Shop here, not there: Science says reducing economic inequality could be that simple.

Imagine heading out to run errands at all your usual places, and your phone's "equity app" has a better idea.

Siri might say, "Buy your groceries at one of these other stores, just as close as your regular store." Or "There are three coffee shops within 2 miles. You haven't tried this one before."

We already get shopping suggestions when we bring up Google Maps, especially when our smartphones are transmitting our GPS coordinates. A similar type of computation is happening behind the scenes at Facebook and Twitter, whose targeted ads can sometimes be scarily on point.


But what if, instead of just boosting sales, those suggestions coming from your phone were designed to address social problems like inequality?

A group of researchers in France and Spain may have solved one preliminary puzzle toward getting us to that point.

In the paper, "Crowdsourcing the Robin Hood Effect in Cities," published in June 2017 in the journal Applied Network Science, the researchers describe a computer algorithm they created that attempts to "rewire" the complex network of commercial transactions and shopping trips people take part in every day. The goal is to redirect more money to poorer neighborhoods so that the wealth differences between rich and poor parts of a city are evened out.

The study used data from 150,000 people and 95,000 businesses in Barcelona and Madrid, and on the surface the pattern of transactions and the money spent revealed that some neighborhoods were up to five times wealthier than others.

But researchers were shocked to find that if as few as 5% of commercial transactions were changed — so that capital flowed from richer to poorer neighborhoods — income inequality in those cities was drastically reduced, up to 80%.

"We were not expecting that," said one of the study's authors, Maxime Lenormand of the National Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture in Montpelier, France. "Actually, I checked the algorithm because I was not sure in the beginning that everything was OK in the code."

Lenormand conducted the study of the Robin Hood Effect with Thomas Louail of the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research's Joint Research Unit of Urban Geography, Juan Murillo Arias of Madrid-based BBVA Data & Analytics, and José J. Ramasco of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Their research began as an attempt to use a model in transportation planning that finds the most efficient way people can get to work and extend it into the area of reducing inequality, Louail said.

It also has potential applications in combating the "neighborhood effect," a self-reinforcing trend that describes how the relative wealth of a person's neighborhood affects their own wealth, which in turn accelerates the neighborhood's own tendencies toward wealth or poverty. Rewiring shopping trips to cross those neighborhood boundaries can decrease the gentrification — that urban neighborhoods experience.

But so far, it's just an algorithm.

"One of the first questions you can ask is — what extent is this scenario implementable?" Louail said. "What it's going to take to perform in real life, and how you will motivate people to change their travel destination for shopping."

The rise of so-called "big data" raises interesting questions about how social scientists and anti-poverty activists approach their work, said Sarah Elwood, a professor in the University of Washington's Department of Geography who studies the intersection of geographic information systems and technology with social justice and inequality. "We're seeing more of these sorts of practices that sort of try to get at the behaviors of individual people and try to get them to do something different."

Guiding and changing individual behavior to instigate social change is possible, both at the grassroots level and as "nudge policies" enacted by governments, she said.

Yet such small actions don't address the structural causes of poverty. "It's important to differentiate between questions of inequality and questions of impoverishment," Elwood added. "You can change the degree of inequality in a society without having acted to change the big processes of impoverishment."

Louail and Lenormand agree. If reversing inequality were the goal, then even an algorithm embedded in a smartphone app would require other measures, such as policy decisions or local government incentives to encourage participation. "But [the solution] is not an app, of course, and maybe I think that the city government, local government somehow could imagine some incentives to help, to motivate people to engage in these kinds of collective enterprises," Louail said.

"We remind the readers [of our study] that the possible tools of city governance to mitigate inequalities are necessary but they're not sufficient to resolve everything," he continued. "And so what we proposed is you can articulate or supplement governance with more bottom-up initiatives."

The researchers see this as an important first step toward using large amounts of data to address social problems.

Since their paper was published, they’ve been contacted by people from around the world interested in developing mobile apps or other technology based on their "Robin Hood" algorithm.

Louail and Lenormand are still considering what next steps they might take. Elwood thinks this is an opportunity to bring other dimensions into the research. "I think big data is going to continue getting bigger," she notes, "but I believe there are significant aspects of human knowledge, human experience, expressions in social life in cities that we are never going to be able to capture in data."

"I would want to put their data science expertise together with people who know and study the politics of urban redevelopment, people who think about housing policy, people who think about existing approaches to development in metro areas," she says. "For me, this is the moment for complex research teams that can ask questions from a variety of different standpoints and be more than the sum of their parts."

This story originally appeared in Yes! Magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

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Should a man lose his home because the grass in his yard grew higher than 10 inches? The city of Dunedin, Florida seems to think so.

According to the Institute of Justice, which is representing Jim Ficken, he had a very good reason for not mowing his lawn – and tried to rectify the situation as best he could.

In 2014, Jim's mom became ill and he visited her often in South Carolina to help her out. When he was away, his grass grew too long and he was cited by a code office; he cut the grass and wasn't fined.

France has started forcing supermarkets to donate food instead of throwing it away.

But several years later, this one infraction would come back to haunt him after he left to take care of him's mom's affairs after she died. The arrangements he made to have his grass cut fell through (his friend who he asked to help him out passed away unexpectedly) and that set off a chain reaction that may result in him losing his home.

The 69-year-old retiree now faces a $29,833.50 fine plus interest. Watch the video to find out just what Jim is having to deal with.

Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House! www.youtube.com

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The world officially loves Michelle Obama.

The former first lady has overtaken the number one spot in a poll of the world's most admired women. Conducted by online research firm YouGov, the study uses international polling tools to survey people in countries around the world about who they most admire.

In the men's category, Bill Gates took the top spot, followed by Barack Obama and Jackie Chan.

In the women's category, Michelle Obama came first, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie. Obama pushed Jolie out of the number one spot she claimed last year.

Unsurprising, really, because what's not to love about Michelle Obama? She is smart, kind, funny, accomplished, a great dancer, a devoted wife and mother, and an all-around, genuinely good person.

She has remained dignified and strong in the face of rabid masses of so-called Americans who spent eight years and beyond insisting that she's a man disguised as a woman. She's endured non-stop racist memes and terrifying threats to her family. She has received far more than her fair share of cruelty, and always takes the high road. She's the one who coined, "When they go low, we go high," after all.

She came from humble beginnings and remains down to earth despite becoming a familiar face around the world. She's not much older than me, but I still want to be like Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Her memoir, Becoming, may end up being the best-selling memoir of all time, having already sold 10 million copies—a clear sign that people can't get enough Michelle, because there's no such thing as too much Michelle.

Don't like Michelle Obama? Don't care. Those of us who love her will fly our MO flags high and without apology, paying no mind to folks with cold, dead hearts who don't know a gem of a human being when they see one. There is nothing any hater can say or do to make us admire this undeniably admirable woman any less.

When it seems like the world has lost its mind—which is how it feels most days these days—I'm just going to keep coming back to this study as evidence that hope for humanity is not lost.

Here. Enjoy some real-life Michelle on Jimmy Kimmel. (GAH. WHY IS SHE SO CUTE AND AWESOME. I can't even handle it.)

Michelle & Barack Obama are Boring Now www.youtube.com

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

The world is dark and full of terrors, but every once in a while it graces us with something to warm our icy-cold hearts. And that is what we have today, with a single dad who went viral on Twitter after his daughter posted the photos he sent her when trying to pick out and outfit for his date. You love to see it.




After seeing these heartwarming pics, people on Twitter started suggesting this adorable man date their moms. It was essentially a mom and date matchmaking frenzy.

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