Hear the Hater Complaints

Donald Trump has done an excellent job of whipping up irrational hatreds, mostly of angry whites. He has taught them that hate is now acceptable, so they feel free to get in the faces of ordinary peaceful people and scream, their faces contorted with rage, that whatever person of color is currently in front of them has ruined everything and should go back where they came from. Some of them pull out a gun and shoot people dead, which of course Trump does not believe he is at all responsible for.

It’s really, really hard to see these people with anything but contempt, but I believe we must ignore the violence, the ignorance, the beliefs in conspiracy theories and all the rest, and ask, “Do these people have a real complaint, or is it all far right fringe irrational rage?” Certainly, their understanding of the economy is weak, and they would do well to learn how to evaluate reality.

We must realize we are not going to change these people into peaceful, tolerant folks. They have been bubbling with irrational hatreds all their lives. The only chance is with the next generation, or maybe the generation after that. Take college. Today’s haters are generally under-educated, and they may not care whether their kids learn anything, let alone go to college. They may feel that college is a waste of time and money—and for them that may be true. That belief may stem from the longstanding poverty and lack of opportunity that surrounds them. It’s a reality that college might not change.

Paul Theroux is a traveler and writer who studiously avoids the rich people in his extensive world travels, and spends all his time among the poor. In The Deep South he seeks out the many poor Americans, white and black, for whom centuries of deep poverty make life a daily struggle. These are the ones who often don’t make it into government statistics on unemployment. Some of them, black and white, are angry and racist. But they do have something to say, and they have an understanding about poverty and lack of opportunity that most of us don’t. In this book they point out several ways the government has failed them, some of them unnecessary failures.

The best thing that could happen at an angry Trump rally is a calm dialogue with some of the haters. By avoiding their prejudices and asking these persons about their lives, especially their economic history, we might learn some valuable things. We know little about them because we dismiss them after hearing their prejudices and hatreds, and because we believe they are hopeless.

There isn’t a chance in the world that a Trump presidency would be anything but a disaster for such people, because he would continue to give money to the very rich, following a roundly disproven belief that this will bring universal affluence. It does no such thing, as several Republican state governors have again proven when their state revenue crashed, making it necessary to drastically cut the budgets of crucial services such like schools. But that doesn’t deter Trumpsters, who hear only Trump’s anger and false accusations, and not the lack of rationality and the contradictions in what he says.

But Democratic presidencies also err in addressing poverty and unemployment. As I have remarked here previously, my belief is that we all fail to appreciate how much automation has taken over the work we used to do, a trend well documented by Martin Ford in The Rise of the Robots. The English economist John Maynard Keynes predicted way back about 1935 that we would reach the level of automation we now have within a century. We fulfilled his prediction, but we have done almost nothing to adjust for it.

It is time for the work week to be shortened again, as it has been several times in the past. Thirty hours is about the maximum it could be; twenty would be better. The effect of a shorter week is higher employment, lower unemployment, less homelessness, more government revenue. It’s not magic. Those who have lost control of their lives will still have great difficulty recovering, and getting a job is by itself unlikely to create tolerance. But it helps.

Trump is the creature grown from the seeds of intolerance, racism, and scientific ignorance that Republicans have cultivated for decades, a monster they can no longer control. Conditions are so extreme that it is even possible that the Republican party could actually collapse and die, since it consists of too many people who are simply ignorant of how the real world works, and who are poisoned by hatreds and racism. This would be unfortunate because even Democrats need a worthy opposition party to check excesses.

Republicans need a wise philosopher to re-evaluate what conservatism should be this century, to guide them so they can come up with policies based on reality and practicality, virtually the opposite of what they now pursue.

Meantime, it would be fruitful for Dems to find out what Trump’s Republican haters can tell us about their lives, especially their work. Better understanding of their legitimate complaints might be valuable in establishing more effective policy for all of us.

Why Homelessness Won’t Be Solved by Itself

The San Francisco Chronicle ran an admirable series on homelessness—on the front page. Like everywhere else, the city has spent many millions to help solve the problem, and it has only gotten worse. That’s because homelessness is not a city problem. It’s not even a national problem. At base, it’s a global problem, closely related to the concentration of the nation’s and the world’s wealth in the hands of a few people who have absolutely no use for it.

Homelessness is not one single problem. Locally, the two most significant factors are unemployment and substance abuse. The former is no doubt the far bigger factor, in spite of what some people think. To those people, mostly white conservatives who believe because they were always able to find work, anyone unemployed is simply not trying hard enough. Oddly enough, the same people also believe that all homeless are addicts. In neither case do they think that economic conditions might have something to do with it.

Homelessness is not caused by the homeless. It is caused by the economy.

I will leave addiction for another time. The biggest element of homelessness is unemployment, and many of the personal tales are heartbreaking. Millions of people with decades of dependable skilled work were tossed aside when factories closed, their jobs shipped off to poor countries where the bosses pay a fraction of US wages, and workers are too desperate to demand more.

The newly jobless family is unable to find equivalent work, and falls behind on the mortgage and bills. Eventually they settle for beginning-level wages, which don’t pay the bills. They downsize, sometimes unable to sell their house in a down market, which is then seized by the bank. Sometimes they can’t find work because they are “too old”, which can be anything from 40 on up. Sometimes everything fails, and they have no choice but to live in their car, or a tent.

However, the loss of work because of modernization is a greater factor than outsourcing jobs to the Third World, although they are related. As I have said here and here, more and more of the work we depended on is being done by robots and computers. Some of this modernization calls for employees with new skills, but many more jobs simply vaporize, their workers pushed out to fend for themselves. Jobs in management aren’t shielded from this trend, either, if for no other reason than the analytical work by management, as well as software coding, can be done at 25% of the cost by workers in India and elsewhere.

Not all is lost, however. Effort in at least four areas can create higher levels of employment. These are: (1) a shorter work week; (2) better laws that provide universal citizen needs at greater efficiency; (3) laws that keep jobs and money in the country; (4) and changes that attenuate the greed of the very rich and the corporate bosses.

As I have said before, my half-humorous suggestion for determining the work week was to divide the grand total of hours of work available by the grand total number of workers. In principle it’s actually a good idea. It would give us a work week of 20 hours or so, which would give us some of the benefits that modernization should provide.

Getting to a 20-hour week is not simple, because workers can neither suddenly be paid half as much nor can they be paid the same for half the work. But we did it to arrive at the 40-hour week from 60 hours, so it is quite possible.

The federal government can do numerous things to make living under the new situation comfortable. Conservatives who believe that a sort of anarchy with few laws and minimal government is the best way are simply wrong. That would give us more crime and less efficiency.

We have laws because not everyone can be trusted to behave for the common benefit, obviously. Besides individual criminals, corporations and the very rich dependably behave in ways that reduce everyone else’s wealth and wellbeing while increasing their own. This has given us the current plutocracy, which, if we are to restore our democracy, must be overthrown one way or another. But that will not happen as long as the very rich and their congressional pets control the government. The once-reasonable Republican party has gone berserk, and is no help. It will take great Democratic strength to rescue the country from itself.

The laws that have taken away from the common good must simply be ended. If a practice cannot be shown to be socially worthwhile, it should be outlawed. It’s not hard to think of examples. Flash trading and hedge funds have no social utility at all; they do not benefit the country in any way. Giant banks must return to boring old banking, and shed their investment services. This is something the Great Depression taught us, but we forgot. Corporations must not be able to avoid their fair share of taxes by setting up a shell headquarters in some low-tax country. All the tax dodges set up by the very wealthy and their congressional pets must be ended. There is no reason the very rich should own such a huge part of the national wealth, because the only place it can come from is the rest of us.

Rather than clutching their pearls and watching corporate bosses rake in multi-millions for sending jobs to poor countries, Congress should enact any number of laws that discourage them from shipping jobs out and closing the mill. Simply requiring all foods to be pure and without known chemicals and impurities, and labeled GMO if they are, would not only improve the quality of our food, but would eliminate carelessly produced foods from overseas. Modernizing factories could be encouraged with financial incentives. Many small steps would improve the employment picture.

Corporations have taken to setting up an office in a low tax country and calling that the corporate headquarters to avoid paying taxes. There are many ways that could be curbed, including designating such companies foreign companies, subject to taxes and duties greater than those for domestic companies. The global economy is complex, but our laws should not allow the US to suffer for the benefit of corporate officers.

In all cases of universal citizen need, the federal government must manage that need, because profit-making interests will always cost significantly more. Every such step we take improves the wellbeing and wealth of the country. National health care is the most obvious instance. National health care insurance would provide the average equivalent of a seven percent raise. The simplest example of benefit here is the avoidance of unnecessary death from untreated disease. An adult who dies unnecessarily costs the country a lot, which falls on the deficit side of the national accounting. There are many other possibilities for national services besides health care that would improve the financial security of all citizens.

These things are so obviously beneficial for the country it is ridiculous to believe we’d be better off without them, as Republicans claim. The federal government is efficient, in spite of what Ronald Reagan claimed, and requires fewer people to do the same work, without the severely bloated wages of corporate bosses.

Right now the government seems to have no understanding of what causes homelessness, nor have more than a handful of people suggested what we can do about it. I believe that the ways I have suggested are well worth discussion and development. I believe they would cure or improve several serious problems. Unfortunately, one political party, the one that caused most of the problems in the first place, would rather defend the plutocracy.

Five Ways to Be Sure Only the Deserving Are Rewarded

Understand and promote the fact that some classes and races of people are naturally superior, some naturally inferior.

This idea in the US descends from the era of English feudalism. All the old books written about race, class, and superiority by the English upper class concluded that the English upper class was superior, and all others were inferior. The English upper class arose solely because their distant ancestors had gained land, by shrewd business dealings or simple violence. Later, they deemed themselves superior because they were rich, and rich because they were superior.

Francis Galton, an accomplished cousin of Charles Darwin, spelled out the basic principle of eugenics, which claimed that some classes of people are superior, some inferior. To prevent the weakening of the human race, inferior people should either not be allowed to reproduce, or their progeny should be controlled. As a consequence, various groups set out to sterilize individuals and groups they considered inferior. For example, when their second child was born, women in Puerto Rico were routinely sterilized without asking them. By about the 1930s, after several unethical experiments in the US and elsewhere, it was realized that the theory was incorrect and morally unsupportable. Adolph Hitler, however, carried the plan to its horrible extreme.

No group of people has ever been proven to be naturally superior or inferior. Most cases of low intelligence revert to the norm in following generations, or improve with adequate nutrition, something that is also true of whole populations of people. People with adequate money are able to fully support their children in all ways, whereas the poor and the suppressed must battle for their achievements. Poor families and peoples that do become affluent become accomplished at the same time.

Keep females ignorant and powerless.

The world of Islamic fundamentalists is the current exemplar of this belief, although certainly not the only example. To this end, females from birth are kept in literal servitude and prevented from developing their potential. They are denied schooling and viewed as worth a fraction of any man’s worth, no matter how worthless the man or how bright and talented the woman. At puberty, girls are in danger of rape, after which they are expected to marry their rapist, die, or be exiled. In any case, the crime is assumed to be her fault, and her own family may murder her, or she may commit suicide, knowing she has no future.

Women are not allowed to go anywhere without a male to accompany them. Even a small boy will do. Virtually all activities not associated with cooking and cleaning are denied them. They may not drive a car, or own a business, work outside the home, travel, or otherwise participate in public life. Males are free to restrict them, deny them almost everything, to beat them at whim.

Although the situations described above are extreme, the US is not at all free of such practices, many of which are found in ancient religious books. Christian fundamentalist males tend to accept similar beliefs. It became clear this past year that large numbers of politicians not only supported such general beliefs, but were woefully ignorant of the most basic functioning of female lives, to say nothing of the functioning of science. Many believed that women were inherently incapable of accomplishment.

It is obvious that all such beliefs are utterly false because there are unlimited contrary examples. One of the main reasons that such societies are poor, violent, and backwards is precisely because they devalue the potential contribution of women to their society. This includes not just tribal Islamic areas, but swaths of the American Old South and other regressive parts of the world.

Don’t waste money on education for the useless.

Those who buy into the belief that there are superior and inferior classes of people will also believe that little or no public money should be spent educating the inferior, because they are not capable of benefiting from that education. The rich who believe this often have no personal need of public moneys for the education of their own families, and are therefore inclined to devalue public education in general. In particular, they do not want to support schools in areas with high levels of social problems, such as drug use and gangs, because they do not believe the money will be well spent. Evidence that such expenditures pay significant social dividends is ignored.

Don’t reward the lazy.

An odd belief has come down to us via rich conservatives, who somehow believe that the millions who lost jobs because criminal Wall Street bankers brought the economy down around our ears inexplicably became lazy and unwilling to work after that. Therefore, they should not be given any money at all to keep them out of destitution, and their families fed and schooled while they rebuild their lives. This belief was common at the height of the current recession, when there were five people seeking work for every job available, when pay was falling, the few jobs available were low-paying semi-skilled service jobs, and experience, education, and skill (not to mention age) became liabilities in job hunting. Six years after the crash, the level of employment has not risen at all, although the unemployment numbers have fallen because many quit looking after years of failing to find work.

It is obviously illogical to believe that an accomplished worker with decades of superior performance of her job has suddenly become lazy and unwilling to work immediately after the economy crashed. But that is exactly what many believed, and continue to believe. Moreover, in places like Wisconsin, working people of all kinds were demonized, and draconian economic measures punished everyone who wasn’t already rich. The result was that Wisconsin’s economy today is in poor condition compared to neighboring Minnesota, where economic programs that were nearly the polar opposite were put in place, offering support and encouragement to those who had fallen on hard times.

De-emphasize nutrition, and don’t coddle addicted pregnant women.

The type of person who doesn’t understand science understands little else of why the real world works as it does. They have difficulty with cause and effect, and moreover refuse to even consider that their unsupported and ignorant beliefs might be simply wrong. A powerful example comes from poor urban areas that are primarily the homes of minority groups, African-Americans in particular.

In the 1970s it became apparent that even minute exposure to lead damaged the brains of the unborn and the very young, and the government launched a major program to rid the environment of the lead from old house paint and auto exhaust. The radical drop of crime that resulted was unexpected. Children who grew up without brain damage from lead grew up to be normal, succeeded in school, and did not become criminals. Crime fell by 75%.

But the person who is blinded by prejudice and his own ignorance is incapable of believing this effect came about because of the significant money spent two decades previously. He continues to believe that all African-Americans are naturally criminal, and is incapable of understanding why each dollar invested saved thousands of dollars in the future.

He will never support efforts to reach poor, urban pregnant women who, primarily because of ignorance, might otherwise take drugs, drink alcohol, and smoke, thus virtually guaranteeing brain damage to their children, even though every dollar of public money so spent provides incalculable benefits to the whole society when their children avoid brain damage. When you point out that the worst brain-damaged serial killer cost us $800,000,000, he won’t understand that this enormous expense might have been avoided.

Likewise, he cannot understand that sound nutrition for children, from fresh natural produce in particular, literally makes it possible for children to develop their highest potential, and bad foods such as corporate fast foods and sugared drinks, as well as hunger, retard their learning and development. Lacking this understanding, he will never support public nutritional programs. He cannot understand that his opposition to them will cost him much more than his support would.

Why Economic Slumps Are Serious

The essential trouble is that most people who find themselves affected by a long slump, such as the one we have now, will never recover to where they might have been without it. They suffer individually, and because they do, the entire economy suffers in both the short and long terms.

Workers who lost a good job face a period of unemployment. In the present slump, which will soon enter its sixth year, with more predicted, that period is frequently so long that they have exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits, leaving them with no income at all.

If a laid-off worker decides to hold out for a decent job, she will lose the income she would have otherwise earned. For example, if her income was $80K, she will lose $320K if she doesn’t find a similar job within four years. But the longer she goes without work, the less desirable she becomes to the market. In high tech fields, two years is enough to put her completely out of touch with the field, and she becomes undesirable as an employee.

Employers seem to conclude that
there is something suspicious
if a worker has been unable to find a job
for more than a brief period.

But the same thing happens in less exalted fields. Employers seem to conclude that there is something suspicious about a worker who has been unable to find a job for more than a brief period. Good workers have been demoralized by finding less qualified workers hired instead of themselves after such a period.

The alternative is to take a bad job just to have one, although even bad jobs are not so readily found. Some people find something like the jobs Walmart offers. Such jobs offer the lowest pay the employer can get away with, which is not enough to provide even subsistence. Walmart and other large corporations then juggle the worker’s hours so that no benefits or health insurance are available to them. The goal is to disallow them working enough that benefits are required by law. I call that the McDonald effect.

Average pay at Walmart is $9.86/hr, which would mean about $20K/yr for full-time work, before management’s money-saving manipulations. Compare that to Costco, where average pay is $17/hr, or $35K/yr, and includes good benefits.

Unfortunately, working at a bad job may be just as bad as being unemployed, as far as potential employers are concerned. And the skilled worker who works in a job that doesn’t use his talents risks the same danger that the unemployed expert risks: his skills will be lost or become obsolete.

But wait. Wasn’t the recession over in 2009, when Wall Street declared that everything was OK now, and began paying themselves $10M bonuses again? Maybe as far as they are concerned, but not for the rest of us.

…even bad jobs are not so readily found.

New college graduates may be in a worse position than ever. The skyrocketing cost of college has forced most students to take out loans in order to graduate. The average debt of a college graduate is now $27K. Some have debt that tops $100K. Think of that in comparison to the $20K total annual earnings of an average Walmart worker. Now consider what has happened to far too many graduates: they have become slave debtors who can find no work that would allow them to pay off their debt. Some have found that holding even three bad jobs does not allow them to recover.

This situation is only getting worse, as college costs continue to rise and income for most people continues to slip. Students and their parents are less able to pay up front for college, the low level of employment drags on, and Congress fails to provide any relief. Even if things got bad enough that one had to declare bankruptcy, that does not wipe out college debt.

The “college premium” is supposedly what makes going to college economically worth while. The higher your level of scholastic training, the higher your lifetime earnings. The problem with this statistic is that we have not yet calculated the lifetime earnings of recent graduates. If a person graduates with debt, but is unable to find work in her field, she still has to pay off that debt, and she may be doing it on a modest wage. So she has lost four years of income during college, and maybe another four doing low-pay work. What’s more, she is at risk for her future employment, as I described above. For such persons, it seems to me likely that the college premium will be sharply reduced, so that it becomes questionable whether college is economically worth it.

It becomes questionable whether college is economically worth it.

Yet another factor, perhaps the most important one, is the false belief that all people become unemployed because their skills are no longer viable. While there is some truth to this, the fact is, there are more qualified workers in many fields than there are jobs. To me this means the entire working world is in need of an overhaul. We must find ways for people to support themselves with considerably fewer than the standard forty hours per week, thus providing jobs for more people.

It’s almost surprising that there are still people who cannot see that the US is sliding downhill because of the slow degrading of wellbeing of virtually everyone but the rich over the past several decades. The current economic recession is likely to last a lot longer. There has been no serious attempt by politicians to bring this mudslide to a stop, because they have been too busy looking after the needs of the rich. There is debate whether the US is even a member of the most advanced nations any more.

The US employment rate, which is a more realistic measure than the unemployment rate for various reasons, has not been this low since the recession of the early 1980s. As of 6 June 2013, the rate is only 58.6%, as opposed to about 65% in 2000. The difference is equal to the entire population of Madagascar or Sri Lanka.

It will get worse. The population increases by 200,000 each month. Each year, over 1.5M people earn baccalaureate degrees, so an average of about 128,000 graduates will be added to the total of those looking for work each month. Therefore, we need 325,000 new jobs each month, and we’re getting about half that. If these numbers are remotely close to correct, the only possibility is continued slow degrading of American life, with all the suffering and difficulties it will bring.

We need 325,000 new jobs each month,
and we’re getting about half that.

Austerity in public policy is still popular with conservative Republicans. That means cutting essential government services (and people) and paying down debt instead of finding ways to generate employment. That’s going south when we need to go north. But the raw fact of its complete failure to correct the downward slide either here or in the EU is become glaringly apparent even to them. But the hard-core austerians will not admit it. Perhaps soon we will consider the measures we failed to fully implement when they might have done the most good, meaning the fiscal stimulus that improved employment every month for 14 months, until it ended, too early, throwing us into the stagnant economy we’ve had since.

Congress Steps In It

Now Congress has done it. Basically, sequestration will cause huge and unnecessary problems in government and in the economy at large from top to bottom, just as a slow recovery appeared. That, apparently, is exactly what Republicans want, because it will reduce government spending and taxes will not be raised to help pay for Mr. Bush’s two long wars and his multi-billion dollar gifts to the very rich. It will only hurt the rest of us, the unworthy 95% or so.

It makes no difference to Republicans that we already have low taxes, and government spending is actually decreasing under Obama. It makes no difference that a large majority of Americans disapprove of most of what the sequestration will bring. It is Republicans’ false but firm belief that our spending is out of control, and less tax is always good. They have determined that the best plan is to shoot ourselves in the foot on purpose.

Republicans have determined that the best plan
is to shoot ourselves in the foot on purpose.

They don’t care that what they are doing comes with an ironclad guarantee that the economy will be worsened, that unemployment will rise again, that education will again be curtailed along with other state services, and a number of federal service reductions will result in lost revenue, a budget increase, and higher debt. As long as we follow the edict like lemmings, all will be well.

Andrew Fieldhouse explains a few of the results we can expect, and you’ve probably already seen some of the numerous articles and columns, including this one by Charles M. Blow explaining exactly why the whole thing is a terrible idea that will not accomplish anything good, not even what Republicans say it will. The only hint of a silver lining is that spending on warmongering will take a small but significant hit, something that has been needed for a quarter century or more.

Austerity comes with an ironclad guarantee
that the economy will be worsened.

I don’t understand why Republicans believe it’s even possible to have a tiny government in a nation of 315-million people, let alone believe that tiny is the ideal. Do they not understand that there are certain economies of scale? Surely they understand that spreading risk is better than buying insurance individually. Surely they don’t believe that there should be no government control over the certification of doctors, or CPAs. Should we not all be required to pass a test in order to pilot a 4,000 pound car among pedestrians? It’s also mysterious that they are enthusiastic about reducing our income, but not one of them is proposing a reduction of their own salary or perks, or their staff, let alone reducing the size of the House.

The President is scare-mongering, they claim. There will not be the loss of more than two million jobs that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts. There will be no reductions in air traffic control, various kinds of safety inspections, and so on.

Republicans want a government
that is small and inadequate.

But there will. Every time a program of austerity has been imposed on a country, anywhere, at any time, the effect has been negative, if not severe. The economy contracts as money needed for daily operation is extracted in order to service debt, which itself is often imposed from without. And as many economists have pointed out, reducing debt in bad economic times makes everything worse. Ask the EU nations. Every single one of them in an austerity program has suffered increasing unemployment, reduced tax revenue, and all the rest, and none of them are recovering. Some are on the verge of a double- or triple-dip recession.

Our Dysfunctional World

Humanity faces unprecedented challenges that are far more important than the ideologically driven election campaigns that are currently annoying us. How the world collectively responds to these challenges will literally determine the fate of our common world civilization. Below are half a dozen of these challenges.

1. Global climate change caused by human actions is a firmly established fact that is no longer open to question. It is not a question of political faith, and Republicans are the only group in the world who continue to deny it. Climate change has arrived regardless of what Republicans believe, and will worsen considerably over the next few decades. It is upon us, and we have done almost nothing about it. It is most unfortunate that even the Republican presidential candidate doesn’t “believe” in what he sees every day.

It is far too late to prevent climate change, and neither the US, the world’s worst polluter, nor much of the rest of the world at large have so far taken significant steps to lessen its future effects. There is justifiable uncertainty about the exact effects global warming will have, but we will be forced to accommodate new ones as they occur. At the least, we can probably count on a sea level rise of at least a foot within a few decades. This will make large areas around the world, including the US, either totally uninhabitable or susceptible to frequent flooding. Secondly, temperature increase will change climate patterns in most of the world. In the US we already face the possibility of permanent loss of large areas of our most valuable farming land.

2. Inequality and mal-distribution of the world’s goods threatens to destroy meaningful social progress and cause untold suffering. Equality does not mean that every person has the same wealth, which is impossible in any case. To the contrary, equality means unfettered access to opportunity. Inequality in the US stands at a record high and continues to worsen.

In practical terms, equitable distribution of the necessities for wellbeing should be a worldwide goal. It’s not that nobody should be rich, but rather that nobody should be so poor that they lack essentials. This is a relatively modest goal that neither includes nor precludes the pursuit of wealth. Human wellbeing depends on the defeat of poverty and provision of the common elements of a secure life. It does not depend on the accumulation of excess wealth, and when equality is improved, it has broad positive effects on social wellbeing. Many other social traits—everything from crime to obesity to academic achievement—improve along with equality.

3. Human population growth continues to threaten the stability of the planet in the economic, political, and environmental realms. It has become popular to discount the predictions of mass starvation made over two centuries ago by Thomas Malthus, which were confounded by improved agriculture, as well as the predictions of The Population Bomb (1968), which were confounded by the unexpected population decline that accompanied improved health and wealth. To everyone’s surprise, reduction of poverty and its dangers was itself enough to bring birthrates down, an unexpected consequence that was positive, for a change. But there are billions more people now, and the population continues to rise. The real dangers inherent in overpopulation have not been addressed.

It is unrealistic to believe that any sort of central authority could control human population, but healthy political structures, including universal education, can create widespread understanding of and support for common goals. Unhealthy political structures and ignorance, on the other hand, can stymie common goals. Here’s an example. As polio was on the verge of annihilation in 2003, with significant infection remaining only in Nigeria, Nigerian officials halted the vaccination program and spread rumors that the vaccine would infect people with HIV and make them sterile. Shortly thereafter many Nigerians made the Hadj to Mecca in Saudia Arabia, some bringing polio with them and infecting pilgrims from elsewhere. Polio eradication was set back at least a decade at an additional cost of many millions.

Common goals might include peace, economic equality, and environmental understanding, in addition to population control. Ignorance leaves populations susceptible to false promises and unrealistic expectations.

It is a simple fact that neither the human population nor anything else can increase infinitely on a finite planet. We have not yet reached these limits, and even something so simple as diminishing our dependence on beef could delay their arrival for some time. The more serious immediate challenge lies in the equitable distribution of food, clean water, and ordinary wealth, and it is a difficult challenge indeed.

4. Worldwide unemployment or underemployment remains one of the most significant factors threatening equality and justice. In advanced nations, modernization with computers in every realm of commerce is creating a condition of increasing permanent unemployment, poverty, and inequality. Large numbers of these displaced workers will never find work again. This condition cannot be overcome with any sort of laissez faire policy or dependence on a free market, but will instead require new thinking and wise political guidance, virtues in short supply.

In the US, virtually no politicians have grasped the significance of this trend, which in essence amounts to too few hours of available work hours nationally to provide for full employment. It is not a partisan issue, and it is important to act for the benefit of the nation. Unfortunately, the current political climate of non-cooperation makes this unlikely, to everyone’s misfortune.

Worldwide, whole countries suffer from unemployment and deep poverty, with attendant high disease and mortality and low levels of education. The peoples of these countries want nothing more than to be able to work and be paid for it, and are thwarted by circumstances over which they have no control.

5. Universal education offers the best possibility for avoidance of unsupportable beliefs that threaten peace and wellbeing. The understanding of scientific method is crucial to the political stability of the world. Religious beliefs must accept and endorse the provable truths of science, which is not at all to say that religion should not be part of the modern world. Even the Catholic church, after all, no longer opposes the discoveries of Galileo.

No better educational investment could be made than to teach girls, particularly in the developing world. They will become the women who manage their families. Well educated women bring improved life for everyone.

Worldwide, there are still many millions of people whose lives are controlled by superstitious beliefs. Such superstitions, for example a belief that a disease is caused by someone casting a spell, can prevent a family from making use of common modern medicine in favor of paying a witch doctor to cast a counter-spell, thus preventing effective treatment and possibly causing a death that could have been easily prevented.

This sort of belief is prominent in places where structured universal education is absent, but it also exists in modern nations. Fundamentalist religious leaders in the US and even some people in Congress blame naturally occurring events, such as storms, earthquakes, or even eclipses, on their favorite political demons, such as gay marriage, abortion, or the national debt.

The greater the general level of education, the better off we are as a worldwide culture. An ignorant population can easily make wrong conclusions and worsen their own condition. Furthering of knowledge of all sorts depends on education that reaches as many people as possible. Advancement of science and technology depends on it in particular, and these determine the wellbeing of the world to a large extent. No nation can be a modern nation if its people remain poorly educated.

6. Tyrants who ruin their country are too common, and they are difficult to dislodge. In most cases these men preside over a kleptocracy that extracts the wealth of the people and redistributes it to themselves, henchmen, and a repressive military or police force. Brutal tyrants literally kill or imprison many people, but they also thwart the modernization, democratization, and common wellbeing of their country and its people, and their malignant reign has international effects as well. The reign of such tyrants often continues until they die, and after their death with the succession of a son or henchman. Peaceful dislodging of such rulers is rarely achieved, even though their rule is hated by virtually every citizen.

New, hopefully peaceful, ways are needed for dealing with political leaders who refuse to leave office when they should. An award was established that will give leaders who leave office on schedule $5-million and an annual income, but it may mean nothing to a tyrant with $500-million in numbered Swiss accounts.

One possibility would be to devise new ways of controlling the manufacture and sale of weapons and ammunition, as well as their distribution to the offending tyrant. The role of world opinion, via international organizations such as the United Nations, may be of some value in changing this situation. However, even the worst tyrants usually have some extra-national support, and this support can prevent unified action to change the political situation. A contemporary example is Iran and Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose refusal to reform or yield authority, along with his unremitting brutality, has shocked the world. Fairly often, nations that support a tyrant also sell weapons to him. Such nations should themselves be subject to censure of some sort.

While the political power of combined nations can be brought to bear, and has helped to topple several tyrants of the Middle East recently, it is too easily blunted when the tyrant simply steals all the national wealth and uses it to preserve his power while impoverishing the people. New ways to address the issue must be devised.