Why poverty occurs


When I was small, I was frequently told by my parents to persevere, work hard, and not to be indolent. From the car windows, we often saw young folks in a range of ages – I guess between 5 and 20 – playing guitars on the street side or begging for money. Their bodies were covered in dirt, oftentimes with torn-down clothes, and messy hair. Sometimes, there would be old ladies or men, slowly knocking on the car windows when traffic happened, asking for some pity. Some displayed physical deformities, such as cataract-affected eyes, amputated limbs, or tumors with the size of a human face. “You often have this strong feeling that you want to help them, but sometimes it’s better to be safe than to be sorry,” that is the near-typical expression my parents told me. “When you help a person, their friends will follow suit. And we are also not legally allowed to hand in cash for beggars or street urchins. But where the heck is the government?”

Afterwards, they quipped this familiar line. “That’s why you need to work really hard so that you have a better future.”

And that is also where we build this familiar, generalized adage of correlating people being poor with people being lazy, or ‘not being hardworking enough’. The reality, however, is far more complicating and incomprehensible than the pattern appears on the surface.

I was forever grateful for my family – especially my parents – that my family was able to support my overseas education, and that I was able to study in HKUST, one of the world’s youngest and fastest-rising research universities. And truth be told, if you happen to study in Hong Kong, it is also one of the ‘best’ places in the world not only to learn business, finance, or investment banking, but also to study about poverty. Not studying about poverty as a university major or degree of specialization, but rather to allow us to compare and contrast the unprecedented wealth and income gaps in one of the world’s most globalized cities.

I participated in several community service activities organized by a university-led outreach program throughout Hong Kong, and there, I began to experience – and learn more – about the more ‘sophisticated’ picture of the reality of poverty. If what you perceive of Hong Kong is mostly about its glitzy skyscrapers, you have only seen ‘one-half’ of the reality; you need to come across its numerous dilapidated multi-storey buildings, mostly spread around Kowloon, in order to get the other half of the reality. Inside the buildings, the alleys separating the flats are extremely shallow that you can hardly switch over your body. For a space the size of my own bedroom (back in my hometown), I think there may be like 5-6 ultra-small flats within that ‘alley’.

To make matters worse, there are other ‘quirks’ that epitomize poverty in this city. Many people, mostly elders, live in cages, due to ‘exorbitant housing rents’. There are also people who live in very compressed conclaves between two storeys of a building, to the extent that they can no longer stand, but need to crawl in within these spaces. And I can tell you that they are not lazy, either; these people, aged in 60s, 70s, or even 80s, still continue to eke out a living – an uneasy living – by picking up cardboards across the streets, and selling them to any hawkers for a tiny amount of money. Sometimes, they work for like more than 10 hours a day in restaurants and cafes, serving dishes and/or cleaning tables. Others stand for hours in certain stations to hand out pamphlets or advertising newsletters to any passersby. I once observed an old lady – perhaps already in a mentally ill state – getting in an altercation with a shopping mall security guard because of her pamphlet-distributing activity that is considered ‘annoying’. She murmured to herself in an angry tone while handing out these papers, to the ignorance of the passersby.

It’s not only about the old people. There are also young folks who are already working for hours a day, all the while doing menial tasks. Cleaning up tables in campus restaurants, removing food trays, or mopping the floors. And these people are definitely not lazy, just to keep this thought in mind.

Gradually, there came this awareness that people are poor not necessarily because they are lazy. That’s why it matters to look at the wider circumstances that facilitate such condition. If our parents are themselves poor, there is also a certain degree of likelihood that we will be in the same condition, and inherit it to our children and beyond. That is where the dichotomy comes in: we must work hard to lift ourselves from this evil cycle. But again, the outcomes can be mixed: some of them manage to have their offspring lifting the families out of poverty through education and skills, but others remain in the cycle, or even become economically worse off.

Consider two families of janitors. Just because their occupation is to clean out toilets does not mean we can easily dismiss their potential, especially their dignity. Suppose one family works really hard to provide adequate support for their children’s education; it is possible for them to support these children to finish high school, it is also possible their children can get scholarships to study in some of the best institutions to complete a bachelor’s degree, and it is even possible that they can complete a PhD degree. At the same time, the other family also works similarly really hard, but their children dropped out of high school, and given their inadequate educational backgrounds, end up working in a similar occupation as their parents do.

There are many possible answers on why the outcomes diverge for these two families. It can be mindset. Their parents may frequently tell the children how important education is, and why hard work and achievement matters, but they can also tell the children to ‘forget education, your stomach matters more’. It can be the neighborhoods they are in as well. There may be schools or educational institutions near their vicinity that offer subsidized education and renewable merit-based scholarships, with fully motivated teachers and educators doing their best to educate these guys. But there can also be a neighborhood ridden with crimes, infested with drug abuse, suffering from dilapidated, under-funded schools, obesity, or deadly gang fights. It can also be generational. The similar neighborhood their children live in is no different from the setting where their parents used to live. It can also be due to government policies. There are governments that favor free education and free healthcare because their tenet is social justice, so their families would be pretty much already ‘covered’ under its social security framework. There are also authorities that fully believe in laissez-faire principles, ‘to each one’s own’; your social status is defined by your own making. There are also regimes whose only task is to win the next election by handing out cash and other favored packages to their constituencies. You don’t call it social security; it’s clientelism. It can also be due to countries’ level of socio-economic development. The chronicle of this janitor families changed because the country shifted from a Third World country to a high-income economy. And don’t forget other ‘empirically unexplainable factors’. You can call it luck, bad luck, or if you don’t believe in any of these, simply refer to them as random events, absurdities, what have you.

Let us term them ‘unexpected circumstances’. It could be possible that one of the family members suffers from a terminal illness, and it takes a huge amount of money for its medical treatment. Or that the company the parents are employed in needs to lay off some people, including the parents themselves. Or it can be that an accident befalls to one of the family members, forcing them to forfeit their savings for education to pay for the medical costs. Or that either one of the breadwinners or the other family members is either seriously incapacitated or killed in a gang fight, a robbery, or an attempted murder. Or that a systemic economic or financial crisis takes place and the family lost their savings value. Or that another party wins election and promises to roll back every social security measure to ‘ensure a healthy fiscal setting’. Or that the social security benefits are taken away by other already-middle-class families. Or because of automation. Or that the children struggle to find jobs despite their high school or educational backgrounds. And it could also be possible that the family either never encounters or never becomes seriously affected by any of such calamities.

The reality becomes even more difficult to accept when one reads Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Using years of research output and armed with arsenals of statistical figures, Piketty showed that since early 1970s, most of the world – particularly the Western world – has witnessed a U-shaped growth in inequality (instead of the inverted-U theorem as argued by Simon Kuznets), due largely to globalization, outsourcing of jobs to less developed countries, and more recently, disruptive technologies and artificial intelligence. He argued that in the last 40 years, the growth of capital income has surpassed that of labor income; the larger the capital-labor income gap is, the more unequal a society will be in the future.

How do we define capital income? It can be gains made through productivity improvement when companies invest in sophisticated machines that produce more and better. It can also be gains invested from our parents’ inherited wealth. It can also be home prices. It can also be universities’ endowments. What about labor income? It’s the salaries that we receive from the occupations we are doing. And whether you feel your aggregate labor income is growing or stagnating may depend on the location where you live. As shown by economist Branko Milanovic, the biggest ‘winners’ of globalization in the last three decades are middle class in emerging markets (led by China) and the elites in Western world, while the biggest ‘losers’ are the poorest people living in poor and developing countries, as well as the middle class in the Western world.

It becomes even more confusing when we look into two totally different things: poverty continues to decline, yet inequality continues to increase worldwide. The number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 1.8 billion in early 2000 to now around 800 million as of 2015, but the wealth concentration among the top 1% of the world’s population has surpassed 51% of the global wealth in the same period. Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, in his book The Great Escape (released in the same year as Piketty’s book), argued that the reasoning may be that while many people escape poverty through expanded access to education, healthcare, and other public services, they are still struggling to enter into the middle class. That said, the poverty-reduction effort is a success, but that success is built on a fragile foundation. This may mean that should anything occur, and should these people be ‘unprepared’ of its repercussions, they may either fall back into poverty, or remain trapped in the low-income-but-not-poor-cycle for a very long time.

That said, the reality of poverty is more difficult to understand than normally assumed. I will not take much of the explanation here into direct conclusion, as more research needs to be worked out to better understand its peculiar nature. Still, I think policymakers need to embark on policy innovation, as the world today is dramatically different from the world in the past. Lastly, the ages-old recipe of ‘job creation’ (as politicians like to promise) or ‘poverty eradication’ (as these UN aficionados and/or bravados like to voice out) has sounded so hollow with the complicating realities of today, that we all need to silence ourselves and reconfigure the definition of this concept, one that we think is as simple as street urchins or beggars asking for money on the street side.

Metalosis Maligna – a scary short fictional documentary


A creepy fictional story by Floris Kaayk, about a fictional disease in near future by which a species of metal-consuming bacteria turn steel implants inside patients’ bodies into uncontrolled swaths of root-shaped steel bars, slowly, and very painfully, consuming the flesh, bones, and organs in between. Not that type of Lambshead-esque tragicomedy, though, as the 7-minute short was made in documentary format, including make-believe interviews with fellow make-believe medical experts, patients, and every gory medical thing you could imagine of. And also some food for thought towards the future.

Postcards From the Future: imagining a post-climate change Earth


‘The Gherkin’


Why you should visit this website: long before both North Pole and South Pole completely melt down, long before the rising sea waters flood away most of our planet’s major cities, long before climate change disrupts our whole patterns of life, you had better simply imagine, give a simple glimpse of thought, through these postcards Photoshopped by Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones, of what this world could have been if we hadn’t done anything to reduce the flows of carbon dioxide emissions now already at an increasingly dangerous level. You wouldn’t expect London turning into Venice, Buckingham Palace turning into a huge refugee camp, would you?

Link: http://www.postcardsfromthefuture.co.uk/

Indonesia at 69: preparing the nation towards Type 1 civilization

indonesia independence day


Yesterday, the country celebrated its independence, and as usual, things always get highly festive. Flag vendors, only during this occasional season, mushroom on both the street sides. Nearly every household raises it, while in neighborhoods, ceremonies, traditional games, and big feasts paint the towns red. Outside the country, oftentimes, Indonesian diaspora make way through embassies and consulates, where staff have prepared rows and rows of culinary dishes, mostly held after flag-raising ceremonies and some trivial homesick-making stuff.

But is the country getting better now? I’m obviously certain this question can split readers’ opinions. Some people have this nostalgia of ‘good ol’ days’, when strongman Suharto was in the leadership throne. Imagining back the days when food prices were under control, fuel supplies flourished with barely any necessity for imports, and stability was always the golden key. On the other hand, others believe ‘the country is moving in right direction at this moment’, despite many inherent problems still faced up to this minute. We now have freer press, a fervently-supported anti-corruption commission, and a large number of more politically literate persons. In regard to this question, I personally choose the latter.

Why this answer? This is where I always have to reiterate to my superiors, especially my parents (they missed the old regime, of course, but they didn’t want its discriminatory nature somehow). Firstly, changes always pose risks in the future. It wasn’t that university students didn’t have second thoughts about overthrowing a three-decade authoritarian potentate with no clear successor, but realizing the wrong direction this nation was heading to, doing it was Hobson’s choice. True, in post-Suharto era, things look clearly ‘disorganized’. Fuel prices increase, food prices skyrocket while government seemingly trims the data to make as though inflation were artificially low, crime rates are on the rise, and wealth gap is widening (imagine 100 million middle-class persons living side by side with another 100 million who struggle with less than 2 US$ a day). With decentralization applied en masse, new small political dynasties emerge elsewhere. However, on the other hand, thanks to social media, people are becoming increasingly aware of information flow, social mobility is more intense than ever, young, technocratic, and can-do professionals have successfully transformed their constituencies, and opportunities abound as economy continuously grows unabated. We are, for our imperfection, moving in to the ‘right direction’ at this moment.

So, where will the future leaders bring this country eons forward? What will Indonesia look like decades, or a century, later?

This Saturday, I watched a Big Think video starring Michio Kaku, a prominent Japanese-American theoretical physicist, and also one of my respected idols (I’m particularly more interested in international relations, but I never cease paying my tribute to this wonderful, ingenious thinker). In this talk about the future of mankind in a century to come, Dr.Kaku explains that human civilization, to this moment, is still undergoing transition from Type 0 (which is now) to Type 1 civilization. But, anyway, before you end up befuddled by the fuss I’m mentioning now, I’d better create a brief conception about what it actually is.


All these ‘types’ stuff I’ve written above are known as ‘Kardashev scale’. It is a form of measurement introduced in 1964 by Nikolai Kardashev, a Soviet astronomer. Fascinated with possibilities of galactic, intergalactic, or any ‘larger-than-our-fantasies’ civilizations, Kardashev introduced this system, primarily on account of how much energy they have utilized in operating their machines and devices. Summing up the information from Wikipedia, Kardashev scale is normally consisted of four types:

Type 0 : that is our current civilization. We still rely on fossil fuels to mobilize our economy, scientific progress is still underway, and there remains a substantial gap between those advocating a ‘multicultural, scientific, tolerant society’ and those hardheadedly insisting on ‘monocultural, theocratic, follow-me-others-are-wrong’ traits. We have seen latest trends in smartphones, but we still hear news about primitive tribes isolated in vast jungles, instead.

Type 1: the civilization in 22nd century. They are supposed to have controlled the entire planet, and everything ‘planetary’ is becoming a normalcy. Our future great-grandsons may have already manipulated earthquakes, tsunamis, ocean waves, volcanoes, and captured the entire solar heat on our atmosphere. Interstellar travel between planets will soon become as ordinary as we are all taking planes to the other side of the world today.

Type 2: the civilization in the fourth millennium. They have had the capability to control the entire solar system, inhabiting planets and satellites other than Earth and Moon, for instance, Mars, Io, Ganymede, Europa, Titan, etc. Terraforming – or engineering the whole planet to physically appear like Earth – is intensively utilized in transforming the faces of these worlds. Human colonies have sprung up across the whole solar system, interstellar travel will have been as mundane and ordinary as we are now taking flights, and we can even withstand a hypernova, or possibly, manipulate planets’ distances to make them suit better. We have had multilateral contacts with extraterrestrial forces (suppose they’re as sophisticated as we do), and not impossibly, human-alien hybrids will form.

Type 3: the civilization a million years after we all turn into soil particles. They have already gained the control of an entire galaxy. We may have had 1 trillion stars – or possibly trillions upon trillions of planets and life forms – under our grab. Type-1 and Type-2 life forms are becoming biased towards statistical numbing, thanks to a numerical quantity our imagination is too limited to conceive. Even Star Wars is no match to this civilization’s true potential, I can assume.

Kardashev simply stopped here, but science-fiction authors carry the scale forward to numbers you increasingly can’t think about it anymore:

Type 4: the civilization has controlled the entire universe. With trillions or more galaxies under their hands, the destruction of one, or a cluster, is no more than losing a pile of sands in a beach.

Type 5: the civilization is already in full control of a membrane of universes (multiverse, more or less). A universe may simply be ‘a child’s toy’ they can easily play with.

Type-Infinite (Beyond Numbers and Everything): ‘God’, ‘Holy Father’, ‘The Creator’, everything you name it, that is in charge of everything of everything of everything.

Which kinda brings me to a Von Neumann universe, but anyway, I’ll focus back to Dr.Kaku’s video.

After giving myself some thoughts about the video, I can summarize that the entire world right now is undergoing transition towards Type 1 civilization. The good news is: we’re right now a Type 0.7 (after further calculating our global energy usage in 2008). But, still, even to achieve the other 0.3 is no easy task. The underlying reason: we may have to boost our energy production by a multiplication of 100,000, to the extent we can already manipulate Mother Nature and start to operate them as we all wish. But, several features of a Type 1 civilization are already existent in 21st century, thanks to globalization, and it applies universally to all countries, including Indonesia:

1. English is already the world’s de facto lingua franca. A Chinese and a Japanese encountering each other beyond their home countries will most likely use the language other than either one of their mother tongues.

2. Internet is now accessible to more than 2 billion people worldwide. The number of Facebook users is more or less equivalent to India’s population in the second decade of this century. One billion people worldwide have watched Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ on Youtube.

3. Continental-sized trade blocs are today’s norms for international relations. European Union, NAFTA, ASEAN (by which Indonesia is a Big Brother), African Union, these all are perfect illustrations of a Type 1 economy.

4. United Nations. For all its inherent flaws (the real power-holders are only 5 countries today) and its limitations in preventing conflicts in numerous developing countries (Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan, and today’s ISIS-occupied Iraqi and Syrian territories all testify to their weaknesses), this organization, altogether with its dozen subsidiaries, is already a beginning of ‘new planetary order’.

5. Everywhere we go, rock n’roll, pop music, and rap also follow suit.

Nonetheless, with new eras, there also appear new problems and challenges, all of which, Einstein had already reminded us, couldn’t be solved with strategies we once employed in solving past ones. And here they are:

1. Terrorism. Nostalgic with past glory – and again ‘good ol’ days’, some people are daring enough to disrupt world order for their own sake. See what the ISIS is now doing in Middle East.

2. Global warming. We have heated up the Earth, which takes up to 10,000 years, in only two centuries, thanks to Industrial Revolution. Thousands of exotic species have also gone extinct.

3. Some crazy madman who tries to poke with nukes. But I’m obviously certain that even Kim Jong Un may think many, many times before unleashing nuclear warheads towards either Seoul or Tokyo (somewhat, he needs their political and financial support!). Still, what we should be feared of is the control of those WMDs to the madmen.

4. International relations are gonna be a larger anarchy than ever. I mean, anarchy that is self-controlled. United States, the world’s current superpower, is becoming slightly stagnant. China is becoming bigger, richer, and more aggressive than ever (its neighbors already get its wind up, despite China’s current insistence on ‘non-interference’, up to near future). But new regional powers are also flourishing elsewhere. Japan, United Kingdom, France, and Germany remain dominant major powers, while India, Brazil, and Russia are slowly climbing up the ranks. Indonesia, despite being the world’s fourth most populous country, remains laggard in dealing with global affairs and comes up late in international branding.

What can – and should – Indonesia achieve in realizing its potential towards becoming a Type 1 civilization, despite necessitating nearly a century of process to do so? Here, we must remind ourselves of our inherent problems:

1. Education remains a substantial problem. We remain ranked on the range of 120-130 in terms of delivering quality education. Millions of children and teenagers are not getting what they desperately need, and this, if unsolved, can emerge into a ‘youth bulge’

2. Talking about economic aspect, our mindset remains too limited on ‘fuel subsidies’. As I’ve stated in previous post before (see ‘Jokowi’s homework’), this will always prevail a poison all economists concur. Mass media never ceases reminding us of Indonesia’s depleting oil reserves (only 4 billion barrels and 12 years of constant production rate before it’s completely used up, they say), and we even overlook more the potential renewable energy promises. Researchers from University of Washington have calculated that the daily OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) our planet’s ocean surfaces receive from the Sun equals to more than 250 billion barrels of oil. For a freaking, single day. Exclude ocean wave currents (nearly similar amounts), solar energy itself, wind energy, biofuels (corn, sugarcane, palm oil, and jatropha curcas), biogas from human and animal excreta, and geothermal energy, we all end up oblivious to a bigger picture behind all this potential.

3. Our research & development budget remains too stuffily constrained. With now GDP surpassing 1 trillion US$, government merely allocates no more than 3 billion US$ (when a supposed ideal amount is one more digit this number) for scientific activities. Our best and brightest assets, now employed in world-class universities with strong, sustainable flows of federal funding, are leaving this country.

4. Primordial, religious fundamentalist, and ethnocentric worldviews still dominate much of our society. The elites running our country today remain the same ones running Indonesia in Suharto’s time. Unarguably, that should start to change.

5. We chronically lack a ‘can-do’ attitude. There’s still a high tendency for majority of our populace to ‘beg on others’ hands’. Rely on government to handle fuel subsidies, rely on the rich and nouveau riche to be sympathetic and compassionate (no wonder stampedes happen when they distribute pocket money or free meals), and rely on ‘everyone other than me’ in solving our own problems. Sooner or later, if we don’t change the mindset, we will end up being a huge, lumpy bunch on the global stage.

Again, my personal advice on how to prepare this country towards a Type 1 civilization, be it an infinitesimal, small step or a gargantuan, huge leap:

1. Reform how the teachers should teach! At the very least, we should be glad that OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) ranks Indonesia 2nd after Denmark in terms of ‘world’s most innovative education system’. Not that we have sophisticated labs or larger-than-life devices to achieve such feats, but rather on all the flaws happening in our memorization-based system. But, most importantly, we should really have a long-term set of goals for our educational quality to succeed (something our current Ministry of Education doesn’t really possess).

2. Let the best ones out. Well, that sounds ironic, but for a short term, given our limited capacity to support them, we must export these best and brightest students out, and let them maximize their real potential. Say the least, they can afford to promote Indonesia. Only after we have dramatically increased our R&D expenditure to approximately 3-4% of GDP, coupled with intensive subsidies, incentives offered by our government (I really expect Jokowi to have such courage to do so), and massive improvement in our education system, do our country’s brightest minds will return and contribute to this nation’s development. That will take two to three decades. Once they return, they could bring the expertise and experiences to build space stations, permanent human colonies on Moon and Mars, stimulate nanotechnology industry, explore the seas and the sky to harness energy, or even build powerful artificial intelligence (AI). This will take more than four or five decades to really succeed. But at least, we must start today.

3. Intensify the utilization of renewable energy. Once we’re enough with fuel subsidies, we should be really enough with it. We must put all the taxpayer’s billions of dollars in harvesting such potential, and always start from the simplest ones (say, build biogas factories, buildings and structures lit with solar panels, and open up more lands for jatropha plantation)

4. Let the best technocrats lead the government. We must appreciate that right now, elect-President Joko Widodo is getting really serious about it. Still, a relative number of politicians (as long as they shouldn’t be an absolute majority in cabinet like in the past) can be a counter-balance against the egoistic, self-minded parliament. Some local leaders have also succeeded in implementing such example, and we should applaud such lively dynamism.

5. Crowdsource the government! Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, are always powerful tools in accommodating people’s voices and opinions, and definitely, it is only in this century that such invisible devices can bring authoritarian governments to an end (see Arab Spring). Joko Widodo plays the latest move by mobilizing his volunteer team to let the public recommend who are eligible enough for ministerial posts, a rare initiative in today’s world politics. Moreover, he will crowdsource his ‘blusukan‘ habit (sudden, unexpected outreach to constituents) by accommodating their voices in a single, online platform. With such measure, everyone can take initiatives in improving their neighborhood’s livelihoods.

6. Free trade is a must – albeit at a consequence. Imagine if all the world’s borders are opened up for free trade (under the terms that security guards continue to patrol them), how many times can the whole planet’s GDP multiply. Perhaps it will double, triple, quadruple, or even more. Only with such medium can we enable an unlimited exchange of ideas, products, and new ways in facing an uncertain future. Despite massive opposition by some affected groups, globalization is an enabling stimulant for such occurrence, and its existence is increasingly inevitable. Indonesia must make the best out of this opportunity, otherwise we will end up merely importing outsiders’ products while gradually crucifying our abundant natural resources abroad.

7. Balance religion with science. It’s been too long that we outweigh ourselves with religion, while we abandon scientific approaches in examining the whole universe. It’s time we seek that equilibrium.

From here onward, we must commence thinking Indonesia’s future many generations to come. At least, we must also be grateful to have witnessed, for the first time in human history, a transition phase from Type 0 to Type 1 civilization. Only with collective efforts and better mindsets, can we really achieve Kardashev’s dream. Of going to the stars, and beyond.


Bonus: watch the Michio Kaku’s video below.


Understanding the limitations of mathematics to predict the future: Ronald Meester at TEDxLeiden


Before you watch the TEDx talk, here is one important question. What is the similarity of:

1. A dike designed to withstand a very huge, catastrophic flood with a probability rate 1 : 1000, or which means, a catastrophe can only happen once in a thousand years?

2. A news article which reports that many children born in 21st century will live up to 100 years old?

3. A computational model which can ‘accurately’ predict that a political party’s program, on certain measurements, can either increase or decrease 50,000 votes for every step it takes?

The answer: all these mathematical models are thoroughly false. Full stop.

Reality is not as simple as mathematical models can always predict about every decision we make. One of the most fundamental flaws in it, despite its overpowering usefulness in modern technologies (like Google), is that it can’t make uncertainties certain. Engineers can proudly say that the dike they design can withstand a flood for a millennium, but who knows if God, universe, or aliens you name it, decide to play dices with our fate? That’s where, even our most sophisticated knowledge of mathematics, becomes greatly fallible.

Ronald Meester, a statistics expert, gives this TEDx talk with one very simple, yet abyssal, message: we can’t predict the future. Accept the uncertainties. Full stop. Listen to his talk and think deeper.

The world according to street children




Children often dream about a perfect world. A realm of existence where they are free of constraints in achieving their dreams. Idealists often talk about harnessing universal equality that encompasses all the world’s individuals, either poor or rich. Popular figures often generate all-positive pep-talks, about ‘a better world that is soon to come’.

All this is not until the reality, the medium that constitutes this world of absurd enormities, holds their eyes up.

Troubles, hardships, difficulties, all these words have never disappeared even in such increasingly sophisticated – and often in incomprehensible ways – world, and will never be altered throughout the existence of this cosmos. Among a multitude of problems, and new hodge-podge of troubles generated, an issue that has long yet to be resolved is the chronic presence of street children around the world.

No matter how exponentially rich the civilization is ending up, the abundance of street children poses a harbinger to every respective nation. Ignored after by the societies, detached from their supposedly nurturing loved ones – parents, families, educators, they are living in an absurd, unprincipled world, where wrong is hardly differentiated from right, where evil is barely separated with kind, and where all worst-case possibilities may subsequently happen.

And we all realize that every nation that fails to pay attention to the concerns of the generations often puts itself at great stake.

Ben Faccini, a novelist, attempts to make a comprehensive coverage of street children across the world, from bustling streets in Cairo to potholed roads in Ulaan Baatar. View the full essay here.


One excerpt from Faccini’s essay:

The phrase ‘street children’ is a much-used catch-all term for heterogeneous groups of children. Some live solely on the street, sleeping rough, finding shelter where best they can. Some spend their days in public spaces before returning to a family or a similar support structure in the evening. Others still live with their families on the streets. Overall figures don’t necessarily allow for these distinctions. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates there are currently more than 100 million street children worldwide — an estimate that is often quoted, with all categories of street child included. But it is those children who live solely on the street, away from a consistent adult presence of any kind, who are perhaps the most emblematic of the phenomenon. Research shows that these children leave, or are forced to flee, their homes for many reasons. Family breakdown and the death or illness of a parent are prime factors but, equally, natural disaster, conflict and abuse play their part.

While escaping to the streets is often a child’s only solution, the street provides an ephemeral freedom. It becomes mother, father, school and home. Survival rates are unsurprisingly low. Once on the street, a child can quickly get sucked into a life of violence and sexual exploitation, trafficking and substance abuse. Their existence is overshadowed by the urgent need to find a safe place to sleep and shelter. Those who do survive become forever alienated from mainstream society — and all the more menacing to it as they grow older.