Tag Archives: Europe

Social Progress Index

A few days ago I read an op-ed at Project Syndicate by Harvard professor Michael E. Porter titled “Why Social Progress Matters“. In it he defends the case for seeking social progress not as opposed to economic progress but to complete it.

Where there is an imbalance between economic growth and social progress, political instability and unrest often arise, as in Russia and Egypt. Lagging social progress also holds back economic growth in these and other countries that fail to address human needs, build social capital, and create opportunity for their citizens. Countries must invest in social progress, not just economic institutions, to create the proper foundation for economic growth.

In order to measure social progress he introduces the Social Progress Index (SPI), created in collaboration with Scott Stern of MIT and the nonprofit Social Progress Imperative, which measures 133 different countries in up to 52 indicators from child mortality, to affordable housing, tolerance for homosexuals, freedom of speech, greenhouse gas emissions… see them below:

Social Progress Index indicators.

Social Progress Index indicators.

I invite you to play with the tool available at Social Progress Imperative website. You can see what place your country of origin or residence ranks in each of the indicators, the consolidated indicators or the more global SPI (DEN #8, NL #9, GER #14, ESP #20, FRA #21).

Coming back to Porter’s article, it is important to note:

Focusing on social progress in this way leads to better development strategies, and builds political support for the controversial steps sometimes needed to increase prosperity. Rigorous measurement of social performance, alongside traditional economic indicators, is crucial to starting the virtuous circle by which GDP growth improves social and environmental performance in ways that drive even greater economic success. […]

[…] Paraguay, for example, has adopted the SPI to guide an inclusive national development plan for 2030. And the SPI is being used not just at the national level, but by regional and municipal authorities as well. States such as Para in Brazil, along with cities like Bogota and Rio de Janeiro in Latin America and Somerville in the US state of Massachusetts, are starting to use the SPI as a measure of development success.

This year, the European Commission will roll out regional SPIs across Europe. […]

[…] Measuring social progress offers citizens and leaders a more complete picture of how their country is developing. And that will help societies make better choices, create stronger communities, and enable people to lead more fulfilling lives.

I see that the debate on inequality is picking up, the concern for climate change is widespread, interest in sustainable development goals is rising… hopefully all these converge into increasing social progress and the dividends of the technological advances can be enjoyed by more. I see this SPI can indeed be an interesting and useful tool.

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30 years of AEGEE

AEGEE stands for Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe and it is the largest trans-national, interdisciplinary student organisation in Europe. You can find here the Wikipedia article about it and here the organisation’s website.

I was a member of the association from 2000 to 2005, while I was studying at the university. So were my brother and sister, and many friends. A couple of days ago, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary since the creation of the organisation, one of these friends, Juan, shared a reflection along the lines: of the many things that I have stumbled upon in my life, the one which changed it the most was AEGEE. He talked about learning, volunteering in associations, taking part in youth councils, meeting friends, organizing events, learning or practising languages, and experiencing what Europe is, beyond stereotypes. I subscribe his reflection word by word.

I have written over 500 posts in this blog and I now realize that I hadn’t yet dedicated a single one just to AEGEE. This is it.

I joined AEGEE in the spring of 2000, after having read an article in a university newspaper talking about the Summer Universities. I applied for one of those summer events in Istanbul. There I spent 2 weeks with about 30 other students from Slovenia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Poland, The Netherlands, Austria, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Spain… that experience was life changing, as you read it.

In the following 5 years I took part in another couple of such summer universities in Croatia and Macedonia. I helped to organize several others in Madrid and The Netherlands (and I casually visited some more). I took part and organized several student’s exchanges under the European Commission’s Youth Programme. I took part in the large event Youth 2002 in Denmark. I travelled Europe from one corner to another. I met friends from the several countries with which today, 10 to 15 years later I am still in contact with, many of which I have visited along these years. I made a couple of round-Europe inter-rail trips. I crossed borders on foot, car, bus, train, boat and planes (we even unknowingly crossed some former minefield in the border Macedonia-Kosovo). I learned that not all countries have as dialling out code the 00. I slept in trains, hunter’s cottages, train stations, airport toilets, planes, buses, gyms, students’ dorms, boats, friends’ homes, and even some youth hostels and hotels (and, of course, the house of AEGEE’s Comité Directeur in Brussels). I met Luca in late 2002, who I married in 2013. Surely, I got my parents’ suspicious of the association and they seeing it as a source of distraction from university studies (it was). But as my friend Juan mentioned: it’s not much of an exaggeration if we say AEGEE might be the thing that has changed my life the most.

If you have been raised far from Europe, it may have had no impact on you. If you studied in Europe, the chances are that it had, even if you had not yet realised about it. Take the Erasmus programme just as an example, from its Wikipedia site:

By the time the Erasmus Programme was adopted in June 1987, the European Commission had been supporting pilot student exchanges for 6 years. It proposed the original Erasmus Programme in early 1986, but reaction from the then Member States varied: those with substantial exchange programmes of their own (essentially France, Germany and the United Kingdom) were broadly hostile; the remaining countries were broadly in favour. Exchanges between the Member States and the European Commission deteriorated, and the latter withdrew the proposal in early 1987 to protest against the inadequacy of the triennial budget proposed by some Member States. However, AEGEE, the Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe, persuaded French President François Mitterrand to support funding for the Erasmus programme. In the next few months a compromise was worked out with a majority of Member States, and the Programme was adopted by simple majority in June 1987.

In 2005 I also took an Erasmus grant to complete my final career project at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH Aachen).

AEGEE was born in 1985 out of the EGEE 1 conference (États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe) held in Paris in April 1985.

In 2003 while travelling to The Netherlands with a Youth programme students’ exchange, my brother, some friends and I made a stop in Brussels. My friend and then AEGEE-Madrid president, Javier, and I wandered through the files of AEGEE-Europe office and made some copies of old press’ articles. Among them the one you can see below of that EGEE 1 conference in which the problem of students’ exchanges was discussed.


Coverage of EGEE 1 conference by Le Monde (April 17, 1985).

May this post serve as a first homage to AEGEE and to all the members who sustained it through these first 30 years. And if you are a university student, the chances are that in your town there is an AEGEE antenna; check it out and join it, you won’t regret it!

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Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman debate on inequality

92nd Street Y (92Y) is a multifaceted cultural institution and community center located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York.

A few days ago I stumbled upon a video related to an event they organized about a month ago: “7 days of genius“. The video in particular had economists Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman debate mainly about inequality, with Alex Wagner from MSNBC as moderator. The video lasts 1h15′. If you happen to follow any of these economists (1) you will more than enjoy the time, as it is not only very informative but at points quite humorous too.

Apart from sharing the video, in this post I just wanted to highlight some passages of which I include excerpts transcribed by myself and some mental notes I made from the debate:

Krugman: “What’s not much known is that since those crisis days a lot of basic economics has worked remarkably well […] ” I’ve spent my life not entirely sure o whether I was a fraud or not […] it’s only been on the past 6 or so years that I’ve said “ok, you know, the staff works”,  the sad thing is that half of the economics profession has thrown away things that we know work […] the real sin is not failing to predict the crisis it is clinging to doctrines that are obviously clear are not working

Stiglitz: “all those fears that printing money would be inflationary was absurd” […] “economist who thought that putting the banks in the hospital for a year and a half, giving them not a blood transfusion, but a couple of trillion dollars of money would make them feel happier and that would get the economy working again. It’s clear that was wrong. That you need a clear fiscal policy, you need a real stimulus, and in a fundamental sense the economy was broken before the crisis and was using a bubble to keep that going, and that’s what we should have recognized.”

Krugman: “it’s been a race between us (USA) and Europe to see who can screw up worse, at the moment Europe is winning..”.

The three of them coincided in criticizing the (Euro zone) single currency with several fiscal policies, different interest rates on public debt, several governments… and even with that structural problem: “the situation is exacerbated by bad economic doctrines […] fiscal hypochondria” (Krugman)

Stiglitz: “we are focusing on too much debt… the real problem is that the fruits of our growth have not been widely shared”.

Stiglitz: “one of the things that Walmart raising their wages illustrates the fact that it’s not just market forces that are determining wages, that they had the power, the choice to raise their wages. […] take CEO pay, which has gone from 30x to over 300x the pay of the average worker without any justification, their productivity haven’t growth 10 times that of society”

Stiglitz: “when you have high level of youth unemployment, particularly men, when they can’t use their energy productively they tend to use them unproductively.”

Piketty: “I’m not particularly pessimistic, I see lots of good new, if you take a long perspective […] Europe is a much more prosperous and equal place today than what it was a century ago, when it was extremely unequal and more unequal than the US and today the US is more unequal than Europe, things change and different choices of policies and institutions can make things change. And also in the emerging world, there are lots of positive evolutions going on. I believe that globalization can help to reduce poverty in the world, assuming that we don’t expect that everything from the markets and we adopt the policies that can make globalization benefit broader groups of population, and sometimes governments do it. Take the example of Brazil”

I also enjoyed the criticism from Piketty to Jean Claude Juncker (current president of the European Union Commission and former Luxembourg prime minister) and its weak defense of his responsibilities in the making of Luxemburg a tax haven.

Finally, from the perspective of being Spanish, I found it interesting the following comment from Stiglitz:

“Let me call back to the question of the role of society. I was very pessimistic about Europe, but one hopeful sign of Europe is the growth of new groups like Podemos in Spain which are saying the old parties are note addressing the problems of raising unemployment and inequality. And now it’s a leading party with 27%. In the end is going to have to be political action that is going to address these issues. Civil society can bring the issue to the floor, but the real challenge is going to be to try to get those ideas into the political process […] in Europe it’s partly because it really collapsed, the real failure of old parties”

(1) I happen to like the three economists, both because of what I have read from them and the policies they advocate. As Luca warned me: the watching of the video made me fall in confirmation bias.

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