All posts by TPPA = CRISIS

Hi, my name is Hans Hilhorst. I am just a private individual hoping to contribute to our debate about matters of Political Economy. I am not affiliated with or a member of any commercial entity, political party or organization of any kind. - All my life I have been interested in psychology and economics, the things that define human society. I have also always been an avid reader of everything remotely related to those topics and I have gained a fair bit of ‘research material’ and ‘empirical evidence’ during my career through the Neoliberal nightmare, or ‘User Pays’ as we call our brand of Neoliberalism down under. - My opinions are neither here nor there, they are mine alone. I share them merely to throw in my 5 cents, looking for common spirits and clear young minds, open to new thinking. I endeavor though to keep my contributions controlled and prefer to put forward those of the multitude of academics, scientists, thinkers, authors and whoever else of credible authority. Those who have done the research, spoken to the victims, walked in their shoes and dealt with the consequences of our economic and social policies. In this way I hope to show that the cry for urgent attention to our social economic policies is not just the sound of a leftist mob, but a well supported and professional crowd of experts from around the globe. - I wish to stir the debate on our economic direction. I think it has been lopsided. Not because we are biased or stupid, but because we have been deliberately misinformed, censored and deceived. - At this juncture in time we are truly faced with the consequences of our progress: Robot Domination! Will it be like SkyNet and Arnie’s goldmine or just a happy invasion of our workplaces, allowing us time for ‘the good life’, the beach, and reading. - Hans

OUR SUPEREGO. Soul without Shame. A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within – Byron Brown.

We all want to be free and happy. Many of us believe that we can attain these qualities through external success, and so we tend to see our obstacles as out there in the world, in people and situations. When we recognize that the promise of fulfillment and what stands in its way are both within us, we begin the inner journey.

It is a journey into our own consciousness and experience, a path of discovery and realization of the inner riches of human potentiality. Even though it is a thrilling adventure, the inner journey, as with any real adventure, is not an easy one, for it is full of challenges and difficulties, obstacles and barriers.

The inner obstacles have been known and discussed for thousands of years by many of the wisdom teachings and teachers. However, some of these primary obstacles could not be understood in a precise and detailed manner until the development of modern depth psychology. Now with this understanding the inner journey is assisted in ways not possible in previous times. One of these obstacles to inner work and spiritual realization is the painful and difficult one of the inner critic, the coercive agency within us that criticizes, judges, compares, condemns, blames, and attacks us and others mercilessly and constantly.

Depth psychology has demonstrated that we always develop a part of our selves to take the role of inner conscience, traditionally referred to as the superego. But this ego structure of conscience is built mostly through identification with the judging, critical, blaming, and punishing attitudes in the environment we grow up in. It becomes a harsh judge and a cruel source of punishment, instead of being the light of true conscience. It tends to develop into a rigid part of our mind that embodies inflexible rules and commandments, impermeable to understanding and deaf to reality.

The superego becomes one of the main sources of inner suffering, through low self-esteem, guilt, shame, devaluation, and self-recrimination.

It acts whenever it recognizes in our experience of ourselves, or in the perception of others, something of which it does not approve. Besides the pervasive suffering it causes in our experience, the rigidity and judgment of the inner critic make it difficult for us to go deeply into ourselves. This is because we are attacked by it every time we uncover something of which it disapproves. So in the inner journey, we either unnecessarily suffer, or to avoid this suffering we veer away from parts of our own experience. In both cases, our inner work becomes difficult and limited, and frequently comes to a halt.

Because of the greater understanding of the genesis and structure of the inner critic available in modern depth psychology, we can now deal with it more effectively than ever before. We can recognize it for what it is, address it in ways that liberate us from its cruel inner attacks, and henceforth journey inwards with greater freedom and more enjoyment of the thrill of discovery.

This book is unique in providing the reader with the understanding and methodology to do just that.

In very clear and available language, it details how to recognize the inner critic and how to effectively deal with it. Byron Brown’s presentation is useful for any individual who wishes to be free from the inner suffering and coercion of this ancient foe of our humanity, but it is specifically directed to those individuals interested and engaged in the inner journey toward realization and enlightenment.

Byron has been a student of mine for many years, and a teacher with considerable experience in the Diamond Approach to the inner journey. He has expressed his own understanding of how to work with the judge, culled from many years of his own inner work, and his work with students and groups, in a way that reveals its roots in the actual essential states of inner realization. As a result, this book is not only a study of the inner critic and how to deal with it, but a clear presentation of how this work can be done in a way that actually helps reveal our true and spiritual nature. In other words, it demonstrates how the work on the inner critic can become a path toward realizing true conscience, the essential conscience of which the inner critic is merely a limited imitation.

Byron has also succeeded in demonstrating how the work with the inner critic and the arising of inner spiritual states are related, and how they contribute to and support each other. His extensive understanding of the subject matter derives not only from his own inner work and work with students in the Ridhwan School, but also from the many classes he developed and taught, devoted specifically to working with the inner critic.

I believe the reader will find this book a unique opportunity to deal with an age-old problem, with intelligence and efficiency. The application of its knowledge will contribute significantly to one’s inner development.

A. H. Almaas


During the many years l have been teaching people how to work with self-criticism, I have witnessed a great deal of suffering resulting directly from the negative ways people treat themselves. I have also seen their surprise and concern as they come to recognize how serious this situation is. Perhaps most important, I see their hunger for a sense of personal integrity based on compassion and understanding rather than a belief in deficiency based on self-blame.

There is nothing more poignant and heartwrenching than to witness a friend treat himself badly out of a well-intentioned desire to do the best thing. It is painful to see his self-punishment, to recognize its inappropriateness, and to know you are helpless to stop it. You are helpless because the friend sees his actions as the logical and necessary outcome of who he is. Even when he recognizes the pain and struggle caused by the self-blame, he is not necessarily any closer to stopping it from happening.

You might see that he believes he is responsible for something he is not and want him to recognize that. You may try to talk to this friend about it or give him books to read. But these things will have little lasting impact on his internal world unless they awaken his hunger to know himself beyond his hopes and fears.

To challenge your own patterns of self-judgment is an equally difficult task. Simply to recognize how harsh and intolerant you can be toward yourself is uncomfortable enough. But to expose and explore this part of yourself also means questioning basic assumptions about your upbringing and the society in which you live. This may mean setting personal priorities counter to those held by friends, family, and colleagues, something that is hard to do alone.

For this reason, you can benefit greatly from doing inner critic work with like-minded souls in workshops or ongoing groups. You see that you are not alone in your patterns of self-blame, and you receive external support for challenging these patterns. Working with others can counteract the isolation that you fear will come as you begin questioning the standards of those around you as well as your own expectations.

For those who do not have the opportunity to be in a group that supports this focus, working with the inner critic can be a lonely and often discouraging process. A book can give some background, suggest ways of working, and offer some guidelines, but it cannot replace the personal contact of other people or the feedback of a teacher or therapist.

This book presents a perspective that frees you from the pervasive orientation of self-improvement, an approach that often reinforces rather than liberates you from the suffering of self-blame. I hope it will offer support for your own growth by validating the importance of challenging self-judgment on the path to selfunderstanding.

Byron Brown


This book introduces you to the lifelong process of disengaging from self-judgment and, through and beyond that work, to knowing yourself as a living soul. Specifically, it will lead you on an experiential process of unraveling the judgment in your inner life. The abundant information here is not arranged as a theoretical treatise but as an interactive process and a practical guide to help free you from self-attack. Throughout the book, personal examples from individuals and from my work with students are included to illustrate the principles presented, as well as exercises and practices to encourage discovery of your own understanding of the material. The knowledge offered will have little impact unless you actively explore its relevance to your own experience.

Working with the judge and discovering the truth is a journey of liberation. As you come to recognize that you are in a prison guarded by the judge, you appreciate the soul’s powerful longing for freedom.

Every external form of bondage in human history reflects the psychic confinement of the soul resulting from ignorance and unquestioned beliefs. You are a slave to your own ideas of who you are and how you need to be.

The ability to defend against the judge’s attacks and disengage from its activity offers you the possibility of discovering who you are independent of ideas. Actively standing up for the truth of your experience breaks the habitual patterns of your familiar identity. Where expectations and standards ruled, there can be openness and allowing. Fear of retribution can give way to self-trust and curiosity. From hopelessness and defeat can arise acceptance and confidence. And confinement and tension can be transformed into spaciousness and ease.

A Journey of Truth

And truth guides the journey. In combination with the grounding and practicality of your personal will, truth acts as an objective conscience for action in the world. One of the original functions of the judge was to act as your conscience. The judge learned standards of right and wrong from parents and society. Then, by using guilt and shame, it helped you as a child to behave and act appropriately according to that moral code. Unfortunately, this process suppressed your spontaneity, aliveness, and instinctual power in order to make you socialized and acceptable. You needed the judge’s firm support and direction as you developed your own ability to perceive, evaluate, and understand.

However, the outcome of that development was not grounded in your true nature. As an adult, you have continued to rely on the judge’s internalized standards of right and wrong. Only true maturation can replace the judge with a living conscience. This capacity of the soul depends on the recognition of your essential nature and the development of your ability to be authentically yourself.

Disengaging from the judge thus serves two functions:

To free you from the confinement of old, limiting patterns and beliefs and, at the same time,

To demand that you actively practice living in a way that eliminates the need for the judge.

You cannot simply throw off a structure that has defined and supported you unless you have something more effective with which to replace it. You must learn to function, interact, and make choices freed from the standards of the judge, which means living in alignment with the truth and reality of your own life at the present time. This creates a living conscience that is not based on rules. Such a conscience allows the fullness of your living soul to express itself. This happens when you have transformed the self-centeredness of instinctual impulses, the selfdestruction of compulsive patterns, and the rigidity of internalized authority. This is not a small task. It is the work of learning to be a responsible, mature human being. You cannot plan how to do it, you cannot only read about how to do it, you cannot simply follow someone else’s instructions. You must learn how to live spontaneously by recognizing and following the guidance of what you know to be true.

A Journey of Recovery

Working with the judge is a journey of recovery. Disengaging helps free you from the harsh oppression of the judge and also accelerates your movement into experiencing the aliveness of the soul. This is the doorway to recovery of your soul nature. You have the opportunity to recover a fresh and dynamic aliveness at the heart of your life. And aliveness means the presence of passion and spontaneity, two qualities noticeably absent in the world of judgment. It also means the experience of yourself as a life source. Life flows from and through you, taking on both familiar and unfamiliar forms. The soul’s aliveness is the sense of something conscious and unpredictable, awake and mysterious.

My desire is to support you to be directly in contact with your own lived experience without the judge as intermediary. The central practice in this process is to return to your experience of yourself in this moment. As you learn to know yourself each moment with curiosity and openness, you allow the process of self-discovery to open new doors. You find your own natural resources that have gone unrecognized because of the judge’s controlling influence. When you actively disengage, you begin to recognize what is called presence as a ground of support for being who you are from moment to moment. You are offered tastes of being a soul that is alive, dynamic, and immediate, a soul that is open, changing, and responding, but also a soul that is rooted in the reality of the truth.

The various flavors of presence arise to enrich your experience: Awareness wakes you up to the ever-changing elements of each day, and personal will brings you back to your direct experience of what is true at the present time. Acceptance encourages vulnerability to the ups and downs of your inner world, and strength gives you the courage to expand your boundaries and go beyond what you think is possible. Joy and curiosity help you appreciate and celebrate the mystery of you and your world, while compassion tenderizes you as it allows contact with the fullness of your heart, including its pain, grief, and longing. Spaciousness transforms the anxiety about lack into the allowing of openness, and value offers sweetness and satisfaction to your soul as you learn to appreciate your true nature. Peace stills the inner activity that undermines the quietness and simplicity of being yourself, allowing the truth of you and your life to be more apparent.

The soul’s journey does not take you away from the physical, emotional, and social realities of your life. It is not about otherworldly experiences. Recovery of the soul enriches the life you have by bringing in the dimension of presence and its qualities, the invisible essence of what it means to be alive. Spirituality is the heart of human life, the subtle dimension of being a soul. It gives your experience fullness and immediacy so that you feel more in contact with each moment as you live each day.

How This Book Is Structured

This book addresses the human dilemma of the soul through answering two questions:

What is this soul that you have lost touch with, and what prevents you from recognizing it?

These two questions are basic to all spiritual work, and answering them can be approached in many ways. Here, we look at the barrier by working with selfjudgment and how it blocks you from knowing yourself as soul. We explore the soul itself by focusing on some of its essential aspects that have largely been disowned or forgotten.

The following pages present a step-by-step method for confronting self-judgment. You will learn to recognize the presence of the judge, notice its effect on you, discover how it functions, explore how you support its activity, uncover its motivation, and most important, find ways to free yourself from its influence. This process is necessary for you to have the freedom to discover who you are beneath the myriad beliefs you have accumulated about yourself over the years.

The information in the book is presented in an order most useful for working on your own: gradually developing the awareness and skills to support a true and effective defense against self-judgment. If you were working with the ongoing support of a teacher or group, the presentation of the material might have a different emphasis.

The first half of the book focuses on understanding judgment and how it affects you. The second half moves you into taking steps to defend against the activity of self-judgment. Twelve chapters address the judge process, each one concluding with a summary of its significant points and one or more exercises for supporting you in pursuing the work on your own.

The second focus of this book is the reconnection with your soul, the forgotten potential of who you truly are. Complementary to the work on the judge is the process of rediscovering inherent qualities of your true nature that you lost touch with as you grew up, in particular those relevant to freeing you from self-judgment.

Traditional spiritual work tends to focus on aspects of your nature considered spiritual (meaning beyond worldly life), such as universal love, self-realization, transcendent unity, ultimate emptiness, or spiritual insight. These are important for knowing the deeper dimensions of human experience. However, you have other essential qualities, often overlooked, that are more relevant for life in the world.

Working with the judge is a particularly down to earth affair and needs the support of more basic, familiar soul qualities, freed from beliefs and personal history.

In the soul chapters, you are invited to contact the clear simplicity of awareness, the energetic expansion of strength, the solid reliability of will, and the gentle warmth of compassion. These qualities and others provide a contrast to the experience of yourself supported by the inner critic and at the same time give you access to inner resources for challenging its power. Each quality presented has a particular relevance for an aspect of your work with the judge. The soul quality chapters alternate with the judge chapters, and each contains a practice to help you reconnect with that quality.

These two dimensions, dealing with the judge and contacting soul qualities, mutually support and reinforce each other.

Seeing through the judge’s attitudes and beliefs allows you to observe yourself and your experience with fresh eyes and begin to recognize your deeper soul nature. You make space to know yourself in a different way. At the same time, directly sensing an aspect of your true nature provides a vivid and definite alternative to the reactive nature of self-judgment.

In addition, a story that follows a young couple, Frank and Sue, as they live through one Saturday together threads through the book. Their day is told in short episodes on the page just before the opening of each successive chapter. Every episode touches on the material in that chapter and helps place the subject matter of the book in the context of real life. When a judgment is arising in the characters’ minds or in their own words, it is generally preceded by the symbol * to help you learn to recognize the prevalence and variation of this element of both inner and outer activity. When Frank or Sue is engaged in inner dialogue, whether a judgment or not, the words are in italics. You may find it useful to reread an episode after you finish reading the chapter it precedes.

The Beginning of a Process

This is a lifelong journey of discovering the truth in your life as you liberate your soul. Recognizing, appreciating, and disengaging from your judge is a vital way of ensuring that it becomes your journey. This book is only a beginning, but it will provide a useful foundation for opening the prison door and stepping into the heart of life.


This book speaks to more than just your mind. It is addressed to your soul. At different times, the material will resonate in your body or your heart or in your very being. The chapters are packed with information, insights, and inquiries. It is not light reading. This is a book to work through slowly, allowing it to stimulate you, unsettle you, move you. Take it in small bites so you can absorb the tastes and textures. Go away and come back. Stop and reread.

As you read, you will find yourself responding to the ideas that are relevant to where you are in your own journey. You will draw from what is presented the nourishment you need at the moment for your own development. This means that much of what you read will pass into your mind and out again without any significant impact. This is natural. However, it also means that you can come back to any part of this book in one month, six months, or a year and you will resonate with material that was not important for you the first time.

I particularly recommend that as you read, you pay attention to your body and your energy. Notice how they are affected by your reading. If you become aware of having a hard time concentrating or feeling restless, stop and take a break. Perhaps something has struck home and stirred a physical or an emotional response. When one part of you is strongly affected, it can prevent you from taking in any more. The focus of this book on connecting with your experience in the moment makes it ideal for learning to track yourself in this way.

Making space for your responses to the process of reading will create a greater impact and also allow the material to nourish and awaken more aspects of your soul.

Do not expect instantaneous change or development; be patient with yourself as you respect your soul’s need to go at its own pace. Integrating into your life the various elements of this self-discovery process can take many years. The exercises and practices in this book are designed to expose you to different dimensions of inner experience in a gradual way. The resulting effect is cumulative: each facet of the work is reinforced by all the others.



Sue was awoken by Frank returning to bed from the bathroom. It took quite a while before she finally acknowledged that she couldn’t go back to sleep. He, meanwhile, seemed to have fallen asleep right away. The clock radio was glowing 3:30 when Sue twisted her head to the left and opened her eyes. She remembered too late what she had heard on the radio from some sleep expert: you should never look at the time when you wake up in the middle of the night because that seems to make it harder to go back to sleep. This reminded her of how often recently she had been waking up in the middle of the night. Fortunately, this time it was Saturday and she didn’t have to get up early, but she was frustrated with herself and dreaded lying awake for the rest of the night.

* So what has been your problem lately anyway, Sue? You didn’t used to have difficulty sleeping. Something’s wrong here. You know you are eating too late, and you are getting into that bad habit of black tea after dinner. I think it must have something to do with either lack of exercise or being anxious about my work. I will have to get some of that melatonin at the vitamin store tomorrow . . .

As her mind continued working, Sue was getting more and more unsettled in her body. She could feel the heaviness of sleep still in her system, and her eyes were aching. A sense of low-grade agitation was developing in her limbs, as though a subtle current of energy had been turned on and she could no longer relax. She desperately longed to shut it off and drop back into sleep.

With some effort, Sue stopped her mental obsessing and focused her attention on her arms and legs and began controlled breathing to try to relax. At first, she felt more tension than relaxation from trying to concentrate. Then, as she continued, the outline of her body slowly transformed into a vivid presence charged with a slightly prickly energy. This shifted into a pulsing flow moving through her; it was both soothing and enlivening. And then for a moment, Sue experienced herself floating in the middle of a dark, spacious field with a vibrant perimeter. She was feeling herself in an immediate and unfamiliar way, when suddenly a familiar voice broke in:

* But you’re supposed to be going to sleep!

The internal voice brought her back to being Sue lying in bed not sleeping. Where had she been? Not asleep but not anyplace familiar. She found herself yawning as she puzzled over what had just happened. Sue turned over, pulled up the covers, and was soon fast asleep.

YOU ARE A SOUL. And if you allow it, your life can become a journey of unfolding for your soul. The fact is, you do not recognize yourself as soul. You do not know the source of your own aliveness. You are not aware of the potential for freedom and responsiveness that is your true nature. In order to see your inner critic in a proper perspective, in relation to the totality of who you are, you must have some sense of being a soul. What does that mean?

What Is the Soul?

Whenever people say the word I, they generally are referring to a person who was born of certain parents, has a certain history, and acts and behaves in certain familiar ways. This is often referred to as the ego or personality.

The soul, in fact, is the true “I.” It is the present-moment experience of yourself as the agent in your life, the sense of a livingness that is here now. Can you say what you are if you don’t refer to who you have been?

The soul is the you who experiences your life, the one who perceives, acts, learns, and changes. It is not the body that was born many years ago; it is not the self-image of a person who has particular skills and capacities; and it is not the mind that thinks and worries about everything that happens. The soul includes all of these, but as the experiencer, it is more fundamental and less defined than any of them. Who is it that experiences being an ego, being a body, or being a mind? Who at this very minute is reading these words? Can you define who or what that is? This I call the soul.

All aspects of your experience emerge out of your soul. Not only is the soul the experiencer, it is also what is experienced and the locus of your experience. In other words, your soul is what underlies and unifies every part of you and your experience. The deep longing to be whole, to feel integrated, to be yourself without division, is a longing to experience the soul.

The closer you are to sensing your own immediate aliveness, the closer you are to soul. The soul is the substance of living consciousness. To feel it is to recognize the miraculous and mysterious quality of what you are, a flowing presence, dynamic, alive, and ever-changing. To feel you are a soul is to know the unboundedness of life. The soul extends beyond the usual boundaries and categories of the human mind, beyond the familiar notion of a human life. It is not limited by history, concepts, or the physical body. It defies exact definition or analysis. As such, the soul is better felt, sensed, and known in the heart than it is through the structures and perceptions of the mind.

Have you ever wished for ease and spontaneity in your heart? Have you ever felt limited by the idea of having to be or act a particular way? If so, imagine what sense of yourself would allow spontaneity, ease, and freedom. Who would you be, and how would you feel? You are imagining a fundamental quality of your soul nature.

The nature of the soul is pure consciousness, experienced as a field of awareness in relation to physical reality. This field of awareness contains your mind and your body without being bounded by either.

Normally, you experience yourself as a physical body that has a mind with awareness as one of its capacities. But your soul is more like an expanse of awareness particles condensed in your location into a solid physical presence known as a body. And these awareness particles permeate every cell, sensation, and thought you have. The most external expression of your consciousness or soul is your body, which brings your awareness into intimate contact with the physical world as you know it. How different it would be to experience your whole body made out of this consciousness with your awareness consciously inhabiting and living through every cell in your body!

The Presence of the Soul

To be in touch with your actual consciousness, which is the substance of your soul, is to be aware of your existence in each moment, to be aware of presence. Presence means the sense of immediate existence or being. And presence is a primary quality of the soul. You cannot be aware of your own soul nature unless you are present to your own experience, unless you know your reality as it exists right now. Presence is your direct knowingness of being alive in the present moment. That knowingness is not an idea or a thought but an actual felt awareness. It is what gives your body its felt sense. The soul’s presence is substantial without being physical, and that substance gives the physical body a sense of living fullness.

Presence is to the soul what wetness is to water: one is an inseparable quality of the other. However, if you only look at water or only touch it with rubber gloves, you may not know that water is wet. Similarly, the presence of the soul cannot be erased or separated out, but it can go unrecognized if you are not in touch with it. Ignorance of the presence of your own soul is a deep and painful loss that stirs the longing to know yourself more intimately. This longing may be expressed as the search for meaning and truth, the desire for self-realization, or the pursuit of freedom and liberation. All are fulfilled through experiencing the living presence of the soul, the true nature of who you are.

The soul’s presence comes in many subtle but distinct flavors that underlie the richness of life. These are the basic elements of human existence, such as strength, clarity, compassion, joy, love, intelligence, value, will, acceptance, and vulnerability. These essential aspects make up your true nature, that in you which is innate or God-given and not dependent on your parents, your appearance, your behavior, or your achievements.



Soul without Shame. A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within

by Byron Brown

get it at

CPTPP IS MORE CORPORATE WELFARE! Why “Free Trade” Agreements Serve Corporations First – Jack Gao * WHAT DO TRADE AGREEMENTS REALLY DO? – Dani Rodrik.

Far from spreading benefits across the economy, agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership enrich individual corporations by design, at the expense of workers and national economies.

There’s a general sense today that globalization is not working well. Workers in developed countries complain that jobs are moving abroad as inequality worsens; developing countries open up markets only to find themselves subject to the vagaries of international capital and business interests; and almost all national governments feel an erosion of the scope and potency of domestic policies. In a new paper, Harvard economist Dani Rodrik examines what role trade, and in particular trade agreements, have played in fostering globalization’s discontents.

On the surface, it would seem that trade agreements would simply lower barriers to commerce. The traditional economic textbook contends that these pacts make trade “freer” among nations by eliminating obstacles and preventing mutually harmful actions countries may take in their absence. As a result, the theory goes, prices may come down, nations can import a variety of different goods, and domestic employment may increase.

However, as Rodrik notes, that is not what trade agreements of the past few decades appear to be doing. He contends that economists see trade in general as a positive, but have disengaged from the ways in which trade agreements play out in reality:

“The label ‘Free trade agreements’ does not do a very good job of describing what recent proposed agreements like the Trans-Pacijic Partnership (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and numerous other regional and bilateral trade agreements actually do”.

Given their blind spots, economists share the blame for confusion about what real-world impacts these agreements have. For example, as mainstream economic reasoning has it, when left to their own devices, countries may have the tendency to erect what is called “optimal tariff” in order to manipulate their terms of trade, the international prices they face, to their advantage. Doing so, the reasoning goes, would eventually leave all parties worse off: Nations tend to retaliate against tariffs, and cooperative agreement breaks down as nations race to impose them on one another. Thus a trade agreement that commits countries to free trade could keep domestic protectionists at bay and improve overall welfare.

This and other similar lines of reasoning have become part of conventional wisdom among economists and has stood unchallenged for decades. This theory misses the mark, according to Rodrik:

”The tendency to associate ‘free trade agreements’ all too closely with ‘free trade’ may have the result of the act that the new (and often problematic) beyond the bordor features of these agreements have not yet made their mark on the collective unconsciousness of economists.”

So what do recent trade agreements do and what do they have to do with widespread dissatisfaction with globalization?

Instead of eliminating trade barriers such as import duties and quotas, contemporary trade agreements have become a lot more expansive in the list of issues they tackle, according to Rodrik. They commonly cover issues such as labor standards, patent rules, investor-state dispute settlements, and the harmonization of standards that boost corporate profits at the expense of broader wellbeing. Not only do these elements of “free trade” agreements go beyond what most trade models were set up to analyze; they also occupy domains of public welfare about which most economists have chosen to remain mute.

Take regulatory harmonization for example. Economists contend that harmonizing regulations, that is eliminating differences in domestic regulations between countries, could reduce transaction costs and facilitate trade across national borders. Whether for labor standards, patent rules, or environmental regulations, harmonized rules can make it easier for businesses to produce and sell in foreign markets.

But while in theory better labor and environmental standards may improve social welfare in host countries, in practice “free trade” agreements don’t accomplish this, and can in fact have the opposite effect.

That’s because the pacts increasingly reflect first and foremost corporate interests, as multinationals have muscled their way into a central role in negotiations. Multinational corporations are not concerned that, depending on national circumstances and consumer preferences, there may be good reasons regulations differ across borders. So it’s not surprising that trade agreements that change the rules governing domestic economic life risk undermining the welfare of ordinary citizens.

Recent trade agreements have added another feature called the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) procedure, which gives a foreign corporation the right to sue a host country government in a special arbitration tribunal. This issue came to public attention when the cigarette maker Philip Morris challenged (and lost to) the Australian government over the nation’s plain packaging laws, which prohibit cigarette companies from including branding on packaging. Inadequate legal protection and risk of appropriation may be a legitimate concern for foreign businesses, particularly in developing countries. But we can justifiably suspect that a large number of these cases are really about clearing the way for business expansion abroad, as in the Philip Morris case.

The logical next question to ask is how these issues made their way into trade agreement design and negotiations to begin with.

Here, Rodrik provides evidence that, as noted above, multinational corporations inserted themselves into the trade negotiation process, packaging such factors as patent rules as trade issues, in intensive lobbying efforts backed by campaign donations, and in public relations campaigns, in order to serve their special interests.

Rather than enlarging the economic possibilities of countries involved, trade agreement negotiations of this type often disrupt the lives of those in the middle and at the bottom, while showering benefits on the top and offering miniscule gains economy-wide.

And often it is the multinational corporations and financial institutions that stand to gain at the most at the expense of workers and national economies.

Rodrik, a Commissioner on lNET’s Commission on Global Economic Transformation, argues that there are still legitimate issues that modern trade agreement negotiations should tackle, including the global competition to set proper corporate tax rates. However, the absence of groups representing these issues in the negotiation process have put them far down on the agenda.

A closer look at what modern trade agreements do and don’t do makes clear that they have in recent years taken on a variety of issues that reach beyond the traditional theories of free trade, and in many cases, domains of national governance. Economists would do well to think twice about what interests they’re advancing before continuing to promote what looks like class warfare in the name of “free trade.”

Jack Gao, Program Economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking

Institute For New Economic Thinking


Dani Rodrik, John F. Kennedy School of Government Harvard University Cambridge.

Revised February 2018.

As trade agreements have evolved and gone beyond import tariffs and quotas into regulatory rules and harmonization, they have become more difficult to fit into received economic theory. Nevertheless, most economists continue to regard trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) favorably. The default view seems to be that these arrangements get us closer to free trade by reducing transaction costs associated with regulatory differences or explicit protectionism.

An alternative perspective is:

Trade agreements are the result of rent seeking, self interested behavior on the part of politically well connected firms international banks, pharmaceutical companies, multinational firms.

They may result in freer, mutually beneficial trade, through exchange of market access. But they are as likely to produce purely redistributive outcomes under the guise of “freer trade.”

The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago asked its panel of economics experts, made up of leading professors of economics around the country, to respond to two statements on international trade in its March 2012 survey.

The first statement focused on attitudes towards the general concept of free trade: ”Freer trade improves productive efficiency and offers consumers better choices, and in the long run these gains are much larger than any effects on employment.”

The second statement honed in specifically on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): “On average, citizens of the US. have been better off with the North American Free Trade Agreement than they would have been if the trade rules for the U.S., Canada and Mexico prior to NAFTA had remained in place.”

The experts could choose among a range of options, from “strongly agree” to ”strongly disagree.”

There was near unanimous support for the first statement on free trade. Of the 37 economists who answered, 35 picked “strongly agree” or “agree.” Two answered “uncertain” and none disagreed. The second question on NAFTA produced a virtually identical response. Once again, noone disagreed and only two economists picked “uncertain.” The only difference was that there was one less vote for “strongly agree”.

The consensus in favor of the general statement supporting free trade is not a surprise. Economists disagree about a lot of things, but the superiority of free trade over protection is not controversial. The principle of comparative advantage and the case for the gains from trade are crown jewels of the economics profession. So the nearly unanimous support for free trade in principle is understandable.

But the almost identical level of enthusiasm expressed for the North American Free trade Agreement, that is, for a text that runs into nearly 2,000 pages, negotiated by three governments under pressures from lobbies and special interests, and shaped by a mix of political, economic, and foreign policy objectives, is more curious.

The economists must have been aware that trade agreements, like free trade itself, create winners and losers. But how did they weight the gains and losses to reach a judgement that US citizens would be better off ”on average”? Did it not matter who gained and lost, whether they were rich or poor to begin with, or whether the gains and losses would be diffuse or concentrated? What if the likely redistribution was large compared to the efficiency gains?

What did they assume about the likely compensation for the losers, or did it not matter at all? And would their evaluation be any different if they knew that recent research suggests NAFTA produced minute net efficiency gains for the US economy while severely depressing wages of those groups and communities most directly affected by Mexican competition?

Perhaps the experts viewed distributional questions as secondary in view of the overall gains from trade. After all, opening up to trade is analogous to technological progress. In both cases, the economic pie expands while some groups are left behind. We did not ban automobiles or light bulbs because coachmen and candle makers would lose their jobs.

So why restrict trade? As the experts in this survey contemplated whether US citizens would be better off ”on average” as a result of NAFTA, it seems plausible that they viewed questions about the practical details or the distributional questions of NAFTA as secondary in view of the overall gains from trade.

This tendency to view trade agreements as an example of efficiency enhancing policies that may nevertheless leave some people behind would be more justifiable if recent trade agreements were simply about eliminating restrictions on trade such as import tariffs and quotas. In fact:

The label “free trade agreements” does not do a very good job of describing what recent proposed agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and numerous other regional and bilateral trade agreements actually do.

Contemporary trade agreements go much beyond traditional trade restrictions at the border. They cover regulatory standards, health and safety rules, investment, banking and finance, intellectual property, labor, the environment, and many other subjects besides. They reach well beyond national borders and seek deep integration among nations rather than shallow integration, to use Robert Lawrence’s (1996) helpful distinction.

According to one tabulation, 76 percent of existing preferential trade agreements covered at least some aspect of investment (such as free capital mobility) by 2011; 61 percent covered intellectual property rights protection; and 46 percent covered environmental regulations (Limao 2016).

To illustrate the changing nature of trade agreements, compare US trade agreements with two small nations, Israel and Singapore, signed two decades apart. The US Israel Free Trade Agreement, which went into force in 1985, was the first bilateral trade agreement the US concluded in the postwar period. It is quite a short agreement less than 8,000 words in length. It contains 22 articles and three annexes, the bulk of which are devoted to free trade issues such as tariffs, agricultural restrictions, import licensing, and rules of origin.

The US Singapore Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 2004 and is nearly ten times as long, taking up 70,000 words. It contains 20 chapters (each with many articles), more than a dozen annexes, and multiple side letters. Of its 20 chapters, only seven cover conventional trade topics. Other chapters deal with behind the border topics such anti competitive business conduct, electronic commerce, labor, the environment, investment rules, financial services, and intellectual property rights.

Intellectual property rights take up a third of a page (81 words) in the 1985 US Israel agreement. They occupy 23 pages (8,737 words) plus two side letters in the 2004 US Singapore agreement.

Taking these new features into account requires economists to rethink their default attitudes toward trade agreements, and the politics behind them.

This paper offers a starting point toward the reconsideration that is needed. I will argue that economists‘ conflation of free trade with trade agreements is rooted in an implicit political economy perspective that views import competing interests as the most powerful and dominant architect of trade policy.

Under this perspective, protectionists on the import side are the main villain of the story. Trade agreements, when successfully ratified, serve to counter their influence and get us closer to a welfare optimum by reducing the protectionism (or harmful regulations) that these special interests desire. In particular, they prevent beggar thy neighbor and beggar thyself policies that would result in the absence of trade agreements. In achieving these ends, governments may be assisted by other special interests those with a stake in expanding exports and market access abroad. But the latter play an essentially useful role, since they are merely a counterweight to the protectionist lobbies.

There is an alternative political economy perspective, one that reverses the presumption about which set of special interests hold the upper hand in trade policy. In this second view, trade agreements are shaped largely by rent seeking, self interested behavior on the export side.

Rather than rein in protectionists, they empower another set of special interests and politically well connected firms, such as international banks, pharmaceutical companies, and multinational corporations.

They may result in freer, mutually beneficial trade, through exchange of market access. But they are as likely to produce welfare reducing, or purely redistributive outcomes under the guise of free trade.

When trade agreements were largely about import tariffs and quotas that is before the 1980s the second scenario may not have been particularly likely. But with trade agreements increasingly focusing on domestic rules and regulations, we can no longer say the same.

Taking these new features into account requires us to cast trade agreements, and the politics behind them, in quite a different light.

Free Trade versus Free Trade Agreements

Basic trade theory suggests that free trade is the optimal policy for an economy, provided compensatory policies can be implemented and adverse interactions with market failures can be addressed through complementary policies. The only exception is that a large country may be able to manipulate its terms of trade at the expense of its trade partners. The latter motive provides a rationale for countries to enter in trade agreements, preventing mutually harmful trade protectionism.

Economists have long known that real world trade agreements are difficult to understand from the lens of “optimal tariff” theory. And as trade agreements have evolved and gone beyond import tariffs and quotas into regulatory rules and harmonization (patent rules, health and safety regulations, labor standards, investment investor courts, etc.), they have become harder and harder to fit into received economic theory.

International agreements in such new areas produce economic consequences that are far more ambiguous than is the case of lowering traditional border barriers. They may well generate increases in the volume of trade and cross border investment. Nevertheless their welfare and efficiency impacts are fundamentally uncertain.

Here, I will sketch the issues that arise in four areas that have become common in modern trade agreements: trade-related intellectual property rights, rules about cross border capital flows, investor state dispute settlement procedures, and harmonization of regulatory standards.

Intellectual property rights

Consider first patents and copyrights (so-called “trade-related intellectual property rights” or TRIPs). TRIPs entered the lexicon of trade during the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations, which were completed in 1994. The US has pushed for progressively tighter rules (called TRIPs plus) in subsequent regional and bilateral trade agreements. Typically TRIPs pit advanced countries against developing countries, with the former demanding stronger and lengthier monopoly restrictions for their firms in the latter’s markets.

Freer trade is supposed to be win win, with both parties benefiting. But in TRIPs, the advanced countries’ gains are largely the developing countries’ losses. Consumers in the developing nations pay higher prices for pharmaceuticals and other research intensive products and the advanced countries’ firms reap higher monopoly rents.

One needs to assume an implausibly high elasticity of global innovation to developing countries’ patents to compensate for what is in effect a pure transfer of rents from poor to rich countries. That is why many ardent proponents of free trade were opposed to the incorporation of TRIPs in the Uruguay Round.

Nonetheless, TRIPs rules have not been dropped, and in fact expand with each new FTA. Thanks to subsequent trade agreements, intellectual property protection has become broader and stronger, and much of the flexibility afforded to individual countries under the original WTO agreement has been eliminated.

Cross border capital flows

Second, consider restrictions on nations’ ability to manage cross border capital flows. Starting with its bilateral trade agreements with Singapore and Chile in 2003, the US government has sought and obtained agreements that enforce open capital accounts as a rule. These agreements make it difficult for signatories to manage cross border capital flows, including in short term financial instruments. In many recent US trade agreements such restrictions apply even in times of macroeconomic and financial crisis. This has raised eyebrows even at the International Monetary Fund.

Paradoxically, capital account liberalization has become a norm in trade agreements just as professional opinion among economists was becoming more skeptical about the wisdom of free capital flows. The frequency and severity of financial crises associated with financial globalization have led many experts to believe that direct restrictions on the capital account have a second best role to complement prudential regulation and, possibly, provide temporary breathing space during moments of extreme financial stress.

The IMF itself, once at the vanguard of the push for capital account liberalization, has officially revised its stance on capital controls. It now acknowledges a useful role for them where more direct remedies for underlying macroeconomic and financial imbalances are not available. Yet investment and financial services provisions in many FTAs run blithely against this new consensus among economists.

ISDS (Investor State Dispute settlement)

A third area where trade agreements include provisions of questionable merit is so called “investor state dispute settlement procedures” (ISDS). These provisions have been imported into trade agreements from bilateral investment treaties (BIT). They are an anomaly in that they enable foreign investors, and they alone, to sue host governments in special arbitration tribunals and to seek monetary damages for regulatory, tax, and other policy changes that reduce their profits. Foreign investors (and their governments) see ISDS as protection against expropriation, but in practice arbitration tribunals interpret the protections provided more broadly than under, say, domestic US law.

Developing countries traditionally have signed on to ISDS in the expectation that it would compensate for their weak legal regimes and help attract direct foreign investment. But ISDS also suffers from its own problems: it operates outside accepted legal regimes, gives arbitrators too much power, does not follow or set precedents, and allows no appeal.

Whatever the merits of ISDS for developing nations. it is more difficult to justify its inclusion in trade agreements among advanced countries with well functioning legal systems (e.g. the prospective Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and European countries).

Harmonization of regulatory standards

Finally, consider the pursuit of the harmonization of regulatory standards that lies at the center of today’s trade agreements. The justification for harmonization is that eliminating regulatory differences among nations reduces the transaction costs associated with doing business across borders. Taking this line of argument one step further, proponents sometimes label regulatory standards that are more demanding than those at home as “non tariff barriers.” And there is little question that governments sometimes do deploy regulations to favor domestic producers over foreign ones.

But often these differences reflect dissimilar consumer preferences or divergent regulatory styles. European bans on GMOs and hormone fed beef, for example, are rooted not in protectionist motives the same bans apply to domestic producers as well but in pressures from consumer groups at home. The US government, for its part, considers them as protectionist barriers, and dispute settlement panels of the World Trade Organization have often agreed.

The trouble is that unlike in the case of tariffs and quotas, there is no natural benchmark that allows us to judge whether a regulatory standard is excessive or protectionist. Different national assessments of risk safety, environmental, health and varying conceptions of how business should relate to its stakeholders employees, suppliers, consumers, local communities will produce different standards, none obviously superior to others. In the language of economics, regulatory standards are public goods over which different nations have different preferences.

An optimal international arrangement would trade off the benefits of expanding market integration (by reducing regulatory diversity) against the costs of excessive harmonization. But in general we have only a hazy ideas where that optimal point may lie, which in any case will vary across different policy domains. Perhaps regulators and trade negotiators do their job properly and assess the costs and benents appropriately, safeguarding room for diversity. Perhaps not.

Regardless, it is curious that economists tend to be nearly unanimous in their view that trade agreements are a good thing. Despite not knowing much about the details, they must believe such agreements regularly strike the right balance in all these areas of ambiguity.‘

Is it that none of these complications matter as long as the agreement is called a “Free Trade Agreement”?

The tendency to associate “free trade agreements” all too closely with “free trade” may be the result of the fact that the new (and often problematic) beyond the border features of these agreements have not yet made their mark on the collective unconsciousness of economists.

But I suspect it is also the result of a certain implicit, hand waving kind of political economy analysis. In this perspective, protectionist interests are the dominant influence in the determination of trade and other policies. Hence, in the absence of trade agreements barriers to trade are too high and there is too little trade. Trade agreements are in turn a mechanism through which protectionist interests can be neutralized. The specific details of the agreement do not matter much as long as trade creating interests are empowered to offset the otherwise dominant protectionist influences. In other words, trade agreements must move us in a desirable direction because they are a counterweight to protectionists.

This is a valid inference as long as the argument’s premise is correct, namely that on balance trade agreements empower the special interests more closely aligned with good economic performance. But what if they empower the wrong special interests instead, the investors, banks, and multinational enterprises seeking to increase rents at the expense of the general interest?

When trade agreements are mostly about tariffs and quotas, there is an easy way to tell the difference. The presence of high tariffs ex ante and tariff reduction ex post are prima facie evidence that protectionists were the dominant influence before the agreement and that they were countervailed through the agreement. But this intuition does not carry over to trade agreements on domestic rules, regulations, and standards since we do not readily know where the efficient benchmark is. A trade agreement captured by an alternative set of special interests may make things worse just as easily as it makes them better. Such an agreement can move us away from the efficient outcome, even if it takes the guise of a free trade agreement and expands the volume of trade and investment.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of rent seeking by firms that favor trade agreements. But to put this evidence in context, let us first examine why countries sign trade agreements in the first place.

The Logic of Trade Agreements

When economists teach the gains from trade, they emphasize that free trade is good for each nation on its own. (What it means to say “good for the nation” in the presence of losers as well as gainers is, if course, a thorny issue, but I will leave that aside, in keeping with the standard treatments). Ricardo’s (1817) demonstration of the principle of comparative advantage: free trade expands a nation’s consumption possibilities frontier even if it has an absolute productivity advantage in producing every good remains one of our profession’s most significant intellectual achievements. A direct implication is that countries should want to have free trade regardless of what their trade partners do.

Responding to another country‘s protectionism by raising one’s own trade barriers is tantamount to cutting off the nose to spite the face.

If this insight were the end of the story, the presence (and proliferation) of trade agreements would be a mystifying puzzle. What is the point of signing agreements with other countries to do what is in your national interest in the first place? A possible answer was provided early on by Harry Johnson (1953). Countries that are “large” in world markets have the incentive to exploit their market power. An import tariff restricts home demand for other countries’ exports and drives down the world price of the imported good. A Nash equilibrium among large countries would be inefficient, as each country would be imposing its own, positive “optimal” tariffs. Correspondingly, a trade agreement that enforced free trade could leave all the countries better off.

Even if the logic of this argument is accepted, the question remains of why a free trade agreement is needed, such as the World Trade Organization or NAFTA. After all, a free trade equilibrium can be achieved through cooperation in a repeated interaction game. In addition, one can ask whether a formal agreement on its own can prevent opportunistic behavior on the part of sovereign nations. Nonetheless, the motive to manipulate the terms of trade provides a valid economic motive for countries to commit themselves to free trade by signing on to trade agreements.

However, this theory does not sit well with the fact that actual policy makers do not seem very concerned about the terms of trade when they negotiate trade agreements. They tend to care more about the volume of trade: they like it when their exports grow, but not so much when their imports expand. Effectively, nations trade market access: more of your imports in return for more of my exports. Moreover, these preferences do not seem to be grounded in the effects that trade volumes have on world market prices. it is true that home policies that lower import demand tend to reduce their world market prices, and hence improve the terms of trade. But on the export side, general government practice consists of boosting export supply, through export subsidies, credits, and other assistance, rather than reducing it. This has the effect of lowering export prices on world markets. and hence worsening the terms of trade.

Also, if trade agreements are really about curbing terms of trade manipulation, what do we make of the prohibition on export subsidies in the WTO? When a government resorts to export subsidies, it worsens its own terms of trade and confers economic benefits on other nations. If it does so nevertheless, it must be for non economic or special interest reasons. Regardless, there would be no reason for trade agreements to prohibit their use. As Grossman (2016) notes, ”the literature offers no compelling reason why trade agreements should outlaw export subsidies in a trading environment characterized by perfectly competitive markets.”

Trade policy practitioners worry little about international terms of trade spillovers. Instead, they tend to justify trade agreements by reference to the politics of trade policy at home: Trade agreements are what enable governments to say “no” to domestic import competing interests. Absent trade agreements, this argument goes, governments are too easily tempted to do the easy thing and provide import protection when faced with short term political pressures.

A number of academic papers conceptualize this argument in the form of a time inconsistency problem (for example, Staiger and Tabellini, 1987; Maggi and Rodriguez Clare, 1998). In this framework, the government knows that free trade is the best policy in the long run. But it faces short term political pressures to respond to organized interest groups. Forward looking workers and capitalists understand the difference between the government’s ex ante and ex post incentives and behave accordingly. In particular, they make their sectoral allocation decisions so as to ensure the government provides them with trade protection ex post. In these settings, trade agreements are a commitment device for governments to withstand political pressure from future protectionists. As Grossman (2016) notes, we may question whether there is not an easier way of purchasing such commitment than negotiating very complicated deals with multiple partners over many years. Nevertheless, the view that trade agreements serve to neutralize protectionist special interests is very widely held.

This commitment, or lock-in argument is analogous to the familiar case for policy delegation in other areas with dynamic inconsistency, such as monetary policy (justifying an independent central bank) or business regulation (justifying autonomous regulatory agencies). In any of these settings, the validity of the policy conclusion depends critically on the specification of the game that is being played between the government and special interests.

When there is a genuine time consistency problem, everyone is better off with precommitment or delegation (save, possibly for the lobbyists and special interests). When protectionists show up at the government’s door, the government says: “sorry, I‘d love to help you out, but the trade agreement will not let me do it.” This is the good kind of delegation and external discipline.

Now consider a different setting. Here, the government fears not its future self, but its future opponents: the opposition party (or parties). The latter may have different views on economic policy, and if victorious in the next election, the opposition may well choose to shift course. In this situation, an incumbent government enters an international agreement to tie the hands of its opponents. From the standpoint of social welfare, this strategy has much less to recommend itself. The future government may have better or worse ideas about government policy, and it is not clear that restricting what it can do in the future is a win win outcome. This government too will present its case in traditional delegation terms. But what it is really doing is to ensure the permanence of partisan policies.a

Now suppose further that the current government is captured by special interests-but by exporter lobbies instead of import competing lobbies. In this case, the government’s objectives are explicitly redistributive, to transfer rents from the rest of society to a special interest. But unlike in the usual model, the rent seekers are not the traditional protectionists. They are pharmaceutical companies seeking tighter patent rules, financial institutions that want to limit ability of countries to manage capital flows, or multinational companies that seek special tribunals to enforce claims against host governments. In this setting, trade agreements serve to empower special interests, rather than rein them in.

Whose Interests Do Trade Agreements Serve?

With traditional trade agreements, which focused on reducing tariff and non tariff barriers to trade, it was relatively easy to figure out which of these different models approximated reality better.

Consider for example the GATT (General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade) rounds of multilateral trade negotiations, before the World Trade Organization was established in 1995. Tariff levels were high after World War II, and negotiations were largely about bringing them down. Few other issues were discussed beyond tariffs and other explicit barriers at the border. The fact that tariffs were high to begin with is prima facie evidence that protectionist interests had the upper hand in the political equilibrium ex ante. The fact that trade agreements succeeded in lowering tariffs is evidence that such agreements served to counteract those protectionist interests ex post. In other words, the trade agreements as political commitment story worked pretty well. It suggests that these agreements were moving the economies of the negotiating parties broadly in the right direction.

With post-1995 trade agreements, matters are no longer so simple.

Tariffs and explicit barriers to trade have dropped considerably, and many new areas of negotiation have opened up in which there is typically no efficient “free trade” benchmark analogous to the role that zero duties play in the context of tariffs. Do Vietnam’s capital account regulations, say, or patent rules serve the country’s economic development well or poorly? Are European Union food safety regulations closely aligned with European consumers’ risk preferences or do they privilege producer interests too much? Does US jurisprudence provide adequate protections for foreign investors, or not? To be sure, domestic regulations and product standards can be enacted for protectionist purposes simply to keep competing imports out. But they can be also used to serve developmental, social, or other deserving goals.

If countries have gotten the balance wrong in these and other areas, can we be at all sure that trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will move their policies closer to the social optimum and not further away? Can the dispute settlement process provided by such trade agreements draw the appropriate distinctions in practice between pure protectionism and legitimate regulatory divergence?

It is hard to provide a definite answer to these questions. What is clear is that we cannot simply look at whether agreements are trade creating or not and evaluate them on that basis. It is all too easy to come up with examples where too much regulatory harmonization in the name of reducing transaction costs to trade leaves at least one of the negotiating parties worse off. The case of tightening intellectual property rights in developing countries, mentioned earlier, is a prominent example. Erosion of consumer protections in high standard countries may likewise expand trade, but it will not leave importing countries better off. It is similarly easy to see that agreements that privilege investors or corporations over other interests (e.g., labor or the environment) can end up producing largely redistributive consequences with few efficiency gains. That is a widespread fear among opponents of investor courts for example.

Potential trade offs arise in all of these areas: regulatory harmonization may spur trade, but it could also prevent regulations from reflecting domestic preferences. A proper negotiating process would take both sides of the ledger into account.

The texts of trade agreements pay plenty of lip service to economic and social goals beyond trade. However, these are fundamentallym deals. They are not negotiations on public health, regulatory experimentation, promoting structural change and industrialization in developing nations, or protecting labor standards in the advanced economies.

It would not be surprising if the process were captured by trade interests. Nor should it be unexpected that the success of the agreements are typically gauged by the volume of trade they create.

We could gain further insight into specific outcomes by looking at the actual process through which trade agreements are negotiated. However, such negotiations are typically secret a feature that draws the ire of labor, public interest groups, and many politicians.

During the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, for example, only two copies of the text were made available in special reading rooms to US congressmen and their staff with special security clearances. And they could be prosecuted if they revealed the contents to the public.

The ostensible reason for secrecy is to facilitate the back and forth dealing needed to produce compromise. But from the perspective of broader social welfare, secrecy is a mixed blessing. It may promote quicker bargains. But it also tends to bias the results against interests not present in the negotiation. Business is rarely far from the actual negotiations. In fact, it is commonplace for business lobbyists to wait just outside the negotiation room and influence the outcome in real time (for example, see the account of NAFTA negotiations in Smith 2015).


One of the better known and most instructive cases is the story of trade related intellectual property rights, or TRlPs. The inclusion of TRIPs in the 1994 agreement that established the World Trade Organization was a landmark event. As Devereaux et al. (2006, p. 42) write:

”after seven years of negotiating, industries that rely on copyrights, patents, and trademarks received more protection than anyone had believed possible at the outset of the talks.“

Business interests had been pushing since at least the 1970s to get the US government to enforce patent and copyright protections abroad. The conventional international forum for discussion of such issues was the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

However, US firms regarded WIPO as an ineffective UN agency dominated by developing countries. A coalition made up of agrochemical companies like Monsanto, trademark-based companies such as Levi Strauss and Samsonite, pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, and computer companies such as iBM effectively redefined TRIPs as a trade issue. They managed to engineer what political scientists call “forum shifting,” moving the focus of international negotiation from WlPO to what would eventually become the World Trade Organization.

US firms coordinated with their counterparts in Europe and Japan to develop minimum standards on which they would agree. These standards would in turn significantly shape the final agreement that emerged from the Uruguay Round.

The shift in forums from the World Intellectual Property Organization to the World Trade Organization was a brilliant strategic move for business.

It ensured that commercial considerations would dominate and outweigh other goals, such as implications for economic development and public health. But TRIPs was only the beginning. Following their success with using the Uruguay Round to pursue their goals for protection of intellectual property, pharmaceutical and other companies engaged in what Sell (2011) calls “vertical” forum shifting, that is, pushing for and obtaining further protections in specific free trade agreements. The United States had much greater bargaining leverage vis a vis individual developing nations in bilateral or regional trade agreements.

Once a precedent had been set in the WTO talks, it was now possible to go considerably beyond TRIPs. Pharmaceutical companies were able to obtain test data exclusivity (preventing generics providers to use the same data in their own licensing applications), a prohibition on parallel imports (of original products, but by others than the patent holders), severe restrictions on compulsory licensing requirements by host governments, and automatic patent term extensions.

The Trans Pacific Partnership, the latest of these agreements, has such broad protection of intellectual property that even the head of the World Health Organization has spoken out against it, blaming interference by “powerful economic operators”.

The influence of special interests is rarely exercised through the naked application of power, do this, or else! Instead, these groups get their way by convincing policymakers and the broader public that certain of their goals also further the public interest. The success of TRIPs had to do in no small part with the framing of the issue in terms that gave it broad legitimacy and appeal. Thus, what might have been more accurately called monopoly rents were transformed into ”property rights.”

Then firms abroad who imitated and reverse engineered technologies of the more advanced countries became engaged in “piracy,” even though this is a time honored practice by technologically lagging countries, including today’s developed countries in their own time. Many of Boston’s original textile mill owners “stole” their designs from Lancashire, taking elaborate steps to evade British intellectual property rights protections.

With some hand waving, preserving the monopoly of US film studios, pharmaceutical companies, and fashion houses turned into a fundamental issue of free trade.

Pro trade business interests are known to have played a significant role in the expansion of trade agreements into other new areas beyond intellectual property. For example, the push to include services in multilateral trade negotiations took place at the behest of American firms.

Services differ from trade in goods insofar they often require changes in domestic regulations. Financial services is a good example. As Marchetti and Mavroidis (2011, p. 692) write:

”It was the US financial services sectors that first argued systematically in favor of a trade round that would include a chapter on liberalization of trade in services.”

A key role was played by the Coalition of Service Industries, a trade group representing US service industries, which focused its energies on the right of establishment of financial and insurance companies in foreign countries:

“The CSI gathered data, organized conferences, engaged in extensive public lecturing, and heavily lobbied the US government to this effect”.

The heads of Citibank and American Express each headed key advisory groups organized by the US Trade Representative in the run up to the Uruguay Round agreement in 1994. American Express was especially active, with its executives building up a domestic lobby, establishing links with other service industry lobbies around the world, and exerting influence on US policy through direct participation in negotiations with other countries.

Interestingly, this lobbying to expand markets abroad in services has not done much to nullify service protectionism in the US itself, unlike in the traditional account of what trade agreements do.

For example, one of the most blatant forms of US protectionism is the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act, which prevents foreign ships to serve domestic shipping lines. The objective of the law is to maintain a strong US shipbuilding industry and merchant marine, ostensibly for national security purposes. But the protectionist intent and consequences are clear. lt has remained untouched in all the trade agreements the US has negotiated, including the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Business lobbies

As trade agreements move into these new areas, the role of business lobbies changes as well. Governments have to rely on knowledge and expertise from businesses to negotiate complex regulatory changes. Hence, business lobbies become partners and collaborators for the trade negotiators: they help define the issue, provide information and expertise, and mobilize support from other business groups transnationally.

As Woll and Artigas (2007) put it: “Unlike the exchange model assumed in the traditional economic models, firms do not just exchange votes or money to lobby against regulation. Rather, they offer expertise and political support in exchange for access to the elaboration of specific stakes.”

Business lobbies also become much more intimately involved in the actual trade negotiations, sometimes forming a larger part of the delegation than the actual government representatives.

A rough idea of who actually lobbies for trade agreements can be obtained from data collected by the Sunlight Foundation for the Trans Pacific Partnership. Their analysis is based on public lobbying reports issued by corporations and industry associations, and whether the TPP is mentioned by name in those reports. Perhaps unsurprisingly, pharmaceutical manufacturing firms and PhRMA (the industry association) dominate the list. Others that stand out are auto manufacturers, milk and dairy producers, textiles and fabrics firms, information technology firms, and the entertainment industry. Labor unions such as United Steelworkers and AFL CIO, which are traditionally associated with protectionist motives, tend to lag behind these industry based groups.

Business interests exert influence also through their presence in the various trade advisory committees that are set up in the course of trade negotiations. Such committees are in principle made up of a wide range of all the stakeholders, including labor groups and environmental nongovernment organizations who may have a negative view of conventional trade agreements.

But business representatives and trade associations are by far the dominant group, making up more than 80 percent of the membership of such committees during the negotiation of Trans Pacific Partnership.

Systematic studies of how interest groups on different sides of trade agreements shape the negotiations are rare, given the lack of transparency of the process. However, one analysis of Swedish lobbies takes advantage of the fact that Sweden has a far reaching freedom of information clause in its constitution, which enabled Ronnback (2015) to access all the documents behind trade policy formulation in the country during the Uruguay Round. As Ronnback points out, the commonly maintained assumption in the literature on the political economy of trade is that the process is influenced overwhelmingly by import competing, protectionist interests. Trade agreements are signed in these interests, not because of them.

But Ronnback found that the approach pursued by the Swedish government in the trade negotiations was not only in line with special interest lobbying. but it was largely shaped by it. The interest groups that played the determining role in the consultative process were in favor of expanding trade. But the interests of these groups were not in tariffs per se. which were already low. Instead their demand was “to broaden the scope of the agenda of the GATT, by including issues such as trade in services, investment measures and public tender agreements”.

In other words, industry lobbies pushed for deep integration measures beyond the standard free trade policies.

Ronnback’s (2015) study also documents how trade negotiations can help special interests coordinate across national borders. Apparently Swedish businesses initially did not show much awareness or interest in intellectual property rights. But as the United States pushed harder on TRIPs in the negotiations, the issue rose in prominence among Swedish interest groups. As Ronnback puts it:

”It seems as if the interest groups only realized the potential for economic rents that the trade negotiations could offer quite slowly, as the negotiations progressed. As soon as the Swedish interest groups realized this potential, however, they did not hesitate to act and make demands on the government.”

As individual corporations such as Astra as well as the Pharmaceutical Industry Association took up the cause, Sweden’s government followed suit. By the late 1980s, any doubts the Swedish government may have harbored about the wisdom of including TRIPs in the Uruguay Round seems to have vanished. in the years leading to the final agreement, the intellectual property issue came to be “described as among the most important for the Swedish interests”.

The dog that does not bark

Finally, the influence of special interests also shows up in the dog that does not bark:

Potential areas of negotiation with high social returns that are left out of the trade agenda.

One such area that touches directly the interests of large firms is global tax and subsidy competition. In a world with mobile capital, governments are tempted to offer better terms to globally mobile corporations in order to compete for investment. This results in a sub optimal Nash equilibrium with larger transfers to corporations and their shareholders than is globally desirable.

In practice, the effects show up in two areas: investment subsidies (in the form of tax holidays and other sweeteners) and reductions in corporate tax rates.

In View of the obvious cross border externalities, enacting global disciplines on tax and subsidy competition would make excellent economic sense. Yet trade agreements have never touched on this issue. They are replete with restrictions on what home governments can do to impose obligations on foreign investors. But they do not prevent these governments from wasting tax dollars and enriching corporations in a harmful race to the bottom.

Ammunition to the Barbarians?

When I recently gave a talk arguing that economists underplay some of the adverse consequences of advanced globalization, an economist in the audience took me to task: Don’t you worry, he asked, that your arguments will be used (or abused) by populists and protectionists to further their own interests? it is a reaction that reminds me of a response from a distinguished economist more than two decades ago to my 1997 monograph Has Globalization Gone Too Far? All your arguments are fine, he told me, but they will give “ammunition to the barbarians.”

The objection is instructive insofar as it lays bare the implicit political economy understanding with which economists tend to approach public discussions of trade policy. In this perspective, the serious threats to sensible trade policy nearly always come from the import protectionists, and trade agreement mainly offset the influence of the protectionists.

But as trade agreements have evolved and gone beyond import tariffs and quotas into regulatory rules and harmonization, intellectual property, health and safety rules, labor standards, investment measures, investor state dispute settlement procedures, and others they have become harder and harder to fit into received economic theory.

Why do many economists presume that it is more dangerous to express skepticism in public about these rules than it is to cheerlead? In other words, why do they think that there are barbarians only on one side of the issue?

I have presented an alternative perspective in this paper. Rather than neutralizing the protectionists, trade agreements may empower a different set of rent seeking interests and politically well connected firms international banks, pharmaceutical companies, and multinational firms. They may serve to internationalize the influence of these powerful domestic interests.

Trade agreements could still result in freer, mutually beneficial trade, through exchange of market access. They could result in the global upgrading of regulations and standards, for labor, say, or the environment. But they could also produce purely redistributive outcomes under the guise of ”freer trade.”

As trade agreements become less about tariffs and non tariff barriers at the border and more about domestic rules and regulations, economists might do well to worry more about the latter possibility. They may even adopt a stance of rebuttable prejudice against these new type trade deals, a prejudice which should be overturned only with demonstrable evidence of their benefits.

Dani Rodrik

THIS IS EVERYONE’S ISSUE! Teen family violence survivor: I made it out, but other kids don’t.


Domestic violence thrives in darkness and secrecy. If no one asks about it and no one talks about it, nothing changes. Join Light It Orange to shine a light on domestic violence and be part of the solution. @Shine

To the world he was an assistant principal, sports coach, loving husband, dedicated father. But behind closed doors he was a monster beating, belittling, berating and bullying his wife and children every day.

“He was really, really abusive to us mentally, emotionally and physically,” his 18-year-old son told the Weekend Herald. “He always put us down, he was always controlling, he would always use violence.”

The teen spoke out about his abusive upbringing because he wants to raise awareness about family violence and let people know what it’s like for kids growing up in volatile and fear-filled homes.

“He’d be the best dad in the world in front of people, but as soon as they left, he’d be back to himself and treated us horribly.”

More than 90,000 Kiwi children are exposed to family violence each year. That’s one in 12 of our young people either witnessing or being subjected to violence or abuse in their own homes, where they should be safe and protected from harm.

Every five-and-a-half weeks in New Zealand a child is killed by a family member.

The stats are horrific, and this year specialist domestic violence prevention charity Shine is focusing on the plight of our young people in its annual Light It Orange appeal.

The 18-year-old and his mother and siblings turned to Shine about five years ago after all hell broke loose in their home one night.

During a violent altercation between his parents, his sister called police. His father was taken away, and never returned to the family home. His abuse continued and does to this day. He stalks his family, driving past the house at all hours to remind them that he is still there. But court orders prevent him going any closer to them.

The 18-year-old was hit daily, for any reason, and was constantly trying to find ways to win his father’s love. “Dad always told me that no one cared about my thoughts or feelings. He always told me I was too short and too fat. He made fun of everything I did. He used to tell my little sister that she was a mistake, that she should never have been born. Dad was quite cruel… I never felt safe, I felt very scared, I didn’t know what was goingto happen, who was goin to get hurt.”

His mother and siblings were also subjected to daily abuse. The teen grew up thinking that was normal. After all, his father was an upstanding and respected member of the community so surely he wasn’t doing anything wrong.

“I would go to my friends’ places and see how their dads treated them, and I’d think ‘why doesn’t his dad hit him or tell him he’s stupid? When he would fight with my mum he would tell me to stay away, otherwise he’d hit me as well. I was sure that if I tried to stop him, what was happening to my mum would get worse or something bad would happen to me.”

Life was confusing, exhausting for the teen. “I could never please him, I blamed myself for a long time because I was never able to fulfil his wishes. When he left it was like a huge weight of relief came off me.”

The teen, who is now at university and living in a violence and abuse-free home with his mum, brother and sister, spoke out about his life to help others understand how serious family violence is in New Zealand.

“I think people are extremely naive about it. I wanted to speak up so people know what kids see and hear. I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to make it out but other kids don’t. This is something that is happening every day.”

Shine’s Light It Orange national appeal runs for a week from Saturday, March 3.

During the week hundreds of Kiwi schools, workplaces, clubs, businesses, and individuals have fundraisers to help the charity with all donations helping kids and running the free domestic abuse helpline that operates 365 days a year.

Shine spokeswoman Holly Carrington said people who think they don’t know anyone who’s experienced family violence need to understand that they probably do.

“Family violence is an epidemic. With one in three women experiencing it in their lifetime and so many children being affected, it’s likely that someone you know has been hurt, scared or abused by a partner or family member.

Shine helps victims get safe and stay safe. Our services help children know how to deal with these difficult situations by helping them create an age-appropriate safety plan for the next dangerous or violence episode, and we help them to understand that the violence is not their fault.”

Carrington said the most important thing was for New Zealanders to realise this is everyone’s issue. The more we look out for each other and our children, the more we talk to each other and offer support, the less power abusers have and the stronger our communities become.”

Funds raised through Light It Orange in Auckland will support Shine’s work with children who are traumatised by family violence.

Outside Auckland, donations will fund Shine’s free domestic abuse helpline, which is available to adults and children experiencing abuse, or to anyone who suspects a friend, family member, colleague or neighbour needs help.

For more information on Shine’s Light It Orange appeal, including how to get your workplace, school or group involved, click here.

Light It Orange the facts

According to police and support agencies, New Zealand has the worst recorded rate of family violence in the developed world.

In 2016 police investigated 118,910 incidents of family violence, an increase of more than 8000 on 2015.

One in three women in New Zealand will experience abuse in her lifetime, and the majority of those women will have children.

Shine has advice on its website for what to do if you know or suspect someone is experiencing domestic violence, whether that person is an adult or a child.

If you’re in danger now:

Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.

Run outside and head for where there are other people.

Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.

Take the children with you.

Don’t stop to get anything else.

If you are being abused, remember it’s not your fault. Violence is never okay.

Where to go for help or more information:

Women’s Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843

It’s Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450

Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584 Ministry of Justice: family-justice/domesticviolence.

National Network of Stopping Violence:

White Ribbon: Aimingto to eliminate men’s violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent.

How to hide your visit

If you are reading this information on the Herald website and you’re worried that someone using the same computer will find out what you’ve been looking at, you can follow the steps at the link here to hide your visit. Each of the websites above also have a section that outlines this process.

Cover My Tracks

NZ Herald

“If other people don’t like that, it’s their fault for getting offended.” Where Dutch directness comes from – Olga Mecking * Why the Dutch are Different. A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands – Ben Coates.

Straightforwardness is so intrinsic in Dutch society that there’s even a Dutch word for it: ‘bespreekbaarheid’ (speakability) that everything can and should be talked about.

I’d only been living in Amsterdam for a year when we met my husband’s friends in one of the many cafes and bars in the city’s famous Vondelpark.

We chose our seats and waited, but the waiter was nowhere to be seen. When he finally materialised, seemingly out of nowhere, he didn’t ask ‘What would you like to order’, or ‘What can I get you?’. He said ‘What do you want?’. Maybe it was the fact that he’d said it in English, or maybe he was just having a bad day, but I was shocked nonetheless.

My Dutch teacher later explained that the Dutch are very direct and nowhere are they so direct as they are in Amsterdam.

Ben Coates, who wrote Why the Dutch Are Different, moved to the Netherlands from Great Britain eight years ago. He recalls similar experiences, specifically one situation when he got a haircut and a friend immediately pointed out that it didn’t suit him at all.

“I think the Netherlands are a place where… no-one is going to pretend. For example, when you say something in a business meeting that is not a very smart suggestion, people will always point it out,” he said.

To Coates, the differences between his native Britain and the Netherlands were immediately noticeable. In Great Britain, he says, people tend to communicate and behave in a way that minimises offense to other people.

“You don’t talk too loudly on the train because it’s not too nice for the people in your compartment; you don’t play your music too loud in your apartment because it’s not so nice for your neighbours; there is this constant calibrating of your own behaviour,” Coates explained. But in the Netherlands, there is “the sense that people have the right to say whatever they want and be as direct as they want. And if other people don’t like that, it’s their fault for getting offended.”

To many foreigners, this give-it-to you-straight mentality can come across as inconsiderate, perhaps even arrogant. One time, I found myself at the supermarket staring with disbelief at the groceries that had spilled out of my hands onto the floor. Within seconds, I was surrounded by no fewer than 10 Dutch people, all of them giving me advice on what to do. But not one lifted a finger. To me, the situation was obvious: I needed help immediately. But the Dutch saw it differently: unless I specifically asked for help, it probably wasn’t necessary.

“We think truthfulness goes before empathy”

“Others may think that we don’t have empathy. Maybe that is so because we think truthfulness goes before empathy,” explained Eleonore Breukel, an interculturalist who trains people to communicate better in multicultural environments.

In the end, it all comes down to differences in communication patterns, said Breukel, who is Dutch but has lived all over the world. She believes the Dutch tendency to be very direct has to do with straightforwardness, which in turn is connected to the historical prevalence of Calvinism in the Netherlands (even though, according to Dutch News, the vast majority of Dutch people don’t associate with any religion today).

After the start of the Reformation in the 16th Century, Calvinism spread to France, Scotland and the Netherlands. But it only had noticeable impact in the latter, where it coincided with the fight for independence against Catholic Spain, which ruled over the Netherlands from 1556 to 1581.

In 1573, the Dutch prince William the Silent (called Willem van Oranje in Dutch), the founder of the Royal House of Orange that rules the Netherlands today, converted from Catholicism to Calvinism and united the country behind him. As a result, the Calvinist religion had a large impact on national identity because the Dutch associated Catholicism with Spanish oppression.

From that moment on, “Calvinism dictated the individual responsibility for moral salvage from the sinful world through introspection, total honesty, soberness, rejection of ‘pleasure’ as well as the ‘enjoyment’ of wealth,” writes Breukel in an article on Dutch business culture published on her website.

This straightforwardness is so intrinsic in Dutch society that there’s even a Dutch word for it: bespreekbaarheid (speakability) that everything can and should be talked about; there are no taboo topics.

In fact, directness and the idea of transparency that goes with it is a highly desirable trait to the Dutch. Many of the older houses in the Netherlands have big windows, allowing visitors if they so wish to peep inside.

“There is a totally different concept of privacy,” Coates said, noting the tendency of the Dutch people to discuss intimate topics in public.

“You sit in a restaurant with a friend and they will happily, in a room full of strangers, talk quite loudly about their medical problems or their parents’ divorce or their love life. They see no reason to keep it a secret.”

There is a totally different concept of privacy

In fact, from an outside point of view, it seems that every topic, no matter how difficult, should be up for debate. The Netherlands is unique in the way it treats treats topics such as prostitution, drugs and euthanasia. The latter is fully legalised but highly controlled, while the Red-Light District is a famous part of Amsterdam. While marijuana is no longer entirely legal, authorities have a so-called tolerance policy where coffee shops are not prosecuted for selling it.

But Breukel disagrees with the premise that the Dutch don’t have taboo topics. “We don’t discuss salaries, we don’t discuss pensions. Anything to do with luxury. We don’t talk about how beautiful our house is. We don’t discuss how big our car is,” she added.

Moreover, she said that the Dutch don’t want to acknowledge anything that might hint at inequality or power relationships. This is because of the socalled poldermodel, the Dutch practice of policymaking by consensus between government, employers and trade unions. The word ‘polder’ refers to pieces of land reclaimed from the sea. According to The Economist, to make the building of polders possible and to guard the country from the everpresent threat from the sea, the Dutch had to cooperate and work well together. This seeped down to family life where children’s voices count almost as much as those of the parents.

“We have an egalitarian culture. And in that egalitarian culture, we don’t want to make a difference between the boss and the employee,” Breukel said. In other words, there are rules of behaviour that everyone has to follow, and that, again, is visible in language. Proverbs such as ‘Doe maar normaal, dan ben je al gek genoeg’ (just be normal, that’s already crazy enough) or ‘Steekje hoofd niet boven het maaiveld uit’ (don’t put your head above the ground) are there to remind us that we are all the same.

As for me, I am learning to communicate better in the direct, Dutch way. Breukel advised me to start with the subject for example, ‘I would like an appointment’ instead of listing all the reasons why I should see the doctor. I’ve also learned to ask for help, instead of expecting it to be offered. And although I may complain about Dutch directness, I’m grateful to live in a country that allows me to be just that.



Why the Dutch are Different, A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands

Ben Coates

The Queen had resigned, and it was the new King’s first day at work. Amsterdam was ablaze with colour, the city’s narrow brick streets flooded with an estimated one million people celebrating the inauguration of the first King of the Netherlands in more than a hundred years. The concentric canals were gridlocked with small boats, many of them in danger of sinking under the weight of the scores of people drinking and dancing on board.

It was April 2013 and the Dutch capital had been hit by a serious outbreak of what the locals called oranjekoorts, or ‘orange fever’, a non-fatal disease whose chief symptom was the urge to cover oneself from head to toe in bright orange clothing. The choice of colour was a tribute to the Royal House of Orange, itself named after the small French town of Orange over which its members had once ruled. Orange banners floated from the windows of the slender canal houses, orange bunting spanned the crooked alleyways and orange balloons hung from the tilting iron lampposts. The cobbled floor was littered with discarded orange wigs, hats and miniature flags. Babies wore orange face paint and a barking dog sported an orange hat, coat and miniature feather boa.

Wearing an orange T-shirt emblazoned ‘IK HOU VAN HOLLAND’ (‘I love Holland’), an orange top hat and orange sunglasses, I felt I hadn’t really made enough of an effort.

In Dam Square, site of the dam on the river Amstel that gave the city its name, some 25,000 people had gathered to watch the retiring Queen Beatrix hand the family business to her son, the new King Willem Alexander. At one end of the square, the six-storey Royal Palace was draped with Dutch tricolour flags, the golden railings of its first-floor balcony laced with orange flowers.

In front of the palace was a vast crowd of well-wishers, many of them dressed in orange fur-trimmed capes and inflatable crowns. Necks craning and cameras held high, they strained for a view of the minor royals and celebrities walking to the palace from the ancient Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) where the King had just been formally approved by the Dutch parliament. The UK’s Prince Charles sweated his way across the cobbles under a mass of gold braid and medals; Ghana’s Kofi Annan grinned and waved to the cheering crowd.

Queen Beatrix had announced her intention to step down a few months previously, after thirty-three years on the throne. It was, she said, time for the crown to pass to ‘a new generation’. Now, appearing on the palace balcony above the square, the nation’s kindly grandmother looked close to tears. ‘Some moments ago I abdicated from the throne,’ she told the tangoed masses in Dutch, a light breeze ruffling her dark purple dress. ‘I am happy and grateful to introduce you to your new King, Willem-Alexander.’

The national anthem began to play, and the former Queen stood back from the balcony. The new King stepped forward, ruddy as a farmer in his dark suit and pale tie, flanked by his wife Maxima, an Argentinian beauty who had shaken off her past as a junta leader’s daughter to win millions of Dutch hearts. Next to the royal couple stood their three cherubic daughters, visibly nervous but as pretty as Disney princesses in their matching yellow dresses. They waved to the tangerine crowd, and applause rippled through the city like thunder.

My own journey to Dam Square had begun some three years previously, more than five thousand miles away in the Caribbean. Until 2010, I had worked in London as a kind of low-rent political hitman, crafting snide talking points and tubthumping speeches for ambitious politicians, skilfully misrepresenting opponents and raking over expense claims to force the resignation of otherwise competent cabinet ministers. It was the kind of job that guaranteed invitations to cocktail parties and impressed girls in bars, and I didn’t like it at all.

When a national election and coalition agreement put my jubilant former colleagues in power, I found myself faced with a choice. I could either angle for work carrying a minister’s bags around expensively catered international summits, or I could submit to the lucrative PowerPoint grind of a corporate lobbying job. After mulling over my options for an afternoon, I did what any sensible person would: I booked a one-way flight to Cuba.

By September that year, I was on a battered forty foot sailing boat off the coast of Belize, in possession of little more than an oaky tan and the kind of beard that guaranteed a strip search at airports. The vessel’s dreadlocked crew were more interested in listening to reggae than in actually sailing anywhere, and time had collapsed into a blissfully monotonous cycle of drinking rum punch, swimming with turtles and broiling gently in the sun. The House of Commons seemed a long way away.

The few other passengers on board included a pair of sunburned English girls celebrating their graduation and making plans to save the world, and four sunburned Dutch cousins with backpacks, boisterous and over-friendly in the way that tall people released from a small country usually were. Bored of the rum and the turtles, I struck up a conversation with the only girl in the Dutch group, a skinny blonde with salty hair, a starfish-patterned bikini and eyes the colour of the sea. We discussed nothing memorable, but when she disembarked that evening I somehow convinced her to leave behind her email address, scrawled on the back of a Cubana Airlines ticket stub.

Several months passed in a haze of beer, beaches and bus rides, and I had all but forgotten about the girl on the boat until a series of agitated messages from my bank indicated it was time to find a new job. Unfortunately, the plane carrying me back to Heathrow met with a sudden snowstorm and was diverted to Amsterdam. With all flights cancelled, an unkind security guard kicked me out of Schiphol airport and I trudged through thick snow to a series of hotels, each overcrowded with other stranded passengers. Shivering in a T-shirt and cotton trousers better suited to Caribbean climes, l was seriously contemplating sleeping in a subway station when I remembered that I did, in fact, know someone who lived in the Netherlands. Kneeling by a frozen canal, I dug a sun-bleached ticket stub from the bottom of my backpack and sent a message to the skinny girl asking if she’d like to meet for dinner.

She invited me round to her place in Rotterdam that evening, and I never left.



Almost Dutch

Rotterdam is not a beautiful city. A sprawling industrial conurbation of some 600,000 people, the Netherland’s second largest metropolis has none of the canals, cobbles or picturesque bridges of its more famous rival, Amsterdam, and as such is rarely troubled by tourists. However, much to my surprise, it soon began to feel like home. Literally hours after walking out of the airport in the snow, I found myself living in a tall, crooked townhouse, on a tree-lined street between a canal, a tram stop and a bar selling tiny glasses of Heineken. My Caribbean suntan swiftly faded, and my long beard joined my tattered beach clothes in a rubbish bin on the rain-soaked balcony. By the time the snow melted, my belongings had already arrived in the post from England, and l was eating bright green erwtensoep (pea soup) with gusto. The skinny girl a feisty, fiercely intelligent Rotterdammer with a pretty smile showed no signs of kicking me out, and I began the slow process of integrating into Dutch society.

One of the first things to figure out was what to call my new home. Even the Dutch themselves couldn’t quite decide, referring to their country as either Holland or Nederland (the Netherlands) interchangeably. Consulting a heavy book in the library, though, I learned that strictly speaking the country was actually called ‘The Kingdom of the Netherlands’. Just as the United Kingdom included Wales, Scotland and assorted overseas territories, the Kingdom of the Netherlands included both the main territory in Europe, the Netherlands and three colonial relics in the Caribbean: the islands of Aruba, Curacao and St Maarten. (Three other specks in the Caribbean Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba also had the status of ‘special municipalities’.)

The European part of the Kingdom could therefore be termed simply ‘the Netherlands’, but to label it ‘Holland’ was wrong, as that name referred only to the country’s two most populous provinces: North Holland and South Holland. Calling the whole country ‘Holland’ was therefore rather like calling the whole of the United Kingdom ‘England’ a common mistake, but a mistake nevertheless. So the country was ‘the Netherlands’, and the people who lived there were Dutch, and spoke Dutch, a language that sounded to an outsider like a drunk man gargling soup.

Next were the bikes. In Britain, bicycles are sporting accessories used only by children, the fit or the foolhardy. In the Netherlands, though, a third of the country ride one as their main mode of transport. Within a few weeks I had bought two: a sturdy shopping bike with handlebars like a Frenchman’s moustache, and then a lean white racing bike that weighed perhaps a fifth as much as the first one.

A few weeks later came what the Dutch called a snorfiets, or miniature motor-scooter, an absurd little machine the same colour as a fire engine and almost as noisy. Helmets are optional, and the miles of flat, traffic-free cycle lanes are perfect for wobbling home after a few too many Heinekens.

Thirdly, unfortunately, I had to get a job. The generosity of the Dutch welfare system made it tempting to stay in bed, but sadly I soon found gainful employment, an incredibly lucrative but boring position with a major Anglo-Dutch company, sending emails from a cubicle in The Hague and trying to understand the curious habits of my Dutch colleagues.

Finally came the language. Nearly all Dutch people speak perfect English, thanks to an excellent education and a population small enough to mean it isn’t worth dubbing American films and television programmes into the local language.

However, outside of Amsterdam it is relatively rare to hear English spoken in the street, and I quickly became frustrated at being unable to follow conversations, read menus or tell the difference between alcoholfree beer and real beer in the supermarket. Dutch friends provided a crash course in key phrases every Englishman abroad should know: ‘Mag ik een biertje’ (can I have a beer); ‘Je bent mooi’ (you are beautiful); ‘Ik heb het niet gedaan, ik wil een advocaat’ (I didn’t do it, I want a lawyer). When this vocabulary proved insufficient I took a few lessons with a private tutor, a kind, curly-haired woman who’d broken her hip in a cycling accident and was consigned to a Hitchcockian convalescence watching the birds through her rear window. We never studied as such, but gossiped in a mixture of Dutch and English, and I quickly reached a level where I could understand almost everything people said and stammer my way through a reply.

Reading was harder, though, and I battled my way through picture books belonging to a Dutch friend’s eighteen-month-old daughter. Miffy (Nijntje) was fun, but The Very Hungry Caterpillar was beyond me.

Out in public I still regularly made mistakes, such as the time when instead of asking someone whether she was cold, I accidentally called her something else beginning with ‘c’.

Surprisingly quickly, the Netherlands began to feel like home. I learned how to cycle while holding an open umbrella, how to slip slimy pickled herrings down my throat in one vinegary gulp, and how to pronounce words like ‘genoeg’ and ‘hottentottententententoonstelling’. However, there was still much about the country that was deeply confusing.

For a tiny nation, smaller than Togo or Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands has had a huge influence on the world. The Dutch ruled over an empire stretching from the Caribbean to East Asia, founded the city of New York, discovered Australia, played the world’s best football and produced some of the finest art and architecture in Europe. Everywhere one goes in the world, one can always find Dutch people.

A country half the size of Scotland, with a population of just seventeen million or so, claims to have invented the DVD, the dialysis machine, the tape recorder, the CD, the energy-saving lightbulb, the pendulum clock, the speed camera, golf, the microscope, the telescope and the doughnut.

The Netherlands has been, and still is, a kind of hidden superpower. Yet to many outsiders including me it remained a land defined entirely by clichés: clogs and canals, tulips and windmills, bikes and dikes, pot and prostitutes.

Bookshelves in the leafy English village where I grew up groaned under the weight of volumes about Italian cuisine or the difficulties of assimilating in rural France, but when it came to the gastronomically and climatically challenged Netherlands, most people were completely uninformed.

Those well versed in the history of the Berlin Wall or the French Resistance often knew nothing about swathes of Dutch history: the vast land bridge that once connected the Netherlands to England; the famine that devastated the country in the 1940s; the Catholic traditions of the carnival-loving south; the long battle for independence from Spain; the bloody wars against the English navy; the engineering marvel of the Delta Project; the poisonous politics of the Dutch far right.

The millions of tourists who visit each year rarely leave Amsterdam, and many expats manage to live in the country for years without speaking a single word of Dutch.

Like Canada or Sweden, the Netherlands is a place about which everyone knows a little, but no one knows very much.

As my own ties to the country deepened, I was determined to learn more. In 2013 I set out on a series of journeys through my adopted country. Some were many miles long, while others were confined to a single city or even building, but each aimed to understand a different aspect of the Netherlands’ culture and history the battle against the rising tides, the ‘Golden Age’ of empire, the Second World War, the effects of immigration, the liberal approach to drugs and prostitution and how these shaped the Dutch themselves.

This book is the story of those journeys. In the course of undertaking them I not only saw the new King inaugurated in Amsterdam, but dressed as a tiger for Easter, got drunk in a world-famous art gallery, had a picnic in a concentration camp, found Noah’s Ark near the North Sea and watched small children put on blackface before Christmas.

I even broke the habit of a lifetime and went to a football match. I learned why the Dutch are always cleaning their windows, why prostitutes pay income tax, and why the Netherlands are not quite as liberal as they seem.

Some things, however, remained a mystery. Chief among these was where the Netherlands was heading. During my first few months in the country, I often thought the Dutch had built something close to a perfect society. They live in one of the richest countries in Europe but work the fewest hours, with profitable multinational companies and excellent public services to boot. Compared to their British counterparts, the average Dutch person works an hour a day less but is about twenty per cent wealthier. Violent crime is almost unheard of and even major cities are bucolic, with little of the stress, pettiness and grime that plague places like London.

With memories of my daily commute to Westminster fading fast, I cycled slowly to the office, worked a few hours a day and had my bank account replenished with an unspendable torrent of euros every month with special extra pay cheques provided to cover the cost of Christmas and summer holidays.

Despite drinking dozens of cups of coffee a day, the Dutch are relaxed about almost everything. Working on weekends is unheard of, while suits and ties are reserved for weddings and funerals only. (For a job interview, a clean T-shirt will suffice.)

The Netherlands often seemed a charmingly timewarped place, with children playing safely in the streets at night, road-sweepers using wooden witches’ brooms, and teenagers rollerblading in the park while listening to Michael Jackson. Wandering the canals of Delft or watching the royals wave from their balcony in Amsterdam, it was easy to agree with the German poet Heinrich Heine, who allegedly said that if a war ever broke out he would head straight for the Netherlands, because ‘everything happens fifty years later there’.

Over time, though, it became clear that my initial impressions of peace and prosperity were not entirely accurate. Although there was much in the Netherlands to admire, there were also some things to be concerned about.

For centuries the country had benefited from its exposure to the outside world. Its geographical position and long seaboard helped it get rich from trade, while its overseas empire funded the development of cities like Amsterdam and artists like Rembrandt. The Dutch people’s outward-looking, internationalist attitude had given them a place on the world stage that it was hard to imagine being rivalled by, say, Finland, or Montenegro.

However, in recent years, exposure to outside forces had also created challenges. A journalist from the New York Times had described how ‘the Dutch tend to be a little world-weary these days. The past 35 years of Dutch history is the story of innocence lost,’ he wrote. ‘The noxious malaise that has long been eating at the vitals of most of industrialised Europe seems finally to have reached the Netherlands, taking much of the bounce out of this quiet, bustling nation as the stout-hearted Dutch got their first taste of domestic terrorism, racial extremism, corporate scandal and massive unemployment.’ That was in 1976.

Since then, the sense of uncertainty had only intensified. The economic crisis had hit the Netherlands hard, climate change had threatened the country’s watery borders, and immigration had caused tensions in many communities. Perhaps most strikingly of all, many former liberals now thought the whole Dutch social experiment had gone too far. The country’s famously permissive approach to tricky social issues had been questioned, and sacred cows like legal drug use and prostitution sacrificed.

In the teenage years of the twenty-first century, one of Europe’s smallest countries seemed to be a microcosm for the challenges facing the continent at large.

Would the Netherlands be able to maintain its traditional freedoms, or were the good times over? No one seemed entirely sure, but as Amsterdam erupted in orange, the country was determined to defy the doomsayers.

In their laidback, pragmatic, untheatrical way, the Dutch were responding to change just as they always had: with drinking and dancing and a quiet determination to maintain their unique outlook on life. For now, the country remained an island in time: arguably the most tolerant, peaceful and prosperous corner of a generally turbulent world.

‘We’ll keep making the wrong decisions,’ a friend told me, ‘and we’ll keep enjoying the consequences.’


Water, Water, Everywhere

Windmills, Climate Change and the Battle against the Tides

One night, Johan dreamed it was going to rain. In his dream, it rained for forty days and forty nights. The sea rose, the rivers flooded, and still the rain kept falling. People raced for higher ground, searching for tall trees and mountaintops where they could survive the deluge, but it was no use. The waters kept rising and the whole world was drowned. When Johan awoke, he decided to build an ark.

Some two decades later, the completed ark floated in a dock off the River Maas in Dordrecht, an ancient cathedral city some fifteen miles southeast of Rotterdam.

Approaching on foot from the train station one grey February morning, I had expected something smaller and, strangely, did not notice the ark until it was right above me: a vast wooden box of overlapping, honey-coloured pine that towered over the weedy wasteland around it. As high as a fivestorey building, the ark looked exactly like those I’d seen in illustrated bibles as a child, with a bowed profile and a squat cabin on the top. The high sides were studded with portholes and hatches, from which plastic animals peered out at the empty car park: a black-and-white cow at one window, a gloomy-looking horse at another. More oversized toys gazed down from the open top deck, including a life-sized plastic giraffe at the stern and an elephant at the bow. On the murky water below, a single live swan bobbed serenely like a bath toy; waiting, perhaps, to be offered a place on board.

Of all the places in the world where a modern-day disciple might choose to build an ark, the Netherlands was perhaps the most logical. With more than a quarter of the country lying below mean sea level, canals, rivers and lakes were almost as common as trees. Even a short walk or drive would involve crossing countless bridges, and even the most modest homes could be fronted by open water. More than three thousand miles of waterway were used to transport everything from cars to cows, and many towns retained the names of the water features on which they were originally based, such as Amsterdam’s dam on the River Amstel.

‘The Netherlands isn’t below sea level,’ a Dutchman on a ferry once told me. ‘The sea is above Netherlands level.’

Mark Twain was supposed to have said that any investor seeking profit should buy land, as it wasn’t being made any more. In most countries that would be sound advice, but in the Netherlands the opposite is true. Huge swathes of the country consist of land reclaimed from the sea, including the entire province of Flevoland. While England and Belgium are rough patchworks of fields and forests, the Netherlands is a man-made chessboard of straight lines and sharp corners.

‘God created the world,’ as one popular saying goes, ‘but the Dutch created the Netherlands.’

Unsurprisingly, the endless battle to stay dry has had a profound effect on the country’s history and culture. After living there for a while, I came to realise that almost every distinctive feature or cliché about the Netherlands was, in some way, a result of the country’s unique relationship with water: from the windmills that were used to pump fields dry, to the flatness of the land that was left behind, to the bicycles that travelled easily across the smooth terrain. Bricks paved roads built on dangerously soft ground; tulips thrived in the silty reclaimed soil; cows grew fat on rich, moist grass; glasses of milk and beer were safe to drink when clean water was in short supply; people grew tall from drinking all the milk; and thick wooden clogs kept farmers’ feet dry when trudging through boggy fields. Almost everything that an outsider might think of as typically Dutch could be attributed to the country’s ongoing battle against the tides.

The omnipresence of water had also, I came to see, had a profound effect on the Dutch themselves. Earthy and honest, with nothing to hide, the Dutch people I met were as dependable and unexotic as the landscape in which they lived. Having worked together to build a country the way others might build a house, they also had a deeply ingrained belief in the need for hard work and order, equality and cooperation. To begin to understand the Dutch, therefore, I had to understand their relationship with water. And a journey along one of the Netherlands’ largest rivers, from Noah’s Ark through my adopted home city of Rotterdam and on to the North Sea, seemed like a good place to start.

Into the Ark

I walked along a narrow jetty, pushed open a wooden swing door and entered the ark. Inside, a young Dutch woman in a Noah’s Ark fleece jacket sat behind a pine reception desk in a pine reception area. I bought a ticket €12.50 for eternal salvation, paid with a credit card and the receptionist pointed out animal footprints painted on the rough wooden floor, leading away from the counter and into the belly of the ship. ‘Volg de voetstappen,’ she explained. ‘Follow the footprints.’

I did as I was told and soon reached a series of nativity-style displays nestled in the curves of the hull, each housing doeeyed plastic animals waiting for the waters to subside. Next to them, recovering in bed from his frenzied carpentering, was Noah, his grey beard cascading over a grubby smock, dead plastic eyes staring at a splintery ceiling. On the wall was an enlarged page from a Dutch bible: ‘The flood continued forty days upon the earth and all flesh died that moved upon the earth Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark.’ The whole place smelled like IKEA.

The ark had opened in 2012, some twenty years after the Dutch creationist and amateur prophet Johan Huibers had his apocalyptic dream. A well-off building contractor sporting a Mario Brothers moustache, Huibers had become convinced that the Netherlands would be submerged in an Old Testament-style flood. In 2005 he built a half-size replica of Noah’s Ark, followed by the full-size replica in which I now stood. Three years in the making, it reportedly cost well over a million euros to build. Huibers told reporters he hoped to offset the costs by taking thousands of passengers on a tour of London during the 2012 Olympic Games, but those plans were scuppered when British authorities refused the vessel permission to visit, understandably concerned that a huge floating wood pile filled with people and candles might present something of a fire hazard.

According to its creator, the scale of the vessel followed the instructions laid out in the Book of Genesis. However, some concessions to modernity had been made, unable to identify the ‘gopher wood’ stipulated in the Bible, Huibers had resorted to building a Scandinavian pine skin over the metal hulls of several old barges that had been welded together. In a more serious break with tradition, rather than two specimens of each living creature, the ark included only a handful of small farmyard animals, outnumbered by plastic 200 animals. Perhaps for this reason, visitors were not exactly flooding in. Newspapers had reported a recent spike in interest in the ark when an apocalyptic cult claimed the end of the world was nigh, but when I arrived the queue to board the ark was not long. In fact, it was non-existent, and the car park outside was nearly empty.

Passing the plastic Noah, I walked deeper into the ship, ascending a series of wooden ramps and walkways through the maze of animal pens and cabins that filled the belly of the ship. Most of the pens were empty, but some contained live rabbits that were scratching their way through a dusty carpet of straw. A black plastic monkey swung from the rafters overhead, and a pair of plastic rhinos thrust their horns menacingly in the direction of the ostriches and dodos. Elsewhere, a six-packed plastic Adam with a shaggy brown wig and amorphous genitals was ignoring a terribly sexy Eve, her generous breasts obscured by long blonde hair and a carefully placed plastic flamingo. Posters on the wall offered a creationist view of world history, implying that the Grand Canyon had been created by the same deluge that sent Noah to sea.

Ascending the sloping walkways, I soon reached the top deck, where an empty café offered rookworst (sausage) sandwiches but no alcohol. Outside was a panoramic view of the river Maas curving towards the steeples of Dordrecht city centre. Milky grey and as flat as a table top, the river isn’t much to look at, but is in fact one of the continent’s most important arteries, one main channel of what geographers catchily refer to as the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta. Roughly 600 miles long, the Maas (or Meuse in French) flows north through France, Belgium and the Netherlands before bending westwards and joining a dense web of other rivers on their way to the sea, including the Lek and the Waal and what Lord Byron called ‘the wide and winding Rhine’.

Before leaving home, I had tried to follow the course of the rivers on maps online, but quickly gave up it was like trying to track the path of a single thread through a knitted jumper. Suffice to say that should they wish, a boat owner in Dordrecht could in theory sail upriver not only to Dutch cities such as Maastricht, but on to Strasburg, Mainz, Cologne and even Basel. Going in the opposite direction, the river carries traffic from Dordrecht to Rotterdam before reaching the sea at several points along the Dutch coast, most notably at Hoek van Holland, from where ferries continued the journey across the Channel to Essex.

Although not widely known outside northern Europe, the Maas is mentioned in the first verse of the German national anthem (‘We stand together as brother, from the Maas to the Memel’). The river even gave its name to a dinosaur: the Mosasaur, an alligator-like creature whose existence helped disprove the previously accepted theory that it was impossible for any animal to become extinct. The Maas is the lifeblood of the southern Netherlands, and I intended to make my way along it.

Dizzy from the smell of pine, I decided i had seen enough of the ark. I retraced my steps, resisted the temptation to buy stuffed toy animals from the woman at the reception desk, and disembarked. I had nearly an hour to spare before the ferry would depart for Rotterdam, and was happy to have the chance to explore Dordrecht, a city I had never visited before.

Dordrecht: A Smiling City

Just as Parisians must tire of fireworks over the Eiffel Tower, and Egyptians yawn at the sight of pyramids at sunset, a couple of years in the Netherlands had made me rather blasé about pretty little towns with historic churches and canals. Dordrecht, however, was undeniably charming: a warren of spindly old buildings tilting over rust-coloured brick streets dusted with fallen leaves. ‘Dordrecht, a place so beautiful, tomb of my cherished illusions,’ a lovesick Proust once called it. For Alexandre Dumas, it was ‘a smiling city’.

On a wintry weekday morning, the streets were quiet but the city felt quietly prosperous, unsullied by the tour groups and stag parties that blighted towns further north. Cyclists rattled over bumpy cobbled streets, weaving between shoppers carrying plastic bags filled with bread and potatoes. As in many Dutch towns, water was omnipresent. Around almost every corner came another small harbour, tucked between tall warehouses and houses lined up like books on a shelf. The city seemed like a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces missing, the gaps filled with spillover from the river.



Why the Dutch are Different, A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands

by Ben Coates

get it at

“It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.” Prisoners of the American Dream – Stefanie Stantcheva.

With inequality increasing, many around the world might assume that Americans would want to close the income gap by instituting a more progressive system of redistribution. But the opposite is true: Americans’ perceptions of privilege, opportunity, and social mobility contrast markedly with views elsewhere.

Given worsening economic inequality in the United States, many observers might assume that Americans would want to reduce income differences by instituting a more progressive tax system. That assumption would be wrong because, in December, the US Congress passed a sweeping tax bill that will, at least in the short term, disproportionately benefit higher-income households.

Despite their country’s mounting income gap, Americans’ support for redistribution has, according to the General Social Survey, remained flat for decades. Perhaps John Steinbeck got it right when he supposedly said that:

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

For those who believe that a society should offer its members equal opportunity, and that anyone who works hard can climb higher on the socioeconomic ladder, redistribution is unnecessary and unfair. After all, equal opportunists argue, if everyone begins at the same starting point, a bad outcome must be due to an individual’s own missteps.

This view approximates that of a majority of Americans. According to the World Values Survey, 70% of Americans believe that the poor can make it out of poverty on their own. This contrasts sharply with attitudes in Europe, where only 35% believe the same thing. Put another way:

Most Europeans consider the poor unfortunate, while most Americans consider them indolent.

This may be one reason why European countries support more generous and costlier welfare transfers than the US.

Americans have deep-seated, optimistic views about social mobility, opinions that are rooted in US history and bolstered by narratives of rags-to-riches immigrants. But today, Americans’ beliefs about social mobility are based more on myth than on fact.

According to survey research that colleagues and I recently conducted and analyzed, Americans estimate that among children in the lowest income bracket, 12% will make it to the top bracket by the time they retire. Americans also believe that with hard work, only 22% of children in poverty today will remain there as adults.

The actual numbers are 8% and 33%, respectively. In other words, Americans overestimate upward social mobility and underestimate the likelihood of remaining stuck in poverty for generations. They also believe that if everyone worked hard, the American Dream of self-made success would hew closer to reality.

European respondents are more pessimistic about mobility: unlike Americans, they overestimate the odds of remaining in poverty. For example, French, Italian, and British respondents said, respectively, that 35%, 34%, and 38% of low-income children will remain poor, when the reality is that 29%, 27%, and 31% will.

Views about social mobility are not uniform across the political spectrum or across geographic regions. In both the US and Europe, for example, people who call themselves “conservative” on matters of economic policy believe that there are equal opportunities for all children, and that the free-market economy in their country is fair.

The opposite holds true for those who call themselves economically “liberal.” These people favor government intervention, because they believe that, left to their own devices, markets will not ensure fairness, and may even generate more inequality.

An even more striking pattern is that Americans are overly optimistic about social mobility in parts of the country where actual mobility is low including the southeastern states of Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In these states, respondents believe that mobility is more than two times greater than it is. By contrast, respondents underestimate social mobility in northern states including Vermont, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington where it is higher.

As part of our study, we shared data on social stratification in Europe and America with our participants. We found that selfidentified liberals and conservatives interpreted this information differently. When shown pessimistic information about mobility, for example, liberals became even more supportive of redistributive policies, such as public education and universal health care.

Conservatives, by contrast, remained unmoved. While they acknowledged that low social mobility is economically limiting, they remained as averse to government intervention and redistribution as they were before we shared the data with them.

Part of the reason for conservatives’ reaction, I believe, is mistrust. Many conservatives hold government in deep disdain; only 17% of conservative voters in the US and Europe say they can trust their country’s political leaders. The share of conservatives with an overall negative view of government was 80%; among liberals, it was closer to 50%. Moreover, a high percentage of conservatives say the best way to reduce inequality is to lower taxes on businesses and people.

But suspicion of government may also stem from a belief that political systems are rigged, and that politicians can’t or won’t improve things because they have become “captured” by entrenched interests, mired in legislative stalemate, or stymied by bureaucracy. In short:

When conservatives learn that social mobility is lower than they thought, they believe government is the problem, not the solution.

As J.D. Vance noted in his 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy, many on the American right now believe that “it’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.”

We may be so polarized in the US and Europe that, even after receiving the same information, we respond in opposite ways. The left will want more government, and the right will want less. Clearly, reality is not so neat. But what is clear is that people’s views about social mobility have as much to do with ideology and geography as with their circumstances.


Stefanie Stantcheva is a professor of economics at Harvard University.

Project Syndicate


Research Paper

Intergenerational Mobility and Support for Redistribution


Using new cross-country survey and experimental data, we investigate how beliefs about intergenerational mobility affect preferences for redistribution in France, Italy, Sweden, the UK, and the US. Americans are more optimistic than Europeans about social mobility. Our randomized treatment shows pessimistic information about mobility and increases support for redistribution, mostly for “equality of opportunity” policies.

We find a strong political polarization. Left-wing respondents are more pessimistic about mobility, their preferences for redistribution are correlated with their mobility perceptions, and they support more redistribution after seeing pessimistic information. None of these apply to right-wing respondents, possibly because they see the government as a “problem” and not as the “solution.”



Stefanie Stantcheva is an associate professor in Economics. Her research focuses on the optimal design of the tax system, taking into account important labor market features, social preferences, and long-term effects such as human capital acquisition and innovation by people and firms. She is also interested in the empirical effects of taxation on inequality, top incomes, migration, human capital, and innovation.

She received her Ph.D. in Economics from MIT in 2014 and was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows 2014-2016.

William James’s Revolutionary 1884 Theory of How Our Bodies Affect Our Feelings – Maria Popova * What is an Emotion? – William James (1884).

Wat is an Emotion?

William James’s Revolutionary 1884 Theory of How Our Bodies Affect Our Feelings.

by Maria Popova

“Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote in her masterfull treatise on the intelligence of emotions, ”they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself.” But the emotions and the intellect are just two parts of our creaturely trifecta of experience. The third, which can’t be disentwined from the other two and which is in constant dynamic dialogue with them, is the physical reality of the body.

More than a century before Nussbaum, the trailblazing psychologist William James (1842-1910) who shaped our understanding of the psychology of habit made a revolutionary case for “how much our mental life is knit up with our corporeal frame” in an 1884 essay titled “What is an Emotion? ” included in The Heart of William James.

Long before scientists came to demonstrate how our emotions affect our bodies, James argued that the relationship is bidirectional and that while “bodily disturbances” are conventionally considered byproducts or expressions of the so-called standard emotions “surprise, curiosity, rapture, fear, anger, lust, greed, and the like” these corporeal reverberations are actually the raw material of the emotion itself.

James writes:

“Our natural way of thinking about these standard emotions is that the mental perception of some fact excites the mental affection called the emotion, and that this latter state of mind gives rise to the bodily expression.

My thesis on the contrary is that the bodily changes follow directly the PERCEPTION of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion.

Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect, that the one mental state is not immediately induced by the other, that the bodily manifestations must first be interposed between, and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be.

Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colourless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we could not actually feel afraid or angry”.

The subtleties of our body language and physical instinct, James argues, are in concordance with the subtleties of our emotional experience:

“No shade of emotion, however slight, should be without a bodily reverberation as unique, when taken in its totality, as is the mental mood itself. The immense number of parts modified in each emotion is what makes it so difficult for us to reproduce in cold blood the total and integral expression of any one of them. Our whole cubic capacity is sensibly alive; and each morsel of it contributes its pulsations of feeling, dim or sharp, pleasant, painful, or dubious, to that sense of personality that every one of us unfailingly carries with him.”

Pointing out that we’re each familiar with the bodily experience of emotional states the instinctual furrowing of the brow when troubled, the lump in the throat when anxious James delivers the central point of his theory:

“If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its characteristic bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind, no “mind-stuff” out of which the emotion can be constituted, and that a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception is all that remains.

Can one fancy the state of rage and picture no ebullition of it in the chest, no flushing of the face, no dilatation of the nostrils, no clenching of the teeth, no impulse to vigorous action, but in their stead limp muscles, calm breathing, and a placid face? The present writer, for one, certainly cannot. The rage is as completely evaporated as the sensation of its socalled manifestations, and the only thing that can possibly be supposed to take its place is some coldblooded and dispassionate judicial sentence, confined entirely to the intellectual realm, to the effect that a certain person or persons merit chastisement for their sins.

In like manner of grief: what would it be without its tears, its sobs, its suffocation of the heart, its pang in the breast-bone? A feelingless cognition that certain circumstances are deplorable, and nothing more. Every passion in turn tells the same story. A purely disembodied human emotion is a nonentity, without its tears, its sobs, its suffocation of the heart, its pang in the breast-bone? A feelingless cognition that certain circumstances are deplorable, and nothing more. Every passion in turn tells the same story. A purely disembodied human emotion is a nonentity.”

It’s only in the past decade, more than a century after James developed his theory, that Western scientists have come to study this relationship through the field of embodied condition. But millennia-old Eastern traditions are built upon a foundational understanding of this osmotic interplay of flesh and feeling.

Ancient mind-body practices like vipassana meditation are so effective because, in bringing us back into our bodies, they decondition our mental spinning and make us better able to simply observe our emotions as we experience them rather than being wound up and dominated by them.

Noting that his theory “grew out of fragmentary introspective observations,” James offers an empirical testament from his own interior life:

“The more closely I scrutinise my states, the more persuaded I become, that whatever moods, affections, and passions I have, are in very truth constituted by, and made up of, those bodily changes we ordinarily call their expression or consequence; and the more it seems to me that if I were to become corporeally anaesthetic, I should be excluded from the life of the affections, harsh and tender alike, and drag out an existence of merely cognitive or intellectual form.”

He notes that the purely cognitive experience of things is “more allied to a judgment of right than to anything else” for instance, analyzing a symphony’s composition rather than letting the music, in the immortal words of Oliver Sacks, “pierce the heart directly.” Curiously, James argues that intellectual mastery of a specific domain blunts one’s ability to feel these physiological aesthetic ripples of emotion:

“Where long familiarity with a certain class of effects has blunted emotional sensibility thereto as much as it has sharpened the taste and judgment, we do get the intellectual emotion, if such it can be called, pure and undefiled. And the dryness of it, the paleness, the absence of all glow, as it may exist in a thoroughly expert critic’s mind, not only shows us what an altogether different thing it is from the “standard” emotions we considered first, but makes us suspect that almost the entire difference lies in the fact that the bodily sounding-board, vibrating in the one case, is in the other mute. “Not so very bad” is, in a person of consummate taste, apt to be the highest limit of approving expression.”

The great physicist Richard Feynman, of course, vehemently disagreed. But James certainly had a point: I once knew a hard scientist, in every sense of the word, who very, much embodied this withering of the expansive warmth of aesthetic appreciation in the grip of the cold intellect. On one occasion, she sent me a photograph from an autumn hike, depicting hills of trees covered in beautiful foliage at sunset. “Not bad,” she wrote.

James considers the interplay of these two faculties:

” In every art, in every science, there is the keen perception of certain relations being right or not, and there is the emotional flush and thrill consequent thereupon. And these are two things, not one. In the former of them it is that experts and masters are at home. The latter accompaniments are bodily commotions that they may hardly feel, but that may be experienced in their fulness by Crétins and Philistines in whom the critical judgment is at its lowest ebb. The “marvels” of Science, about which so much edifying popular literature is written, are apt to be “caviare” to the men in the laboratories. Cognition and emotion are parted even in this last retreat, who shall say that their antagonism may not just be one phase of the world-old struggle known as that between the spirit and the flesh? a struggle in which it seems pretty certain that neither party will definitively drive the other off the field”.

The essay, like every piece collected in The Heart of William James, is a magnificent read in its entirety. Complement it with James on choosing purpose over profit and the psychology of the second wind, then revisit immunologist Esther Sternberg on how our emotions affect our susceptibility to burnout and disease and Rilke on the relationship between the body and the soul.


According to James, only after we experience the physiological response do we interpret it cognitively and ascribe to it a particular emotion. Based on this, a cognitive recognition and categorization of a specific emotion occurs following an endocrine-generated physiological response.
Richard Yonck


What is an Emotion? William James (1884)

First published in Mind 9,188-205.

The physiologists who, during the past few years, have been so industriously exploring the functions of the brain, have limited their attempts at explanation to its cognitive and volitional performances. Dividing the brain into sensorial and motor centres, they have found their division to be exactly paralleled by the analysis made by empirical psychology, of the perceptive and volitional parts of the mind into their simplest elements.

But the aesthetic sphere of the mind, its longings, its pleasures and pains, and its emotions, have been so ignored in all these researches that one is tempted to suppose that if either Dr. Ferrier or Dr. Munk were asked for a theory in brain-terms of the latter mental facts, they might both reply, either that they had as yet bestowed no thought upon the subject, or that they had found it so difficult to make distinct hypotheses, that the matter lay for them among the problems of the future, only to be taken up after the simpler ones of the present should have been definitively solved.

And yet it is even now certain that of two things concerning the emotions, one must be true. Either separate and special centres, affected to them alone, are their brain-seat, or else they correspond to processes occurring in the motor and sensory centres, already assigned, or in others like them, not yet mapped out.

If the former be the case we must deny the current view, and hold the cortex to be something more than the surface of “projection” for every sensitive spot and every muscle in the body. If the latter be the case, we must ask whether the emotional “process” in the sensory or motor centre be an altogether peculiar one, or whether it resembles the ordinary perceptive processes of which those centres are already recognised to be the seat.

The purpose of the following pages is to show that the last alternative comes nearest to the truth, and that the emotional brain-processes no only resemble the ordinary sensorial brain-processes, but in very truth are nothing but such processes variously combined. The main result of this will be to simplify our notions of the possible complications of brain-physiology, and to make us see that we have already a brain-scheme in our hands whose applications are much wider than its authors dreamed.

But although this seems to be the chief result of the arguments I am to urge, I should say that they were not originally framed for the sake of any such result. They grew out of fragmentary introspective observations, and it was only when these had already combined into a theory that the thought of the simplification the theory might bring to cerebral physiology occurred to me, and made it seem more important than before.

I should say first of all that the only emotions I propose expressly to consider here are those that have a distinct bodily expression. That there are feelings of pleasure and displeasure, of interest and excitement, bound up with mental operations, but having no obvious bodily expression for their consequence, would, I suppose, be held true by most readers. Certain arrangements of sounds, of lines, of colours, are agreeable, and others the reverse, without the degree of the feeling being sufficient to quicken the pulse or breathing, or to prompt to movements of either the body or the face. Certain sequences of ideas charm us as much as others tire us. It is a real intellectual delight to get a problem solved, and a real intellectual torment to have to leave it unfinished.

The first set of examples, the sounds, lines, and colours, are either bodily sensations, or the images of such. The second set seem to depend on processes in the ideational centres exclusively. Taken together, they appear to prove that there are pleasures and pains inherent in certain forms of nerve-action as such, wherever that action occur. The case of these feelings we will at present leave entirely aside, and confine our attention to the more complicated cases in which a wave of bodily disturbance of some kind accompanies the perception of the interesting sights or sounds, or the passage of the exciting train of ideas. Surprise, curiosity, rapture, fear, anger, lust, greed, and the like, become then the names of the mental states with which the person is possessed. The bodily disturbances are said to be the “manifestation” of these several emotions, their “expression” or “natural language”; and these emotions themselves, being so strongly characterized both from within and without, may be called the standard emotions.

Our natural way of thinking about these standard emotions is that the mental perception of some fact excites the mental affection called the emotion, and that this latter state of mind gives rise to the bodily expression.

My thesis on the contrary is that the bodily changes follow directly the PERCEPTION of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion.

Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect, that the one mental state is not immediately induced by the other, that the bodily manifestations must first be interposed between, and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be.

Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colourless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we could not actually feel afraid or angry.

Stated in this crude way, the hypothesis is pretty sure to meet with immediate disbelief. And yet neither many nor far-fetched considerations are required to mitigate its paradoxical character, and possibly to produce conviction of its truth.

To begin with, readers of the Journal do not need to be reminded that the nervous system of every living thing is but a bundle of predispositions to react in particular ways upon the contact of particular features of the environment. As surely as the hermitcrab’s abdomen presupposes the existence of empty whelk-shells somewhere to be found, so surely do the hound’s olfactories imply the existence, on the one hand, of deer’s or foxes’ feet, and on the other, the tendency to follow up their tracks.

The neural machinery is but a hyphen between determinate arrangements of matter ourtside the body and determinate impulses to inhibition or discharge within its organs.

When the hen sees a white oval object on the ground, she cannot leave it; she must keep upon it and return to it, until at last its transformation into a little mass of moving chirping down elicits from her machinery an entirely new set of performances. The love of man for woman, or of the human mother for her babe, our wrath at snakes and our fear of precipices, may all be described similarly, as instances of the way in which peculiarly conformed pieces of the world’s furniture will fatally call forth most particular mental and bodily reactions, in advance of, and often in direct opposition to, the verdict of our deliberate reason concerning them. The labours of Darwin and his successors are only just beginning to reveal the universal parasitism of each creature upon other special things, and the way in which each creature brings the signature of its special relations stampted on its nervous system with it upon the scene.

Every living creature is in fact a sort of lock, whose wards and springs presuppose special forms of key, which keys however are not born attached to the locks, but are sure to be found in the world near by as life goes on. And the locks are indifferent to any but their own keys. The egg fails to fascinate the hound, the bird does not fear the precipice, the snake waxes not wroth at his kind, the deer cares nothing for the woman or the human babe.

Those who wish for a full development of this point of view, should read Schneider’s Der Thierische Wille no other book shows how accurately anticipatory are the actions of animals, of the specific features of the environment in which they are to live.

Now among these nervous anticipations are of course to be reckoned the emotions, so far as these may be called forth directly by the perception of certain facts. In advance of all experience of elephants no child can but be frightened if he suddenly find one trumpeting and charging upon him. No woman can see a handsome little naked baby without delight, no man in the wilderness see a human form in the distance without excitement and curiosity. I said I should consider these emotions only so far as they have bodily movements of some sort for their accompaniments. But my first point is to show that their bodily accompaniments are much more far-reaching and complicated than we ordinarily suppose.

In the earlier books on Expression, written mostly from the artistic point of view, the signs of emotion visible from without were the only ones taken account of. Sir Charles Bell’s celebrated Anatomy of Expression noticed the respiratory changes; and Bain’s and Darwin’s treatises went more thoroughly still into the study of the visceral factors involved, changes in the functioning of glands and muscles, and in that of the circulatory apparatus. But not even a Darwin has exhaustively enumerated all the bodily affections characteristic of any one of the standard emotions. More and more, as physiology advances, we begin to discern how almost infinitely numerous and subtle they must be.

The researches of Mosso with the plethysmograph have shown that not only the heart, but the entire circulatory system, forms a sort of sounding-board, which every change of our consciousness, however slight, may make reverberate. Hardly a sensation comes to us without sending waves of alternate constriction and dilatation down the arteries of our arms. The bloodvessels of the abdomen act reciprocally with those of the more outward parts. The bladder and bowels, the glands of the mouth, throat, and skin, and the liver, are known to be affected gravely in certain severe emotions, and are unquestionably affected transiently when the emotions are of a lighter sort.

That the heart-beats and the rhythm of breathing play a leading part in all emotions whatsoever, is a matter too notorious for proof.

And what is really equally prominent, but less likely to be admitted until special attention is drawn to the fact, is the continuous co-operation of the voluntary muscles in our emotional states. Even when no change of outward attitude is produced, their inward tension alters to suit each varying mood, and is felt as a difference of tone or of strain. In depression the flexors tend to prevail; in elation or belligerent excitement the extensors take the lead. And the various permutations and combinations of which these organic activities are susceptible, make it abstractly possible that no shade of emotion, however slight, should be without a bodily reverberation as unique, when taken in its totality, as is the mental mood itself.

The immense number of parts modified in each emotion is what makes it so difficult for us to reproduce in cold blood the total and integral expression of any one of them. We may catch the trick with the voluntary muscles, but fail with the skin, glands, heart, and other viscera. Just as an artificially imitated sneeze lacks something of the reality, so the attempt to imitate an emotion in the absence of its normal instigating cause is apt to be rather “hollow”.

The next thing to be noticed is this, that every one of the bodily changes, whatsoever it be, is felt acutely or obscurely, the moment it occurs. If the reader has never paid attention to this matter, he will be both interested and astonished to learn how many different local bodily feelings he can detect in himself as characteristic of his various emotional moods. It would be perhaps too much to expect him to arrest the tide of any strong gust of passion for the sake of any such curious analysis as this; but he can observe more tranquil states, and that may be assumed here to be true of the greater which is shown to be true of the less.

Our whole cubic capacity is sensibly alive; and each morsel of it contributes its pulsations of feeling, dim or sharp, pleasant, painful, or dubious, to that sense of personality that every one of us unfailingly carries with him. It is surprisingly what little items give accent to these complexes of sensibility.

When worried by any slight trouble, one may find that the focus of one’s bodily consciousness is the contraction, often quite inconsiderable, of the eyes and brows. When momentarily embarrassed it is something in the pharynx that compels either a swallow, a clearing of the throat, or a slight cough; and so on for as many more instances as might be named.

Our concern here being with the general view rather than with the details, I will not linger to discuss these but, assuming the point admitted that every change that occurs must be felt, I will pass on.


I now proceed to urge the vital point of my whole theory, which is this.

If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its characteristic bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind, no “mind-stuff” out of which the emotion can be constituted, and that a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception is all that remains.

It is true, that although most people, when asked say that their introspection verifies this statement, some persist in saying theirs does not. Many cannot be made to understand the question. When you beg them to imagine away every feeling of laughter and of tendency to laugh from their consciousness of the ludicrousness of an object, and then to tell you what the feeling of its ludicrousness would be like, whether it be anything more than the perception that the object belongs to the class “funny,” they persist in replying that the thing proposed is a physical impossibility, and that they always must laugh, if they see a funny object. Of course the task proposed is not the practical one of seeing a ludicrous object and annihilating one’s tendency to laugh. It is the purely speculative one of subtracting certain elements of feeling from an emotional state supposed to exist in its fulness, and saying what the residual elements are. I cannot help thinking that all who rightly apprehend this problem will agree with the proposition above laid down.

What kind of an emotion of fear would be left, if the feelings neither of quickened heart-beats nor of shallow breathing, neither of trembling lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of goose-flesh nor of visceral stirrings, were present, it is quite impossible to think. Can one fancy the state of rage and picture no ebullition of it in the chest, no flushing of the face, no dilatation of the nostrils, no clenching of the teeth, no impulse to vigorous action, but in their stead limp muscles, calm breathing, and a placid face? The present writer, for one, certainly cannot.

The rage is as completely evaporated as the sensation of its so-called manifestations, and the only thing that can possibly be supposed to take its place is some cold-blooded and dispassionate judicial sentence, conlined entirely to the intellectual realm, to the effect that a certain person or persons merit chastisement for their sins. In like manner of grief: what would it be without its tears, its sobs, its suffocation of the heart, its pang in the breast-bone? A feelingless cognition that certain circumstances are deplorable, and nothing more.

Every passion in turn tells the same story. A purely disembodied human emotion is a nonentity.

I do not say that it is a contradiction in the nature of things, or that pure spirits are necessarily condemned to cold intellectual lives; but I say that for us, emotion dissociated from all bodily feeling is inconceivable. The more closely I scrutinise my states, the more persuaded I become, that whatever moods, affections, and passions Ihave, are in very truth constituted by, and made up of, those bodily changes we ordinarily call their expression or consequence; and the more it seems to me that if I were to become corporeally anaesthetic, I should be excluded from the life of the affections, harsh and tender alike, and drag out an existence of merely cognitive or intellectual form. Such an existence, although it seems to have been the ideal of ancient sages, is too apathetic to be keenly sought after by those born after the revival of the worship of sensibility, a few generations ago.

But if the emotion is nothing but the feeling of the reflex bodily effects of what we call its “objects,” effects due to the connate adaptation of the nervous system to that object, we seem immediately faced by this objection: most of the objects of civilised men’s emotions are things to which it would be preposterous to suppose their nervous systems connately adapted. Most occasions of shame and many insults are purely conventional, and vary with the social environment. The same is true of many matters of dread and of desire, and of many occasions of melancholy and regret. In these cases, at least, it would seem that the ideas of shame, desire, regret, &c., must first have been attached by education and association to these conventional objects before the bodily changes could possibly be awakened. And if in these cases the bodily changes follow the ideas, instead of giving rise to them, why not then in all cases?

To discuss thoroughly this objection would carry us deep into the study of purely intellectual Aesthetics. A few words must here suffice. We will say nothing of the argument‘s failure to distinguish between the idea of an emotion and the emotion itself. We will only recall the well-known evolutionary principle that when a certain power has once been fixed in an animal by virtue of its utility in presence of certain features of the environment, it may turn out to be useful in presence of other features of the environment that had originally nothing to do with either producing or preserving it. A nervous tendency to discharge being once there, all sorts of unforeseen things may pull the trigger and let loose the effects. That among these things should be conventionalities of man’s contriving is a matter of no psychological consequence whatever. The most important part of my environment is my fellow-man. The consciousness of his attitude towards me is the perception that normally unlocks most of my

The consciousness of his attitude towards me is the perception that normally unlocks most of my shames and indignations and fears. The extraordinary sensitiveness of this consciousness is shown by the bodily modifications wrought in us by the awareness that our fellow-man is noticing us at all. No one can walk across the platform at a public meeting with just the same muscular innervation he uses to walk across his room at home. No one can give a message to such a meeting without organic excitement. “Stage-fright” is only the extreme degree of that wholly irrational personal self-consciousness which every one gets in some measure, as soon as he feels the eyes of a number of strangers fixed upon him, even though he be inwardly convinced that their feeling towards him is of no practical account.

This being so, it is not surprising that the additional persuasion that my fellow-man’s attitude means either well or ill for me, should awaken stronger emotions still. In primitive societies ”Well” may mean handing me a piece of beef, and “Ill” may mean aiming a blow at my skull. in our “cultured age,” “Ill” may mean cutting me in the street, and “Well,” giving me an honorary degree. What the action itself may be is quite insignificant, so long as I can perceive in it intent or animus. It is the emotion-arousing perception; and may give rise to as strong bodily convulsions in me, a civilised man experiencing the treatment of an artificial society, as in any savage prisoner of war, learning whether his captors are about to eat him or to make him a member of their tribe.

But now, this objection disposed of, there arises a more general doubt. Is there any evidence, it may be asked, for the assumption that particular perceptions 0’0 produce widespread bodily effects by a sort of immediate physical influence, antecedent to the arousal of an emotion or emotional idea?

The only possible reply is, that there is most assuredly such evidence. In listening to poetry, drama, or heroic narrative, we are often surprised at the cutaneous shiver which like a sudden wave flows over us, and at the heart-swelling and the lachrymal effusion that unexpectedly catch us at intervals. In listening to music, the same is even more strikingly true. If we abruptly see a dark moving form in the woods, our heart stops beating, and we catch our breath instantly and before any articulate idea of danger can arise. If our friend goes near to the edge of a precipice, we get the well-known feeling of “alloverishness,” and we shrink back, although we positively know him to be safe, and have no distinct imagination of his fall. The writer well remembers his astonishment, when a boy of seven or eight, at fainting when he saw a horse bled. The blood was in a bucket, with a stick in it, and, if memory does not deceive him, he stirred it round and saw it drip from the stick with no feeling save that of childish curiosity. Suddenly the world grew black before his eyes, his ears began to buzz, and he knew no more. He had never heard of the sight of blood producing faintness or sickness, and he had so little repugnance to it, and so little apprehension of any other sort of danger from it, that even at that tender age, as he well remembers, he could not help wondering how the mere physical presence of a pailful of crimson fluid occasion in him such formidable bodily effects.

Imagine two steel knife-blades with their keen edges crossing each other at rightangles, and moving too and fro. Our whole nervous organisation is “on-edge” at the thought; and yet what emotion can be there except the unpleasant nervous feeling itself, or the dread that more of it may come?

The entire fund and capital of the emotion here is the senseless bodily effect the blades immediately arouse. This case is typical of a class: where an ideal emotion seems to precede the bodily symptoms, it is often nothing but a representation of the symptoms themselves. One who has already fainted at the sight of blood may witness the preparations for a surgical operation with uncontrollable heart-sinking and anxiety. He anticipates certain feelings, and the anticipation precipitates their arrival. I am told of a case of morbid terror, of which the subject confessed that what possessed her seemed, more than anything, to be the fear of fear itself. In the various forms of what Professor Bain calls “tender emotion,” although the appropriate object must usually be directly contemplated before the emotion can be aroused, yet sometimes thinking of the symptoms of the emotion itself may have the same effect. In sentimental natures, the thought of “yearning” will produce real “yearning”. And, not to speak of coarser examples, a mother’s imagination of the caresses she bestows on her child may arouse a spasm of parental longing.

In such cases as these, we see plainly how the emotion both begins and ends with what we call its effects or manifestations. It has no mental status except as either the presented feeling, or the idea, of the manifestations; which latter thus constitute its entire material, its sum and substance, and its stock-in-trade. And these cases ought to make us see how in all cases the feeling of the manifestations may play a much deeper part in the constitution of the emotion than we are wont to suppose.

If our theory be true, a necessary corollary of it ought to be that any voluntary arousal of the socalled manifestations of a special emotion ought to give us the emotion itself. Of course in the majority of emotions, this test is inapplicable; for many of the manifestations are in organs over which we have no volitional control. Still, within the limits in which it can be verified, experience fully corroborates this test. Everyone knows how panic is increased by flight, and how the giving way to the symptoms of grief or anger increases those passions themselves. Each fit of sobbing makes the sorrow more acute, and calls forth another fit stronger still, until at last repose only ensues with lassitude and with the apparent exhaustion of the machinery. ln rage, it is notorious how we “work ourselves up” to a climax by repeated outbreaks of expression. Refuse to express a passion, and it dies. Count ten before venting your anger, and it occasion seems ridiculous.

Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. There is no more valuable precept in moral education than this, as all who have experience know: if we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward moi/ons of those contrary dispositions we prefer to cultivate. The reward of persistency will infallibly come, in the fading out of the sullenness or depression, and the advent of real cheerfulness and kindliness in their stead. Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, pass the genial compliment, and your heart and kindliness in their stead. Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, pass the genial compliment, and your heart must be frigid indeed if it do not gradually thaw!

The only exception to this are apparent, not real. The great emotional expressiveness and mobility of certain persons often lead us to say “They would feel more if they talked less”. And in another class of persons, the explosive energy with which passion manifests itself on critical occasions, seems correlated with the way in which they bottle it up during the intervals. But these are only eccentric types of character, and within each type the law of the last paragraph prevails.

The sentimentalist is so constructed that “gushing” is his or her normal mode of expression. Putting a stopper on the “gush” will only to a limited extent cause more “real” activities to take its place; in the main it will simply produce listlessness. On the other hand the ponderous and bilious “slumbering volcano,” let him repress the expression of his passions as he will, will find them expire if they get no vent at all; whilst if the rare occasions multiply which he deems worthy of their outbreak, he will find them grow in intensity as life proceeds.

I feel persuaded there is no real exception to the law. The formidable effects of suppressed tears might be mentioned, and the calming results of speaking out your mind when angry and having done with it. But these are also but specious wanderings from the rule. Every perceptions must lead to some nervous result. If this be the normal emotional expression, it soon expends itself, and in the natural course of things a calm succeeds. But if the normal issue be blocked from any cause, the currents may under certain circumstances invade other tracts, and there work different and worse effects. Thus vengeful brooding may replace a burst of indignation; a dry heat may consume the frame of one who fain would weep, or he may, as Dante says, turn to stone within; and then tears or a storming-fit may bring a grateful relief. When we teach children to repress their emotions, it is not that they may feel more, quite the reverse.

It is that they may think more; for to a certain extent whatever nerve-currents are diverted from the regions below, must swell the activity of the thought-tracts of the brain.

The last great argument in favour of the priority of the bodily symptoms to the felt emotion, is the ease with which we formulate by its means pathological cases and normal cases under a common scheme. In every asylum we find examples of absolutely unmotived fear, anger, melancholy, or conceit; and others of an equally unmotived apathy which persists in spite of the best of outward reasons why it should give way. In the former cases we must suppose the nervous machinery to be so “labile” in some one emotional direction, that almost every stimulus, however inappropriate, will cause it to upset in that way, and as a consequence to engender the particular complex of feelings of which the psychic body of the emotion consists.

Thus, to take one special instance, if inability to draw deep breath, fluttering of the heart, and that peculiar epigastric change felt as “precordial anxiety,” with an irresistible tendency to take a somewhat crouching attitude and to sit still, and with perhaps other visceral processes not now known, all spontaneously occur together in a certain person; his feeling of their combination is the emotion of dread, and he is the victim of what is known as morbid fear. A friend who has had occasional attacks of this most distressing of all maladies, tells me that in his case the whole drama seems to centre about the region of the heart and respiratory apparatus, that his main effort during the attacks is to get control of his inspirations and to slow his heart, and that the moment he attains to breathing deeply and to holding himself erect, the dread, ipso facto, seems to depart.

The account given to Brachet by one of his own patients of her opposite condition, that of emotional insensibility, has been often quoted, and deserves to be quoted again:

“I still continue (she says) to suffer constantly; l have not a moment of comfort, and no human sensations. Surrounded by all that can render life happy and agreeable, still to me the faculty of enjoyment and of feeling is wanting both have become physical impossibilities. In everything, even in the most tender caresses of my children, I find only bitterness. I cover them with kisses, but there is something between their lips and mine; and this horrid something is between me and all the enjoyments of life. My existence is incomplete. The functions and acts of ordinary life, it is true, still remain to me; but in every one of them there is something wanting, to wit, the feeling which is proper to them, and the pleasure which follows them…

Each of my senses, each part of my proper self, is as itwere separated from me and can no longer afford me any feeling; this impossibilityseems to depend upon a void which I feel in the front of my head, and tobe due to the diminution of the sensibility over the whole surface of mybody, for it seems to me that I never actually reach the objects whichI touch…I feel well enough the changes of temperature on my skin, but Ino longer experience the internal feeling of the air when I breathe

All this would be a small matter enough, but for its frightful result, which is that of the impossibility of any other kind of feeling and of any sort of enjoyment, although I experience a need and desire of them that render my life an incomprehensible torture. Every function, every action of my life remains, but deprived of the feeling that belongs to it, of the enjoyment that sort of enjoyment, although I experience a need and desire of them that render my life an incomprehensible torture. Every function, every action of my life remains, but deprived of the feeling that belongs to it, of the enjoyment that should follow it. My feet are cold, I warm them, but gain no pleasure from the warmth. I recognise the taste of all I eat, without getting any pleasure from it….My children are growing handsome and healthy, everyone tells me so, I see it myself, but the delight, the inward comfort I ought to feel, I fail to get. Music has lost all charm for me, I used to love it dearly. My daughter plays very well, but for me it is mere noise. That lively interest which a year ago made me hear a delicious concert in the smallest air their fingers played-that thrill, that general vibration which made me shed such tender tears,all that exists no more”.

Other victims describe themselves as closed in walls of ice or covered with an india-rubber integument, through which no impression penetrates to the sealed-up sensibility.

If our hypothesis is true, it makes us realise more deeply than ever how much our mental life is knit up with our corporeal frame, in the strictest sense of the term. Rapture, love, ambition, indignation, and pride, considered as feelings, are fruits of the same soil with the grossest bodily sensations of pleasure and of pain. But it was said at the outset that this would be affirmed only of what we then agreed to call the “standard” emotions; and that those inward sensibilities that appeared devoid at first sight of bodily results should be left out of our account. We had better, before closing, say a word or two about these latter feelings.

They are, the reader will remember, the moral, intellectual, and aesthetic feelings. Concords of sounds, of colours, of lines, logical consistencies, teleological fitnesses, affect us with a pleasure that seems ingrained in the very form of the representation itself, and to borrow nothing from any reverberation surging up from the parts below the brain. The Herbartian psychologists have tried to distinguish feelings due to the form in which ideas may be arranged. A geometrical demonstration may be as “pretty,” and an act of justice as “neat” as a drawing or a tune, although the prettiness and neatness seem here to be a pure matter of sensation, and there to have nothing to do with sensation. We have then, or some of us seem to have, genuinely cerebra/forms of pleasure and displeasure, apparently not agreeing in their mode of production with the socalled “standard” emotions we have been analysing. And it is certain that readers whom our reasons have hitherto failed to convince, will now start up at this admission, and consider that by it we give up our whole case. Since musical perceptions, since logical ideas, can immediately arouse a form of emotional feeling, they will say, is it not more natural to suppose that in the case of the so-called “standard” emotions, prompted by the presence of objects or the experience of events, the emotional feeling is equally immediate, and the bodily expression something that comes later and is added on?

But a sober scrutiny of the cases of pure cerebral emotion gives little force to this assimilation. Unless in them there actually be coupled with the intellectual feeling a bodily reverberation of some kind, unless we actually laugh at the neatness of the mechanical device, thrill at the justice of the act, or tingle at the perfection of the musical form, our mental condition is more allied to a judgment of right than to anything else. And such a judgment is rather to be classed among awarenesses of truth: it is a cognitive act. But as a matter of fact the intellectual feeling hardly ever does exist thus unaccompanied. The bodily sounding-board is at work, as careful introspection will show, far more than we usually suppose. Still, where long familiarity with a certain class of effects has blunted emotional sensibility thereto as much as it has sharpened the taste and judgment, we do get the intellectual emotion, if such it can be called, pure and undefrled. And the dryness of it, the paleness, the absence of all glow, as it may exist in a thoroughly expert critic’s mind, not only shows us what an altogether different thing it is from the “standard” emotions we considered first, but makes us suspect that almost the entire difference lies in the fact that the bodily sounding-board, vibrating in the one case, is in the other mute. “Not so very bad” is, in a person of consummate taste, apt to be the highest limit of approving expression. Rien ne me choque is said to have been Chopin’s superlative of praise of new music. A sentimental layman would feel, and ought to feel, horrified, on being admitted into such a critic’s mind, to see how cold, how thin, how void of human significance, are the motives for favour or disfavour that there prevail. The capacity to make a nice spot on the wall will outweigh a picture’s whole content; a foolish trick of words will preserve a poem; an utterly meaningless fitness of sequence in one musical composition set at naught any amount of “expressiveness” in another.

I remember seeing an English couple sit for more than an hour on a piercing February day in the Academy at Venice before the celebrated “Assumption” by Titian; and when l , after being chased from room to room by the cold, concluded to get into the sunshine as fast as possible and let the pictures go, but before leaving drew reverently near to them to learn with what superior forms of susceptibility they might be endowed, all I overheard was the woman’s voice murmuring : “What a deprecatory expression her face wears! What a self-abnegation! How unworthy she feels of the honour she is receiving!” Their honest hearts had been kept warm all the time by a glow of spurious sentiment that would have fairly made old Titian sick. Mr. Ruskin somewhere makes the (for him) terrible admission that religious people as a rule care little for pictures, and that when they do care for them they generally prefer the worst ones to the best. Yes! In every art, in every science, there is the keen perception of certain relations being right or not, and there is the emotional flush and thrill consequent thereupon. And these are two things, not one. In the former of them it is that experts and masters are at home. The latter accompaniments are bodily commotions that they may hardly feel, but that may be experienced in their fulness by Crétins and Philistines in whom the critical judgment is at its lowest ebb. The “marvels” of Science, about which so much edifying popular literature is written, are apt to be “caviare” to the men in the laboratories. Cognition and emotion are parted even in this last retreat, who shall say that their antagonism may not just be one phase of the world-old struggle known as that between the spirit and the flesh? a struggle in which it seems pretty certain that neither party will definitively drive the other off the field.

To return to our starting point, the physiology of the brain. If we suppose its cortex to contain centres for the perception of changes in each special sense-organ, in each portion of the skin, in each muscle, each joint, and each viscus, and to contain absolutely nothing else, we still have a scheme perfectly capable of representing the process of the emotions. An object falls on a sense-organ and is apperceived by the appropriate cortical centre; or else the latter, excited in some other way, gives rise to an idea of the same object. Quick as a flash, the reflex currents pass down through their pre-ordained channels, alter the condition of muscle, skin and viscus; and these alterations, apperceived like the original object, in as many specific portions of the cortex, combine with it in consciousness and transform it from an object-simply-apprehended into an objectemotionally-felt. No new principles have to be invoked, nothing is postulated beyond the ordinary reflex circuit, and the topical centres admitted in one shape or another by all to exist.

It must be confessed that a crucial test of the truth of the hypothesis is quite as hard to obtain as its decisive refutation. A case of complete internal and external corporeal anaesthesia, without motor alteration or alteration of intelligence except emotional apathy, would afford, if not a crucial test, at least a strong presumption, in favour of the truth of the view we have set forth; whilst the persistence of strong emotional feeling in such a case would completely overthrow our case. Hysterical anaesthesias seem never to be complete enough to cover the ground. Complete anaesthesias from organic disease, on the other hand, are excessibely rare. In the famous case of Remigius Leims, no mention is made by the reporters of his emotional condition, a circumstance which by itself affords no presumption that it was normal, since as a rule nothing ever was noticed without a pre-existing question in the mind. Dr. Georg Winter has recently described a case somewhat similar, and in reply to a question, kindly writes to me as follows:

“The case has been for a year and a half entirely removed from my observation. But so far as I am able to state, the man was characterised by a certain mental inertia and indolence. He was tranquil, and had on the whole the temperament of a phlegmatic. He was not irritable, not quarrelsome, went quietly about his farm-work, and left the care of his business and housekeeping to other people. In short, he gave one the impression of a placid countryman, who has no interests beyond his work.” Dr. Winter adds that in studying the case he paid no particular attention to the man’s psychic condition, as this seemed nebensächlich to his main purpose. I should add that the form of my question to Dr. Winter could give him no clue as to the kind of answer I expected.

Of course, this case proves nothing, but it is to be hoped that asylum-physicians and nervous specialists may begin methodically to study the relation between anaesthesia and emotional apathy. If the hypothesis here suggested is ever to be definitively confirmed or disproved it seems as if it must be by them, for they alone have the data in their hands.

Ps. By an unpardonable forgetfulness at the time of despatching my MS. to the Editor, I ignored the existence of the extraordinary case of total anaesthesia published by Professor Strijmpell in Ziemssen’s Deutsches Archiv für klinische Medicin xxii., 321, of which Ihad nevertheless read reports at the time of its publication. [Cf. firstreport of the case in Mind X., 263, translated from Pflüger’s Archives. Ed.] I believe that it constitutes the only remaining case of the sort in medical literature, so that with is our survey is complete. On referring to the original, which is important in many connexions, I found that the patient, a shoemaker’s apprentice of 15, entirely anaesthetic, inside and out, with the exception of one eye and one ear, had shown shame on the occasion of soiling his bed, and grief when a formerly favourite dish was set before him, at the thought that he could no longer taste its flavour. As Dr. Striimpell seemed however to have paid no special attention to his psychic states, so far as these are matter for our theory, I wrote to him in a few words what the essence of the theory was, and asked him to say whether he felt sure the grief and shame mentioned were real feelings in the boy’s mind, or only the reflex manifestations provoked by certain perceptions, manifestations that an outside observer might note, but to which the boy himself might be insensible.

Dr. Strijmpell has sent me a very obliging reply, of which I translate the most important passage.

“I must indeed confess that l naturally failed to institute with my Anoesthetiker observations as special as the sense of your theory would require. Nevertheless I think I can decidedly make the statement, that he was by no means completely lacking in emotional affections. In addition to the feelings of grief and shame mentioned in my paper, I recall distinctly that he showed ef, angec and frequently quarrelled with the hospital attendants. He also manifested fear lest I should punish him.

In short, I do not think that my case speaks exactly in favour of your theory. On the other hand, I will not affirm that it positively refutes your theory. For my case was certainly one of a very centrally conditioned anaesthesia (perception-anaesthesia, like that of hysterics) and therefore the conduction of outward impressions may in him have been undisturbed.”

I confess that I do not see the relevancy of the last consideration, and this makes me suspect that my own letter was too briefly or obscurely expressed to put my correspondent fully in possession of my own thought. For his reply still makes no explicit reference to anything but the outward manifestations of emotion in the boy. Is it not at least conceivable that, just as a stranger, brought into the boy’s presence for the first time, and seeing him eat and drink and satisfy other natural necessities, would suppose him to have the feelings of hunger, thirst, until informed by the boy himself that he did all these things with no feeling at all but that of sight and sound-is it not, I say, at least possible, that Dr. Strijmpell, addressing no direct introspective questions to his patient, and the patient not being of a class from which one could expect voluntary revelations of that sort, should have similarly omitted to discriminate between a feeling and its habitual motor accompaniment, and erroneously taken the latter as proof that the former was there? Such a mistake is of course possible, and I must therefore repeat Dr. Striimpell’s own words, that his case does not yet refute my theory. Should a similar case recur, it ought to be interrogated as to the inward emotional state that co-existed with the outward expressions of shame, anger. And if it then turned out that the patient recognised explicitly the same mood of feeling known under those names in his former normal state, my theory would of course fall. It is, however, to me incredible that the patient should have an identical feeling, for the dropping out of the organic sounding-board would necessarily diminish its volume in some way. The teacher of Dr. Striimpell’s patient found a mental deficiency in him during his anaesthesia, that may possibly have been due to the consequences resulting to his general intellectual vivacity from the subtraction of so important a mass of feelings, even though they were not the whole of his emotional life. Whoever wishes to extract from the next case of total anaesthesia the maximum of knowledge about the emotions, will have to interrogate the patient with some such notion as that of my article in his mind. We can define the pure psychic emotions far better by starting from such an hypothesis and modifying it in the way of restriction and subtraction, than by having no definite hypothesis at all. Thus will the publication of my article have been justified, even thought the theory it advocates, rigorously taken, be erroneous.

The best thing I can say for it is, that in writing it, I have almost persuaded myself it may be true.


EMOTION AI, Artificial Emotional Intelligence and Affective Computing – Richard Yonck.

The Coming Era of Emotional Machines

Emotion AI is growing rapidly and will bring many changes to our society.

You have a report deadline in 20 minutes and your software keeps incorrectly reformatting your document. Or you’re driving along when another car cuts you off at the intersection. Or another car cuts you off at the intersection. Or you’re upset at your boss and decide to finally tell him how you really feel about him in an email.

Wouldn’t it be great if technology could detect your feelings and step in to fix the problem, prevent you from doing something dangerous, or pointed out the benefits of holding onto your job?

Welcome to the world of affective computing, otherwise known as artificial emotional intelligence, or Emotion AI.

Rapidly being incorporated into everything from market research testing to automotive interfaces to chatbots and social robotics, this is a branch of Al that will continue to rapidly grow over the next few decades. According to research group Markets and Markets, they expect the global affective computing market to grow from $12.20 Billion in 2016 to $53.98 Billion by 2021, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.7%.

For decades we have become increasingly dependent on our computers and other devices to perform tasks and make our lives easier. Along the way, these have not only improved in performance but have gained some degree of intelligence, as well as artificial technology to become highly capable at some tasks, such as pattern recognition, there remain many ways our systems continue to come up short. But having a better sense of the user’s state of mind would go a long way to knowing what the user wants, even before they know it themselves.

Needless to say, while new technology such as this has huge potential for improving our lives, there are also many ways it could be turned to negative uses. As explored in my book, Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence, this field probably brings as many risks as it does opportunities. Emotionally aware systems and robots will find many roles in healthcare, education, autism detection and therapy, politics, law enforcement, the military and more. Yet each will bring challenges as well. Issues of privacy, emotional manipulation and self-determination will definitely come into play.

As these systems become increasingly accurate and ubiquitous throughout our environment, the challenges and the stakes will rise. anticipating these and acting to mitigate the negative repercussions will be our best course to ensuring a safe and more ethical future.

Psychology Today


Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence

Richard Yonck.


Emotion. It’s as central to who you are as your body and your intellect. While most of us know emotion when we see or experience it, many questions remain about what it is, how it functions, and even why it exists in the first place. What’s known for certain is that without it, you would not be the person you are today.

Now we find ourselves entering an astonishing new era, an era in which we are beginning to imbue our technologies with the ability to read, interpret, replicate, and potentially even experience emotions themselves. This is being made possible by a relatively new branch of artificial intelligence known as affective computing. A powerful and remarkable technology, affective computing is destined to transform our lives and our world over the coming decades.

To some this may all sound like science fiction, while to others it is simply another example of the relentless march of progress. Either way, we are growing closer to our technology than ever before. Ultimately this will lead to our devices becoming our assistants, our friends and companions, and yes, possibly even our lovers. In the course of it all, we may even see the dream (or nightmare) of truly intelligent machines come true.

From the moment culture and toolmaking began, the history and evolution of humanity and technology have been deeply intertwined. Neither humans nor machines would be anywhere close to what we are today without the immediate and ongoing aid of the other. This is an inextricable trend that, with luck, will continue for our world’s remaining lifespan and beyond.

This technological evolution is being driven by social and economic forces that mimic some of the processes of natural selection, though certainly not all of them. In an effort to attain competitive advantage, humans use technologies (including machines, institutions, and culture). In turn, these pass through a series of filters that determine a given technology’s fitness within its overall environment. That environment, which blends society’s physical, social, economic, and political realities, decides the success of each new development, even as it is modified and supported by every further advance.

Though natural and technological evolution share some similarities, one way they differ is in the exponential nature of technological change. While biology evolves at a relatively steady, linear pace that is dictated by factors such as metabolism, replication rates, and the frequency of nucleotide mutation, technological evolution functions within multiple positive feedback loops that actually accelerate its development. Though this acceleration is not completely constant and typically levels off for any single domain or paradigm, over time and across the entire technological landscape, the trend results in a net positive increase in knowledge and capabilities. Because of this, technology and all it makes possible advances at an ever-increasing exponential rate, far outpacing the changes seen in the biological world over the same period.

One of the consequences of all of this progress is that it generates a need to create increasingly sophisticated user interfaces that allow us to control and interact with our many new devices and technologies. This is certainly borne out in my own experience developing interfaces for computer applications over many years. As technology theorist Brenda Laurel observed, “The greater the difference between the two entities, the greater the need for a well-designed interface.” As a result, one ongoing trend is that we continue to develop interfaces that are increasingly “natural” to use, integrating them ever more closely with our lives and our bodies, our hearts, and our minds.

Heart of the Machine is about some of the newest of these natural interfaces. Affective computing integrates computer science, artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive science, psychology, biometrics, and much more in order to allow us to communicate and interact with computers, robots, and other technologies via our feelings. These systems are being designed to read, interpret, replicate, and potentially even influence human emotions. Already some of these applications have moved out of the lab and into commercial use. All of this marks a new era, one in which we’re seeing the digitization of affect, a term psychologists and cognitive scientists use to refer to the display of emotion.

While this is a very significant step in our increasingly high-tech world, it isn’t an entirely unanticipated one. As you’ll see, this is a development that makes perfect sense in terms of our ongoing, evolving relationship with technology. At the same time, it’s bringing about a shift in that relationship that will have tremendous repercussions for both man and machine. The path it takes us down is far from certain. The world it could lead to may be a better place, or it might be a far worse one. Will these developments yield systems that anticipate and fulfill our every need before we’re even aware of them? Or will they give rise to machines that can be used to stealthily manipulate us as individuals, perhaps even en masse? Either way, it’s in our best interests to explore the possible futures this technology could bring about while we still have time to influence how these will ultimately manifest.

In the course of this book, multiple perspectives will be taken at different points. This is entirely intentional. When exploring the future, recognizing that it can’t truly be known or predicted is critical. One of the best ways of addressing this is to explore numerous possible future scenarios and, within reason, prepare for each. This means not only considering what happens if the technology develops as planned or not, but also whether people will embrace it or resist it. It means anticipating the short-, mid-, and long-term repercussions that may arise from it, including what would otherwise be unforeseen consequences. This futurist’s view can help us to prepare for a range of eventualities, taking a proactive approach in directing how our future develops.

Heart of the Machine is divided into three sections.

The first, “The Road to Affective Computing,” introduces our emotional world, from humanity’s earliest days up to the initial development of emotionally aware affective computers and social robots. The second section, “The Rise of the Emotional Machines,” looks at the many ways these technologies are being applied, how we’ll benefit from them, and what we should be worried about as they meet their future potential.

Finally, “The Future of Artificial Emotional Intelligence” explores the big questions about how all of this is likely to develop and the effects it will have on us as individuals and as a society. It wraps up with a number of thoughts about consciousness and superintelligence and considers how these developments may alter the balance of the human-machine relationship.

Until now, our three-million-year journey with technology has been a relatively one-sided and perpetually mute one. But how might this change once we begin interacting with machines on what for us remains such a basic level of experience? At the same time, are we priming technology for some sort of giant leap forward with these advances? lf artificial intelligence is ever to attain or exceed human levels, and perhaps even achieve consciousness in the process, will feelings and all they make possible be the spark that lights the fuse? Only time will tell, but in the meantime we’d be wise to explore the possibility.

Though this is a book about emotions and feelings, it is very much founded on science, research, and an appreciation of the evolving nature of intelligence in the universe. As we’ll explore, emotions may be not only a key aspect of our own humanity, but a crucial component for many, if not all, higher intelligences, no matter what form these may eventually take.


Futures, or “strategic foresight” as it’s sometimes known, is a field unlike any other. On any given day you’re likely to be asked, “What is a futurist?” or “What does a futurist do?” Many people have an image of a fortuneteller gazing into a crystal ball, but nothing could be further from the truth. Because ultimately, all of us are futurists.

Foresight is one of the dominant characteristics of the human species. With self-awareness and introspection came the ability to anticipate patterns and cycles in our environment, enhancing our ability to survive.

As a result, we’ve evolved a prefrontal cortex that enables us to think about the days ahead far better than any other species.

It might have begun with something like the recognition of shifting patterns in the grasslands of the Serengeti that let us know a predator lay in wait. This continued as we began to distinguish the phases of the moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the cycles of the seasons. Then it wasn’t long before we were anticipating eclipses, forecasting hurricanes, and predicting stock market crashes. We are Homo sapiens, the futurist species.

Of course, this was only the beginning. As incredible as this ability of ours is, it could only do so much in its original unstructured state. So, when the world began asking itself some very difficult and important existential questions about surviving the nuclear era, it was time to begin formalizing how we thought about the future.

Project RAND

For many, Project RAND, which began immediately after World War II, marks the beginning of the formal foresight process. Building on our existing capabilities, Project RAND sought to understand the needs and benefits of connecting military planning with R&D decisions. This allowed the military to better understand not only what its future capabilities would be, but also those of the enemy. This was critical because, being the dawn of the atomic age, there were enormous uncertainties about our future, including whether or not we would actually survive to have one.

Project RAND eventually transformed into the RAND Corporation, one of the first global policy think tanks. As the space race ramped up, interest in foresight grew, particularly in government and the military. In time, corporations began showing interest too, as was famously demonstrated by Royal Dutch Shell’s application of scenarios in response to the 1973 oil crisis. Tools and methods have continued to be developed until today, and many of the processes of foresight are used throughout our world, from corporations like lntel and Microsoft, who have in-house futurists, to smaller businesses and organizations that hire consulting futurists. Branding, product design, research and development, government planning, education administration, if it has a future, there are people who explore it. Using techniques for framing projects, scanning for and gathering information, building forecasts and scenarios, creating visions and planning and implementing them, these practitioners help identify opportunities and challenges so that we can work toward our preferred future.

This is an important aspect of foresight work: recognizing the future is not set in stone and that we all have some ability to influence how it develops.

Notice I say influence, not control. The many elements that make up the future are of a scale and complexity far too great for any of us to control. But if we recognize something about our future that we want to manifest, and we recognize it early enough, we can influence other factors that will increase its likelihood of being realized.

A great personal example would be saving for retirement. A young person who recognizes they will one day retire can start building their savings and investments early on. In doing this, they’re more likely to be financially secure in their golden years, much more so than if they’d waited until they were in their fifties or sixties before they started saving.

Many of foresight’s methods and processes have been used in the course of writing this book. Horizon scanning, surveying of experts, and trend projections are just a few of these. Scenarios are probably the most evident of these tools because they’re included throughout the book. The processes futurists use generate a lot of data, which often doesn’t convey what’s important to us as people. But telling stories does, because we’ve been storytellers from the very beginning. Stories help us relate to new knowledge and to each other. This is what a scenario does: it takes all of that data and transforms it into a more personal form that is easier for us to digest.

Forecasts are more generally included because in many respects they’re not that valuable. Some people think studying the future is about making predictions, which really isn’t the case. Knowing whether an event will happen in 2023 or 2026 is of limited value compared with the act of anticipating the event at all and then deciding what we’re going to do about it. Speculating about who’s going to win a horse race or the World Cup is for gamblers, not for futurists.

In many respects, a futurist explores the future the way a historian explores history, inferring a whole picture or pattern from fragments of clues. While it may be tempting to ask how there can be clues to something that hasn’t even happened yet, recall that every future is founded upon the past and present, and that these are laden with signals and indicators of what’s to come.

So read on and learn about this future age of artificial emotional intelligence, because all too soon, it will be part of our present as well.





Menlo Park, California-March 3, 2032 7:06 am

It’s a damp spring morning as Abigail is gently roused from slumber by Mandy, her personal digital assistant. Sensors in the bed inform Mandy exactly where Abigail is in her sleep cycle, allowing it to coordinate with her work schedule and wake her at the optimum time. Given the morning’s gray skies and Abigail’s Iess-than-cheery mood when she went to bed the night before, Mandy opts to waken her with a recorded dawn chorus of sparrows and goldfinches.

Abigail stretches and sits up on the edge of the bed, feeling for her slippers with her feet. “Mmm, morning already?” she mutters.

“You slept seven hours and nineteen minutes with minimal interruption,” Mandy informs her with a pleasant, algorithmically defined lilt via the room’s concealed speaker system. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Good,” Abigail replies blinking. “Great, actually.”

It’s a pleasantry. Mandy didn’t really need to ask or to hear its owner’s response. The digital assistant had already analyzed Abigail’s posture, energy levels, expression, and vocal tone using its many remote sensors, assessing that her mood is much improved from the prior evening.

It’s a routine morning for the young woman and her technology. The two have been together for a long time. Many years before, when she was still a teen, Abigail named her assistant Mandy. Of course, back then the software was also several versions less sophisticated than it is today, so in a sense they’ve grown up together. During that time, Mandy has become increasingly familiar with Abigail’s work habits, behavioral patterns, moods, preferences, and various other idiosyncrasies. In many ways, it knows Abigail better than any person ever could.

Mandy proceeds to tell Abigail about the weather and traffic conditions, her morning work schedule, and a few of the more juicy items rising to the top of her social media stream as she gets ready for her day.

“Mandy,” Abigail asks as she brushes her hair, “do you have everything organized for today’s board meeting?”

The personal assistant has already anticipated the question and consulted Abigail’s calendar and biometric historical data before making all the needed preparations for her meeting with her board of directors. As the CEO of AAT, Applied Affective Technologies, Abigail and her company are at the forefront of human-machine relations. “Everyone’s received their copies of the meeting agenda. Your notes and 3D presentation are finalized. Jeremy has the breakfast catering covered. And I picked out your clothes for the day: the Nina Ricci set.”

“Didn’t I wear that recently?”

Mandy responds without hesitation. “My records show you last wore it over two months ago for a similarly important meeting. It made you feel confident and empowered, and none of today’s attendees has seen it on you before.”

“Perfect!” Abigail beams. “Mandy, what would I do without you?”

What indeed?

Though this scenario may sound like something from a science fiction novel, in fact it’s a relatively reasonable extrapolation of where technology could be fifteen years from now. Already, voice recognition and synthesis, the real-time measurement of personal biometrics, and artificially intelligent scheduling systems are becoming an increasing part of our daily lives. Given continuing improvements in computing power, as well as advances in other relevant technologies, in a mere decade these tools will be far more advanced than they are today.

However, the truly transformational changes described here will come from a branch of computer science that is still very much in its nascent stages, still early enough that many people have yet to even hear about it.

It’s called affective computing, and it deals with the development of systems and devices that interact with our feelings.

More specifically, affective computing involves the recognition, interpretation, replication, and potentially the manipulation of human emotions by computers and social robots.

This rapidly developing field has the potential to radically change the way we interact with our computers and other devices. Increasingly, systems and controls will be able to alter their operations and behavior according to our emotional responses and other nonverbal cues. By doing this, our technology will become increasingly intuitive to use, addressing not only our explicit commands but our unspoken needs as well. In the pages that follow, we will explore just what this new era could mean for our technologies and for ourselves.

We are all emotional machines. Centuries of research into anatomy, biology, neurology, and numerous other fields has consistently revealed that nearly all of what we are follows a predictable set of physical processes. These mechanistically driven rules make it possible for us to move, to eat, to grow, to procreate. Within an extremely small range of genetic variation, we are all essentially copies of those who came before us, destined to produce generation after generation of nearly identical cookie-cutter reproductions of ourselves well into the future.

Of course, we know this is far from the true reality of the human experience. Though these deterministic forces define us up to a point, we exist in far greater depth and dimension than can be explained by any mere set of stimuli and responses. This is foremost because we are emotional beings. That the dreams, hopes, fears, and desires of each and every one of us are so unique while remaining so universal is largely due to our emotional experience of the world. If this were not so, identical twins who grow up together would have all but identical personalities. Instead, they begin with certain shared genetically influenced traits and behaviors and over time diverge from there. While all humanity shares nearly identical biology, chemical processes, and modes of sensory input, it is our feelings, our emotional interpretations of and responses to the world we experience that makes all of us on this planet, all 107 billion people who have ever lived, truly unique from one another.

There are easily hundreds, if not thousands, of theories about emotions, what they are, why they exist, and how they came about, and there is no way for a book such as this to begin to introduce or address them all. Nor does this book claim to know which, if any, of these is the One True Theory, in part because, in all likelihood, there is none. It’s been said repeatedly by neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers that there are nearly as many theories of emotion as there are theorists.

Emotion is an incredibly complex aspect of the human condition and mind, second only perhaps to the mystery of consciousness itself. What is important is to recognize its depth and complexity without attempting to oversimplify either its mechanisms or purpose.

Emotions are one of the most fundamental components of the human experience. Yet, as central as they are to our lives, we continue to find it a challenge to define or even to account for them. In many respects, we seem to have our greatest insights about feelings and emotions in their absence or when they go awry. Despite the many theories that exist, all we know with certainty is that they are essential in making us who we are, and that without them we would be but pale imitations of ourselves.

So what might this mean as we enter an era in which our machines, our computers, robots, and other devices, become increasingly capable of interacting with our emotions? How will it change our relationship with our technologies and with each other? How will it alter technology itself? Perhaps most importantly:

If emotion has evolved in humans and certain other animals because it affords us some benefit, might it convey a similar benefit in the future development of artificial intelligence?

For reasons that will be explored in the coming chapters, affective computing is a very natural progression in our ongoing efforts to build technologies that operate increasingly on human terms, rather than the other way around. As a result, this branch of artificial intelligence will come to be incorporated to one degree or another nearly everywhere in our lives. At the same time, just like almost every other form of artificial intelligence that has been developed and commercialized, affective computing will eventually fade into the scenery, an overlooked, underappreciated feature that we will quickly take all too much for granted because it will be ubiquitous.

Consider the possibilities. Rooms that alter lighting and music based on your mood. Toys that engage young minds with natural emotional responses. Computer programs that notice your frustration over a task and alter their manner of assistance. Email that makes you pause before sending that overly inflammatory message. The scenarios are virtually endless.

But it’s a rare technology that doesn’t have unintended consequences or that is used exclusively as its inventors anticipated. Affective computing will be no different. It doesn’t take a huge leap of foresight to anticipate that this technology will also inevitably be applied and abused in ways that clearly aren’t a benefit to the majority of society. As this book will explore, like so many other technologies, affective computing will come to be seen as a double edged sword, one that is capable of working for us while also having the capacity to do us considerable harm.

Amidst all of this radical progress, there is yet another story to be told. In many respects, affective computing represents a milestone in the long evolution of technology and our relationship to it. It’s a story millions of years in the making and one that may be approaching a critical juncture, one that could well determine not only the future of technology, but of the human race.

But first, let’s examine a question that is no doubt on many people’s minds:

“Why would anyone want to do this? Why design devices that understand our feelings?”

As we’ll see in the next chapter, it’s a very natural, perhaps even inevitable step on a journey that began over three million years ago.



Gona, Afar, Ethiopia, 3. 39 million years ago

In a verdant gorge, a tiny hirsute figure squats over a small pile of stones. Cupping one of these, a modest piece of chert, in her curled hand, she repeatedly hits the side of it with a second rock, a rounded piece of granite. Every few strikes, a flake flies from the chert, leaving behind it a concave depression. As the young woman works the stone, the previously amorphous mineral slowly takes shape, acquiring a sharp edge as the result of the laborious process.

The work is half ritual, half legacy, a skill handed down from parent to child for untold generations. The end product, a small cutting tool, is capable of being firmly grasped and used to scrape meat from bones, ensuring that critical, life-sustaining morsels of food do not go to waste.

1961 Paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey and his family look for early hominid remains at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania with their three dogs in attendance.

Here in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, our Paleolithic ancestor is engaged in one of humanity’s very earliest technologies. While her exact species remains unknown to us, she is certainly a bipedal hominid that preceded Homo habilis, the species long renowned in our text books as “handy man, the tool maker.” Perhaps she is Kenyanthropus platyops or the slightly larger Australopithecus afarensis. She is small by our standards: about three and a half feet tall and relatively slender. Her brain case is also meager compared with our own, averaging around 400 cubic centimeters, less than a third of our 1,350 cubic centimeters. But then that’s hardly a fair comparison. When judged against earlier branches of our family tree, this hominid, this early human, is a mental giant. She puts that prowess to good use, fashioning tools that set her species apart from all that have come before.

While these stone tools might seem simple from today’s perspective, at the time they were a tremendous leap forward, improving our ancestors’ ability to obtain nutrition and to protect themselves from competitors and predators. These tools allowed them to slay beasts far more powerful than themselves and to scrape meat from bones. In turn, this altered their diet, providing much more regular access to the proteins and fats that would in time support further brain development.

Making these tools required a knowledge and skill that combined our ancestors’ considerably greater brain power with the manual dexterity granted by their opposable thumbs.

But perhaps most important of all was developing the ability to communicate the knowledge of stone tool making, knapping, as it’s now known, which allowed this technology to be passed down from generation to generation. This is all the more amazing because these hominids didn’t rely on verbal language so much as on emotion, expressiveness, and other forms of nonverbal communication.

Many cognitive and evolutionary factors needed to come together to make the development and transmission of this knowledge possible. The techniques of knapping were not simple or easy to learn, yet they were essential to our survival and eventual growth as a species. As a result, those traits that promoted its continuation and development would have been selected for, whether genetic or behavioral.

This represents something quite incredible in our history, because this is the moment when we truly became a technological species.

This is when humanity and technology first set forth on their long journey together. As we will see, emotion was there from the very beginning, making all of it possible. The coevolution that followed allowed each of us to grow in ways we never could have without the aid of the other.

It’s easy to dismiss tools and machines as “dumb” matter, but of course this is from the perspective of human intelligence. After all, we did have a billion, year head start, beginning from simple single-cell life. But over time, technology has become increasingly intelligent and capable until today, when it can actually best us on a number of fronts. Additionally, it’s done this in a relative eyeblink of time, because as we’ll discuss later, technology progresses exponentially relative to our own linear evolution.

Which brings us back to an important question: Was knapping really technology? Absolutely. There should be no doubt that the ability to forge these stone tools was the cutting-edge technology of its day. (A bad pun, but certainly an apt one.) Knapping was incredibly useful, so useful it was carried on for over three million years. After all, these hominids’ lives had literally come to depend on it. During this time, change and improvement of the techniques used to form the tools was ponderously slow, at least in part because experimentation would have been deemed very costly, if not outright wasteful. Local supplies of chert-a fine, grained sedimentary rock-were limited. Analysis of human settlements and the local fossil record show that the supply of chert was exhausted several times in different regions of Africa and in several cases presumably had to be carried in from areas where it was more plentiful.

Based on fossil records, it took more than a million years, perhaps seventy thousand generations, to go from simple single edges to beautifully flaked tools with as many as a hundred facets. But while advancement of this technology was slow, one truly crucial factor was the ability to share and transmit the process. Knapping didn’t die out with the passing of a singular exemplary mind or Paleolithic genius of its era. Because this technology was so successful, because it gave its users a competitive edge, this knowledge was meticulously passed down through the generations, allowing it to slowly morph into ever more complex forms and applications.

The image of our hominid ancestors shaping stone tools has been with us for decades. Beginning in the 1930s, Louis and Mary Leakey excavated thousands of stone tools and flakes at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, leading to these being dubbed Oldowan tools, a term now generally used to reference the oldest style of flaked stone. These tools were later estimated to be around 1.7 million years old and were likely made by Paranthropus boisei or perhaps Homo habilis.

However, more recent findings have pushed the date of our oldest tool-using ancestors back considerably further. In the early 1990s, another Paleolithic settlement north of Olduvai along East Africa’s Great Rift Valley turned out to have even older stone tools and fragments. In 1992 and 1993, Rutgers University paleoanthropologists digging in the Afar region of Ethiopia excavated 2,600 sharpedged flakes and flake fragments. Using radiometric dating and magnetostratigraphy, researchers dated the fragments to having been made more than 2.6 million years ago, making them remnants of the oldest known tools ever produced.

Of course, direct evidence isn’t always available when you’re on the trail of something millions of years old. This was the case when, in 2010, paleoanthropologists found animal bones in the same region bearing marks consistent with stone-inflicted scrapes and cuts. The two fossilized bones, a femur and a rib from two different species of ungulates, indicated a methodical use of tools to efficiently remove their meat. Scans dated the bones at approximately 3.39 million years old, pushing back evidence of the oldest tool user by another 800,000 years. If this is accurate, then the location and age suggest the tools would have been used, and therefore made, by Australopithecus afarensis or possibly the flatter-faced Kenyanthropus platyops. However, because the evidence was indirect, many experts disputed its validity, generating considerable controversy over the claim that such sophisticated tools had been produced so much earlier than previously thought.

Then, in 2015, researchers reported that stone flakes, cores, and anvils had been found in Kenya, some one thousand kilometers from Olduvai, which were conclusively dated to 3.3 million years BCE. (BCE is a standard scientific abbreviation for Before the Common Era.) In coming years, other discoveries may well push the origins of human tool making even further back, but for now we can say fairly certainly that knapping has been one of our longestlived technologies.

So here we have evidence that one of our earliest technologies was accurately transmitted generation after generation for more than three million years. This would be impressive enough in its own right, but there’s another factor to consider: How did our ancestors do this with such consistency when language didn’t yet exist?

No one knows exactly when language began. Even the era when we started to use true syntactic language is difficult to pinpoint, not least because spoken words don’t leave physical traces the way fossils and stone tools do. From Darwin’s own beliefs that the ability to use language evolved, to Chomsky’s anti, evolutionary Strong Minimalist Thesis, to Pinker’s neo-Darwinist stance, there is considerable disagreement as to the origins of language. However, for the purpose of this book, we’ll make a few assumptions that at least some of our capacity for language was driven and shaped by natural selection.

Despite our desire to anthropomorphize our world, other primates and animals do not have true combinatorial language. While many use hoots, cries, and calls, these are only declarative or emotive in nature and at best indicate a current status or situation. Most of these sounds cannot be combined or rearranged to produce different meanings, and even when they can, as is the case with some songbirds and cetaceans, the meaning of the constituent units is not retained. Additionally, animal calls have no means of indicating negation, irony, or a past or future condition. In short, animal language isn’t truly equivalent to our own.

Our nearest cousins, genetically speaking, are generally considered to be the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus). For a long time, evolutionary biologists have said that our last common ancestor (or LCA) the ancestor species we most recently shared with these chimps, existed about six million years ago. This is estimated based on the rate specific segments of DNA mutate. In human beings, this overall mutation rate is currently estimated at about thirty mutations per offspring. Recently however, the rate of this molecular clock for chimpanzees has been reassessed as faster than was once thought. If this is accurate, then it’s been reestimated that chimps and humans last shared a common ancestor, perhaps the now extinct homininae species Sanelanthropus-approximately thirteen million years ago.

Of course, the difference of a single gene does not a new species make. It’s estimated that a sufficient number of mutations needed to give rise to a distinctly new primate species, such as Ardipethicus, wouldn’t have accumulated until ten to seven million years ago. Nevertheless, it’s a significant amount of time.

Can we pinpoint when in this vast span of time the origins of human language appeared? It’s generally accepted that Australopithecines’s capacity for vocal communication wasn’t all that different from chimpanzees and other primates. In fact, many evolutionary biologists would say that our vocal tract wasn’t structurally suited to the sounds of modern speech until our hyoid bone evolved with its specific shape and in its specific location. This, along with our precisely shaped larynx, is believed to have allowed us to begin forming complex phoneme, based sounds (unlike our chimpanzee relatives) sometime between 200,000 and 250,000 years ago. In recent years there has been some suggestion that Neanderthals may have also had the capacity for speech. Either way, it was long after Australopithecus afarensis, Paranthropus boisei, and Homo habilis had all disappeared from Earth.



Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence

by Richard Yonck

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