Archive | March 2010

Free Markets and Human Rights

I am not a political scientist. I’ll just get that out of the way right now. However, trolling the intraweb for data, I managed to find the CIRI Human Rights Dataset (, a store house of data for more than 200 countries, grading each according to it’s record of recognizing human rights. The dataset includes a number of measures of human rights practices, including free speech, religion, freedom of assembly and movement, voting and the respect of government for women’s rights. Not only is there information for all of these countries, but there’s also year by year data to track human rights status over time. It’s a fascinating data set. Let’s check out how countries do.

Free speech: A societies willingness to exchange and respect conflicting ideas is measured by its tolerance for free speech.  Predictable, the US does exceedingly well (we just don’t shut up), along with Japan, NZ, Iceland and Finland all scoring perfect grades. In addition, Grenada, Nauru, Palau, Samoa and the Dominican Republic all score perfectly. At the bottom of the list are China, Iran Libya, Angola, Laos and the DPRK. At the very bottom is Cuba. Like, a zero. Not missing, Cuba scored a mean of 0 over the past 30 years. So much for the American left’s fascination with Cuba.

If you don’t want to be killed or tortured by your government, you should consider living in the Netherlands, Palau, San Marino or Grenada. If you wanted to be killed and tortured, then most certainly consider Iraq, Libya, India, China, Cambodia, Iran or Russia as a destination. Cuba and Burma may not kill you, but they will certainly be willing to take a power sander to you, along with the DPRK and our friends in Mexico.

In my opinion, a society can be judged in terms of how it respects women’s rights to economic, political and social participation. If they hold the rights of women to be free and outspoken participants in society, they they have respect for human rights in general, I would say. Surprisingly (or maybe not), the US did not top the list for any of the three women’s rights categories. In fact, it was San Marian, Palau, Sweden, Monaco and Finland who stood at the top and the US didn’t even make the top 20. The worst places to be a woman are:  Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Pakstian, Yemen, Burkina Faso and, topping the list: Saudi Arabia. We can be pretty sure that those are places that no woman would want to live, given a choice, but clearly, outside of possibly the very rich who appear on television to tell us how wonderful it is to be a woman in Saudia Arabia, very few have much of a choice to do much of anything, besides produce and raise children. A noble job, but not every woman wants to do it.

So what does this have to do with free markets? Well, apparently everything. I combined the Human Rights database with a dataset of economic freedom by country that had been posted on a the Heritage Foundation’s web site, sponsored in conjunction with the Wall Street Journal ( From their site:

“Economic freedom is the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself.”

Countries are measured on a scale from 0 to 100, 100 being a measure of complete economic freedom. Not surprisingly, the US scores very high, but still under Singapore, Japan and Ireland (!). The worst on the list are the DPRK, Cuba, Eritrea and Zimbabwe.  The freedom to be able to open your own lemonade stand and determine your own destiny is likely linked to other freedoms and rights, but the question for me is, which ones?

I decided to explore the link between economic freedom, but comparing overall freedom scores with various human rights variables from the CIRI dataset. Knowing that free speech is likely important to economic freedom and that torture likely isn’t, I constructed the following:

We can see that countries which have free speech and do not torture their citizens (very much) have high levels of economic freedom. In it appears to be pretty much a prerequisite for  a free economy to not torture people! It was interesting that this relatinship is graded. The more free speech you have and the less you torture people, the higher the amount of economic freedom to let people sell magazine subscriptions, bananas or whatever they may want.

Let’s look at women’s rights:It is not surprising that women’s economic freedom and overall economic freedom highly correlate. Women’s social rights also seem to be tightly related to an economically free society. However, it was fascinating that even countries which have low respect for women in politics, also have high economic freedom. Presumably, this would include wealthy middle eastern countries who treat their women like shit, but let whoever (except women) sell whatever they please to improve their livelihood. However, you have to wonder what kind of future they have if they are treating their women like baby machines. However, it can be seem that the countries with the highest respect for women, also are the most economically permissive and thus the most respectful of individual freedoms.

Now, taking all of the data and running a regression tree analysis, I sought to determine which variables had the strongest connection to economic freedom. I found the following:

Free speech is the most important factor associated with economic freedom. We can see that countries which have little respect for free speech, also have piss poor records of economic freedom. Thus their people not only have to sit there and shut up, they have little opportunities for social advancement, mobility or self discovery. Cuba and the DPRK are in this category. China is one of the dots farther up on the far left box plot, but they can still do better. On the positive side, we find that the second most important variable in determining economic freedom is respect for the political rights of women. It is not surprising that the most permissive of societies are also the most respectful of women.

Many people I know make the claim that free markets and capitalism are the root of all evil and only serve to enslave and destroy citizens, but I have found that free markets are, in fact, associated with postive human rights outcomes all around, while poor human rights records are associated with restrictive governmental policies against property ownership, freedom to buy and sell, and, as a consequence, the freedom of self determination. While the positives and negatives can certainly be argued, within countries this seems to be the case.

Between countries this might play out very differently, as egalitarian and human rights conscious countries may choose to economically support and/or participate with countries that maintain little respect for human rights. The ongoing partnership of the US and Saudi Arabia immediately comes to mind. While the US has a high level of economic freedom and human rights, it creates a surrogate economic zone in one of the most medieval of all countries in the world. However, I think that, regardless of foreign policy, freedom of self determination speaks loads about the level of respect that societies give to their citizens to make responsible choices. Human rights does not imply free economies and respect for property rights, nor vice versa, but it can be seen that these things occur in the same spaces. one may imply the other in practice, but it is likely the case that the absence of one, may necessarily lead to losing the rest.

Now, I am tired…. have to go….. more later…..

John P. Holdren Sustainability Lecture

I just got back from this year’s Wege lecture on sustainability that featured John P. Holdren, “Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.” He laid out the numerous initiatives being forwarded by the Obama administration, including energy policy, science and math education, technology development and funding for scientific research in all fields. I was impressed and relieved to hear about the expansion of governmental support for science and technology development in the US under the present administration, noting that, not in years have I heard a White House representative speak plainly and frankly of the need for climate research and the development of sustainable energy resources. I’ve been numbed by the 8 years we spent under the Bush admin, which touted pseudoscience, political hegemony and a general disregard and distrust  in the ability of Americans to develop competitive scientific research. While I realize that Mr. Holdren’s speech will certainly bias in favor of PR for the White House, the basic message was impressive and I realize how utterly cynical and ugly American politics have become. I also reflected on the American right’s successful poisoning of the most forward thinking and positive executive administration we’ve have in decades, a poisoning that has crept into every facet of political discourse on any side of the aisle.

It is quite easy to chide policy makers as self serving representatives of the upper class, beholden to conspiratory corporate interests. Truthfully, it is too easy. The current administration seeks to gain nothing financially from it’s support of science and technology, and stands to lose much politically, particularly in the face of the current health bill. However, sending an obviously dedicated proponent of the sciences to frankly speak of members of Congress who believe in unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and Biblical pseudo-science in front of an audience of 500 at a major university takes a certain amount of gusto. Politics is no easy business. There are trades of costs and benefits to every decision and a public which would rather hear about failures over successes. I believe that the Obama admin has a lot of hurdles to overcome, but given the make up of Obama’s handpicked advisory groups, I am proud to have voted for the man. The current admin is not perfect, but then no administration can be, given all of the things that everyone wishes it were. However, given the alternatives,, and given the wide spread insanity and corruption of the Bush Administration, I think that we can safely say that the Obama admin is a step above, and is an admin willing to listen to the ideas of the science community.

After a brief lecture outlining the efforts of the Obama administration, there were a number of questions from audience memebers. The very first question was from a likely well-meaning student, who attempted to throw a fast one at the White House by pointedly asking Mr. Holdren why the administration has chosen to support “clean coal” initiatives in its energy policy. Holdren responded by stating that there was no such thing as clean coal, but that there was such a thing as cleaner coal. Given that half of all energy in the US derives from coal sources, we have no choice but to pursue technologies which emit less pollutants and do less harm to the environment as a result of mining. The exchange was telling to me. All too often, the left operates in a black and white world or good guys and bad guys, while failing to contemplate the nuances, realities and complexities of American society. Mr. Holdren was very correct in his response to a less than eloquent pro-lifer regarding the expansion of stem cell lines that has occurred under the present admin. Nothing any administration will ever do will make every person happy, but that they do the best they can, given the circumstances. Administrations can listen, but it is patently impossible to satisfy the demands of every special interest.

I wish my son could have been present at the lecture. I think it would have been educational for him, as he is stuck, as most young people inevitably and respectably are, in a world of cops and robbers, where problems are solved by pseudo-violence and the suppression of sectors of society and the world that they dislike. He, of course, may read this and take issue, and that is fine, but in this respect I find that the youthful left is as guilty as the fundamentalist right in their inability to listen to the ideas of many persons, and to confront realities and facts which they may dislike. It was refreshing to hear Mr. Holdren, who clearly represents a particular political slant that I agree with, but who appears to take a realistic view on what may or may not be possible in the present political and economic climate.

An interesting article by Mr. Holdren:

My Email Inbox

I should be spending more time studying for this stupid test I have to take in May. But screwing around with free network software is much more interesting. In a bid to convince myself that I have a social life, I used NodeXL ( to extract my emails from the past 4 years and was able to draw this cool picture in UCINET 6 ( The software extracts all emails sent to and from me and connects them also through persons CC’d to reconstruct a vast communication network of school and personal emails, spam for academic seminars, football ticket postings and people just writing to complain.  The red dot in the center left is, of course, myself. Colored dots represent distinct groups based on their level of connectedness, most of which represent particular departments that I happened to communicate in, or open mailing lists (hence my mentioning of football tickets sales). Most everyone has sent mail to me only and not cc’d anyone else. Thus, there’s a lot of isolates (people with only one or fewer connections), but the high level of overall connectedness was surprising. Mostly, though, I should get my ass to work.

Social Contact Survey II

Continuing from the previous post, I performed some more analyses of the data to better understand this network analysis business.

First, we need an exploration of basic demographics. I was able to get 63 people to participate in the survey. All but 7 of the people included in the survey were female. Most everyone was from the School of Public Health, which was not surprising since nearly all recruitment occurred through the SPH open student email group. Some recruitment was done through the Rackham Merit Fellowship email group. There were 19 people who were not from the School of Public Health. The largest group represented was Epidemiology with 21 people, 9 from HBHE, 7 from EHS and 7 from Biostat. The other 19 were from other departments.  A department/gender breakdown is as follows:

Respondents were overwhelmingly female. The SPH is also overwhelmingly female implying that is participation was a random act, then we would expect to have more women than men by chance alone. However, I am inclined to think that men are less likely to participate at all if for nothing else, men appeared to have fewer social contacts than women over all. The mean number of contacts for women was 20.34, whereas the mean number of contacts for men was a sad 11.7. Women had a max of 86 contacts. Men scored a paltry 26. The following graphic illustrates the sad social state of masculinity at the SPH:

So basically, if you want to spread some information or perhaps a fun infectious disease, you would have better success to target women rather than men. Specifially, you would want to choose the person who had 86 contacts. According to reliable information, this individual was at a professional conference, and had a reportedly inordinate number of contacts on that particular day.

Using UCINET 6, we were able to calculate the density of the network. 86% of possible connections between people are present within the data. There were 2200 possible connections between individuals within this particular group of people, suggesting that this is a tightly knit social group. Again, this is hardly surprising since participants were recruited out of an already established institutional context. All members of the network were reachable by any other member of the network, indicating that there were no isolates in the entire group. Every one of these 63 people were connected with one another through at least one person in the network.

An analysis of geodesic connections between individuals indicated that the mean shortest path for everyone on the list was 1, that is, it only takes (on average) a single step to get from person A to person B. However, even though average distances may be short, there may be a number of paths to get from person A to person B. If person A has a small number of possible connections to person B, then we would assume that person A and person B are somewhat separated from one another in terms of the level of social connectedness. If person A has many shortest possible connections to person B, then we would assume that person A and person B are highly connected within the social space. Here we see a break down of the mean number of  possible distances between individuals by department:

Overall, the mean number of possible paths between individuals was 1.58. However, we can see that some departments are more connected than others within the group, namely Epid and Biostat, whereas other groups have low number of possible connections, indicating a level of seperateness from the individuals within the survey group. These results were not surprising in that I maintain strong connections to individuals within Biostat and Epidemiology. While I’d like to make some great conclusions about this measure, I can only conclude that my having done recruiting in groups that I am already connected with biases the results somewhat.

This measure is perhaps the most important of all the measures considered in this project. The number of possible paths between people indicate the number of possible paths that an infection may pass through to get from one person to another. Although this group appears to be fairly tightly knit, infections may only have a limited number of possible paths to get from one infected host to one noninfected host.

more later, back to important stuff….

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