At $15.62 an hour you are in the top 1% of earners

January 12, 2015, 8:17 am

Admit It: You’re Rich is a discussion from Megan McArdle.

If you are making more than about $16 an hour, you are in the top 1% of income earners in the world. If your time horizon is the last few thousand years of history, sitting in the lower end of middle class or perhaps working poor, you would be in the very tip-top of the 1% for all of history.

(Cross-posted from my other blog, Outrun Change, because I think it may be of interest to readers of this blog.)

She is on the story of why people living on either coast are complaining they can barely get by on $350,000 a year.

I’m on it. So is David Sirota. And if your personal income is higher than $32,500, so are you. The global elite to which you and I belong enjoys fantastic wealth compared to the rest of the world: We have more food, clothes, comfortable housing, electronic gadgets, health care, travel and leisure than almost every other living person, not to mention virtually every human being who has ever lived. We are also mostly privileged to live in societies that offer quite a lot in the way of public amenities, from well-policed streets and clean water, to museums and libraries, to public officials who do their jobs without requiring a hefty bribe. And I haven’t even mentioned the social safety nets our governments provide.

So how is it that everyone who is making more than $33K a year doesn’t feel like they are incredibly, wonderfully, amazingly blessed to live a live of such luxury and comfort and ease?

Read the rest of this entry »

The world is messy and there is no silver bullet for development

December 3, 2014, 7:37 am

That headline is my feeble summary of a superb 6,000 word article at the New Republic by Michael Hobbes: Stop Trying to Save the World – Big ideas are destroying international development.

In the last year he has read all the books on the shortfalls in development he can find.

The article covers a lot of ground. Here are the three biggest points for me:

There is no silver bullet that will fix all problems or work in all situations.


We need to modify our expectations that we can find a silver bullet.


Projects that work splendidly in one specific location in one set of circumstances won’t scale up by a factor of a thousand and might not do any good if you roll it out across the country.

I often talk of unintended consequences.

New phrase for today is “complex adaptive systems.”

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Why do we study economics? Because of the suffering of people left behind in poverty.

June 9, 2014, 6:42 am

Many countries around the world have seen their economies grow and enjoy the improved nutrition, health care, comfort, and consumer goods that go along with growth. Other countries, locations, and people groups have been left behind.

Why should we care about growth?

Consider a billion people struggling in India while a billion people in China have a per capita GDP today that is equal to what we had in the U.S. back in 1972.

The Economist explained the issue this way on 5/24:

The increase in (China’s) average annual GDP per head from around $300 to $6,750 over the period (of the last 30 years) has not just brought previously unimagined prosperity to hundreds of millions of people, but has also remade the world economy and geopolitics.

That’s great. I am sincerely happy for the people of China. The next sentence asks us to consider a billion people who got left behind:

India’s GDP per head was the same as China’s three decades ago. It is now less than a quarter of the size. … India’s economy has never achieved the momentum that has dragged much of East Asia out of poverty.

So what, I hear some say.

Consider the human cost: Read the rest of this entry »

Why aid and development are difficult

January 29, 2014, 6:59 am

Life is complicated.

My reading over the last two years has opened my eyes to why successful aid and development is so difficult. Unintended consequences and complexity in general are a few reasons why it is hard to make things better in poor countries and why improvements are so slow.

Many of my readers processed through the ideas I’ll mention in this post a long time ago. This is old news for many.

For me, and for some readers of this blog, this is new territory. One of many reasons I blog is to work through what is new for me.

Here are two more articles that illustrate the complexities of facilitating change:

Systemic lack of justice

Why We’re Losing the War on Poverty is an interview in Christianity Today with Gary Haugen discussing his book, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty requires the End of Violence.

The lack of functioning law enforcement allows violence to prey on the poor and plunder them. The corrosive effect of violence undermines everything else in a society. The one sentence summary: Read the rest of this entry »

More examples of unintended consequences

January 15, 2014, 9:56 am

Five more examples of unintended consequences.  The problem? People don’t always do what you tell them. They often do something totally different from what you expected.

Cracked describes 5 Laws That Made Senses on Paper (And Disasters in Reality). (Caution, moderate number of naughty words.) These examples are from government.  My three favorites are how to:

  • increase number of guns on the street
  • increase number of cobras on the loose
  • increase pollution from cars

Gun buybacks increase number of guns on the street. Read the rest of this entry »

Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic – a way to make sense – part 4

December 3, 2013, 7:04 am

Previous posts introduced the simple/complicated/complex/chaotic quadrants of the Cynefin Framework and discussed how that can be used to analyze development issues.

Implications for economics

This framework has huge implications for discussions of economic issues. So many areas come to mind that are actually complex but we treat them as if they are complicated.

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Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic – a way to make sense – part 3

November 25, 2013, 7:27 am

Previous posts introduced the Cynefin framework and described a bit of how it helps make sense.

Where it gets messy

Distinguishing between the complicated and complex quadrants is the biggest challenge.

As I ponder the Cynefin framework, I realize that distinction is the cause of many heated differences of opinion.

It is also the cause of many unintended consequences. I’ve talked about that a lot on my blogs.

Applying the solutions from the complicated quadrant to issues in the complex quadrant is the conceptual cause of most of the harm from those unintended consequences.

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