The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It explores another thought experiment, something I’ve done plenty of times before. This one just happens to involve money. Given the recent events with the stock market, I think the time is right to contemplate money and how it guides our lives. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: poverty
Sometimes, it takes a big, jarring, and outright awful incident to spark meaningful change. It’s an unfortunate necessity, given the stubborn proclivities of human nature. People naturally resist change. Change is hard, risky, and potentially dangerous. Even when the current state of affairs is awful, we won’t pursue meaningful change without kicking, screaming, and whining every step of the way.
The murder of George Floyd was one such incident. As bad as previous acts of police brutality had been, this one was just too awful to stomach. It triggered a wide range of vocal protests that, while limited in their impact, has made the need for change more palatable. It’s frustrating that it takes this kind of horror to get us to change an objectively flawed system, but that’s just the cards we’ve been dealt.
While efforts at justice reform and tempering police brutality are important endeavors, there’s another major change that has been brewing in recent months. Again, it’s becoming relevant due to something utterly horrific. In this case, it’s the COVID-19 global pandemic that has upended our lives, our economy, and our politics.
Now, let me make one thing clear. This pandemic is fucking awful. It’s killing people. It is, by any measure, doing a massive amount of harm to people all over the world. There is no silver lining that’s worth all the lives that have been lost and all the suffering this disease has caused. From killing thousands to canceling major events, this pandemic is as bad as it gets.
That being said, this might be the big, horrific event that makes Universal Basic Income a relevant issue and a feasible recourse for the future.
I wrote about Universal Basic Income, also known as UBI, a few years back. At the time, I considered it a fringe issue that wasn’t going to gain traction in the United States, or any other country, for at least a couple decades. It shouldn’t be that radical, giving people money directly instead of having them jump through so many bureaucratic hoops. Unfortunately, it was still seen as an extreme by ever political party.
That started to change with the surprisingly successful Presidential campaign of Andrew Yang, who made UBI the central pillar of his bid. That campaign helped expose more people to the idea while making it a legitimate political policy.
Then, as has been the common mantra of 2020, the pandemic hit and everything changed.
Now, with millions out of work and unemployment benefits being incredibly limited, the idea of UBI doesn’t seem so extreme anymore. If anything, it’s starting to feel necessary. That could ultimately accelerate this issue’s ascension to the mainstream much sooner than any could’ve expected.
In America, millions have already gotten a taste of it in the form of a one-time $1,200 stimulus check. It wasn’t much, in the grand scheme of things. It certainly wasn’t going to fix the many problems that were unfolding as millions of people lost their jobs, due to the pandemic. It was still real money that people desperately needed.
I can personally attest to how useful this money was. Like many, I received a stimulus check around mid-April. While I wasn’t in the same dire straits as millions of other working class families, that check still helped a lot.
At the time, I had some back-taxes that I was still trying to pay off from having purchased my current home. I wasn’t in a position to pay it back all at once. I would likely need a payment plan, which would’ve accrued interest over time. Then, the stimulus check came and I was able to pay it all off at once with no interest. I even had enough left over to do some overdue car repairs.
My situation was not typical. Millions of people spent their stimulus checks on a variety of goods and services, but therein lies the key. It still got spent. In economic terms, that’s critical for a functioning economy. While the state may take a short-term hit in its finances, a sizable chunk of that hit will be countered by people buying things and subsequently paying taxes on them.
While economics is an insanely complicated endeavor, most people understand the importance of having money to spend to keep businesses going and communities intact. Other countries are conducting even bolder experiments in this pandemic. The results vary, but the basic trends are the same. When you give poor, desperate people money, they spend it. They have to in order to survive.
If you’re rich, or even upper middle-class, you have the luxury of saving. An extra $1,200 isn’t going to do much. For some, it’s not even a single mortgage payment. However, since most people aren’t that rich, it’s guaranteed that money is going to get spent and push the economy along. It helps poor people and it generates business for the not-so-poor.
It certainly isn’t without cost, but the benefits thus far have been more than worth it. As more people who experience those benefit, the idea of UBI is only going to grow in terms of appeal. It’ll even become more feasible because these recent stimulus checks have proven that the government has the infrastructure to make this work. It just needs the scale.
Even after this pandemic ends, there will be huge upheavals for rich and poor alike. The economy is never going to be the same. Society will never be the same. The continued impact of automation and artificial intelligence is sure to accelerate that change. UBI might not have seemed feasible or necessary before, but 2020 has changed that. Expect more changes before all is said and done.
This pandemic has caused a lot of pain and irreparable losses. If, however, it can be the catalyst to make UBI a viable policy, then we might be able to draw some meaningful good from it. Only time will tell.
These days, being an optimist is hard. In some cases, you’ll get laughed out of the room for not thinking the world is on a steady descent into a dystopian hellscape in the mold of “Mad Max,” “1984,” or “Idiocracy.” I don’t deny that current events, especially after the 2016 Election, have made optimism difficult. However, that’s exactly why it’s worth talking about.
I do consider myself an optimist, at heart. I sincerely believe that, on the whole, things are getting better for the world, the human race, and everything in between. I’ve even tried to make my case through personal experience and through empirical data. I don’t imagine I’ve changed too many opinions, but I still think it’s important to put that perspective out there.
With a new year upon us, I think that perspective is worth belaboring once more. This time, however, I’m not alone in my optimistic sentiment. There are others who share in my optimistic outlook. Some of those individuals are far smarter, far more accomplished, and far more charismatic than I’ll ever be.
By those standards, Steven Pinker checks all the necessary boxes. While he’s somewhat of a controversial figure in some circles, the man has some solid credentials. He’s an accomplished professor at Harvard and has written multiple books on issues ranging from language to psychology to human nature.
His seminal work, though, is his book, “The Better Angels Of Our Nature.” If you want a compelling reason to believe that the world is getting better by most measures, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s not just about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Mr. Pinker provides real, verifiable information that the world is getting better and human nature is far better than we give it credit for.
Beyond his books and his famous TED Talks, Mr. Pinker continues to make his case for a more upbeat outlook in various ways. Recently, his work was cited in an op-ed article in the New York Times entitled “Why 2017 Was The Best Year In Human History.”
Granted, a title like that is a bit heavy on hyperbole, but the writer, Nicholas Kristoff, is dead serious in making that case. Link Mr. Pinker, he doesn’t just interpret all the ongoing trends in the world through the mind of a stoned hippie. He puts the state of the world into a context that goes beyond all the horrible headlines we saw in 2017.
He, and other optimists like him, tend to look at the broader trends in human society. The data is out there, but it’s hard to put into a compelling headline. That doesn’t stop men like Kristoff and Pinker from making a concerted effort, though.
We all know that the world is going to hell. Given the rising risk of nuclear war with North Korea, the paralysis in Congress, warfare in Yemen and Syria, atrocities in Myanmar and a president who may be going cuckoo, you might think 2017 was the worst year ever.
But you’d be wrong. In fact, 2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity.
A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell.
Again, these trends are hard to see and harder to report on because they don’t happen all at once. If tomorrow, all poverty was magically wiped out, that would be a big news story. However, human progress doesn’t work that way. It’s slow, gradual, and sometimes boring. It does happen, though. The events of 2017 were no exception.
Violent went down. Poverty went down. In fact, they went down to their lowest levels in modern history. Compared to a year ago, 5 years ago, or 50 years ago, the trends we saw in 2017 were all improvements by most objective measures. A lot of these trends are things Mr. Pinker has been talking about for years. Mr. Kristoff simply builds on them.
Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water.
For most individuals, these trends are difficult to notice. That’s largely because they’re driven by forces that most people don’t notice or understand beyond their personal existence. Even in a world that’s so connected and becoming more connected with each passing day, it’s easy to overlook this kind of progress.
It’s also a lot harder when the news is largely dominated by negative headlines that highlight how dissatisfied the general public is with the direction of society. Again, there is a context here and one that I’ve tried to point out before. It’s one of the first lessons I learned in college when interpreting media of any kind, be it the news or superhero comics.
The reason why all these negative headlines are headlines in the first place isn’t because they’re common. It’s because they’re so rare. Stories such as mass shootings, brutal murders, and war crimes make the news because they don’t happen every day. That’s why they qualify as news. They’re aberrations and not normal occurrences.
Conversely, good headlines rarely make the front page because they lack the same novelty and emotional impact as bad news. Naturally, people are going to react more strongly to a horrific headline because our survival instincts compel us to devote more energy to the bloodier, more dangerous information.
That’s why, even if 2017 was the best year in the history of the human race, our caveman brains aren’t going to process that because it’s so focused on all the negative news that came out over the past year. That news may very well be a tiny sliver of the events that transpired in 2017, but that news will still garner more attention, especially in the current digital economy.
We can still take comfort in the progress that happened in 2017, though. No matter how many negative headlines there were, that doesn’t undo the genuinely good things that transpired in the past year. Mr. Kristoff even went out of his way to provide an anecdote, of sorts, that highlighted just how much good can come from even the worst parts of the world.
Granted, this column may feel weird to you. Those of us in the columny gig are always bemoaning this or that, and now I’m saying that life is great? That’s because most of the time, quite rightly, we focus on things going wrong. But it’s also important to step back periodically. Professor Roser notes that there was never a headline saying, “The Industrial Revolution Is Happening,” even though that was the most important news of the last 250 years.
I had a visit the other day from Sultana, a young Afghan woman from the Taliban heartland. She had been forced to drop out of elementary school. But her home had internet, so she taught herself English, then algebra and calculus with the help of the Khan Academy, Coursera and EdX websites. Without leaving her house, she moved on to physics and string theory, wrestled with Kant and read The New York Times on the side, and began emailing a distinguished American astrophysicist, Lawrence M. Krauss.
Think about that story, for a moment, and reflect on how 2017 made it possible. Thanks to all the progress made in global communications, a woman in Afghanistan in 2017 was able to pursue opportunities that would’ve been impossible a mere 20 years ago.
This woman, despite living in one of the most war torn parts of the world, still managed to gain access to the kind of education and informational resources that were once reserved for aristocrats and academics. That, by any measure, is an astonishing accomplishment for humanity.
In many respects, 2017 was the best year ever because it continued the trends had been going on for years. As a result, more people have access to information, education, and the basic necessities of life than at any other point in human history. That, more than anything, is why it’s not unreasonable to say that 2017 was the best year ever.
The fact that concerns over celebrity scandals is a greater concern than poverty, war, or famine shows that we are making more progress than we think. It also bodes well for 2018 being an even better year than 2017. Despite what negative headlines may say, the human race is on an unprecedented winning streak and I hope, along with men like Mr. Pinker and Mr. Kristoff, that the streak continues into 2018 and beyond.
I concede that poverty is not a very sexy topic to discuss. It’s right up there with dead kittens, crying babies, and Paulie Shore movies in terms of unsexy issues. However, it is worth discussing because, like it or not, poverty profoundly affects people.
I’m not just talking about starving kids in Africa either. According to the World Bank, over half the global population lives on less than $2.50 a day. That’s right. Half the global population has to survive on the price of a mid-sized latte from Starbucks. Even though we are getting better compared to several decades ago, it’s still a big deal.
So why am I focusing on poverty? Why am I, an aspiring erotica/romance writer, making a big deal about this issue? Well, there is a sort of kinky pragmatism to it. I understand that sexy erotica/romance stories aren’t necessities. You can’t eat it or pay your rent with it. That means a world full of poverty is also a world where nobody has money to by my books. In that sense, my concern is somewhat self-serving.
That’s not to say I’m of the Ayan Rand branch of philosophy when it comes to poverty. That’s why I made such a big deal of the Universal Basic Income, which I believe will become more and more appealing as we enter an age when machines do more work. However, there’s another reason why poverty matters to me and should matter to everybody with functioning genitals.
It’s true. Poverty affects people in profound ways. So naturally, it would also affect your sex life as well. Believe it or not, people do get paid to study this stuff. Research has correlated poverty with risky sexual behavior that leads to very unsexy impacts. However, the data gets even unsexier than that.
According to census data, birth rates plummet during recessions. That makes sense. Poverty causes a lot of stress and nearly every bit of credible research shows that stress is right up there with bloody rectal warts in terms of things that kill the mood.
Stress makes it hard for a man to get an erection. It makes it hard for a woman to get moist. It makes it hard to set a nice, sexy mood. Stress is the equivalent of kryptonite to sex and what causes more stress than concerns over money?
That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. That’s a serious question that many people, who are much smarter than me, have asked and studied. According to the American Psychological Association, the biggest sources of stress involve money, work, and the economy. These are the top three and they’re all tied to poverty, both directly and indirectly.
The impact of stress and poverty on our sex lives is painfully obvious. However, the way in which that impact manifests in the modern world is changing. It’s still as big a mood-killer as it ever was, but it’s using an exceedingly flawed system to its advantage. If it were a super-villain in a comic book, it wouldn’t even need a master plan. It just needs to work smarter and not harder.
The current generation of young people, the Millennials as they’re often labeled, are at a severe disadvantage compared to previous generations and it has horrible implications for their sex lives. For one, they had the misfortune of becoming adults during the worst job market in a century. People are living longer, working longer, and not giving good-paying jobs to the generation that reveres selfies and Kim Kardashians ass.
Beyond fewer job prospects, there’s one other burden that’s crushing Millennials and their libidos. They are entering the adult world with crushing levels of student loan debt. At the moment, the average student loan debt it approximately $37,172. According to Pew, that’s a 352-percent increase since 1990. Other than stock in Apple, Netflix, and Amazon, few assets have increased that much over that span of time.
This is where it gets personal for me because this has impacted me directly. I went to college. I graduated from a major public university with honors after four years. I did have to go into debt and work a summer job to pay for college, but it was not $37,172. It actually came out to around $10,000. However, I worked my ass off, and lived at home for a few years, to pay that off. It’s as unglamorous as it sounds.
It’s also an option that not every student has when they graduate. Some students have parents who aren’t there to support them for whatever reasons, be they tragic or trivial. Even if they are, they may still end up getting a job at Starbucks to pay off that debt and that’s just not going to cut it.
When I was in college, I had classmates who had over $100,000 in debt, just to attend. That’s basically a mortgage and we still expect these young people to come out of college, get to work, and start making babies to keep the species going? Then, they have the audacity to wonder why some students end up doing porn on the side?
With all these burdens, is it really that surprising that Millennials are less sexually active than any previous generation before them? It has nothing to do with prudishness either. I’m sure many Millennials would like to have more sex, but how can they? Between the stress of a lousy job market and massive loads of student debt, how can they even get in the mood?
This is why poverty matters, both to starving kids in Africa and young people in America. These issues do have solutions. Europe already has policies that make college affordable, and even free, in many cases. There are also absurd legal practices like not allowing students to discharge loans in bankruptcy that can be changed.
Throw in other measures like a Universal Basic Income and maybe, just maybe, people will be less stressed and more inclined to get intimate with one another. More intimacy means even less stress. It also means stronger bonds, stronger families, and better lives in general. If it also means that people will be more inclined to read books by erotica/romance writers as well, then that’s just a nice bonus.