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What Could Go Right? Southeast Asia makes money moves

Millions are being lifted out of poverty, and economies are bouncing back post-pandemic.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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Southeast Asia’s GDP climb

Southeast Asia is making money moves. Especially Vietnam, which between 2010 and 2020 saw a decline in poverty rate from 16.8 to 5 percent, according to a new report from the World Bank. (That rate defined poverty as living on $3.20 or less per day.) That’s over 10 million people no longer in poverty. And while the pandemic set back the country’s economic progress, the report says, it did not reverse it, and Vietnam’s GDP is still growing. In fact, its “GDP per capita has increased fivefold over the past three decades,” said World Bank Country Director for Vietnam Carolyn Turk. The government is working with the World Bank to reach high-income status by 2045, although, like with any reach goal, there are challenges ahead

The GDP growth of neighboring countries Cambodia and Laos is on a steep incline, too, while Thailand’s, although climbing, is doing so more slowly. Maybe it will help that Thailand has just softened its notoriously stringent marijuana laws. (Actually, that’s an understatement—the Thai government is sending out one million marijuana plants to households to encourage small-scale medicinal weed businesses.) In the area, only Myanmar is heading in the wrong direction, the result of not only the pandemic but also the February 2021 military coup there.

You may not know that on the whole we’ve done a good job eliminating the worst of world poverty. In 2018, only 9 percent of the global population was living in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 per day. In 1950 that rate was 53 percent. “The decline of poverty is the great unreported story of our lifetimes,” The Progress Network (TPN) Member Gregg Easterbrook told us on last week’s podcast episode. “And most of it was caused by globalized trade.”

It’s awesome to see news stories popping up about countries whose economic growth was impeded by Covid-19 starting to rebound. Kenya, for instance, is getting their poverty levels back to where they were pre-crisis, and is expected to make gains again this year. They went from 45.2 percent of their population living in extreme poverty in 2009 (using that $1.90 figure again) to 34.4 percent in 2019. Half a million Kenyans pushed back into poverty during the pandemic left it again last year as the economy began its Covid recovery. 

Economics and emissions, a breakup story

As it says below, it’s quiz time! How much have United States greenhouse gas emissions changed in the last 15 years? You can’t cheat by looking below, because over 80% of the people who answered this Twitter poll were wrong.

The correct answer is D, they’ve decreased by about 20%. Yes, really. Proof here. No, that is not enough of a drop for the US to be on the right track vis a vis climate change. But it’s important to know that many rich countries have reduced emissions, and with no cost to economic prospects. 

Part of the reason why it has been so hard to bend the curve of global emissions is because developing countries are, well, developing. They have more people who are looking to live life at the quality of people’s lives in rich countries. That’s excellent, but that requires more energy, which means countries are looking to dirty sources to fill energy demand. So our hats off to billionaire Michael Bloomberg for the $242 million he is giving to ten countries for clean energy projects, including two from our economic darlings above, Vietnam and Kenya. (Our latest podcast episode takes a look at the pros and cons of philanthropy, especially in the clean energy space.)

Current global capacity for carbon capture is at 40 million tons. We’re supposed to get to 1.6 billion tons by 2030. It doesn’t take a mathematics genius to see the problem. But, several new carbon capture projects are in various stages of development, and most of them are expected to succeed.

You love drinking a cocktail and helping the Earth. If that sounds like you, this new vodka created from carbon dioxide emissions may be just the thing to put on a birthday list. And, the Republic of Palau has a world-first initiative to reward “good travelers”—not tourists who drop big money, but ones who treat the environment with respect—with unique travel and cultural experiences. We’re sort of tilting our heads at both, but hey. Carbon-negative products as a consumer trend is not a bad thing.

What if we treated guns like cars?

Did you know that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) considers the dramatic reduction in motor vehicle fatalities since the 1960s to be “one of the most substantial public health achievements of the 20th century”? The progress is ongoing. Between 2000 and 2020, according to new data from the CDC, deaths of young people from motor vehicle crashes have dropped nearly 40 percent. 

The bad news is that while far fewer young people are dying from car crashes, more are dying from firearm-related accidents. Around five years ago, firearm fatalities among young people began to exceed motor vehicle fatalities for the first time. There are many reasons why, including the fact that firearms “are one of the few products whose safety isn’t regulated by a designated federal agency,” says a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine that draws on the CDC data and contrasts the successful federal response to motor vehicle fatalities to the abysmal one to firearm fatalities.

It’s at least one small step forward that startup Biofire has raised $17 million dollars to develop “smart” guns that will only fire for authorized fingerprints. Such guns are not a “cure-all,” as Biofire’s founder Kai Kloepfer said—they would not have made a difference in the case of the Buffalo shooting, for instance—but they should cut down on the risk of teens and kids accidentally or purposely firing weapons that belong to the adults around them. With new interest from an American public now comfortable with smart technology, other companies are on the case as well. LodeStar Works, for example, plans to sell their first smart gun at the end of 2022.

Smart guns won’t solve everything in a country awash in guns. The New England paper has a few more ideas that might appeal to both sides of the aisle, and we appreciated this old Forbes article for the “why don’t we treat guns like cars?” framing.

Before we go

Greece is the latest country to ban LGTBQ conversion therapy for minors. It joins a list of several others that have done the same this year.

Spain is easing abortion restrictions, allowing paid menstrual leave for the first time, and is eliminating the VAT on menstrual products. Thank you, Spain, for reminding us how ridiculous it is to tax menstrual products as nonessential purchases.

Outrage, what is it good for? Preventing women in Louisiana who have had abortions from being charged with murder, apparently. Louisiana lawmakers have pulled and will revise a stupid bill that, among other stupid things, would subject women and abortion providers to criminal penalties.

Some other quick hits: Inflation may have peaked. Russia may be searching for off-ramps. Policy solves for the baby formula crisis one and two, a reminder why a national industrialist policy isn’t so wonderful, and a much-needed humor release

Finally, it’s not money you need to be happy. It’s sex, exercise, and . . . gardening

Below in the links section, solar panels are coming to Ikea and possibly all buildings in Europe, giant drones are fulfilling the promise of flying cars, and more.


Meet the new guide at the Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Turin, Italy. R1 is a talking robot that runs on AI and and 5G. Click to watch a video of R1 at work or read the full story (in Italian, but Google Translate works well enough).

Punishing the Symptoms

When the judicial system sticks to the same old script, it misses the chance to resolve the real issues causing crime. Judge Victoria Pratt shares an an example of the alternative methods she invoked during her time as chief judge in Newark Municipal Court in Newark, New Jersey, where she transformed the courtroom into a place that could punish, but also heal. | Read more 

The Philanthropic Moment | S2 Ep. 8

Is philanthropy helpful? Looking at the giving data during the pandemic as well as the billionaire class philanthropy trends and small-dollar individual political donations, what are the pros and cons of philanthropy? Joining us in this conversation are Rachel Pritzker, founder and president of the Pritzker Innovation Fund, and David Callahan, founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy, to talk through some of the advantages and disadvantages we see in today’s giving economy. | Listen to the episode

Progress, Please

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TPN Member originals 

Become a progress completist with this week’s long list of progress links.

New Book Alert

In this revelatory, unnerving, and ultimately hopeful book, renowned political scientist and TPN Member Ian Bremmer draws lessons from global challenges of the past 100 years—including the pandemic—to show how we can respond to a trio of looming crises: global health emergencies, transformative climate change, and the AI revolution. Drawing on strategies both time-honored and cutting-edge, from the Marshall Plan to the Green New Deal, The Power of Crisis provides a roadmap for surviving—even thriving in—the 21st century.

Learn more about the book and buy it here

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Until Next Time

There’s always money in the rai stone.👇

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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.