Thursday, January 25, 2018

The U.S. Can No Longer Hide From Its Deep Poverty Problem

CreditMatt Rota
You might think that the kind of extreme poverty that would concern a global organization like the United Nations has long vanished in this country. Yet the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, recently made and reported on an investigative tour of the United States.
Surely no one in the United States today is as poor as a poor person in Ethiopia or Nepal? As it happens, making such comparisons has recently become much easier. The World Bank decided in October to include high-income countries in its global estimates of people living in poverty. We can now make direct comparisons between the United States and poor countries.
Properly interpreted, the numbers suggest that the United Nations has a point — and the United States has an urgent problem. They also suggest that we might rethink how we assist the poor through our own giving.
According to the World Bank, 769 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2013; they are the world’s very poorest. Of these, 3.2 million live in the United States, and 3.3 million in other high-income countries (most in Italy, Japan and Spain).
As striking as these numbers are, they miss a very important fact. There are necessities of life in rich, cold, urban and individualistic countries that are less needed in poor countries. The World Bank adjusts its poverty estimates for differences in prices across countries, but it ignores differences in needs.
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An Indian villager spends little or nothing on housing, heat or child care, and a poor agricultural laborer in the tropics can get by with little clothing or transportation. Even in the United States, it is no accident that there are more homeless people sleeping on the streets in Los Angeles, with its warmer climate, than in New York.
The Oxford economist Robert Allen recently estimated needs-based absolute poverty lines for rich countries that are designed to match more accurately the $1.90 line for poor countries, and $4 a day is around the middle of his estimates. When we compare absolute poverty in the United States with absolute poverty in India, or other poor countries, we should be using $4 in the United States and $1.90 in India.
Once we do this, there are 5.3 million Americans who are absolutely poor by global standards. This is a small number compared with the one for India, for example, but it is more than in Sierra Leone (3.2 million) or Nepal (2.5 million), about the same as in Senegal (5.3 million) and only one-third less than in Angola (7.4 million). Pakistan (12.7 million) has twice as many poor people as the United States, and Ethiopia about four times as many.

Deeply Poor in Wealthy Lands

A tally of those living on $4 a day or less in selected developed countries.
Percentage of total population that is poorest …
… and their estimated numbers:
5.3 million
(nearly the
population of
13.8 million
(nearly the pop-
ulation of Sweden
and Ireland
6.9 million
South Korea
Japan 867,000
S. Korea 338,000
Canada 239,000
Australia 157,000
United States
This evidence supports on-the-ground observation in the United States. Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer have documented the daily horrors of life for the several million people in the United States who actually do live on $2 a day, in both urban and rural America. Matthew Desmond’s ethnography of Milwaukee explores the nightmare of finding urban shelter among the American poor.
It is hard to imagine poverty that is worse than this, anywhere in the world. Indeed, it is precisely the cost and difficulty of housing that makes for so much misery for so many Americans, and it is precisely these costs that are missed in the World Bank’s global counts.
Of course, people live longer and have healthier lives in rich countries. With only a few (and usually scandalous) exceptions, water is safe to drink, food is safe to eat, sanitation is universal, and some sort of medical care is available to everyone. Yet all these essentials of health are more likely to be lacking for poorer Americans. Even for the whole population, life expectancy in the United States is lower than we would expect given its national income, and there are places — the Mississippi Delta and much of Appalachia — where life expectancy is lower than in Bangladesh and Vietnam.
Beyond that, many Americans, especially whites with no more than a high school education, have seen worsening health: As my research with my wife, the Princeton economist Anne Case, has demonstrated, for this group life expectancy is falling; mortality rates from drugs, alcohol and suicide are rising; and the long historical decline in mortality from heart disease has come to a halt.
I believe, as do most people, that we have an obligation to assist the truly destitute. For those who believe that aid is effective, this is reflected in their own giving, or by supporting national and international organizations like the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank or Oxfam.
For years, in determining this spending, the needs of poor Americans (or poor Europeans) have received little priority relative to the needs of Africans or Asians. As an economist concerned with global poverty, I have long accepted this practical and ethical framework. In my own giving, I have prioritized the faraway poor over the poor at home.
Recently, and especially with these insightful new data, I have come to doubt both the reasoning and the empirical support. There are millions of Americans whose suffering, through material poverty and poor health, is as bad or worse than that of the people in Africa or in Asia.
Practical considerations reinforce the argument for recognizing America’s poor in the global context. There is a better chance of monitoring the effects of domestic spending than of foreign spending. Money spent by and for fellow citizens, either individually or collectively, is subject to democratic evaluation by both donors and recipients, who can see the effects and who can show their approval or disapproval in the voting booth. Those who donate for projects in Africa often find it difficult to know what good their gifts are doing, let alone to discover whether the intended beneficiaries actually receive or appreciate them.
Official aid from the United States is mostly set by geopolitics — the leading recipients are Afghanistan, Israel and Iraq. Yet the United States is committed to eliminating $1.90-a-day poverty in the world, a target that is not contingent on poverty at home. Britain insists on spending 0.7 percent of its gross domestic product on foreign aid, in spite of occasional difficulties in finding suitable projects and in spite of domestic suffering caused by austerity at home.
None of this means that we should close out “others” and look after only our own. International cooperation is vital to keeping our globe safe, commerce flowing and our planet habitable.
But it is time to stop thinking that only non-Americans are truly poor. Trade, migration and modern communications have given us networks of friends and associates in other countries. We owe them much, but the social contract with our fellow citizens at home brings unique rights and responsibilities that must sometimes take precedence, especially when they are as destitute as the world’s poorest people.
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What’s Right About The Wrong Biennale?

What’s Right About The Wrong Biennale?

Bringing together 1,500 artists across the internet, the global digital art festival known as The Wrong is a democratic alternative to the often elitist system of fairs. Here’s a quick tour through its treasures.
A still from the video "Virtual Altar," by Pieter Jossa, included in the pavilion called Plasma. CreditPieter Jossa
Counting its viewership in the millions, The Wrong just might be the world’s largest art biennale — the digital world’s answer to Venice. To visit, art lovers needn’t purchase a plane ticket, book a hotel or queue outside galleries: Admission requires only internet access. Now in its third edition, running through Jan. 31, The Wrong presents the work of some 1,500 creators who show across more than 100 online exhibition pavilions, with the field’s boldfaced names — such as Carla Gannis, a multimedia artist — alongside upstart talents like Pieter Jossa, a 3-D animator.
The Wrong’s founder, David Quiles Guilló, runs the festival from an off-grid home in Alicante, Spain, far from traditional art centers. Though intended as an alternative to the often elitist system of biennials and fairs, The Wrong seemingly operates by the tenets of older internet culture: It’s decentralized, accessible and democratic — anyone who wants to participate, as artist or curator, can apply.
Its organizers practice “instant radical inclusion,” a phrase coined by Mr. Quiles Guilló and The Wrong’s council member Patrick Lichty. “If you believe your art or your curating talent must be part of The Wrong,” Mr. Quiles Guilló said in a FaceTime interview, “then for us, it’s a must.” The festival accepts submissions of artwork and proposals for pavilions until its final day. “I’m not a specialist in digital art,” Mr. Quiles Guilló added. “I’m a specialist in making structures to support art.”
Christiane Paul, the adjunct curator of digital art at the Whitney Museum of American Art, has watched The Wrong since its birth in 2013 and worked with a number of its organizers and participants. (Some, including Elisa Giardina Papa, Marisa Olson and Lorna Mills, are in the Whitney’s collection.) Inclusive doesn’t mean unimportant. “Anyone interested in the field of digital art,” she said, “ought to pay attention to The Wrong.”
The unwieldy size and picture-free directory of may overwhelm users. Mr. Quiles Guilló admitted he won’t see all of it. Instead, he invites visitors to snack on the art and make return trips. Like early web surfing, before online environments were personalized and organized by algorithms, The Wrong’s magic lies in the sense of discovery yielded by a simple click. Here are a few pavilions and points of interest.

“Leftovers #2,” a digital illustration by Santa France.CreditSanta France

Homeostasis Lab

Envisioned as an open and unlimited forum, Homeostasis Lab is the only exhibition pavilion that has appeared in each of The Wrong’s three incarnations. Its growing collection includes the work of Santa France, a 24-year-old Latvian artist. “Leftovers,” her series of digital illustrations, depicts the stray objects that remain after a breakup. The works are thoroughly contemporary still lifes, showing familiar and banal objects that form the detritus of a relationship. Composed digitally, they bear the brush strokes or idiosyncrasies of the 3-D computer graphics software that created them.
Finding an exhibition venue is a challenge for young digital artists, Ms. France explained. Social media platforms are fickle, and offline galleries are difficult to penetrate. “It’s hard to find a nice community where you can post your work,” she said. Ms. France applied to The Wrong — which enjoys a smaller viewership than, say, Instagram — because it attracts an audience that actively wants to engage with digital art. “When you publish your work on Instagram or Tumblr, there’s an accidental audience,” she explained. “People who look up your work but don’t recognize it as art.”

A still from “Attract Money,” a video by Michaël Borras a.k.a. Systaime.CreditMichaël Borras a.k.a. Systaime


Mr. Quiles Guilló calls The Wrong “a website of websites” and “an exhibition of exhibitions.” Michaël Borras a.k.a. Systaime is a Valencia-based artist, curator and founder of the virtual outpost Super Modern Art Museum, known as SPAMM. Created with Françoise Apter (known by her screen name Ellectra Radikal), Mr. Borras’s new catalog of artworks is called SPAMM Power. It offers a snapshot of the moment in net art, evidencing some of its various aesthetics and techniques, through the work of more than 140 artists and artist teams.
Stocked with hours of content, the pavilion is basically a festival within the festival. As a typology, however, it is subjective and incomplete, Mr. Borras said. “SPAMM has to be so big because there are so many artists on the internet.” It’s the mission of the Super Modern Art Museum to continue documenting those ever-emerging art practices.
Mr. Borras’s own video, “Attract Money,” appears in SPAMM Power.
The work is a maximalist mash-up of icons, clip art and GIF characters. It collapses the partitions of our everyday net habits — the many tabs, windows, and screens — and empties their contents into a single over-rich frame.

A still from “Hello Selfie Miami,” a performance video by Kate Durbin.CreditKate Durbin

Lucky Charms for Dinner

In the pavilion Lucky Charms for Dinner, the Italian artist and curator Kamilia Kard explores the theme of acceleration: how technology has sped up and increased demands on our time. Sometimes, we’re so crushed, she said, that we’re forced to eat Lucky Charms for dinner. One month before The Wrong opened, she invited artists to show new or recent work that considers hyper-connectivity and the ever-present rush. In Kate Durbin’s performance video, “Hello Selfie Miami,” for example, a group of performers, costumed as what Ms. Kard calls “Hello Kitty mermaids,” mug for their smartphone cameras, heedless to the crowd of real-life onlookers.
The institutional art world, where budgets and programming calendars cover years at a time, and the digital art world, with its relative lack of hierarchies and logistical restraints, move at different tempos. This makes The Wrong nimble, responsive and fast. “But fast doesn’t mean shallow,” Ms. Kard said.
“Online initiatives are often based on low production costs, quick communication within networks of friends and followers, and a strong motivation that makes artists participative and makes them believe in your project.”

A still from the GIF “Nasty Woman,” by Carla Gannis.CreditCarla Gannis

GIF Fest 3000

Adjacent to its pavilions, The Wrong also has a number of offline gallery events called “embassies.” The Canadian artist and curator Erica Lapadat-Janzen gathered the work of what she calls “the world’s best GIF artists” for a two-day exhibition, GIF Fest 3000, projected on the walls of a Vancouver warehouse. (The show is cataloged online.)
Ms. Lapadat-Janzen, who has participated in every version of The Wrong, said “it shows just how many people are doing this weird thing we like to call net art.” Sure, it’s unwieldy, she admitted. “It would do well with more organization, easier ways to access things, more spotlights on certain projects. You’ll find really good work, but there’s also a lot of noise.”
But it continues to inspire her to seek out interesting projects, including work by Carla Gannis, whose “Nasty Woman” GIF extends the resistance into virtual space. Her avatar protests from its cyber bedroom, surrounded by other Gannis artworks, reflecting how her personal and private creative thoughts “are increasingly impacted by the politics and inequities of the outer world.”

A still from the “Mutant Club” pavilion.CreditMutant Club

Mutant Club

For the pavilion Mutant Club, the Buenos Aires-based curator Enrique Salmoiraghi wanted to create an accessible, inclusive and collaborative experience. “What better metaphor than the dance club?” he says. “The place where a group of mutants come together and different styles and genders coexist. The dance floor is a space to celebrate integration.”
Navigating the virtual environment with their cursor keys, club-goers explore artworks and architecture, encountering other patrons of this alien discothèque, built by an international team of designers, artists and developers. When digital art and artists are spread across both the web and the globe, Mutant Club, like The Wrong itself, is a venue intended for communities to gather and share.

The Wrong Biennale runs through Jan. 31. Information:
An earlier version of this article misstated Christiane Paul's title. She is adjunct curator of digital art at the Whitney Museum of American Art, not adjunct curator of new media arts.
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Wrong Biennale Hopes to Belie Its NameOrder Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe