Chicken little forecast

Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.


What Could Go Right? Winds of freedom

We talk protests in Iran, the election in Italy, and the world getting richer

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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David v. Goliath in Iran and Ukraine

Iranians are revolting against their government’s repressive regime following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while under custody of the morality police. (Summary here if you haven’t been following the story—we sometimes choose to save space in this newsletter if we are covering mainstream news.) A hopeful theme we’ve seen repeated recently: Iranians are swimming in new waters.

“In 1979, when women were demonstrating against the threat of hijab, they were alone,” writer Roya Hakakian told Bret Stephens for his New York Times column on the women-led protests in Iran and Russia. Now they have Iranian men on their side—and all of TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram.

“This is really a women’s movement being supported by men and social media, something we’ve never seen before in this country,” said NBC News Tehran Bureau Chief Ali Arouzi on MSNBC. The protestors, continued Hakakian, are “counter[ing] the regime’s misogyny with unprecedented egalitarianism.”

Israeli YouTuber Hananya Naftali tweeted this animation, saying, “Iranian artist Bahadur Hadizadeh creates an animation of Tehran’s iconic Azadi Tower adorned by dark hair blowing in the wind, in solidarity with the brave Iranian women.”

And unprecedented eyeballs. Personally, I saw the videos of women burning their hijabs going viral on TikTok at least a couple of days before I saw any official news coverage. There are plenty of takes out there about how constant, direct access to difficult imagery on social media can lead to compassion fatigue or news burnout. It’s true, for instance, that Ukraine has gone in and out of the news cycle in the last months as attention waxes and wanes. But social media does help grip the world in a way that means related dominoes seem to fall more quickly. All of us have been watching Ukraine, Iran most likely included.

Chess champion and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation Garry Kasparov tied this thought together neatly on Twitter: “The winds of freedom are drifting across the globe. Iran, Dagestan, people are inspired directly and indirectly. If Ukraine can defeat Putin, dictators aren’t invincible.” Can Iranians break free, too?

The return of Italian fascism? Not so fast

Speaking of social media, this video of a speech from Italian future prime minister Giorgia Meloni, elected on Sunday, has gone viral. Media has been quick to tie her party’s fascist roots into coverage. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Italy has started to backslide into fascism.

In The Atlantic, The Progress Network (TPN) Member Yascha Mounk posits that Meloni’s victory “has less to do with nostalgia for Italy’s fascist past than with anger at the country’s parlous present,” rocked as the country has been by the pandemic, and now, inflation. Meloni is constrained by economic realities, pro-Ukraine, and not in a hurry to pick a fight with the European Union, says GZERO Media. 

As Mounk writes, then, “The most immediate concern about Italy’s new government is not any threat to the country’s democratic institutions, still less a return to fascism. Rather, it is what the electoral dominance of the far right will do to the hard-won progress that immigrants and sexual minorities in Italy have made over recent decades.”

Which is a long way of saying, things aren’t good, but they’re not as bad as Mussolini, Part Two. Political views aside, we’ll still give her the kudos for being set to become Italy’s first female prime minister. (This TikTok guy gots the jokes on that.)

Started from the bottom, now we here

Credit Suisse just released their 2022 Global Wealth Report, and the world is getting richer, baby! In 2021, global wealth grew at the fastest annual rate ever recorded, 12.7 percent. When adjusted for inflation the rate falls to just over 8 percent. If you’re sitting there thinking, “bah, the rich getting richer,” you are both correct and incorrect. The big bullets from the report:

  • Global wealth inequality has fallen this century because emerging economies are growing faster.
  • Over the last two decades, the average household has been able to build up wealth.
  • 2021 was a particularly weird year due to irregular, high government spending to mitigate the pandemic’s economic shocks. So while growth will likely slow in the future—especially given potential recession in 2022 or 2023—Credit Suisse expects it to keep going over a five-year frame.
  • North America and China together account for around 75 percent of global wealth growth; Africa, Europe, India, and Latin America grew, too, but together only accounted for 11.1 percent.
This comparison between 2011 and 2021 shows the expansion of the global middle class (the two middle segments). Much of the total membership, 38 percent, comes from China. (And it’s also an interesting way to see where you fall personally on the pyramid.)

Looking at mean wealth per adult, Switzerland, the United States, and Hong Kong are the richest countries, but this result is skewed by the massive wealth of high net worth individuals. A better picture of overall wealth is a country’s median wealth per adult, which drops the US to 18th place. Australia, Belgium, and New Zealand then take the top three spots.

It has been very common to read in the US that during the pandemic the wealthy got wealthier. That is true, but the report also had what it calls an “unexpected” finding: in the US, the bottom 50 percent of households got wealthier, too. As for percentiles 51–99, wealth was redistributed away from them to the top 1 and bottom 50 percent. You can form your own opinion of whether, as the report says, “wealth improvements at the bottom of the distribution offset gains at the top.”

Going the way of the dinosaurs? As if

The odds are low we’d be the recipients of an Earth-smashing asteroid—higher for one that “just” takes out a city—but we may be able to knock the risk entirely off the list soon. This week the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) successfully smashed a spacecraft into Didimos, a poor rock minding its own business in the middle of space. (Didimos’ point of view.) As this National Geographic article explains, it “marks the first time humans have intentionally changed the course of a celestial object.”

The video linked above captures the moment of impact. More videos here.

The video makes it looks like the spacecraft blew Didimos to smithereens, but it actually just knocked it slightly off course. In the coming years, NASA will track its new orbit and survey the aftermath, aka all that rock detritus floating around, so that we would one day be prepared to divert any dangerous asteroids heading our way.

Before we go

Kim Kardashian thinks that no one wants to work anymore. “This kind of rhetoric,” tweeted LinkedIn’s principal economist Guy Berger, is “very disconnected from reality. The share of prime-working-age Americans with a job is well above its 25-year average.” (Chart here.) And we really enjoyed this Financial Times article about the entrepreneurial teens of TikTok building businesses “IRL”—it’s far more wholesome of a story than you might expect. Also, it’s nice to hear that US manufacturing jobs are back above pre-pandemic levels.

Two other bits of progress news around the world: Cubans have voted to approve same-sex marriage. Nigeria is chipping away at their Sustainable Development Goals, registering a drop in child marriages, from 44 percent of children in 2016 to 30 percent in 2021.

And, this article on including gun owners in the gun regulation debate, and the organizations actually doing it, was well worth the read.

Below in the links section, “Isodope” breaks down the advantages of nuclear power, researchers develop a technique to spot deepfake audio, and more.

Progress Pop Quiz

Last week’s question: of the 100 most populous US cities, can you name one of the five where rents decreased the most month-over-month, according to data from August?

Tough question indeed, as no one answered correctly. The top five were Des Moines, Iowa; Anchorage, Alaska; Chicago, Illinois; Irving, Texas; and Plano, Texas.

The future is here, and it is Star Wars.

Legalizing Marijuana, Electric Cars, and What’s Going on with California?

This week on the What Could Go Right? podcast: How has the experiment to legalize marijuana gone? Do schoolchildren need more sleep? Why is California suddenly doing all the things? Plus, bans to usher in a future of electric cars, bail reform, and tackling homelessness with Senate Majority Leader Emeritus Robert Hertzberg. | Listen to the episode

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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.