Peacekeeping is an Investment

Every year, the Institute for Economics and Peace Research puts out a report breaking out the status of peace and war over the last year. It’s the nerdiest and most amazing thing for political science nerds who obsess over data, so I highly recommend it.

One of the findings is that war costs the world economy over a trillion dollars per year. Peacekeeping cost less than 1% of that. Peacekeeping can be hard to motivate support for. It simultaneously seems scarily globalist, abusive, rapey, and ineffective, all at once. But that’s a shame. Because despite any flaws, it’s an incredibly productive investment. Crimes committed by the police very rarely result in calls for the abolishment of the idea of having police at all.

Cost savings from peacekeeping can be over 16 times the cost. 53% of peacekeeping activities are in active warzones, and the average length of an operation is only 31 months (with a few ongoing outliers). If the world could put the resources needed into peacekeeping in the next 10 years, the cost avoidance could be almost $3 trillion. And hidden behind those sterile dollars are a lot of real human lives. 

Image by Dawit Rezene, via Wikimedia Commons


IEP estimates show that the cost of violent conflict in 2013 was over 120 times higher than
peacebuilding and peacekeeping funding.
The potential benefits from investing further in peacebuilding are substantial. Based on IEP’s model of the cost-effectiveness of peacebuilding, the total peace dividend that the international community would reap if it increased peacebuilding commitments over the next ten years could be as high as US $2.94 trillion. 
Global Peace Index 2017

Low-level Bureaucrats Prevented Britain from Getting the Tank (Before WWI)

Over 10 million soldiers died in WWI, many because of outdated tactics. In 1912, an Australian, Lancelot de Mole, invented the tank and submitted it to the Munitions Inventions Department, but it was rejected three times.

First, they wouldn’t consider looking at it without a working model. He tried to get a working model, but an official on the local inventions board didn’t wouldn’t fund it because he didn’t get the idea, saying “it might fall in a hole,” leaving him with nowhere to go. He sent it again in 1915, but they failed to pass it on to the group currently working on a new tank.

After the war, the British government admitted it was better than what they came up with and apologized, lied that the plans had just gotten lost, and awarded him an honorary rank by way of thanks.

Image by Anonymous photographer, via Wikimedia Commons


The New York Times archives, May 10, 1950.
https://1drv.ms/b/s!AGyyTXi8fLtcqtwz

 

Perhaps it was all too complicated for the British War Office as they returned some of his sketches in 1913 with a letter rejecting his idea and the comment that they were no longer experimenting with chain rails… [NOTE: chain rails <> tank]
In any case, the British authorities failed to pass on his design to the Landship committee. One can only speculate why the plans were not made available to the people who were working on the tank. It’s possible the Munitions Inventions Office knew nothing of the Landship Committee because of great secrecy that surrounded what they were doing or perhaps there was some form of inter-departmental rivalry. […]
The official in charge could not understand the plans. The idea was rejected with the weak excuse that there might be a hole and the vehicle might fall in it.
http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/DeMole/designnotpassedon.htm [Includes image & model]

 

[…] the commissioners considered he was entitled to the greatest credit for having made and reduced to practical shape as far back as 1912, a brilliant invention which anticipated, and in some respects, surpassed that which was actually put into use in the year 1916. The commissioners went on to say that it was the claimant’s misfortune and not his fault that his invention was in advance of its time and failed to be appreciated and was put aside because the occasion for its use had not yet arisen [in 1912].
Google Books

 

De Mole’s plans were not merely received and then pigeonholed. They were, on the contrary, examined, and deliberately rejected at least three times – once before the war and twice during the war, or, to be exact, in 1913, 1916, and 1918.
http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/37627874

Walking Barefoot in Human Poop Held the American South Back for Centuries

Hookworm is a parasite that causes lethargy and lower performance. It is transmitted when human waste (used as a fertilizer on fields) comes into contact with human feet (barefoot field workers) in climates where it can survive (the American South).

Almost half of the American South was infected with this parasite as of 1910, causing stereotypes about lower-class Southern people being lazy and dumb. It was only around then, after centuries of lives held back from their potential, that someone thought to figure out why and discovered hookworm.

Despite some pushback from Southerners who were offended by the accusation that they were all infected by parasites, improving conditions and a big campaign by the Rockefeller Foundation eventually wiped out the parasites, but only in the mid 20th century.

Image Attribution: Marion Post Wolcott [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


[…] as recently as the 1950s, hookworms were an intimate and ever-present threat for those living in the South. It was nearly impossible for the rural poor—the majority back then—to avoid hookworms […] Because iron is critical for brain function, hookworm infection could also lead to irreversible cognitive and intellectual defects. A 1926 study of Alabama school children found that the greater the number of worms that students harbored, the lower their IQ. 
PBS

 

Areas with higher levels of hookworm infection prior to the RSC experienced greater increases in school enrollment, attendance, and literacy after the intervention. This result is robust to controlling for a variety of alternative factors […]
The NIH

 

Hookworms live in the small intestine. Hookworm eggs are passed in the feces of an infected person. If the infected person defecates outside (near bushes, in a garden, or field) of if the feces of an infected person are used as fertilizer, eggs are deposited on soil. They can then mature and hatch, releasing larvae (immature worms). The larvae mature into a form that can penetrate the skin of humans. Hookworm infection is mainly acquired by walking barefoot on contaminated soil.
The CDC

 

Southerners initially distrusted RSC efforts. Many were offended by accusations of infection and refused to accept testing and the treatment of Epsom salts and thymol. Others believed that the disease simply did not exist. Regional newspaper editorials also strongly criticized RSC employees and viewed them as a Northern imposition.
The Rockefeller Foundation

The Dark History Behind the High Five

If you were born in or after the 1980s, you may take the “high five” for granted. I certainly did. But the high five has a much more recent (and sordid) history than you might think.

Despite several myths, the true origin of the high five is a spontaneous celebratory gesture from the charismatic baseball player Glenn Burke.

Burke adopted the high five as his personal greeting, high-fiving people all over the place for the rest of his life. A life that was made quite difficult afterward. Burke was gay, and in the late 1970s, that was trouble for professional sports. Homophobia led to an abrupt trade from the Dodgers to the lackluster Oakland As. The discrimination followed him there, and eventually forced Burke into retirement. His life spiraled out of control, leading to a drug habit. He died of complications related to HIV/AIDs in 1995. 

Meanwhile, the high five had been adopted as a symbol of gay pride, and as a promotional trademark of the Dodgers – Burke’s old teammates. As Burke’s life fell apart, the gesture that became his legacy took off. 

Photo Source Copyrighted, under fair use for visual identification of the person in question, at the top of his/her biographical article 


Burke, waiting on deck, thrust his hand enthusiastically over his head to greet his friend at the plate. Baker, not knowing what to do, smacked it. “His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back,” says Baker, now 62 and managing the Reds. “So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.”
ESPN: History of the High Five

 

He couldn’t hold a job. He went broke. He did some time at San Quentin for grand theft. Then in 1993, he tested positive for HIV. He passed away on May 30, 1995, after a sharp and grisly decline. One obituary noted that, at the end, the man who invented the high five “could barely lift his arm.”
ESPN: History of the High Five

 

Podcast on Glenn Burke and his life from The Dollop.

The Founder of the Red Cross (Almost Died in Forgotten Poverty)

The intellectual founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant was an idealistic reformer to the end. So much so that he brought ruin onto himself. Not only did he isolate himself from his cofounders with his refusal to compromise on his vision of a neutral agency to care for all wounded soldiers, but his neglect of his own personal business left him bankrupt and deeply in debt.

He was booted off of the Committee by political rivals, socially isolated, bankrupt, and left home in disgrace to quickly be forgotten. While moving around Europe living on park benches and couch-surfing with friends, he advocated for disarmament, a world library, and an international court to settle disputes (and was an abolitionist and feminist). Meanwhile ending up living off the charity of family in a hospice in Heiden.

Luckily for Dunant, a journalist “rediscovered” him in that hospice, writing a piece on his life that restored Dunant’s place in the history books and earned him supporters across Europe. As a result of his efforts, he was one of the two first recipients of the Nobel Peace Price, though he never touched his prize winnings, and remained in Heidel in paranoia for the rest of his life. His last act was selfless, donating funds to keep a free bed in the hospital to always be open for someone too poor to afford it.

Photo By Time Life Pictures [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


An international congress for the ” complete and final abolition of the traffic in Negroes and the slave trade ” opened in London on 1 February 1875, on Dunant’s initiative. There followed years of wandering and utter poverty for Dunant: he travelled on foot in Alsace, Germany and Italy, living on charity and the hospitality of a few friends.
Finally, in 1887, he ended up in the Swiss village of Heiden, overlooking Lake Constance, where he fell ill. He found refuge in the local hospice, and it was there that he was discovered in 1895 by a journalist, Georg Baumberger, who wrote an article about him which, within a few days, was reprinted in the press throughout Europe.
International Committee of the Red Cross

 

In September 1895, Georg Baumberger, the chief editor of the St. Gall newspaper Die Ostschweiz, wrote an article about the Red Cross founder, whom he had met and conversed with during a walk in Heiden a month earlier. The article entitled “Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross”, appeared in the German Illustrated Magazine Über Land und Meer, and the article was soon reprinted in other publications throughout Europe. The article struck a chord, and he received renewed attention and support. 
Wikipedia

 

Congratulations, World. We’ve Almost Eliminated Poverty

The world is dominated by negative headlines. Single horrible events, like terrorist attacks or natural disasters. But, in the background, millions of people are making slow and steady progress making our world infinitely better than the world of our ancestors. 

One striking example is the global poverty rate. As recently as the 90s, the portion of humanity that lived in extreme poverty was well over half. Now? As of 2015, it’s estimated that fewer than one in ten people suffer through the same meager existence. The biggest gains have been in India and China, but the progress is truly global. 

It’s entirely possible that someone reading this post will see a world within their lifetime where almost no person ever has to wonder where their next meal is coming from.

Image By Jonathan McIntosh (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


“In East Asia and Pacific the extreme poverty rate fell from 61 percent in 1990 to 7 percent in 2012, and in South Asia it fell from 51 percent to 19percent (figure 1a). In contrast, SubSaharan Africa’s extreme poverty rate did not fall below its 1990 level until 2002. Based on national growth rates over the past 10 years, the global extreme poverty rate is estimated to be below 10 percent in 2015, a drop of more than two-thirds since 1990.”
The World Bank

The One Economic Principle that Explains the Power of Lobbyists

Pay attention to politics at all, and you’ll come across the term “special interests” to describe lobbyists: the idea that a small minority of the population control Washington and politics in general.

There’s some truth to that idea. And it comes from an economic principle called “concentrated benefits and diffuse costs.” Say there’s a law that will take a dollar from a million people and give it to one person. How hard would you fight to save that dollar?  Would you fly to Washington D.C., hire a lawyer or lobbyist, and go to Congressional hearings for it? The person receiving the million dollars certainly would.

This simple concept explains why a small group of elites with time and money can often out-lobby millions of people, even in a democracy.

Image By Martin Falbisoner (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


“One reason for this lobbying imbalance was identified by the political scientist James Q. Wilson more than 30 years ago. He noted that many policies tend to concentrate benefits and costs on companies, while dispersing benefits and costs among citizens. The former motivates political action; the latter does not. This makes it much easier for a company like Citigroup to spend $5.3 million a year in lobbying expenditures but much harder for Citigroup customers to organize to, say, reduce fees.”
The Washington Post 

 

Many members explained their “no” votes by saying they were unwilling to sacrifice the subsidies to airports in their districts. “It’s that old problem of concentrated benefits with diffuse costs. The benefits are lavished on a few select communities, and the costs are diffused across the entire tax base,” McClintock said afterward. The beneficiaries, he said, are the only ones who care enough to fight.
The CATO Institute