Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

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 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 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 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.

The Crisis of the Anthropocene: Part 2

Continued from The Crisis of the Anthropocene: Part 1.

by Dr. Sherman Lewis, Professor Emeritus Political Science, California State University East Bay

Cheap fossils

Peak oil refers to the gradual increase in the cost of extracting fossil fuels causing higher prices, decreasing demand, and declining production. As peak oil is reached, the volume of extraction declines. Peak oil was reached years ago in the US. In 2010 the International Energy Association announced that peak oil may have occurred internationally in 2006. The price of gasoline has been erratically ratcheting up. Conventional petroleum is probably less available at the same time that rapidly growing economies demand more oil. Most Americans are likely to continue to buy gas as if there were no tomorrow and blame politics, oil companies, and speculators for a problem inherent in the earth’s crust. The timing of the ratchet is unpredictable. has excellent data on the past, but less certain projections for the future.


Unfortunately, the benefit peak oil might provide to reduce global warming is being more than offset by other fossils, which seem well short of any peak. Higher oil prices so far only serve to stimulate more extraction of oil from risky deep ocean platforms, coal, dirty oil from shale and sand, and natural gas from fracking, which pollutes huge volumes of clean water. Fossil fuels are still in under-priced over-abundance and consumption is even increasing. The earth’s crust appears sufficiently generous in fossils to assure the demise of the climate that supported human development. However great for the money economy, it is not sustainable in the whole economy.

Under-pricing reduces the viability of non-fossil alternatives—solar wind, photovoltaic and thermal energy, energy efficiency, conservation, non-auto modes, and efficient land use.


Humans appropriate more than half the world’s fresh water. Ancient aquifers in the world’s bread baskets, including the Ogallala in the Great Plains, are being drained. California has diverted so much water from the Bay Delta system that its historic ecology has collapsed. The salmon, steelhead, and striped bass are mostly gone, leaving the tiny Delta Smelt as the remaining indicator species. Water shortages are increasing. A federal court recently ordered water released into the Klamath River to prevent fish kills, at the expense of farmers who wanted the water. The San Joaquin Valley has sunk many feet in some places due to over-pumping of ground water.

In December 2012, the Interior Department said by mid-century the Colorado River will not support demand from the seven states it supplies, including California. The main reason is expected population growth in the region from 40 million to as many as 76 million people. “Phoenix continues to grow at one of the highest rates in the country,” said Jerry Karnas, population and sustainability director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “There is no discussion about what the future Phoenix is going to do when the Colorado River is done.”

As rains diminish and the climate dries in some areas, increased pumping from falling aquifers becomes more expensive due to the cost of electricity, itself dependent on water supplies and fossils. As diets improve, demand for food higher up the food chain requires more water. Only 2 percent of major U.S. rivers run unimpeded to the sea. California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has been entirely re-engineered. The last time the Colorado River reached the Sea of Cortez was in 1998. The Nile, Indus and Ganges rivers have been reduced to a trickle. (See for information on the most pertinent international water issue.)




Pollution of water, air, and land comes from burning fossils, hazardous chemicals, excess nutrients, and solid waste. Small amounts of a chemical can devastate amphibians and bees. Residues from 100 million tons of synthetic chemical compounds produced each year commonly appear in polar bear tissues, whale blubber, and human breast milk and umbilical cords. Nitrogen can be a fertilizer; the excess is a problem. Human activity surpasses nature as a source of nitrogen emissions, altering the planet’s nitrogen cycle.

Radioactivity has been an evolutionary background reality and a minor pollutant since the Strontium 90 scares of the 1950s, but is now looming much larger as radioactivity from the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi Reactor melt-down drifts across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast of North America. Radioactivity has proven deadly from the earliest research to the bombing of two Japanese cities. In theory and most practice radioactivity is one of the most strictly regulated pollutants, but the difficulty of failsafe nuclear energy and the possibility of nuclear war and nuclear terrorism are still there.

Bioengineering is not usually thought of as a pollutant, but at the micro-scale of DNA it could be considered to be one, much like an invasive species in a habitat. So far, research and industry safeguards have prevented acute problems, but secrecy about Genetically Modified Organisms, lack of consumer choice, and industry assurances motivated in part by profit-seeking do not inspire confidence. Wind-blown GMO seeds have already contaminated some organic crops. We are still learning the most basic things about DNA, let alone how it can safely be manipulated.

California has eight of the 10 most air-polluted cities in the country and 725 metric tons of solid waste are washing up on our coast each year.

Higher, higher still Credit:



Humans have converted more than 40 percent of the earth’s land, usually the most biologically productive land, to cities and farms. Urbanization often destroys prime farmland. Roads and structures fragment the habitat of much of the rest. The increasing need for food and decreasing yields due to climate change, salinization, soil erosion, soil depletion, and conversion to other uses have led to converting more marginal, unfarmed land to crops. Farms and logging are big sources of deforestation and also causes greenhouse gases and loss of sequestration of atmospheric carbon.


A third of world fisheries are exhausted or degraded. Forty percent of coral reefs and a third of mangroves have been destroyed or degraded. Most species of the great predator fish are in decline. Ocean acidification, a product of fossil fuel burning, is dissolving calcifying plankton at the base of the food chain. Coral reefs are disappearing as warming, over-fishing, and pollutants cause massive bleaching, i.e., the ejection by the coral of the algae it needs to grow. Less life in the oceans reduces sequestration of carbon. A garbage gyre at least twice the size of Texas swirls in the Pacific Ocean. “We can’t just continue dumping nitrogen into the ocean at the same rate and expect everything to be fine,” Santa Clara University’s Marvier said.


The world is rapidly increasing the number and use of cars, while other, healthier, modes of transportation, especially walking, are shrinking in proportion. Underpricing of fossil fuel drives land use dispersion, resulting in a suburban system which makes other modes uneconomic and unavailable. Californians own 32 million registered vehicles for 29 million people aged 16 and older.


The problem is not consumption as understood by economists, but rather the over-consumption of some things due to their under-pricing which fails to consider full economic cost and allows externalization of costs, degrading the whole economy: “problem consumption.” The whole economy includes values of obvious economic worth that are not reflected in prices. We cannot conceive a sustainable economy because it is too complex, but we can have policies which push us towards one, with sustainable consumption replacing the unsustainable over time, and an improving status of women reducing population growth.

There is no “birth dearth,” at least, not yet. World fertility rates have fallen from 4.9 births per woman in the 1960s to the current 2.6, still too high. The rate in about half the world—Japan, Western Europe, China, Vietnam, Brazil, Iran, Thailand, and other emerging economies—is below the 2.1 births per woman needed for zero growth. The United States, the world’s third-largest country behind China and India, and the only rich country still growing, nevertheless recently saw its birth rate fall to 1.9.

The improvement in the status of women has driven birth rates down through education, economic opportunity, legal protections, family planning, and, to a small extent, therapeutic abortion. Across cultures, women choose to provide a better life for fewer children.

The revolution, however, is incomplete because high economic costs are still imposed on most women who choose to have children. Historically, the duties of child-rearing have been assumed by women, but, with improved status and given a choice, women reduce the burden. Once a developed country chooses to tax itself to ease the cost, women, if need be, are ready, willing, and able to have more children, because few things in life are more fulfilling.

While the population gets older, the ratio of dependent seniors on younger workers does not tell us what we need to know. The ratio is less relevant, possibly irrelevant, because health is increasing faster than age, and many older people want to work at work they choose. Also, if there are tax penalties, like loss of retirement income if one works, people will work less for money and more at other things. I retired to avoid tax penalties and to work voluntarily on sustainability analysis and advocacy. My wife retired and is almost fulltime at granddaughter care so that our kids can work for money. Rebalancing incentives for having children and for older working can solve problems, if they occur.

Major source: Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle Washington correspondent, SF Chronicle, Sept. 3, 2013.

The Crisis of the Anthropocene: Part 1

by Dr. Sherman Lewis, Professor Emeritus Political Science, California State University East Bay


Science, though often behind the actual pace of change, is still our best source of information. For the first time in the history of the earth, a species by its own conscious decisions is ending one geological epoch, the Holocene, and starting another, the Anthropocene.

credit: Planet Under Pressure

For decades, scientists have been discovering and warning about a series of interconnected threats to human welfare. In May 2013, the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, consisting of more than 1,000 scientists, signed a consensus report at Stanford University that “Earth is reaching a tipping point.” “The evidence that humans are damaging their ecological life-support system is overwhelming,” said the report. “By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that the Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence, will be irretrievably damaged.” Michele Marvier, chair of environmental studies at Santa Clara University, says that “humans dominate every flux and cycle of the planet’s ecology and geochemistry.”

A recent article in Nature stated “Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly, from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. Here we review evidence that the global ecosystem as a whole can react in the same way and is approaching a planetary critical transition as a result of human influence.” Human “ ‘forcings’ far exceed, in both rate and magnitude, the forcing evident at the most recent global scale state shift, the last glacial-interglacial transition.” (Be sure to read the David Roberts and David Perlman articles from which the above quotes have been taken.)


From 1950 to 2012 world population tripled, to 7.1 billion, and continues to climb by more than 1.5 million people a week. The world population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. Joseph Speidel, a professor at UCSF’s Bixby Center on Global Reproductive Health, says, “The annual increment is rising quite dramatically. …We are still adding about 84 million people a year to the planet.” The addition in just 62 years will be greater than the human population growth for thousands of years to 1950. The World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, estimates that by mid-century the world will need 70 percent more food, because as people grow wealthier they eat more meat, requiring more grain to feed livestock.

Falling birth rates do not quickly translate into falling growth rates because of “demographic momentum.” The absolute numbers keep rising for decades due to births to the large number of people in their child-bearing years. It took 12 years to add the last billion by 2011 and will take 14 more years to add the next billion, a slow decline in rate allowing a huge increase in numbers.

In developed countries falling birthrates are outweighed by the impacts of increased “problem consumption” per capita. Problem consumption refers to consumption which places the most stress on the earth. The United States is expected to grow from 313 million people to 400 million. California has 38 million people, including 10 million immigrants, and has grown 10 percent in the last decade. By 2050, projections show 51 million people living in the state, more than twice as many as in 1980.

In many less developed countries high population growth is being reduced somewhat by famine, hunger, disease, civil violence, and war. At least 2 billion people are malnourished, which increases death rates and reduces birth rates. Also, given lack of family planning, about half of unplanned pregnancies end in unsafe abortion. Nevertheless, in sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan and Yemen birth rates are exceptionally high. In 2012 U.N. demographers sharply raised their population projections, adding another billion people by 2100, reaching nearly 11 billion. African fertility rates have peaked at more than five births per woman. From now until 2050, poor countries will add the equivalent of a city of 1 million people every five days, said a report last year by the Royal Society, a top British scientific organization.

The Guttmacher Institute, a family planning research group, said more than 40 percent of the world’s 208 million pregnancies each year are unplanned. Half of U.S. pregnancies, about 3 million a year, are unintended, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a Washington advocacy group.

Population growth is primarily caused by the low status of poor women, especially in less-developed countries. Low status refers to a number of related problems—poverty, low education, lack of legal protections, lack of jobs, lack of health care and family planning, and abuse by dominant males. Rising status always lowers birth rates, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or culture.

The Guttmacher Institute said it would cost $4.1 billion a year in the $3.8 trillion U.S. budget to provide family planning for the 222 million women in the world who lack access to family health services. Republicans in the US Congress oppose funding that would allow poor women to choose how many children they have. In 2013 a House Appropriations panel again slashed money for family planning aid.


As human population waxes, the population of species in nature wanes. Scientists have identified the Anthropocene as the sixth mass extinction in the earth’s 540 million-year history. A quarter of known mammal species, 43 percent of amphibians, 29 percent of reptiles and 14 percent of birds are threatened. African elephants may be extinct within a decade.

Biodiversity is collapsing because of appropriation of biomass, habitat fragmentation, dewatering of rivers and wetlands, land conversion, pollution, invasive species, over-hunting, and over-fishing. Each year, humans appropriate up to 40 percent of the earth’s biomass, the product of photosynthesis, earth’s basic energy conversion necessary to all life. “Even in poorer nations that don’t have the impact that the average American has on the planet, population as it grows squeezes out other species because people need space to live, and the other species need space to live,” said Jeffrey McKee, an anthropologist at Ohio State University. Other wealthy countries have similar impacts, but less per capita.

California alone has 157 known endangered or threatened species.


People have altered the composition of the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and causing emissions of other global warming gases like methane. Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from about 250 parts per million to about 400, and continues to rise. As the atmosphere holds more heat, temperatures rise, especially at the poles. The seasons move “pole-ward,” with earlier springs and later falls. Increased evaporation leads to more precipitation. On equatorial and temperate land masses, which have little water, droughts are increasing, as in the African Sahel. Increased heat energy in the ocean and atmosphere increases the intensity of extreme weather events. Glaciers, the Greenland Ice Cap, and the poles are melting. The permafrost is melting. More flooding occurs from precipitation, thermal expansion of the ocean, melt water from land-based glaciers, rising oceans, and extreme storms. Many species are affected, moving pole-ward if they can. Some species depend on altitude and run out of up. In the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica, the golden toad ran out of mountain and was extirpated. Less sea ice is reducing polar bear population, which depend on it to hunt seals. Climate change reduces yields by decreasing rainfall in many large farming areas. Forest fires are increasing in extent and frequency.


To be covered in Part 2 on Thursday: Cheap Fossils to Auto-dependency and Misconceptions

Norway=model; exception

In addition to already having country profile pages for Germany and Japan, we have recently just added Denmark and Norway (also accessible from our home index page under the “countries covered” listing). While putting together the Norway page, we realized even more how exemplary Norway truly is.

Norway is not a member of the European Union. Also a factor in escaping the eurozone crisis is their oil and gas industry which has them benefiting from the largest budget surplus among all advanced democracies. Norway has an unemployment rate below 3%, no net national debt, and around $640 billion dollars stored away in a sovereign wealth account, mostly from its oil and gas industry. In 2009 Norway earned the highest per capita income.

Deserving much credit for its success is Norway’s fearlessness to tax. Their prosperous oil and gas industry receives a 28% corporate tax and a 50% industry surtax. Overall tax as a share of GDP is among the highest in the OECD. Corporate taxes are four times as high as U.S. rates. Their highest income tax bracket kicks in at $124,000 at 47.8%. Yet businesses aren’t saddling up to head to places where they might save on looser tax breaks, an argument from those in the U.S. representing a vast majority who refuse to consider any tax increase. In fact, start up activity not only in Norway, but also Denmark, Switzerland, and Canada is higher than that of the U.S. From 2006-2009, the U.S. economy treaded at a practically stagnant .1% growth rate compared to Norway’s exponentially faster rate of 3%. Norway also boasts more entrepreneurs per capita than the U.S.

Part of the reason why business owners are so keen to comply without raising a stir at Norwegian taxes is the sense of appreciation they have for the system. Norwegians benefit from free education from preschool to graduate school (often including universities outside of Norway); free healthcare; generous unemployment benefits due to a competitive, employee-friendly job market; forty-six weeks of maternity leave paid in full, 10 weeks for paternal leave. Education, retirement, and medical expenses are three paramount concerns for the average U.S. citizen, but all of which are provided in Norway. There’s a sense of giving back to the system in Norway for the ways one has benefited previously from the system.


Adapted from“US fiscal debate could learn from Norway” by Mark Provost from Progressive Press and  “In Norway, start ups say Ja to socialism” by Max Chafkin in Inc. Magazine.

Relations between economic and educational mobility

The newest statistics compiled by the OECD demonstrates a strong correlation between economic and educational mobility while suggesting that it pays to be a poor student in a well-off country–unless of course that well-off country is the United States. According to Jordan Weissmann’s recent article in The Atlantic, the United States proves exceptional when it comes to citizens’ ability in advanced democracies to improve economic conditions compared to those of their parents. Weissmann cites the OECD’s statistics which indicate a lack of educational mobility to be the reason for a stagnant economic mobility among the poor in the U.S. The mobility in education and the economy achieved by other democracies (most outstanding Denmark, Australia, Sweden, and Canada) could easily leave aspiring American students disappointed. Check back with to view these and other statistics to be added soon!

Germany: country profile

Dave Johnson in his article, “Germany’s Economy Shows Government ‘Interference’ Works,” makes a valid point that the United States’ reluctance in making adjustments within the market has further solidified the exclusivity and position of the upper class. The true interference, Johnson holds, is the manner in which the larger businesses in the United States inhibit productivity and competition from smaller companies. Johnson exerts Germany’s system as an exemplary remedy. Germany’s cohesion between the government and the labor force has sustained Germany as an exceptional economic case even during a time in which most economies struggle to stay afloat. To Johnson, there is an apparent connection between Germany’s esteemed productivity and its health care, higher education, child care, and pension systems. Germany has sustained higher wages for employees, closer union ties, and closer cooperation between the industry and government sectors. Johnson implores his readers to consider Germany’s case carefully and to compare it to our case here in the U.S.

Highlights to the reasons for and benefits from Germany’s economic success are outlined below:

  • Industrial development policy that favors some manufacturing over others. The government is currently helping promote green manufacturing, for example.
  • Very high worker incomes and benefits
    • Hourly manufacturing compensation (wages plus benefits) was $48 in Germany in 2008, the most recent year surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while it was $32 in the United States.
    • Six weeks vacation, by law
    • Health care: German “Medicare-For-All” takes the expense of health care off of the people and businesses; giant insurance companies play no role, allowing more personal income and more for business investment
    • Receive child care and pensions.
  • Strong unions: Germany requires worker representatives to hold seats on the boards of directors of companies, depending on the number of workers, so the companies take the interests of workers and communities into account.
  • Investments in worker productivity with government-funded research, vocational training, and policies to retain skilled workers. As a result, they have higher productivity.
  • Fossil fuel businesses have little influence, and German policy is successfully reducing GHG and increasing energy efficiency.
  • German tax policy prevents transfer of wealth to the wealthy, rather than mandating it.

Think tank statistics

The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program’s latest report “The Global ‘Go-To Think Tanks’: The Leading Public Policy Research Organizations in the World” gives a comprehensive appraisal of think tanks in 169 different countries. These evaluations are drawn in order to further underscore the importance of the relationship between research and a more effective policymaking process. will add two new statistics to the “Higher Education” page: Think Tanks and Think Tanks per Capita. The United States hosts by far the highest number of think tanks (1,816). The next closest country is China (425) and the United Kingdom is the closest country out of those studied on (278).