's eventual 46 percent. One analysis estimates that WWC voters made up only about one-eighth of the 2016 electorate, a bit less than they did in 2012. The bigger story is that middle class Republicans overwhelmingly voted for Trump.”
A Hirschmanian analysis, by Eyal Press in the New Yorker: "Hirschman was aware that exit could be ineffectual, even counterproductive. In his book he noted that, because the first people to leave failing institutions were the ones most sensitive to signs of deterioration, and most likely to serve as “creative agents of voice” if they stuck around, their departure could have perverse consequences, accelerating mismanagement and decline. But he saw this mainly as a problem in the business world (where, unlike in government, the impulse of “quality conscious” customers was to resort to “exit” rather than to “voice”). In the past year, though, it has become apparent that it is no less of a problem in the political arena, both at agencies like the E.P.A. and in another institution from which people concerned about dysfunction have been leaving: the Republican Party."
Ryan Enos on Twitter: "we are looking for the wrong signs of the death of democracy. It will not die through fascism … Rather it will suffocate through legal means. Just in the last few days, the President and his supporters have threatened to use the courts to stop investigations and block critical writing. As Levitsky and Ziblatt show, this is a common pattern of late 20th century autocrats - using the institutions of government to make dissent, not illegal, but difficult. We should be very worried."
This is my notepad.