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Entries in progressivism (9)

8:17AM

The future of social work (youth services)

Fascinating NYT story on how police precincts in NYC are moving "left of boom" (as the military says) to intervene with vulnerable youth BEFORE they even get involved with the gangs, etc.

The strategy:

The New York City Police Departmenthas embarked on a novel approach to deter juvenile robbers, essentially staging interventions and force-feeding outreach in an effort to stem a tide of robberies by dissuading those most likely to commit them.

Officers not only make repeated drop-ins at homes and schools, but they also drive up to the teenagers in the streets, shouting out friendly hellos, in front of their friends. The force’s Intelligence Division also deciphers each teenager’s street name and gang affiliation. Detectives compile a binder on each teenager that includes photos from Facebook and arrest photos of the teenager’s associates, not unlike the flow charts generated by law enforcement officials to track organized crime.

The idea, in part, is to isolate these teenagers from the peers with whom they commit crimes — to make them radioactive.

This is a form of "big data" intervention:  based on trajectories, the cops know who's highly likely to be sucked into certain activities.  Their names start appearing on police blotters - often on "both sides" (victim and perpetrator).  The cops also know where and when the activity is likely to occur.

So they just start showing up, making it clear they know you and where you're headed.

Tell me that's not just aggressive social work.  The signs are all there.  The initial indicators are piling up.  You know who, what, where, when and why.  Question is, do you just wait with this information or do you act pre-emptively?

The whole linking-the-dots thing about 9/11 has many parallels in other security domains, with obvious overlaps in medical, environmental, etc.

This is where "big data" will take governance.  

This is where we will locate the looming Progressive Era.

Same things holds on bad actors internationally.

Yes, we can resort to old labels and call it many names.  Or we can grow up and understand that we can and will do better.

Writing off vulnerable populations isn't noble.  It's merely shirking your civic/global duty.

1:09PM

China has to learn how to take better care of its own

NYT front-pager on how new model of outreach and service to HIV community is being appreciated as possible approach to host of underserved populations currently in the official shadows, to include the mentally ill, the extremely impoverished, and the environment. The key is letting NGOs rise as part of a general maturation of civil society.  The simple but harsh reality for the Party is that, by spending so much time obsessing over political speech (Kristof's point in his op-ed of same day), it's losing ground on a host of government support/regulation areas where the public desperately needs help.  The result?  Rapacious behavior all around, but especially on the part of the elite - a growing problem that only hyperventilates the already profound populist anger.

The conundrum is solved, in both instances, by the Party actually extending more trust to the public it claims to represent, because, right now, the combination of over-exertion on political speech and under-exertion on everything else is a losing battle.  As progressive agenda items pile up (what is more progressive than extending coverage to the underserved?), the Party ends up looking like it's only concerned with its own power - along with its own greed (all that corruption).

You put that all together, and I don't know how pundits see a triumphant Chinese model, because it's stalling at the same point that all industrializing powers do, and the answers are still the same - more and better democracy, or more opportunity extended to the people to take more responsibility for themselves and each other.

China's model is not "better" than ours by any stretch.  Instead, it's an insult (growing) to the Chinese people, who prove themselves to be smart and responsible and capable the world over - whenever they're extended the chance to prove that.

The Chinese Communist Party lives in fear of its own people, and that's sad - and ultimately self-limiting for all.

That's why democracy is coming.  People want more and achieving more requires it.

10:48AM

Paging China's muckrakers!

Great NYT piece that's filling in for the missing muckraking function within China (although it's emerging, it just doesn't manage stories like this because only sacrificial lambs [mid-level Party functionaries] may be sacrificed - officially):  investigative piece showing how the giant state-owned shipping company, Cosco, managed to sell off its stakes in Ping An Insurance in the period prior to its IPO to two companies essentially owned by the families of senior political elites (the third is owned by a HK magnate who, we can presume, is a good friend of the Party). The result is not all that different from the robber-baron phase of Yeltsin's reign in Russia: a few insiders go from rich to billionaires overnight.  One family was that of just departed PM Wen Jiabao, so"Uncle Wen," for all his platitudes and caring, takes care of his own and the masses be damned.  The other involved the family of the former central bank chief who oversaw the insurance industry.  Talk about brazen!

The "princelings' rationalize all this by saying the transition from state-ownership to private-ownership needs to be safe-guarded by the "party," but this is robber-baron, oligarch greed of the highest order.  If they took some, and let the rest go "free" into the market, they'd get away with it, but they want close to all of it.  Their greed knows no bounds.

This kind of behavior will create massive populist anger over time, as more and more of these stories are written. 

We will be reading this stuff for the next two decades...  

12:02AM

Xi summoning his inner T.R.?

Xi will be walking the tightrope for a solid decade.  He needs to reform - but he's a princeling.  He needs to keep the country growing - but he needs to tame its many excesses (especially industry's rampant abuse of the environment).  And all the while he needs to assert China as a true global power - without taking on any unnecessary or risky fights.

If Xi Jinping isn't China's Teddy Roosevelt, that nation is going to end up wishing he was.

[And if you think I mischaracterize TR in any way, you need to read up on your Edmund Morris, for TR started no wars and actually was the first sitting POTUS to win a Nobel Peace Prize.]

Good sign (first cite below) is his early edict that Chinese officials need to cut down on all the pagentry and red carpets and flower arrangements and "empty talk" and spend more time touring the less fortunate parts of their mini-kingdoms.  You know, see how the other half lives now and then.

Very TR.

Bad sign (second cite) is China cutting exploration cable of Vietnam's national oil company as it tries to explore what it considers to be its chunk of the South China Sea bed.

A bit bully, to coin a phrase, but also a bit TR, who was famous for not taking crap off the powers-that-have-been.

We will want to see only the good stuff, and will cringe at the assertiveness, but the two must go hand in hand. Only Nixon could go to China, as they say.  You want Xi to fix things at home?  Well, then he'll need to prove things abroad.  There is a yin-yang balance to national shame and national pride.  Both work to drive a population and its leaders toward "positive" change.

China won't go meekly into its necessary future - nobody does.

The man has his work cut out for him - as towering as task as TR regrading the economic landscape of this country and centering our politics on the middle class.  Third cite notes that "China's murky shadow banking system could amount to nearly 50 percent of GDP and debate is raging about the effectiveness of how it is regulated."

Let's hope Xi is a suitable "traitor to his class."

After all, we lucked out and got two Roo-se-velts [thank you Netherlands!].

And became the greatest power the world has ever known.

The more China replicates that journey, the better off this world is.

And that's the God's honest truth.

Speaking this morning at Walt Disney World at a political post-election gathering of sorts.  I am preaching the progressive gospel to all who will listen.  Hallelujah brother!  Give me a high-four Mickey!

10:32AM

Obesity epidemic: one variant of the punitive approach

WSJ headline says Denmark scraps it's "much-maligned 'fat tax' after a year."

Danish lawmakers have killed a controversial "fat tax" one year after its implementation, after finding its negative effect on the economy and the strain it has put on small businesses far outweigh the health benefits.

Nations including Switzerland, the U.K, and Germany have held up the tax, which applies to any food containing more than 2.3% saturated fat, as a potential model for addressing obesity and other health concerns. But in Denmark, it has been a source of pain for consumers, food producers and retailers as the nation's economy struggles.

"The fat tax is one of the most maligned we [have] had in a long time," Mette Gjerskov, the minister for food, agriculture and fisheries, said during a news conference Saturday announcing the decision to dump the tax. "Now we have to try improving the public health by other means."

The failure of Denmark's fat tax is a demonstration of how difficult it can be to modify behavior by slapping additional duties on products seen by many as essential staples, especially during tough economic times. Products such as butter, oil, sausage, cheese and cream were subject to increases of as much as 9% immediately after the new tax was enacted.

"What made consumers upset was probably that an extra tax was put on a natural ingredient," said Sinne Smed, a professor at the Institute of Food and Resource Economics.

The fat tax comes to an end after netting an estimated €170 million ($216 million) in 2012 in new revenue. Danish lawmakers will slightly raise income taxes and reduce personal tax deductions to offset the lost revenue. The lawmakers also decided on Saturday to reverse an earlier decision to create a sugar tax.

"This is not what is needed in the current economic situation," said Holger Nielsen, Denmark's minister for taxation.

Human bodies are designed to crave fat, especially when we're stressed.  The body is telling us to store up because things seem dangerous.  This is evolution talking:  if things are going south, better to stockpile fat now for the bad days ahead.

Problem is, modern life creates all sorts of stresses and modern food companies love moving this sort of product, because it nets them the highest profits.

End result:  an obesity epidemic.  The food companies know how to trigger our interest, and life provides all manner of stimuli that triggers our desire.  The cost is pushed downstream.  

Governments want cheap food but then regret the healthcare bill that follows.  Governments then try to go punitive - actually on the consumer - by issuing a fat tax that the sellers pass on directly.  Consumers get mad, tax gets scrapped.

Conservatives yell, "nanny state."  But in truth, Western governments already lavish the ag and food industries with subsidies that encourage all this, meaning the nanny state is already here, she's just encouraging us to eat the worst sorts of food (or the most profitable to sellers).  In relative terms, veggies and fruits aren't subsidized, grains are.  So we're being fatted up by our nanny state for the healthcare providers.

Governments can't disincentivize bad eating by taxing people.  They need to rejigger the already bad incentive system for ag and food companies.

Still, the fact that states are trying is an indicator of the progressive agenda that eventually must come.

But Big Food wins another round ("See, the evil government is trying to deny you your bad diet!"  Cha-ching!)

10:14AM

China's looming populist problem

It's right out of 1880s America:

In China, less than 1% of households control more than 70% of private financial wealth.

So noteth the WSJ.

In the US today, we're talking somewhere between 40 and 45 percent.

Globally, says, John Bussey in the WSJ, the number is "nearly 40%," so America's not much off the norm.

But here's the biggest problem for China: a great deal of the wealth is connected to people with political positions (aka, the princelings like Bo Xilai and his now imprisoned wife).  In the US, if you want to get rich, you need to stay out of government (or get rich before you go in, aka, the "fuck you money" that allows you to behave yourself while in power and quit on principle if need be).

For China to truly advance and become a genuine competitive threat, the political system has to decide to divorce wealth from political power.  Otherwise we're looking at decay and decline and a very short "Chinese century."

US hit that moment and launched itself into a multi-decade progressive era that cleaned up a lot of things but government most of all.

As I have said many times, the world needs a small army of Teddy Roosevelts right now - but China most of all.

10:41AM

China comes back to even in its trade with the world!?!

Economist story: "for the first time since 1998 more money leaves China than enters it."

On the surface, you say, "balanced trade!" when what you should really say is "balanced investment!"  But even there you'd be missing the subtext, so sayeth The Economist:

MAINLAND China can now boast over 1m wealthy citizens (qianwan fuweng) each with over 10m yuan ($1.6m), says the latest edition of the “Hurun Report”, which keeps track of China’s capitalist high-roaders. But the mainland seems to be having trouble keeping them. According to the report, published on July 31st, more than 16% of China’s rich have already emigrated, or handed in immigration papers for another country, while 44% intend to do so soon. Over 85% are planning to send their children abroad for their education, and one-third own assets overseas.

The affluent 1m have profited handsomely from China’s economic boom. But only 28% of those asked expressed great confidence in the prospects over the next two years, down from 54% in last year’s report.

Them's some stunning numbers:  60% of the rich plan to emmigrate and 85% are sending their kids abroad - thus perpetuating the attraction of leaving the Mainland.

Frankly, those are numbers and dynamics one associates with post-Cold War Russia or Africa of the past several decades.  There is a looting quality to this circumstance, driven primarily by the sense that China is becoming a dangerous place to have wealth.

Now, we can all get jacked with the dominant populist vibe (check out the "Dark Knight Rises"), but it's a very negative sign when your rising economy's rich people don't want to stick around.  For China it says, we don't trust the - now longstanding - reforms will stay in place.  It also says, we want to go where our wealth translates into genuine political power (rich people are like that).

True political pluralism usually arises when the rich realize that the only way they can keep their wealth is to open up the system for a stabilizing middle class to take the reins of political power. No, they don't enjoy the process, but it beats the alternative - revolution typically from the lower classes.

This dynamic is presenting itself across much of the developing world right now: we see the rise of a truly global middle class and - big surprise - amidst all that wealth creation a super-rich emerges (happens every time), thus the richest-to-poorest delta is fantastically large.  That's when you get nasty populism that, by and large, can either be deflated nicely by a long progressive period of cleaning up the system, environment, politics, etc., or can explode into something far more destructive.  

Europe got that initial middle class about the same time America did, and Europe came up with two scary alternatives:  Bolshevism to prevent that dastardly bourgeoisie from emerging, and fascism, which pretended to protect those "shopkeepers" from radicalized workers but really was about keeping the rich safe and everybody else wound up by freakish nationalism and militarism.

America split the difference brilliantly, plowed through a lengthy progressive era, and centered its political system - along with its economy - on a stable middle class.

We are rerunning that Western experiment now on a global scale, with the biggest democratization process to come being - obviously - China, which faces the daunting task of democratizing amidst a progressivist dynamic (like virtually everything China does, it's a combination that's unusual in its "cramming it in" ambition, but there you have it).  Meanwhile, the West is coming to grips with two stunning problems:  it no longer can manage a blue-collar middle class status and hasn't adjusted its educational system from its industrial era origins, and it's facing a demographic aging wave (less so the US) that forces it to revamp its industrial age pension and healthcare systems rather drastically.

The progressive age that must inevitably unfold globally so as to tame globalization's natural excesses (in this period of rapid expansion) is the most important challenge humanity faces in the next several decades.  Truth be told, global warming will by and large have to await that process before being truly addressed on a systematic level (even as much progress should occur thanks to the fracking revolution and its triggering of widescale movement "down" the hydrocarbon chain).

But back to the point of the piece:  China's movement toward accepting a progressive era is crucial to initiating this process on a global scale, because a China that moves down this path will be less frightening to an America that is currently using the excuse of "scary" China to delay its own internal reforms (the AirSea Battle Concept being just one telling symptom of a general political escapism).

And this is where I go back and forth in my fears and hopes for China.  Whenever I'm there I meet so many in the elite who are acutely aware of all this and realize the global responsibility China's internal development represents.  But then I also meet plenty who can't rise above their own fears for their own status.  So no, this battle is not decisively waged in either direction, even as I take great solace in the whole Bo Xilai Affair and its diminishment of the brain-dead Red revivalism in the interior.

Interesting times ...

10:14AM

India: a nice signpost of the - necessarily - coming progressive era

Nice WSJ weekend piece that chronicles the recent media rise of a sort of muckraking Phil Donahue (the original US avatar of the wave of "truth" exposing shows that blossomed in his wake - Sally Jesse, Oprah, and so on) in India:

The format of "Truth Alone Prevails" is simple. (The show airs on the Star network, which, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.) Mr. Khan introduces the issue of the day to a live studio audience; a short video is shown, featuring a real-world case of hardship or injustice; and then, with only a modest amount of television wizardry, the lights come up and the person from the video is on stage, seated opposite Mr. Khan. And they begin to talk. Mr. Khan does not dazzle the audience with his star power; for the most part, he just listens. It is his guests, often heartbreakingly ordinary, who do the talking.

What emerges from their stories is a creeping horror, a vision of modern India that is stark and deeply unsettling: the family whose mother's life is snatched away, they say, in a botched and unauthorized organ transplant; the 12-year-old girl who accuses a 55-year-old family friend of sexual abuse; the call-center worker who tells of the forced abortion of her female fetuses—six times in eight years—at the hands of her husband's family. Mr. Khan's style is wry and laid back, but occasionally the stories are too much for him, and his eyes well with tears.

Though all manner of cruelty and casual violence are on display, the show is essentially uplifting.

India has not always been comfortable looking this hard at itself. Mr. Khan's show indicates a new candor and boldness, and the response has been staggering. As he told me, "We used to sit back, my team and I, and discuss how people would react, what they would feel. And the kind of response we dreamed of, and hoped for, that is exactly what we're getting." He admits to being emotionally drained by the show at times: "There's a lot of trauma, a lot of distress, a lot of injustice" out there, he said, and he has yet to commit to a second season. But he also says that he encountered an "equal number of examples of courage, high levels of integrity and deeply honed values."

Critics have accused Mr. Khan of being far less reliable on scientific issues than he is on social ones. Some also say that the show is preachy, even messianic, and that its research is not always up to scratch. 

This, and the rise of "bureacratic lit" (obliquely critical books on Chinese officialdom), are signposts - in my mind - of the inevitable progressive wave (lasting decades in length) that both India and China are doomed to "suffer." It's just what comes next . . . after such tumultuous rises where so much of society is exposed to opportunity in which many succeed, some take cruel advantage (nothing succeeds like excess), and plenty feel screwed over (the populist anger impulse).

The end of the WSJ says it all:

What gives "Truth Alone Prevails" its optimism is the voice of India's new middle class, which is increasingly politically and socially aware, though still unsure of itself and its newfound wealth and security. If the old India of my childhood [writer is an Indian part-time expat] - which was a far bleaker place - is to be superseded, it will depend on this new class' ability to understand and defend the freedoms that have enriched it.

Beautifully written and very perceptive piece, and a genuine signpost for analysts who track strategic trends.

9:19AM

When politics stops being "low," the middle class-fueled "progressivism" kicks in

Theodore's respectable and well-to-do New York-based Dutch family was aghast when, as a young man, he told them that he wanted to go into politics. But he was swept up in an emerging progressive age that was directly fueled by America's rising middle class.

India is at the same point now.

Great quote today in NYT:

"We've been told since our childhoods, 'Politics is bad, don't get into politics.' But the point is that somebody has to clean it up. We can't just scold people."

PARTHO NAG, on a new activism among the middle class in India.

Politics considered bad. Somebody has to clean it up.

There's your progressive impulse in a nutshell.