PRESS RELEASE: IntComps site changes hands

HAPA ANNOUNCES TRANSFER OF RESEARCH PROJECT TO UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI

Hayward, CA – The Hayward Area Planning Association (HAPA) has transferred the InternationalComparisons.org website to the University of Missouri. Sherman Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Cal State University Hayward and President of HAPA, and Dustyn Bindel, Research Associate, developed the website over a period of almost four years. Tevfik Murat Yildirim, a Ph.D. student at the University, will be continuing the development of the site as new research is done on evaluating the performance of the world’s advanced nations. Professor Cooper Drury, Chair of the Department of Political Science, edits the Journal, Foreign Policy Analysis, and is the faculty contact for the site. He said, “Understanding the politics in other states is critically important to understand the foreign policy of others and one’s own state.”The site address is http://www.internationalcomparison.org/

Lewis says, “Work on this site has been rewarding but has become too time consuming, and I need to pass the baton onto some institution with fresh energy to continue the work.” Bindel, who ran the website and a related blog, says that “Laying out the site, technically, was quite challenging, but I think we’ve made it quite transparent for any journalist or academic with an interest in national comparative evaluations.” Tevfik states that he “… was excited when I saw an announcement about this website, and as I looked into it more, I decided it was something important—something I really wanted to work on. I feel challenged and honored for the opportunity to work on this important website.”

Sherman Lewis had the idea for this project for many years before he finally got serious, starting with a compilation of all the treaties that other advanced nations had agreed to, but not the United States. In general, he is critical of both ideological attacks on the United States and of simplistic defenses of the U.S. He believes that the United States is seriously behind on many important goals of society and yet also wants to give credit to the U.S. where its performance is good or excellent. Nevertheless, he believes that the U.S. in general has fallen behind other advanced democracies, and people need objective information about this problem.

Lewis: The “Intcomps” website is unique in that it has more topics of comparison for quality of life than any other website in the world today. On the other hand, it looks only at 12 countries, the U.S. and 11 advanced democratic countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The site combines objectivity with evaluation.

In May 2014, Wikipedia published an article on the general issue of international comparison statistics for 26 policy areas. The article discusses seven databases with this kind of statistical data. Internationalcomparisons.org is the only one that covers every area.
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_comparisons

On the website, the categorical pages, each containing several columns of statistics, are as follows:

Agriculture     Child Welfare     Competitiveness     Crime     Economy     Education

Energy     Environment     Gender Equality     General Performance     Greenhouse Gases

Health Care     Health Regulation      Health Status     Housing

Income Distribution     International Aid     Lifestyle Risks     Military     Population

Rule of Law     Sexual Health     Social Justice     Technology     Teen Pregnancy

Transportation     Treaties     Voting     Work and Leisure

To learn more about the website or HAPA, please contact Sherman Lewis at sherman@csuhayward.us.

 

Made in China–ahem, Italy

The tragic fire at a factory on Sunday, December 1st, 2013, which cost 7 employees their lives, has barely begun to shed light on the industry’s illegal insurgence and Italy’s lack of capacity to do much about it.

Credit: wantchinatimes.com

Pronto moda is a case of what The Economist tags as “reverse globalization.” Cheap materials are shipped from China to Italy–as are the workers, as are the sweatshop concept and conditions. One city, Prato, just northwest of Florence, plays host to over 5,000 factories like the one that burned down on Sunday and some 50,000 Chinese workers buried in 16 hour work-days. Faux-designer products are pumped out at superhuman rates with the facade of labels from designer brands (although the “Made in Italy” label remaining true) and are sold for extremely cheap prices to locals and tourists. Before Italian taxes can even make their claim, more than half of the $2.7 billion profits find their way back to China undeclared.

Chinese utilitarianism and black labor practices are brought to Italy to take advantage of the necessarily perfect combination of an apt market for the pronto moda scheme and weak rule of law in Prato (as what may be an indication of the weaknesses sustained at the national level; consider Rule of Law 1 and Rule of Law 2 to observe Italy’s troubles). Workers, essentially indentured servants, are likely to be left with their promises of a return back to China unfulfilled as they work, bathe, eat, and sleep (in cardboard accommodations as was the case for the victims) within the same few square meters.

The devastating event made headlines in international media; however, the problem for Italian officials isn’t anything new to them. Roberto Cenni, Prato’s mayor, claims that they investigate hundreds of the 3,000+ illegal business every year. The proliferation is too much to handle, he claims, and the operations that Italy is able to shut down only sprout back up the next year. As China merely renders, capitalizes, and improves on what domestic organized crime has done in the country for so long, Italy is forced to drastically improve from the inside-out if it is to have any chance at beginning to address the complicated issues at hand in Prato.

Security cameras vs. the Miami Gardens Police Department

Ravaged by drug crimes and gang activity, Miami Gardens finally found some statistical relief the last couple of years in overall crime only to be overshadowed by climbing homicide rates. The Florida city is in dire need of trusted cooperation between law enforcement and the community.

However, the community is not only being short-changed by the efforts of the Miami Gardens Police Department, their rights are being violated in the process. The infringement has been so drastic as to prompt shopkeeper Alex Saleh to purchase and install 15 security cameras to surveil and document police activity at his store. One of his employees, Earl Sampson, has been arrested countless times for trespassing at the store, his own place of work. In spite of not once being convicted of anything more than marijuana possession, his rap sheet stacks intimidatingly high against him: 56 arrests, over 100 searches, and 258 times he has been stopped and questioned.

Sampson isn’t the lone victim to the harassment. Another employee was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. Charges were never filed, however, as the firearm was found during an illegal search captured on security cameras.

Once Saleh signed up and posted a sign endorsing zero tolerance as the police had requested his business to do, the police have frequented the store at incessant rates. Saleh claims that the police have harassed him as well once he started questioning them and sticking up for the rights of his employees and customers. On one occasion a patrol of 6 policemen comprising the entire Miami Gardens Rapid Action Deployment squad marched in and posted up ceremoniously for 10 minutes side by side as one went in to use the restroom. Saleh, bemused, could only ask questions to which the squad gave no response. On another night, two policemen followed Saleh out to his car and wrote him up for the tail light above his license plate being out. Two more patrol cars came to bring the total policemen necessary to write a tag light ticket to 6. They searched his car and found a gun, which Saleh had a license to carry. Saleh claims the police threatened with an expletive that they were going to get him before they finally left. The security tape of the parking lot from the night before captures a perfectly working tag light on Saleh’s car.

There are plenty of ways to analyze and speculate about the controversy in Miami Gardens and the egregious profiling habits of its police department. What is most important, however, is to realize how iconic this case is of the social injustice that plays out in the United States on an everyday basis and the real lives it ruins.

The ACLU recently released a report revealing that although whites are a little more likely to smoke marijuana, blacks are almost 4 times as likely to get arrested for it. Racial profiling abounds, and hopefully ambassadors like the Alex Saleh’s sticking up for victims like the Earl Sampson’s can do enough to at least bring awareness to the injustice of a society that too often would prefer to roll over and sleep on it.

To explore further how far behind the U.S. is compared to other social democracies concerning issues like these and many more, please visit our Social Justice page at InternationalComparisons.org.

U.S. “social netting” lacks and inequitably distributes

In the middle of a series of articles titled “The High Cost of Low Taxes” for Moyers and Company, Josh Holland challenges the stigma of higher taxes and exposes the issue in its proper context. Whereas InternationalComparisons.org compares the United States to 11 of the top performing Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, Holland includes all 37 OECD countries for his series. Simultaneously dispelling myths and reconstructing the argument in the terms we should have been using all along, Holland evaluates whether the U.S.’ tax system is equitable, efficient, effective, or enough.

Credit: politicalgrafiti.wordpress.com

Holland raises the argument that we should be comparing how much we spend (publicly and privately) on social costs and what kind of “social netting” we get as the product for our expenditures. Noting that since the U.S. public and private sectors combined social spending is comparable to the OECD average (29% to 32%, respectively), U.S. quality of social netting should also be proportionate. However, this is hardly the case. In his second article, he tackles specifically the issue of health care, revealing through a World Health Organization report and a compilation of statistics at Bloomberg just how poorly the U.S. health care system performs (in many cases close to last and others dead last) compared to its most relevant peers. Here, then, is Holland’s reasoning: if we are paying nearly the same social costs, why is there such a discrepancy in the quality of the results?

The discrepancy begins in the imbalance between public and private spending on social costs. According to the statistics, OECD countries that delegate social spending to the public sector provide better social netting for its citizens. Health care, as established above, is one dynamic example of how the U.S. has been short-changed; the U.S. tax systems is yet another.

Americans’ heavy reliance on the private sector to provide social goods and services doesn’t only result in us paying a lot and getting a lot less for it, compared to other wealthy countries. It also makes the financing of our entire social welfare system far less fair. It’s a great deal for the wealthiest, and a huge rip-off for the rest of us.

Holland introduces his third installment with this remark and proceeds to discuss that the tax system is not only unequally weighted, but also that there are hidden implications. For example, federal taxes might seem more progressive, but the distribution of state taxes is the antithesis of progressive. In fact, the weight of taxes is nearly level, but the bottom-most quintile provides for 11.1% of state tax revenue. As the quintile groups ascend by earning, the percentage by which they’re taxed descends with the largest earning quintile being taxed 7.5%.

Taken from: Rip-off: High Out-of-Pocket Social Costs are a Stealth Tax on the Middle Class and the Poor, http://bit.ly/19CRoR9

Still, even within the federal tax system, examples of regressive taxes thrive. Holland discloses that payroll taxes that provide for social security and Medicare are a flat tax with those making $20,000 a year paying 6.2% just like those who make up to $113,000.

We may deduct from Holland regarding social netting that those who need it and pay for it the most–whether by the unfair tax system or by out-of-pocket costs they can hardly afford–receive the least from it, especially when compared to the social nettings of the best performing OECD countries.

Holland has two more installments yet to come in the series to be published at billmoyers.com in the next few weeks.

Citigroup writes bill and history (which is now set to repeat itself)

Credit: usnews.com Silver linings are only hard to come by depending on which side of the spectrum you’re on.

After passing Dodd-Frank in 2010 and letting Wall Street go with a mere slap on the hand and a “Don’t you ever do that again,” United States Congress passed a bill to enable Wall Street to do just that: repeat history and endanger us with another crisis due to egregious financial management.

Passing  292-122 votes, the Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act reverses the portion in the 2010 agreement that restricted Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured funds from being invested in high-risk “swaps” also known as derivatives, the same type of investments that brought down banking giants like Bear Stearns, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, Wachovia, and countless others. Aptly interpreted by dailykos.com, this means that, “In short, this bill socializes risk (we all pay for their gambles if they fail) and privatizes profit (they gain a whole lot with very little risk because of your guarantee).”

To ask, “How does Congress get the nerve to write such a bill?” would be an inaccurate question. Citigroup, in fact, is responsible for having written 70 out of the 85 lines in the bill. The financial giant is again able to afford such extracurricular activity on Capitol Hill thanks to a $45 billion dollar bail out after the first go-’round. Still, Congress summoned the courage it takes to copy and paste (changing merely two words from singular to plural in two of the most essential paragraphs) during the writing process and voted for it, indeed, overwhelmingly so!

Nearly six times as much money, $22.5 million to $3.8 million dollars, were given to members who voted for the Act according to a Maplight report. History is poised to repeat itself should Too-Big-To-Fail again be tested. And why shouldn’t it? It’s not their risk that is at stake, only our risk for their gain.

Measuring development and subjective well-being: Human Development Index vs. World Happiness Report

Can measuring “happiness” be a science? Doesn’t the meaning vary too much from person to person and culture to culture? The squishiness of happiness has not prevented researchers from trying to measure it and make it relevant for public policy.

With studies tracing in the paths of what the Human Development Report started over two decades ago, the OECD’s Better Life Index, the OECD’s Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-Being, the Happy Planet Index, and the U.S.-focused Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (with an international report from 2010) have aimed to perfect the science of quantifying subjective well-being and demonstrate the relatively fresh attention the subject has elicited. Most recently, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network has released its first World Happiness Report last year.

Subjective Well-Being Indices Rankings-page-001

According to the above table, rankings for well-being become pretty varied. Different indices use and weigh different indicators in different ways. The most exceptional example in this case is the Happy Planet Index which places an immense amount of weight on its indicator, “Ecological footprint” in order to emphasize the importance of environmental sustainability.

But let’s direct our attention to the first two: the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI) 2013 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s World Happiness Report (WHR) 2013. The HDI has been a pioneer, and Internationalcomparisons.org has long considered the index to be one of if not the authoritative voice on quality of life, achieving results profoundly more telling than the traditional GDP/capita. The WHR has developed under the influence of the HDI, yet it has come up with different results contrasting most significantly as it relates to Internationalcomparisons.org and the countries studied. Fortunately, the WHR dedicated an entire chapter (Chapter 8) to compare its system to the HDI.

Are more developed countries happier?

Human development, as an approach, is concerned with what I take to be the basic development idea: namely, advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it.
-Economist Amartya Sen on the capabilities approach and what it means to defining subjective well-being

The objective of Chapter 8 in the WHR is to observe the relationship between human development and life satisfaction, that is to say in certain terms the HDI and the WHR. The chapter discusses at great length the different approaches (human development vs. capabilities) to define and measure development, satisfaction, happiness, and subjective well-being. Chapter 8 asks how positive is the relation between the HDI and life evaluation of well-being? For the intents and purposes of the HDI and WHR reports in the scope of the 150+ countries surveyed, very positive. Chapter 8 dissects individual indicators of the HDI like life expectancy, years of expected education, actual years of schooling, and GNI/capita with positive life satisfaction and concludes with correlative coefficients of 0.70, 0.69, 0.63, 0.73, and 0.78. Finally, HDI (overall score) shares a correlative coefficient of 0.77 with life satisfaction.

While this is good news in determining that the gap between measurements of human development and subjective well-being is closing thanks to an increased focus and research on the subject, our more narrow scope concerning the gap among the 12 countries studied at Internationalcomparisons.org disappointingly still lacks explanation.There are 33 places between the systems’ rank for Japan, 20 places for Germany and Italy, and 14 places for the U.S. and Denmark (which the WHR has at 1st). The correlative coefficient is either not strong enough at 0.77 or not relevant enough with the 12 countries on which we focus.

Examining the German and Californian shifts on immigration

International Organization for Migration sign promotes the benefits that immigrants bring.

International Organization for Migration sign promotes the benefits that immigrants bring in front of the UN building in New York. Credit: internationalcomparisons.org

“Kinder statt Inder” or “Children before Indians” was reverberated throughout Germany pervasively in both policy and public attitude only a decade ago. Since then, Germany’s success at withstanding the financial crisis has brought about a good problem, albeit one that requires a shift in such policy and attitude. Germany’s joblessness and decline in overall population has required it to look elsewhere than domestic means in order to fill gaps in its labor force.

In a relatively abrupt 180 degree turn, Germany has welcomed over 33% more immigrants in 2011 than 2010, attempted to ease the adaption process socially by providing language lessons, and have reduced the required financial requirements like minimum salary.

Germany is hardly experiencing a change of heart. The shift comes from certain political motives and not necessarily humanitarian benevolence.  Meanwhile in California, although the impact is yet to prove as profound (especially from the national front), considerable victories have been accomplished just this past week.

While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead. I’m not waiting.

California Governor Jerry Brown sweepingly signed immigration bills one after the other last week in an effort to demonstrate to Washington that, outside of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) from summer of 2012, it will neither lean nor wait on Washington to make demonstrative moves toward immigration reform. DACA has provided some foundation by applying prosecutorial discretion to all cases concerning the children of parents who have immigrated illegally. This has opened the door for states to grant certain liberties to immigrants, and Governor Brown is taking full advantage.

In his first move he granted immigrants the ability to obtain driver’s licenses. Since DACA, the number of states that have allowed driver’s licenses to immigrants has jumped from three to eleven.

He also signed a refined version of the TRUST Act after it easily passed through the state Assembly and Senate. The TRUST Act limits detentions to only those who have committed felonies, not misdemeanors. The TRUST Act is a direct response to the Secure Communities program which was originally intended to remove the most dangerous immigrants with a criminal history. The program, however, has been criticized for removing immigrants with petty misdemeanor charges as well.

Also signed were bills to limit an employer’s ability to threaten to report their immigration status to authorities. This gives the concerned employee more ability to handle wage issues, abuses in the workplace, and to work in an overall better environment according to an LA Times article.

Still another bill has been passed to disallow ones immigration status as a hindrance to becoming an attorney in the state of California.

With his hands more or less tied in Washington, President Obama has no other choice after seeing his Dream Act fail miserably but to resort to relatively quiet measures like DACA and depend on states to take charge from there. California has done just that. Unlike Germany where the motive has been ulterior politically and economically, California truly stands out as it achieves these steps toward immigration reform for the sake of the immigrant, himself.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 121 other followers