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Hans Rosling (1948-2017) was a professor of public health and at the Swedish Academy of Sciences. I hadn’t heard about him but his death caused newsmedia to report about his mission to better inform people by the innovative presentation of statistics. I looked at some of his presentations, and found them both informative and innovative indeed.

I applaud this chart in which he tabulates not only causes and effects but rather means and goals. (Clicking on the picture will bring you to the TED talk 2007, and at the end the audience may applaud for another reason, namely when he swallows a sword to illustrate that the “impossible is possible”.)

Hans Rosling 1948-2017

Hans Rosling 1948-2017

Continue the discussion

My impression is that we best honour Rosling by continuing the discussion about his work. Thus, my comments are as follows.

First of all, my book Definition & Reality in the General Theory of Political Economy shows that the Trias Politica model of democracy fails, because it allows politicians still too much room to manipulate information and to meddle in scientific advice on policy making. Thus, governance is much more important than Rosling suggested. Because of his analysis, Rosling in some of his simulations only used economic growth as the decisive causal factor to explain the development of countries. However, the key causal factor is governance. The statistical reporting on this is not well developed yet. Thus, I move one + from economic growth to governance.

Secondly, my draft book The Tinbergen & Hueting Approach in the Economics of Ecological Survival discusses that the environment has become a dominant risk for the world as we know it. It is not a mathematical certainty that there will be ecological collapse, but the very nature of ecological collapse is that it comes suddenly, when you don’t expect it. The ecology is so complex and we simply don’t have enough information to manage it properly. It is like standing at the edge of a ravine. With superb control you might risk to edge one millimeter closer, but if you are not certain that the ground will hold and that there will not be a sudden rush of wind, then you better back up. The table given by Rosling doesn’t reflect this key point. Thus, I move one + from economic growth to the environment.

In sum, we get the following adapted table.

Adapted from Hans Rosling

I have contemplated for the means whether I would want to shift another + from economic growth to either human rights (property rights) or education (I am also a teacher). However, my current objective is to highlight the main analytical difference only.

In the continued discussion we should take care of proper definitions.

What does “economic growth” mean ?

The term “economic growth” is confusing. There is a distinction between level and annual growth of income, and there is a distinction w.r.t. categories within. Economic welfare consists of both material products (production and services) and immaterial elements (conditions and services). If the term “economic growth” includes both then this would be okay. In that case, however, the whole table would already be included in the notion of welfare and economic growth. Apparently, Hans Rosling intended the term “economic growth” for the material products. I would suggest to replace his “economic growth” by “income level”, and thus focus on both income and level rather than annual change of a confusingly named statistic. Obviously, it is a policy target that all people would have a decent standard of living, but it is useful to remain aware that income is only a means to a higher purpose, namely to live a good life.

PM. This causes a discussion about the income distribution, and how the poor and the rich refer to each other, so that the notion of poverty is relative to the general standard of society. In the 1980s the computer was a luxury item and nowadays a cell-phone with larger capacity is a necessity. These are relevant aspects but a discussion would lead too far here now.

What does “environment” mean ?

In the adapted table, the environment gets ++ as both means and goal. There is slight change of meaning for these separate angles.

  • The environment as a goal means that we want to preserve nature for our descendants. Our kids and grandchildren should also have tigers and whales in their natural habitat, and not as photographs only.
  • The environment as means causes some flip-flop thinking.
    (1) In economic thought, everything that exists either already existed or mankind has crafted it from what was given. Thus we only have (i) the environment, (ii) human labour. There are no other means available. From this perspective the environment deserves +++.
    (2) For most of its existence (some 60,000 years), mankind took the environment for granted. Clear air and water where available, and if some got polluted it was easy to move to a next clean spot. The economic price of the environment was zero. (Or close to it: the cost of moving was not quite a burden or seen as an economic cost.) Thus, as a means, the environment didn’t figure, and from this viewpoint it deserves a 0. There are still many people who think in this manner. It might be an engrained cultural habit, but a rather dangerous one.
    (3) Perhaps around the middle of the past century, the 1950s, the environment has become scarce. As Lionel Robbins explained: the environment has become an economic good. The environment provides functions for human existence and survival, and those functions now get a price. Even more, the Tinbergen & Hueting approach acknowledges that the ecology has become risky for human survival. The USA and Europe might think that they can outsource most environmental pollution to the poorer regions of the world, but when the rain forests turn into deserts and when the CO2 turns the oceans into an acid soup that eats away the bones of fish, then the USA and Europe will suffer the consequences too. In that perspective, the environment deserves +++.
    (4) How can we make sure that the environment gets proper place in the framework of all issues ? Eventually, nature is stronger than mankind, and there might arise some natural correction. However, there is also governance. If we get our stuff together, then mankind might manage the world economy, save the environment at some cost, but still achieve the other goals. Thus governance is +++ and the environment is relative at ++. Thus we arrive at above adapted table.
Dynamic simulation

As a teacher of mathematics I emphasize the combined presentation of text, formula, numeric table, and graph. By looking at these different angles, there is greater scope for integrated understanding. Some students are better at single aspects, but by presenting the four angles you cover the various types of students, and all students get an opportunity to develop the aspects that they are weaker in.

Obviously, dynamic simulation is a fifth aspect. See for example the Wolfram Demonstrations project. Many have been making applets in Java and embedding this in html5, yet the use of Mathematica would allow for more exchangeable and editable code and embedding within educational contexts in which the manipulation of text, formula, numeric table, and graph would also be standard.

Obviously, role playing and simulation games are a sixth aspect. This adds human interaction and social psychology to the learning experience. Dennis Meadows has been using this to allow people to grow aware of the risk on the environment, see e.g. “Stratagem” or MIT-Sloan.

The economic crisis of 2007+

What I particularly like about Rosling’s table is his emphasis on culture as a goal. Artists and other people in the world of culture will already be convinced of this – see also Roefie Hueting on the jazz stage – yet others may not be aware that mankind exists by culture.

There is also an important economic angle on culture as a means. In recessions and depressions, the government can stimulate cultural activity, such that money starts flowing again with much less risk for competitive conditions. That is, if the government would support the automobile industry or steel and do specific investments, then this might favour some industries or services at the cost of others, and it might affect competitive conditions overall, and even insert imbalances into the economy in some structural manner. Yet stimulating cultural activity might be much more neutral and still generate an economic stimulus.

For example, Germany around 1920 got into economic problems and the government responded by printing more money, and this caused the hyperinflation. This experience got ingrained in the German attitude towards monetary issues. In the Eurozone Germany follows the hard line that inflation should be prevented at all costs. Thus the eurozone now has fiat money that still functions as a gold standard because of the strict rules. (See my paper on this.) By comparison, when the USA around 1930 got into economic problems and the central bank was hesitant to print money (no doubt looking at the German example), this eventually caused the Great Depression. Thus monetary policy has the Scylla and Charybdis character, with the risks of either too little or too much. Potentially, the option to organise cultural activity would be a welcome addition to the instruments to avoid such risks and smooth the path towards recovery.

I am not quite suggesting that the ECB should print money to pay the unemployed in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal to make music and dance in the streets, yet, when the EU would invest in musea and restorations and other cultural services so that Northern Europe can better enjoy their vacations in Southern Europe, then this likely would be more acceptable than when such funds would be investedĀ directly in factories that start to compete with the North. The current situation that Southern Europe has both unemployment and less funds to maintain the cultural heritage is obviously less optimal.

The point is also made in my book Common Sense: Boycott Holland. Just to be sure: this notion w.r.t. culture is not the main point of CSBH. It is just a notion that is worthy of mentioning.

PM. Imagine a dynamic simulation of restoring the Colosseum. Or is it culturally more valuable as a ruin than fully restored ?

By Jaakko Luttinen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22495158

By Jaakko Luttinen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22495158

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Geert Wilders used a tweet with a photoshopped picture of Alexander Pechtold. The picture displays Pechtold as demonstrating for the introduction of Sharia in Holland. The political message is that Pechtold would be a fellow-traveller and part of the 5th column for political islam, intending to destroy freedom and democracy. Normally Wilders merely says this but a picture tells more than a thousand words.

This falsely portraying of a political opponent is a new low in the Low Countries.

The photoshopped picture would exist since 2009 but there are general elections for the Dutch House of Commons on March 15 which may be the reason why Wilders uses it now. Wilders might have limited campaign funds and the abuse of this picture is politically cunning, since hords of people, including me, are discussing it now. Attention is half of the job, and Wilders knows how to get attention. And when there is a terrorist attack, then he can claim that he has been warning all along.

Yet, the downside of this is, that there are feeble minds on the radical right, like Anders Breivik, who worship Wilders, and who might take this portrayal as an invitation to target Pechtold. The UK saw the assassination of Jo Cox in 2016. Holland already saw a smear campaign against Pim Fortuyn in 2002 who then got assassinated by an activist on the left. Yet a gunman in 2011 who killed six people was a sympathiser of Wilders. Journalist Peter Breedveld has been reporting consistently that the political climate in Holland is getting heated, repressive and threatening of violence. Pechtold is alarmed. He warned that Wilders is deliberately rousing up his followers. One sympathiser of Wilders already threatened Pechtold to kill him, and Pechtold informed reporters that he had to testify in court to get the man convicted. A close political friend of Pechtold, Els Borst, has been murdered by a lunatic in 2014, apparently without political motivation, but it still has an impact.

2017-02-05-wilders-photoshop-pechtold

Wilders and Pechtold have a history of feeding on each other

Geert Wilders and Alexander Pechtold have a history of feeding on each other. They are each other’s best enemies. While Wilders finds great profit in demonising Pechtold as the fellow-traveller of political islam, Pechtold finds great profit in portraying Wilders as indecent and “over the top”. Their political clash was the motor for their rise to public attention in 2006-2010. In the elections of 2010, Pechtold jumped from 3 to 10 seats, and Wilders from 9 to 24 seats.

The following graph shows the number of seats of Wilders (PVV, red) and Pechtold (D66, blue) in the Dutch House of Commons, with a total of 150 seats. (Source: Wikipedia, here adapted.)

  • Wilders started in 2004 as a one-man separation of the Dutch conservative party VVD. The official line of VVD was that Turkey might eventually join the European Union, but Wilders disagreed, and wished to have the freedom to say so. The letters VVD stand for the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, but party leader Gerrit Zalm denied Wilders his freedom of expression. In 2006 Wilders got 9 seats, in 2010 he jumped to 24, and in 2012 got 15. (Incidently: Gerrit Zalm had also participated in the smear campaign against Pim Fortuyn, labeling him as a “dangerous man”. Zalm also was the director of the CPB who in 1990 censored my work at CPB and who dismissed me there with falsehoods, the very issue that this weblog is about.)
  • In 2006, D66 had been reduced from 24 seats to 3, and Pechtold began as the new leader. There was talk about ending the party, yet Pechtold managed to get the party back to 10 seats. His strategy was to oppose Wilders.
  • As said, in the elections of 2010, Pechtold jumped from 3 to 10 seats, and Wilders from 9 to 24 seats.
  • In 2010-2012 there was the 1st Rutte Cabinet, a minority government with support by Wilders. This cabinet failed and collapsed, and at the subsequent elections in 2012 Wilders got 15 seats.

seats-d66-pvv

There is a major problem with D66

The major problem with D66 is that its party elite and its voters cannot think straight. The name D66 is an abbreviation of “Democrats 1966”, and the idea of founder Hans van Mierlo (1931-2010) was to improve democracy. Van Mierlo was from the Catholic south of Holland, and he was inspired by JFK in the USA. (See my weblog text on the Dutch Taliban.) Thus he suggested that Holland copied democratic conventions from the USA, like district voting, direct elected president and mayors, and referenda. Unfortunately, Van Mierlo had a degree in law and worked as a journalist, and he never really studied democracy. The membership of D66 are mostly lawyers too. They are mostly concerned about the “rule of law”, and less about what the law is about. By now, it should be obvious that Van Mierlo’s ideas about democracy have always been perverse, and actually reduce democracy. Yet, D66 doesn’t openly say so, and they still claim that they and their proposals would improve democracy. Thus D66 is a fossilised lie about democracy.

  • Direct elections with districts causes that in the Bush, Gore and Nader elections, Bush got elected (and we got the lie on Iraq), and that with the Clinton & Trump election, that Trump got elected, while in terms of percentages Gore would have beaten Bush, and Clinton would have beaten Trump.
  • For referenda, see this discussion about Brexit.

See my book Voting theory for democracy and this article about multiple seats elections.

Thus, when D66 collapsed to 3 seats, I hoped that D66 would be abolished, and that there would be room for a new political initiative, to combine sound ideas about democracy with sound ideas about economics and sound ideas about social compassion. Yet, there was Pechtold. He has a degree in art history and a working background as auctioneer, and developed further as a career politician. D66 apparently allows it, and eventually is grateful to him for “saving the party”, as if that would be so useful.

From disaster into greater catastrophy

D66 has been applying its great logical capacities, that they already showed on democracy, also on the issue of Wilders and immigration. Supposedly Pechtold attacked Wilders, but he actually made him bigger. D66 and Pechtold cannot see this fact and this logic, since Pechtold “saved D66” by that jump from 3 to 10 seats. Clearly the attack by Pechtold on Wilders was a great success, namely see the growth of D66 ! Thus they keep themselves deliberately blind about that jump of Wilders from 9 to 24 seats.

The best answer to Wilders would be a party that combines sound ideas about democracy with sound ideas about economics and sound ideas about social compassion. Yet, Pechtold and D66 block this, because of their perverse ideas about democracy and their perverse claim that they have success in attacking Wilders.

Well, it is Holland. Boycott this country till it develops a respect for science so that it lifts the censorship of science since 1990 by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB).