Looking at Black America as a separate country

A long infographic looks at how a country solely comprised of Black Americans would compare to other nations. Here is a brief summary:

In the infographics below, two pictures emerge. The first is of a strong nation with considerable manpower and purchasing power. The second is of a troubled, fragile state suffering from socioeconomic disparities and structural subjugation in ways that degrade life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (on some measures, black America resembles countries like Brazil, China, and Russia—emerging powers that are struggling with stark economic inequality). Essentially, what we’re witnessing is a nation that is comparable in certain ways to a regional power existing in the state of Disparistan (or, perhaps, Despairistan). This is more than an inconvenient truth; it fundamentally undermines the United States’ greatest contribution to humanity: the American idea.

Intriguing thought experiment. It would then be interesting to do this for each major racial/ethnic group in the United States to see the clear differences.

Just how different is Canadian society from American society?

I don’t know about the validity of this argument but two sociologists argued a while back that Canada and the United States could be better understand through breaking them into four total regions:

Our research, covering almost 30 years of contemporary and historical analysis, shows the four-regions model fits the evidence much better than a simple two-nations model, in which Canada and the US in general are portrayed as very different. There certainly are other internal differences that could be considered, like those between the US west coast and New England, or between British Columbia and Canada’s Atlantic region.However, we found clear and consistent evidence that the strongest lines of demarcation separate Québec and the rest of Canada, on the one hand, and the American South and non-South, on the other, with national differences usually far less prominent.

In Regions Apart, and in other studies that we and others have conducted, Québec is clearly the most left-liberal region of North America on topics like gay rights, same-sex marriage, common-law marriage, adolescent sexuality, capital punishment, taxation, government spending, unionization, military intervention and so on. The US South is the most conservative or traditional on these same issues. The rest of Canada and the US are usually quite similar on these and other cultural, social, political and economic questions…

What Jim and I called the four “deep structural” principles of the two nations are still intact, though more as ideals to strive for, and not as perfectly achieved realities in either country. These include liberty, individual freedom to pursue one’s goals, while also accepting the rights of others to pursue their goals; equality, the same rights and opportunities for all citizens, though not necessarily the same life outcomes; popular sovereignty, government of the people, by the people and for the people, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it; and pluralism, the belief that all individuals have the fundamental right to be different, even if other people don’t always like or agree with their differences.

As for divergences, I think we have long been divergent in the area of criminal justice, where we see consistently much higher US incarceration and homicide rates, for example. However, even here some differences are exaggerated, for, as shown in Regions Apart, Canada actually has somewhat higher rates for some non-violent crimes, like auto thefts and break-and-entry.

Another area of substantial difference or divergence over the years concerns our roles in the world. The US is far more powerful politically, economically and culturally than Canada, and such differences inevitably give rise to occasionally different views about how to address some of the world’s problems. But we have also been close political allies and economic partners for many decades, so even here our divergent positions can be overstated in many instances, and can regularly change toward more convergence again at a later time.

I don’t know how accurate such an analysis is without looking further at the methodology of how these regions were developed. Why four regions? How was the cluster analysis undertaken? How much variation is within these categories?

At the same time, this made me think: just how much do Americans know about Canada? Could they even identify these two broad regions or some of the key tensions in Canadian life today? On the other hand, I suspect Canadians know more about American life. This could be due to a variety of factors yet it seems odd that we wouldn’t know much about Canada given some of our overlapping background and interests as well as geographic proximity.

Economic output of American metro areas rival that of foreign countries

One interesting indicator of the economic power of American metropolitan areas is how they match up with the output of foreign countries:

The greater New York metro, far and away America’s largest and richest, is projected to produce $1.4 trillion dollars in GMP in 2014. This makes it about the same size as Australia, equivalent the world’s 12th largest economy.

L.A., projected to account for almost $830 billion in GMP, has a larger economy than that of the Netherlands, and would therefore number among the world’s top 20 economies.

Chicago, with more than $610 billion in GMP, is about the same size as Switzerland and significantly bigger than Sweden…

And even far smaller metros can outpace some substantial national economies. With $180 billion in GMP, Denver’s economy is comparable to that of the entire country of New Zealand. Even Anchorage, Alaska, projected to produce nearly $30 billion in GMP, is about the same size as Latvia.

It strikes me that this is also a pretty fascinating look at America’s economic power overall. If each of these metropolitan areas could be their own city-states, having them all in one country is quite a feat. Of course, if they were split up, this could change their economic output. In fact, it would be interesting to play a what if game with that very question: which would US metros would thrive as independent states and which would falter?

Rising global interest in growing numbers of single-person households?

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg drew attention to the growing number of single-person households in the United States but the numbers are even higher in Switzerland:

Sociologists claim that Switzerland’s singletons are changing the housing landscape in the country.

In 2010, the Federal Statistics Office reported that over 36 percent of registered addresses were single-person households, one of the highest proportions in the world.

Here are some Euromonitor figures on single-person households around the world:

-The number of single-person households is steadily increasing globally owing to improving standards of living and a growing trend towards smaller household structures. The number of single-person households globally has risen by 30.1% between 2001 and 2011 and reached 277 million or 14.9% of total households by the end of the period;

-This trend is seen across regions and within both developed and emerging and developing economies. However, it is more pronounced in the developed economies of Western Europe and North America where the proportion of single-person households stood at 31.0% and 27.6% respectively in 2011 compared to 10.9% in the Middle East and Africa region;
-By 2020, the number of single-person households globally will rise to 331 million or 15.7% of total households. The USA will have the highest number of single-person households in the world at 36.3 million followed by China (31.6 million), Japan (18.2 million) and India (17.4 million) in 2020;

The primary objective of this conference is to advance theoretical and empirical knowledge on the formation of single-person households in Asia and their implications for individual well-being and intergenerational relations. We invite submission of papers to examine the trends and determinants of single-person households in Asian countries. Longitudinal and comparative works are particularly welcome.

Family structure in Asia has undergone significant changes in the past several decades. A fast-growing trend that has raised concerns by scholars and policy makers is an increase in single-person households. By 2020, it is estimated that four out of the top ten countries with highest number of single-person households in the world will be in Asia. The increase raises questions regarding how family functions, and indeed regarding the definition of family system itself. Statistics show a high level of heterogeneity among groups who live alone, some by choice, others out of needs. The increasing number of single-person households for both young adults and elderly warrants special attentions as they are the two groups with the highest propensity to live in a single-person household. This group of population may be at higher risk of financial stress or social isolation. In particular, studies on solo-living of young adults are rare in the Asian context. In the face of vastly different paces of change, structurally and culturally, in the region, research that examines the trends of single-person households in different Asian societies would help us to understand the impacts of social changes on families in Asia.

This a rising global trend that has the potential to transform numerous societies. This also might be an interesting example of globalization: a trend that begins among young adults in relatively wealthy countries spreads around the world.

Social network of email between countries shows homophily between culturally similar nations

A new study of email traffic between countries finds some patterns:

The Internet was supposed to let us bridge continents and cultures like never before. But after analyzing more than 10 million e-mails from Yahoo! mail, a team of computer researchers noticed an interesting phenomenon: E-mails tend to flow much more frequently between countries with certain economic and cultural similarities.

Among the factors that matter are GDP, trade, language, non-Commonwealth colonial relations, and a couple of academic-sounding cultural metrics, like power-distance, individualism, masculinity and uncertainty…

To this point, of course, the study amounts to little more than very interesting trivia. The real conclusion comes toward the end, when the researchers posit it as possible evidence for Samuel Huntington’s controversial “Clash of Civilizations” theory. From the paper:

In this respect we cautiously assign a level of validity to Huntington’s contentions, with a few caveats. The ?rst issue was already mentioned – overlap between civilizations and other factors contributing to countries’ level of association. Huntington’s thesis is clearly re?ected in the graph presented in Figure 3, but some of these civilizational clusters are found to be explained by other factors in Table 5. The second limitation concerns the fact that we investigated a communication network. There is no necessary “clash” between countries that do not communicate, and Huntington’s thesis was concerned primarily with ethnic con?ict.

Interesting what can be done with data from more than 10 million emails.

I wonder if it is even worth doing this analysis at the country level. Isn’t this too broad? Aren’t there likely to be important patterns within and across countries that are obscured by this broader lens?

Another possible issue: is Yahoo mail a representative sample of emails or does it provide a particular slice of of email traffic? I would assume it involves more personal email as opposed to business activity.

Country music highlights the ideals of the country in the midst of a suburban nation

A music critic suggests makers of and listeners to country music are mostly in the suburbs, not the country:

Of course the actual lives lived in those small towns are somewhere within these songs, but many of the details are glossed over, romanticized, politicized or just plain ignored. There are megachurches in small towns now, not just cute little white chapels. There are Meth labs. There are business sections of town that don’t look too different from what you see in suburbs around big cities; e.g., not very pretty. There are factory farms, which bring some uglier realities than the idyllic farms of country songs (the stench of large-scale hog farms, for one). There are immigrants from other countries, possibly even (gasp!) illegal ones, often working the least appreciated of the farm and factory jobs. There are eccentricities and new developments that just don’t fit the portrait of rural America in country songs.

Plus, the country singers and songwriters aren’t all living in the country these days, but are just as likely to be found in your McMansions in the suburbs (look, for example, at the neighborhood Brad Paisley stands in, whether it’s actually his or not, in the music video for “Welcome to the Future”).

Country music fans live in such suburbs and cities, as well. Country today preserves the myths, half-truths and conjecture associated with the divide between small towns and cities, rarely acknowledging the gray areas in between. (Montgomery Gentry: “Don’t you dare go running down my little town where I grew up and I won’t cuss your city lights”). In country music today there is a constant sleight of hand going on with regards to “the country life”, shuffling up ingrained ideas of what it means with ones rooted in today or yesteryear.

Sometimes this might be political, a way to smuggle (or, more often, showcase outright) conservative ideas about the way America should and shouldn’t be. More often it’s probably of convenience or laziness, repeating past successes or playing into what artists imagine their audiences want to hear. But on another level this is about genre, about preserving a certain library of scenes and stories, to make the music recognizable as country and further the tradition. Then again, genres are shaped by the minds of the fans as much as the musicians, and by the times we live in.

In this argument about country music, the themes of country music highlight (a stereotype of?) the rural nature of America even as the producers and consumers are all part of a suburban or exurban existence. I tend to think of suburbs as an American adaptation to the issue of cities versus rural areas, a debate that began in the early days of the American project. The suburbs offer some of the city life, particularly the access to business and culture, with some of the country life with single-family homes and lots and a closer proximity to nature. In this case, the genre of music highlights a past era of American history as we are clearly a suburban nation today.

Are there country songs that celebrate the suburbs? I’m always on the lookout for cultural products that highlight the suburbs. Also, is it fair to single out a country music star for a McMansion – do other music stars also in suburban McMansions?

If there is a popular genre of music that holds out an ideal vision of the country life, is there a genre that does the opposite, hold out an ideal vision of city life?