Isolated Issues? There Aren’t Any.

I have an ability that is a blessing and a curse. A few years ago I developed some memory problems, which turned out to be due to low-quality sleep. During the diagnostic process, which included scanning my brain, Ritalin, and a whole battery of physical tests, I also took a variety of brain function tests. On one portion of the test, that having to do with pattern recognition, I scored the highest score the examiner had seen in twenty-five years.

I see patterns in everything. Sometimes this is very useful, because I can often see problems before anyone else. Sometimes this is quite harmful, because I see things that people would prefer to keep hidden. Often it’s just very strange, as I see things that are correlated but don’t have an obvious causal relationship. Occasionally these cause problems for me, because I have a hard time not digging to find a causal relationship. Every once in a while this pays off, because I do find a cause and effect that makes sense.

Where this becomes really interesting is that I see things in a web, where one action can cause multiple reactions, each of which can lead to additional reactions. With patience, I can come up with theories on how one low-cost plucking of a thread can lead to numerous high-value effects. One of the big nexus points on the web is the education of women, because if women are educated, many of a society’s problems decrease, often dramatically. For example, educated women in Brazil have an average of 2.5 children, while uneducated women there have six children. The reason for this is often not obvious to educated Westerners: Uneducated women often don’t know what causes pregnancy, much less how to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

In 1970 the world population growth rate was 2.08%. This year it is estimated to be 1.13%(UN Projections). In 1970 the world literacy rate was 56%. Today it is 86.3%, but for women it is 82.7% (UNESCO). As we bring population growth under control, working on solving poverty and environmental problems becomes easier.

Since the 1990s, violent crime in the U.S. has declined dramatically:


What I find really interesting about this is that I can find studies attributing this decline to three sources:

  1. Removal of lead from gasoline led to a 56% decline in violent crime.
  2. A reduction in unwanted children following Roe v. Wade led to a 29% decline in violent crime.
  3. An increase in the prison population led to a 10-20% decline in violent crime.

There are other theories, but these seem to have the most supporting evidence. What I find interesting is that only one of these fits conventional thinking–the increased prison population–and, as can be seen in the link, many people think that throwing away one percent of our population is too high of a price to pay.

Someone once told me that they liked the way I thought outside the box. My response was, “There is no box.” One of my biggest frustrations is with people who compartmentalize issues, especially those who are jingoistic xenophobes, or, to put it more simply, rabidly patriotic people who think immigrants and foreign aid are destroying the U.S.


The most effective way to cut illegal immigration is to help the countries of origin grow so that their people won’t find it necessary to leave to provide for their families.


No, they didn’t.

People outside the U.S. didn’t take U.S. jobs. Executives of U.S. companies took the jobs and moved them to take advantage of lower wages and, too often, minimal safety and environmental regulations. The same thing happens here, when manufacturers move from the Rust Belt to the Bible Belt to take advantage of Right to Work laws. The law of supply and demand makes such actions almost inevitable, barring protectionist laws.

There are several effective actions that reduce illegal immigration:

  1. Help poor countries with foreign aid. Educational funding, along with related food and medical aid–kids can’t learn if they are sick and hungry–are especially important. (Foreign aid is about 1% of the budget. The average American thinks it is 25%. Oops.)
  2. Encourage private investment in poor countries. Yes, this means that U.S. companies will often create jobs elsewhere, but it isn’t a zero-sum game. Creating jobs elsewhere doesn’t necessarily mean exporting jobs from here: It can mean creating some components of larger products in different places, allowing everyone to have a piece of a larger pie.
  3. Educate illegal immigrants who are already here. Most people don’t want to leave home. I see complaints from patriotic Americans about immigrants waving the Mexican flag. They aren’t doing that to antagonize Americans (usually), but rather to express their patriotism. If we can educate them or their children while they are here working and sending money home, a substantial number will return home with their knowledge to start businesses and boost their home economy.

The only walls that I know of that have worked to stop illegal immigration are the Berlin Wall and the Korean DMZ. The reason both of those walls worked is that the guards can shoot-to-kill. The U.S. Border Patrol doesn’t have–and hopefully never has–that mandate. Trump’s Folly Wall is popular because it is easy to understand, not because it has any chance of actually working. The solution here is really kindness, but some people are too angry to be kind.

I want to close with a small solution to a big problem. In many countries, girls miss a significant amount of school each month, leading to them falling behind and often dropping out. There’s a simple, cheap solution, and many aid agencies have sprung up to work on providing sanitary pads to poor students. Such a simple thing can keep girls in school, and the effects are tremendous.

Small acts can have huge results.


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Filed under Education, Stuff About Me

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