29 July 2018   Leave a comment

One of the more important determinants of the stability of a political system is the belief among citizens that the system offers a better life if one plays by the rules.  In the US, that belief is often referred to as the “American Dream” but other societies, notably in China, have similar visions.  And, generally speaking–with the notable exception of African-Americans–Americans did experience upward mobility:  children often did better than their parents.  Researchers have found, however, that this phenomenon no longer appears to be true in the US:

“We find that rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90% for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s. The result that absolute mobility has fallen sharply over the past half century is robust….we find that increasing GDP growth rates alone cannot restore absolute mobility to the rates experienced by children born in the 1940s. In contrast, changing the distribution of growth across income groups to the more equal distribution experienced by the 1940 birth cohort would reverse more than 70% of the decline in mobility. These results imply that reviving the ‘American Dream’ of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is spread more broadly across the income distribution.”

The last sentence is important because it indicates that simple economic growth will not change this declining mobility.  To increase income mobility will require an explicit effort to redistribute income.


The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security ran a simulation of a pandemic to determine how prepared current institutions are for an outbreak of a serious new virus.  The exercise is pretty straightforward:

“The scenario begins with an outbreak of novel parainfluenza virus that is moderately contagious and moderately lethal and for which there are no effective medical countermeasures. The virus is called “parainfluenza clade X.” Outbreaks of disease first appear in Frankfurt, Germany, and Caracas, Venezuela, and are spreading person-to-person. The disease is spread primarily by coughing and causes severe symptoms requiring hospitalization and intensive care in about half of the people infected. Overall, 20% of the severely ill patients die.

“As the narrative continues, the disease spreads within countries and internationally at an accelerating rate, overwhelming medical facilities. Outbreaks overseas start to infect US soldiers. The first US cases occur on a small college campus in New England after the return of a foreign exchange student. As the pandemic becomes increasingly severe, the EXCOMM must deal with a variety of diverse issues that have policy, political, and ethical dimensions.”

One hundred years ago, the world experienced a global pandemic called the Spanish Flu and estimates are that between 1918-19 somewhere between 20 and 40 million people died from the disease.  That outbreak is regarded by many as “the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.”  The Johns Hopkins exercise, therefore, was, in some important aspects, not far-fetched.  Indeed, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has itself conducted two such simulations, called Dark Winter and Atlantic Storm.

The simulation assumed a human-made (“bioengineered”) virus called Clade X.  According to the exercise:

“The Clade-X adversary is a non-state actor called “A Brighter Dawn” (ABD). This fictitious organization was modeled in part on Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese doomsday cult that developed and used chemical and biological weapons in the 1990s in Japan.”

The Aum Shinrikyo attack occurred in Japan in March 1995 and involved the use of the nerve gas Sarin (which has also been suspected in the Syrian government attacks on rebel positions).  The leader of that attack, Shoko Asahara, as well as six other members of the group were executed by Japan on 6 July 2018.

Business Insider ran a story about the simulation and it characterized its lessons after the simulation concluded:

“Yet by the day’s end, representing 20 months after the start of the outbreak, there were 150 million dead around the globe, and 15 to 20 million deaths in the US alone. With no vaccine for the illness yet ready, that death toll would have been expected to climb.

“‘I think we learned that even very knowledgeable, experienced, devoted senior public officials who have lived through many crises still have trouble dealing with something like this,’ Dr. Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health Security and the designer of the Clade X simulation, told Business Insider. ‘And it’s not because they are not good or smart or dedicated, it’s because we don’t have the systems we need to enable the kind of response we’d want to see.’

“If efforts to develop a vaccine continued to fail, Toner said a disease like this could kill 900 million people, or more than 10% of the world’s population.”

The exercise was broadcast over Facebook and one can view it on YouTube.




Posted July 29, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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