Robert R. Blain, Ph.D.,Professor of Sociology,Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville
One vision of R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was a database for making policy decisions for Spaceship Earth dynamically, as one might fly a spaceship, to reach the goal of a good life for 100 percent of humanity. Inspired by that idea, I have developed a prototype of how such a control panel might look and
operate. It is still very much a work in process, a crude device, clumsy now but suggestive of what could become a device for tracking earth social conditions similar to weather forecasting with the distinctive advantage of allowing human intervention to keep our little spacecraft on course.
I began about 1989 by assembling 1986 data for 160 countries from World Development Reports, International Financial Statistics, and the World Book Encyclopedia. The data included life expectancy, Gross National Product per capita, school enrollment, literacy, currency exchange rate, energy consumption, birth rate, urbanization, military spending, political parties, form of government, income distribution, number of languages, and inflation.
I chose life expectancy as my measure of national wealth, understood as wellbeing. Life expectancy is calculated entirely from age specific death rates.
As such it measures overall wellbeing much like body temperature and blood pressure measure body health. Thus, human life expectancy became my guide to good social policy. Whatever maintains or increases human life expectancy, that is, reduces death rates for all age groups but particularly for the very young, is good policy; whatever decreases life expectancy is bad policy.
I use Gross National Product per capita as a far distant second measure of wellbeing. While it is widely used and interpreted to represent wealth, it has been widely criticized for ignoring the content of what is produced. For
example, bombs and missiles add as much to GNP as schools and grocery stores.
Every automobile accident adds to GNP in costs of car repairs and
hospitalizations. GNP per capita also does not reflect its distribution among
the population. Life expectancy is superior on both counts. Being based on death rates, its content represents human life; being based on death rates for all age groups, it reflects conditions for all cohorts of a population.
Given the focus on maintaining or improving life expectancy, the next step was to identify the relationship of other variables to it. For quantitative
variables like school enrollment, the data were graphed and fit as closely as
possible with an equation.
(NOTE: FIGURE TO BE INSERTED)
Spaceship ActLifeExp Control Panel Earth 35013
Human Population Avg. Life Time April 1999
5.99 billion 68.593328792
EDUCATION TRADE PRODUCTION
Schooling Literacy Exchange Rate GNP Energy Yugoslavia.xls(YUGOSL~1.XLS)
Est. Life Time-> 67.798810573 0.92 68.5 0.86 68.911726756 0.83 69.674067253 0.83 69.031966817 0.82
Est. GNP/PC-> 2055.6687781 0.8 1651.6129032 0.63 2502.1579241 0.98 3402.3304899 NA 3001 0.76
Action-> 135 85 26 Automatic 1250
To 300 % To 100% Minutes Per Person kgPC
DEMOGRAPHY GOVERNMENT GOVERNMENT
Births Urban Spending Parties Form
Est. Life Time-> 68.581052632 0.79 68.989966555 0.79 69.393687836 0.65 67 0.53 69.1 0.46
Est. GNP/PC-> 2135.8399878 0.74 5073.7214252 0.7 4276.7669892 0.8 3760 0.27 3598 0.56
Action-> 25 66 270 4 3
per 1000 pop To 100% Per Person (1-9) (1-11)
Income Equality Languages Inflation
Est. Life Time-> 69.35 0.35 64.5 0.29 NA 0.16
Est. GNP/PC-> 9091.8148763 0.5 3284 0.12 1823.4945077 0.39
Action-> 35 3 20
20 is Equal Share (1-7) To 685%
Political Parties Government Languages
1 Socialist & Others 73 8766 1 Federal 75 12224 1 97%+ Same 68.3 5043
2 Two Parties 71 4624 2 Parliamentary 73.2 8454 2 90-95%almost all, nearly all 67.2 4239
3 Communist Only 71 2496 3 Parliamentary? 69.1 3598 3 67-80%&most 64.5 3284
4 More than two 67 3760 4 Monarchy(oil) 67.4 11087 4 2 main 63.4 2940
5 One Dominant 65 2479 5 One Party/Committee 65.8 1969 5 3 or 4 65.2 2914
6 OPEC 63 5546 6 Military/Presidential 62.3 971 6 50%one 57.3 1042
7 None legal 56 3425 7 Presidential 60.7 1735 7 Many 51 467
8 Socialist Only 54 1182 8 Monarchy(no oil) 58.9 1539
9 One, Not Communist 53 1243 9 One Party/Presidential 53.8 902
10 Military 56.1 752
11 One Party/Military 49 218
The equation is 267.79 - 226,990/(Enrollment + 1000). Estimates of life expectancy from the equation correlate .92 (possible 1.0) with actual life expectancies, indicating a good though less than perfect fit.
With qualitative variables such as form of government, I proceeded
inductively. With the help of a graduate student assistant, I read and reread
descriptions in the World Book Encyclopedia, a good source partly because we had access to the 1988 edition. First, we had to decide on a set of categories.
Eventually we settled on eleven categories for form of government, nine
categories for political parties, and seven categories for languages spoken.
Finally, we classified countries and averaged life expectancies and GNP per capita for the countries in each category. .The equations and averages are out of sight of the user (Figure 2). The operator need only click on an up or down arrow to activate the equation and change the resulting estimates of life expectancy and GNP per capita. To observe the effect of different qualitative conditions like form of government, the user clicks on the down arrow to reveal a menu of options. Clicking on one of the options changes life expectancy and GNP per capita to the averages for that category.
The variables are arranged in the spreadsheet by strength of correlation. For example, school enrollment is most strongly correlated with life expectancy, so it appears first, reading from top left. The variable most weakly related to life expectancy is inflation, so it appears as the last panel at the bottom right. The upper and lower limits of each variable are defined by actual upper and lower limits in 1986.
The top central panel labeled Avg. Life Time is the weighted sum of
influences of the other thirteen variables. Each individual panel shows the life expectancy and GNP per capita that would exist if that variable were operating alone. By changing individual variables, the user sees how that variable, if it were operating alone, would impact life expectancy and GNP per capita. At the same time, by watching the top central panel, the user sees how it impacts the weighted average life expectancy and the GNP weighted average - the GNP fourth
panel in the first row.
The user can use the panel to diagnose countries. To do so, the user
selects a country and enters the data for that country. Then the user can identify which variables are raising life expectancy and which are retarding it.
The following figure shows the resultsfor Yugoslavia in 1986 (Figure 3).
Actual life expectancy in Yugoslavia in 1986 was 71 years. The weighted summary influence of the thirteen variables in the spreadsheet is 70 years, indicating that the thirteen variables are fairly comprehensive. By examining each individual panel, we can deduce the influence of each variable. For example, estimated life expectancy for the 184 percent of eligible age children in school is 76 years. Because 76 is more than 71, we can conclude that schooling had a better than average influence on life expectancy. Similarly, Yugoslavia's federal form of government (75 years) and low birth rate of 15 (74 years) were elevating life expectancy.
On the other hand, Yugoslavia's 46 percent urbanization yields an estimated life expectancy of only 63, suggesting that a low percentage of people living in cities was retarding life expectancy. Similarly, having 3 official languages was retarding it. One policy implication is to increase urbanization.
I see at least three improvements that need to be made. First, the panel needs to incorporate foreign relations, particularly foreign debt and foreign trade. Foreign debt can drain a nation like a hemorrhage can drain a human body. Unfavorable terms of trade can also drain a nation. Yugoslavia's exchange rate in 1986 required 25 minutes of work to exchange for $1US, which in the US required only 5 minutes of work. Therefore, trade with the US was a loss for Yugoslavia, ironically, the greater the volume of trade, the greater the loss.
The second future improvement needed is to incorporate variables that
represent environmental costs. For example, increasing energy consumption increases GNP per capita but at the cost of resource depletion and pollution.
Something akin to a temperature gauge needs to be added, so that as energy use
goes up, its dangerous side effects can be represented.
Third, I see a need to incorporate trends. Obviously, 1986 data is out
of date. However, if we simply use more recent data, it too will quickly be out of date. If we could incorporate trends, we could identify the general
trajectory of conditions in a nation and extrapolate somewhat into the future.
Then, instead of having a static photo or cross section, we would have the
equivalent of a motion picture. The importance of this advance is clear for
Yugoslavia. The appearance of overall good conditions in Yugoslavia in 1986
shown in Figure 3 missed the disastrous trend of the economy (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Inflation and Exchange Rate for Yugoslavia
Year Prices (Xrate/HourRate)*60
1980 100 25
1981 140 26
1982 186 29
1983 258 42
1984 402 44
1985 700 36
1986 1330 25
1987 2933 35
1988 8624 65
1989 115577 80
Consumer prices rose from a base of 100 in 1980 to 115577 in 1989. Had a loaf of bread cost $1 in 1980, it would have cost $1,155 in 1989. Yugoslavia's
exchange rate also worsened dramatically. An exchange rate that cost Yugoslavia 25 minutes labor to earn $1 in 1980 cost it 80 minutes by 1989. Such trend data would have shown Yugoslavia in an economic tailspin and could have alerted authorities to take immediate corrective action. Instead the International Monetary fund required Yugoslavia to devalue its currency, exactly the wrong
medicine because its currency was already undervalued. Since correct advice was absent, we have now witnessed the terrible destruction of what had been an advanced and relatively prosperous nation.
The purpose of an instrument panel for spaceship earth as envisioned by Bucky Fuller; is to enable us to anticipate problems and intervene in a timely and correct manner. That is the vision I will continue to pursue as I seek to improve this admittedly primitive version of an instrument panel for Spaceship Earth.
Robert R. Blain, Ph.D.,Professor of Sociology,Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville