In a meeting on Tuesday, the woman across from us noted all the distressing news in the world from strife with Iran, Australia on fire, India’s citizenship law, Taron Egerton beating out Eddie Murphy and Leonardo DiCaprio for best actor in a musical or comedy at the Golden Globes* and asked me to give her some optimism. We thought about it a moment and though the world has definitely improved in many ways since 2010, we couldn’t offer too much other than CO2 emissions were down in the U.S. by 2.2% last year. The last few years have admittedly been troubling. The world feels a bit like a friend or celebrity who appeared to have everything–a good family, growing wealth, lots of friends–who suddenly commits suicide. Sure they had challenges and no life is perfect, but it’s difficult to understand their choice. Perhaps we need to set up a suicide hotline for world leaders where they can be talked down from the precipice. While we register our 888 number we answer the question of whether globalization caused inequality, worry about Germany’s nuclear decision and raise concern about a mysterious virus in China. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, the Lambeau Field of international information and data.
*What? You weren’t outraged?
Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.
Did Globalization Cause Inequality
We have been asked to speak at a conference next week on the topic of globalization, international trade and inequality. In ten minutes. That seems as almost impossible a task as explaining it in 200 words here. We would need at least 11 minutes or 300 words to do it adequately. Inequality has gone up in the United States and many other places around the world. But did trade and globalization cause this? Trade has been slowing down over the last three or four years and yet inequality continues to rise in the U.S. China caused localized job losses in the U.S. ten years ago but overall there was a net job gain and the “China Shock” ended over a decade ago and yet inequality continued to rise. Plus, manufacturing jobs have decreased all over the world at roughly the same rate (see first chart below) but inequality did not rise in all these countries that saw manufacturing job losses (see second chart). In fact, inequality is higher in China, the alleged culprit of U.S. inequality problems, than it is in the U.S. Likely a variety of domestic policies affect inequality more than international factors. Globalization may have played some part in a rise of inequality in certain parts of the world, but it was likely minor. As with all complicated effects, there are likely many overlapping causes.
Spiting Our Nuclear Noses with Coal
This story is inspired by one of our loyal readers who has expressed skepticism over some of our clean energy posts. This reader has noted the importance of nuclear energy in their skepticism of wind and solar. We have previously noted our conflicted feelings about nuclear energy—we like it does not emit climate change gases but worry about the radioactive waste. However, Germany is learning about the challenging trade-offs of ditching nuclear energy, which they did after the Fukishima accident. A new paper asserts that “the phase-out of nuclear power comes with an annual cost to Germany of roughly $12 billion per year” and that “Over 70% of this cost is due to the 1,100 excess deaths per year resulting from the local air pollution emitted by the coal-fired power plants operating in place of the shutdown nuclear plants.” There are risks to nuclear power but there are also bad consequences for ditching this energy source for coal. Being reflexively anti-nuclear may feel good but is not necessarily good.
Don’t Forget To Worry About This!
We’re concerned that people do not have enough to worry about in 2020—the year has started out too calmly. So as you repose calm, cool and collected without a worry in the world, we provide this public service to remind you of the mysterious flu in Wuhan, China. As we write, nearly 60 people have been infected with a mysterious viral pneumonia. It is not SARS say researchers who have also eliminated as a cause bird flu, regular flu and a variety of other viruses. That’s the good news. The bad news is researchers don’t know what it is, which in some ways seems worse than if it were SARS or some virus for which we at least have some knowledge. The disease has spread to Hong Kong which is a short high-speed train ride away from Wuhan. Hong Kong, of course, was devastated by SARS and already some Hong Kongers can be seen wearing masks—this time to guard against viruses rather than tear gas. China, after an initial hesitant response, has been relatively open about this new disease. This is important since millions of Chinese are about to start traveling for the annual new year’s holiday, and thus easily transporting and transmitting the disease. Okay, you can now go back to resting and relaxing or worrying about the Middle East if that’s your jam.