Destroying the Antichrist and other ways science can help policymakers
In 1264 Pope Clement IV wrote to Roger Bacon asking for his help on an issue so grave he had to refer to it in the vaguest of terms in secret letters “concerning the things you recently indicated”. His circumspection was understandable: the problem was the Antichrist and how to deal with him. Unfortunately, as Robert Bartlett explains in The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages, Bacon hadn’t actually written the book describing the new remote-controlled weapons of mass destruction Clement was pinning his hopes on after hearing the savant boasting about it a few years earlier. Read more
BRICS: Emerging, not dominating
Wishes and reality often diverge. Najim Azahaf claims that “the BRICS are about to change the power structure in the world economic system”, one of the major motivations behind the BRICS’ cooperation being their shared desire to limit the power of the developed economies in the global financial system. Sure, the sustained growth that large emerging countries has experienced over the last decade and more has conferred on them a considerable growth delta over the OECD average. Combined with very large populations, these growth differences are translating into a new world economy. For the first time in history, the countries with the largest economic mass are not also the richest countries. Read more
Taxpaying made easier
Prawo Jazdy was the most reckless driver Ireland had ever known, travelling at unlawfully high speed around the country, pausing only to park illegally. And yet despite getting caught innumerable times, he avoided prosecution simply by changing address. Then one day a particularly gifted member of the Garda began to wonder if it all might not be a hideous mistake and looked up the Polish bandit’s name, not in the Interpol database, but a dictionary. Imagine his surprise when, as the Irish Times relates, he learned that Prawo Jazdy means “driving license”. Case solved. Here we’re talking about minor traffic offences committed by people who were actually cooperating with the police and not trying to avoid paying, and yet the basic information wasn’t getting across. A few studies published recently deal with the far more complicated and expensive business of international tax paying, or tax dodging, depending on how you look at it. The Tax Justice Network estimates that individuals hold about $21 trillion of unreported wealth offshore, the equivalent of the combined GDP of the US and Japan. Read more
Man’s worst friend
If you live in the USA, you’re 40 times more likely to end up in hospital due to a Christmas tree decoration than a shark attack, but (rough guess) 40 billion times less likely to end up on the news. Sharks have a bad press, and rightly so judging by some of the stories in Juliet Eilperin’s Demon Fish. For instance, did you know that baby tiger sharks eat each other in the womb? I didn’t, but I was sure that other animals were far more dangerous to human life than the Great White. There were 216 million cases of malaria in 2010 according to the WHO with 537 000 to 907 000 deaths, and mosquitoes also transmit the dengue fever that infects 50 to 100 million people each year and kills 12,500 to 25,000.
The worst killers though are chickens, cows and other livestock. Read more
OECD fights alien invaders
In 1845, Belgian farmers discovered, too late, that a load of seed potatoes they had bought from America was contaminated with Phytophthora infestans, a Mexican fungus that had recently started infecting fields in the US. The blight caused by P. infestans rapidly spread all over the continent, triggering the European potato famine. Belgium and Prussia suffered over 40,000 hunger-related deaths each, and 10,000 died in France. But the worst impact was in Ireland, where a third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food. One million people out of a population of 8 million died of starvation and its side-effects between 1845 and 1850, and another million emigrated. Read more
Water stewardship: Does the OECD practice what it preaches?
Is the financial sector worth what we pay it?
This week, when world’s water experts are gathering in Stockholm, Sweden, to attend the annual World Water Week, more than one in six people worldwide - 894 million - don’t have access to improved water sources. To put this into perspective, imagine if nobody in Europe (plus another 100 million world citizens!) had no access to safe drinking water. Global water demand is projected to increase by 55% by 2050, due to growing needs for manufacturing, energy generation and domestic use. Almost four billion people will live in water-stressed river basins by 2050 if better policies are not introduced. Read more
A basic capitalist tenet is that the market represents the most efficient way to allocate capital. How well is it working? We are rapidly evolving a fast-moving, increasingly cybernetically interlinked capital marketplace that, as Lord May observes in the Santa Fe Institute Journal, has become intertwined in ever-more complex interdependent patterns. He goes on to ask how much are we, societally, paying the financial sector to allocate capital? More importantly, is the sector allocating capital to further societal goals, or merely enriching itself and a narrow segment of the world’s population? Read more