How Is China Feeding Its Population of 1.4 Billion?

Center for Strategic & International Studies: “Decades of near double-digit GDP growth have enabled China’s leaders to make considerable strides in increasing food access across the country. Yet China’s economic boom has generated a new set of demographic demands and environmental strains that have affected its agricultural capacity. This feature explores China’s domestic production, the changing dietary demands of its public, and the role international trade plays in China’s food security.”

China Surpasses Canada as Top Buyer of U.S. Crude

Bloomberg Markets: “China became the biggest buyer of U.S. crude oil in February, surpassing Canada, at a time when OPEC is cutting back output.”

“The surge in U.S. shipments to Asia, a market long dominated by Saudi Arabia and other Middle East producers, comes as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries trims output in an effort to end a glut that battered the economies of global energy exporters. Saudi Arabia reduced its pricing for some of its April crude sales to Asia as supplies from the U.S. became more competitive.”

Behind Trump’s Trade Deficit Obsession: Deficient Analysis

Peter Goodman: “In the world according to President Trump, trade deficits are among the clearest indication that Americans have become habitual chumps in the global marketplace. The United States sells fewer goods and services than it buys from the rest of the planet, and this is supposedly evidence that Americans are getting rolled.”

“But Mr. Trump’s portrayal of trade deficits entails crucial departures from economic reality.”

“Trade is not zero-sum. Expanded trade has historically tended to support economic growth, which generates more spoils to be divvied up for all.”

How Offering Driver’s Licenses to Immigrants Here Illegally Makes Roads Safer

NPR Code Switch: “Researchers at Stanford University this week published a study that may bolster the argument that policies aimed at encouraging immigrants to come out of the shadows actually improve public safety. They found that a 2013 California law granting driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally reduced hit-and-run accidents by 7 to 10 percent in 2015, meaning roughly 4,000 fewer hit-and-runs. In that same year, 600,000 people got driver’s licenses under the law.”

“The researchers suggest that ‘consequently, unauthorized immigrants with a valid form of in-state driving authorization have weaker incentives to flee the scene after an accident, because they are less likely to fear deportation.’ Their study also found that the license law did not increase the number of traffic accidents overall, as opponents had claimed it would. It did not decrease the number either. But the decline in hit-and-run accidents was a positive sign, the researchers wrote.”

A World Unsafe for Democracy

Bret Stephens: “How did the world become unsafe for democracy?”

“The striking finding in the Freedom House report is that the global erosion of political liberty is largely taking place in the democracies. People are losing faith in freedoms that no longer seem to deliver on the promise of a safer, richer, fuller, fairer life.”

“If Americans can’t be persuaded of the merits and decency of our system, why should anyone else? If the winner of a U.S. presidential election is a man who embarrasses—or terrifies—much of the free world, how do we make the case to ordinary Russians or Chinese that the road of democracy isn’t simply the way of the buffoon?”

“Americans used to care deeply about the future of freedom in the world. Lose the care, risk the freedom.”

U.S. to Lose $1.6B as Mexican Vacationers Choose Canada

Forbes: “After decades of sitting pretty as a bucket list destination, the stars and stripes might be on their way out. Experts warn that anti-immigration rhetoric as well as confusing travel and electronic bans have dampened foreign interest in U.S. vacations, especially from Mexico.”

“At the same time, Canada has made it easier than ever to visit.”

“Mexico is America’s second-largest inbound tourism market, accounting for some 18.4 million visits in 2015. Just this year, experts predict 7% less visits from Mexico, totaling a $1.6 billion loss in direct economic spending by 2018, according to Tourism Economics, a research firm.”

Ridding the Oceans of Plastics by Turning the Waste into Valuable Fuel

American Chemical Society: “Billions of pounds of plastic waste are littering the world’s oceans. Now, a Ph.D. organic chemist and a sailboat captain report that they are developing a process to reuse certain plastics, transforming them from worthless trash into a valuable diesel fuel with a small mobile reactor. They envision the technology could someday be implemented globally on land and possibly placed on boats to convert ocean waste plastic into fuel to power the vessels.”

Here’s the Real Rust Belt Jobs Problem — and It’s Not Offshoring or Automation

Josh Pacewicz and Stephanie Lee Mudge: “Many struggling U.S. cities and states compete fiercely with one another to attract and keep firms that offer jobs. Unfortunately, these are not the ‘good’ jobs that Americans are looking for, jobs with middle-class pay, benefits and security. This race to the bottom drains public coffers, preoccupies local leaders and fuels voter cynicism. ‘America First’ sidesteps the problem.”

“The Rust Belt’s real problem isn’t jobs fleeing the country; it’s jobs that do not pay well or offer the benefits they once did, and a lack of urban policies to prevent corporations from pitting cities against one another. Only national policy solutions to these problems will help.”

“Failing that, cities and towns will keep racing to the bottom, spending nonexistent funds to bring in uncertain, low-paying jobs that do not result in a healthy tax base.”

Half of Americans Are Responsible for Only 3 Percent of Health Care Costs

Washington Post: “Here’s a simple reason crafting health policy is so devilishly hard: Most Americans are pretty healthy and a few are really sick.”

“The top 1 percent of health-care spenders use more resources, collectively, than the bottom 75 percent, according to a new study based on national surveys. Slice the data a different way, and the bottom half of spenders all together rack up only about 3 percent of overall health care spending — a pattern that hasn’t budged for decades. This creates a fundamental inequality in the country’s health spending that is the crux of the challenge policymakers face: They need a system that works for people who are ill, but is attractive to those who are healthy and spend little on health care.”

A Smarter Way for Trump to Cut Foreign Aid

Jared Pincin and Brian Brenberg: “First, the president should eliminate all tied foreign aid — assistance that must be spent by the recipient country on goods and services supplied by the donor country. Such rigidity drastically increases the cost of foreign aid, by as much as 30 percent — especially when it comes to food.”

“Second, the president should support distributing foreign aid only to countries in true economic need. This would dramatically reduce the number of countries receiving economic aid, allowing USAID to focus its resources where they can do the most good. If the United States focused its foreign aid on countries classified by the World Bank as low-income economies, it would distribute aid in 31 countries, rather than the 158 countries we’re sending aid to today.”

“Lastly, Trump should insist on a Leahy-style amendment for foreign aid. The Leahy Amendment prohibits any military assistance to parties who are guilty of human-rights violations. The same standard should apply to foreign aid, which is designed to promote human development and humanitarian purposes. Adopting this type of restriction on who can receive aid encourages accountability, both in terms of who is eligible for aid and how USAID distributes the aid.”

The Entire Coal Industry Employs Fewer People Than Arby’s

Washington Post: “Another largely overlooked point about coal jobs is that there just aren’t that many of them relative to other industries. There are various estimates of coal-sector employment, but according to the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns program, which allows for detailed comparisons with many other industries, the coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.”

“Although 76,000 might seem like a large number, consider that similar numbers of people are employed by, say, the bowling (69,088) and skiing (75,036) industries… Looking at the level of individual businesses, the coal industry in 2014 (76,572) employed about as many as Whole Foods (72,650), and fewer workers than Arby’s (close to 80,000), Dollar General (105,000) or J.C. Penney (114,000). The country’s largest private employer, Walmart (2.2 million employees) provides roughly 28 times as many jobs as coal.”

“The point isn’t that coal jobs don’t matter — they matter to the people who have them and to the communities they support, especially as they typically pay far more than do jobs in the retail and service industries, But if you’re looking to make a meaningful increase in the number of jobs available to U.S. workers, bringing back coal jobs isn’t going to do it.”

The Looming Budget Disaster

CNBC: “The Congressional Budget Office in its 2017 Long-Term Budget Outlook issued a dire warning to D.C. policymakers about the likely consequences of continued inaction on the budget deficit.”

“Thanks largely to the growing costs for programs like Medicare and Social Security, the federal debt will reach 150 percent of gross domestic product by 2047, the CBO projected, up from an expected 77 percent at the end of this year.”

“The CBO points out that the degree of change necessary depends a lot on how long the government puts off making changes. The accumulation of debt feeds back on itself as net interest payments rise. That means the longer lawmakers wait, the more they will have to invest in program cuts or tax hikes to solve the problem.”

How Public Libraries Help Build Healthy Communities

Stuart Butler and Marcela Cabello: “We’ve noted the importance of “third places” in strengthening communities – meaning those places that are neither one’s home (first place) nor workspace (second place). A range of such third places, from churches to beauty salons, play an important role in community building. They are the informal spaces that are often mainstays in a neighborhood, places where both random and intentional in-person relationships are made.”

“…public spaces and buildings can become important and successful third places. And one particularly interesting, emerging and important example is the public library.”

“Public libraries exist in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods, and typically they have a long history in their community. According to a 2015 Pew survey, almost two-thirds of adult Americans say that closing their local library would have a major impact on their community. As Pew found, over 90 percent of adults think of public libraries as ‘welcoming and friendly places,’ and about half have visited or otherwise used a public library in the last 12 months.”