The World and Everything in It — February 18, 2020

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Good morning!

Your social media photos are being scraped up by a start up company to help police  solve crimes. That has privacy advocates alarmed.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Also, the United States can learn from other countries about deficit spending. We’ll talk to an international economist about that.

Plus, good news on child poverty…

RACHIDI: Child poverty has been declining, uh, and quite substantially over the past, a couple of decades.

And WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson on starting anew.

REICHARD: It’s Tuesday, February 18th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Good morning!

REICHARD: Up next, Kent Covington with today’s news.


I’m Kent Covington. Straight ahead: using public photos for police surveillance.

Plus, Kim Henderson on the rebirth of a church.

This is The World and Everything in It.

MARY REICHARD: It’s Tuesday, the 18th of February, 2020. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It and we are so glad you are.  Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: online privacy. Or rather, lack of it.

We’ve covered aspects of the problem before. 

But here’s a new one. When you post photos and videos of yourself—or your kids—online, you don’t expect them to end up in the hands of a company trying to make money off of them. Especially if that company is selling a massive surveillance database. But that’s what’s happening to a lot of people who post images to social media.

REICHARD: Clearview AI is a startup company that makes facial recognition software. It built its database by taking billions of images off the Internet.  The technical term for that is scraping.  

Hundreds of police departments across the country use it to help identify suspects. 

This month, Google, YouTube, Venmo, and Facebook demanded the company stop scraping off their platforms. They say Clearview AI’s practices violate users’ privacy.

Joining us now to talk about the controversy is Jason Thacker. He’s an associate research fellow at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Good morning, Jason!

JASON THACKER, GUEST: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

REICHARD: I’d like to start with this surveillance technology itself. How does it work?

THACKER: Yeah, this artificial intelligence system, it’s based on AI and what it does is it builds a model or kind of a map of someone’s face. So, you think of like Apple FaceID on your phone that you use to open up your iPhone. That’s creating a facial map and then anytime you go to use the iPhone or to unlock it, it unlocks based on your face and so that it can only be opened by you. That’s a very similar type of technology that’s being used here by Clearview AI, just for very different purposes.

REICHARD: Ok. Let’s compare that to what’s going on in China. Its surveillance system allows the government to locate people within a matter of minutes using facial recognition software connected to a network of security cameras. You know, it’s a scary prospect. Do you think we’re headed in that direction in the United States?

THACKER: Well, hopefully not. The New York Times broke the story of Clearview AI back in January after one of their reporters did kind of a deep-dive investigation of the company. And it’s just—there’s a lot of mystery about what Clearview’s purpose is and what future plans—is this going to be limited to police and government uses? Is it going to go into private hands?

There are a lot of benefits to the technology. I mean, even these police departments have said that they’ve been able to crack a lot of cold cases—cases that sat dormant for years with no leads. But you do see a lot of abuses, especially in more authoritarian states like China, where this technology is being used by the government not to protect its people, but really to surveil and control them. And I think based on the way that our democracy is set up and kind of the privacy and human rights concerns that we have here in America that won’t happen, but obviously in the wrong hands this technology can be misused and abused in really nefarious ways.

REICHARD: Always upsides and always downsides to consider. Technology companies don’t like it that their platforms are being dragged into this. But Clearview A-I’s founder says his company has a First Amendment right to access publicly available information. Is he right?

THACKER: And that’s the really confusing part. He may be right. There were a couple court cases over the last few years that seemed to give First Amendment access to these photos because they are publicly available online. But, it seems to be ambiguous enough that people are very concerned about is this legal? But, also, they’ve already built the system and so they’ve been able to train this AI system or this algorithm to do this on millions and millions of photos. So it is going to be very difficult to walk that back. But you do see even in the last few weeks, a lot of our congressmen and senators kind of calling for some type of regulation. There’s lots of conversation about this to say maybe we should have a law on the books that forbids this type of use.

REICHARD: Well, as you allude to, some tech giants advocate for the government to regulate facial recognition software. Facebook and Microsoft among them. Is that likely? And if so, what are the potential drawbacks?

THACKER: Yeah. There are a lot of talks happening on Capitol Hill and even in state governments. There’s a lot of places like New Hampshire and Oregon that are contemplating these types of bans. Cities like San Francisco and Oakland, California already have city-wide bans on facial recognition systems for their police departments. And so there is some movement on that. Obviously with any type of technology there are going to be benefits and there are going to be abuses of it. And so it’s really how do we strike that balance between security and also dignity and privacy for our people. And that’s the really tough question that we’re hoping lawmakers along with various interest groups can come to a real level-headed agreement on what does it look like to have privacy in this digital age.

REICHARD: Jason Thacker is with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He’s also written a book about artificial intelligence that comes out next month. It’s titled, The Age of AI. So congratulations on that and thanks for joining us today, Jason!

THACKER: Yeah, thank you for having me, Mary.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: child poverty.

It’s a common theme among Democratic presidential candidates. And for the most part, they’re repeating the same narrative: too many of America’s children aren’t doing so well. 

Here’s Bernie Sanders during one of last year’s debates.

SANDERS: We are the wealthiest country in the history of the world. And yet, we have the highest child poverty rate of almost any country on earth.

NICK EICHER, HOST: But new analysis tells a very different story. Not only has the overall child poverty rate in America dropped to near historic lows, but the poverty gap between children of different races and ethnicities has also shrunk. 

WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Angela Rachidi is a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute. 

RACHIDI: My primary area of research is poverty and particularly child poverty and how policies affect a child poverty. 

Rachidi says the most basic measure of child poverty is the percentage of children living in families with income equal to or below the federal poverty level. The federal poverty level changes each year and is based on the average prices of food, clothing, transportation, and housing. 

The government began tracking child poverty rates in the 1960s. Back then nearly a third of America’s children lived in poverty. Since then… 

RACHIDI: Child poverty has been declining, uh, and quite substantially over the past, a couple of decades. 

Today’s most recent official numbers show 16 percent of children live in poverty. 

But government spending on low-income children has drastically increased since the 1960s. So the federal government releases another set of data called the Supplemental Poverty Measurement. 

It factors government benefits into household incomes. Benefits like SNAP, housing subsidies, and refundable tax credits. With government benefits, the number of impoverished children drops to 13 percent. 

RACHIDI: We can’t discount the, the huge increase in federal government resources that have been dedicated to low income families over time.

Chris Wimer is a researcher at the Columbia Center on Poverty and Social Policy. He says the Supplemental Poverty Measurement is a more accurate way to measure rates of child poverty. 

WIMER: The reason it’s considered an improvement is that it takes a broader definition of income or resources into account. When you think about the policy support that exists for low income families… increasingly those supports have come through the tax system and through in kind or near cash benefits. 

AEI’s Angela Rachidi says there is more good news. Historically non-white children have had much higher rates of poverty. An African American or Hispanic child was four times more likely than a white child to live in a poor household. That number has also dropped. Today, non-white children are twice as likely to live in poverty.

RACHIDI: What I found is that not only was child poverty declining, um, pretty substantially over time, but it was declining even faster for children who were African American and children who were Hispanic. 

Rachidi says while these are major improvements, the United States still has a long way to go to reduce child poverty. To see continued progress, Rachidi says government benefits need to incentivize employment. 

RACHIDI: Employment is the best thing for families and our policies should be focused on increasing employment.

And building strong families is also essential. 

RACHIDI: It’s just basic math that if you have two parents with two incomes in a household, uh, the likelihood of poverty is going to be reduced. 

Fighting child poverty on the ground is, of course, much more complicated. 

Hank Lee is with the North Delta Baptist Association in Clarksdale, Mississippi—town in the historically poor Mississippi River Delta region. 

Lee says a booming economy and increased government benefits may be helping some. But in the Delta, many poor families are stuck. They’ve lived in poverty for generations.  

LEE: I’m going to say fifth to seventh generation.

Changing an ingrained poverty mindset takes much more than money. 

LEE: Generational poverty is relational. You’ve got to gain their trust and gain their confidence. And once you gain their trust, then you can start affecting their values. And it’s their values that they have that keeps them there. If you’re going to change their values, you’ve got to be friends with them. And that’s not something that comes in a one hour office visit. 

Sunny Williams is a pastor in Arkansas’s poor Mississippi River Delta region. He sees similar problems with government attempts to help poor families and children. Government programs can’t offer a key ingredient: real hope. 

WILLIAMS: I can see a government program helping. I can’t see a government program solving the issue without a Christian perspective of hope. To have hopelessness is the biggest problem.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

NICK EICHER: Better not blink. The game of hockey comes at you pretty fast.

AUDIO: Klingberg feeds. Jamie Benn waits. Seguin has an open net … Seguin scores! Seguin just 24 seconds into overtime finds the back of the net … look at ’im, just about drop his stick!

Dropping sticks is probably the last thing Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin wants to do these days. Or any of his fellow players for that matter.

They may have to stretch their stick supply!

Reason? Well, the coronavirus that has been shuttering Chinese manufacturers may have an impact on the supply of pro hockey sticks.

National Hockey League players go through probably 100 per season.

But Bauer and CCM are two of the NHL’s big suppliers with factories in China that have had to close because of the illness.

Tyler Segin was so concerned about it last week when his team had a matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, that the local boy went over to his mom’s house nearby to grab two sticks he had left there.

Why just two? Seguin replied: “That’s all that was left in the garage. I’ll just have to manage.”

It’s The World and Everything in It.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, February 18th. We’re glad you’re along today for The World and Everything in It. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next: The Olasky Interview.

According to recent reports from the Treasury Department, the U.S. deficit is nearly 20 percent higher than it was this time last year—even as the treasury is bringing in record amounts of money. At current levels, the government is on track to add more than a trillion dollars to our debt this year.

EICHER: This isn’t only an American problem.  Many countries have faced similar situations in the past. One of the most dramatic happened in South America, in once-wealthy Argentina. 

During years of economic growth, the country introduced many government-funded programs. But when Argentina’s economy cooled in the 1970’s, politicians embraced deficits instead of discipline. 

One result was runaway inflation: In 1975, the rate of inflation was a staggering 183 percent. But it got even worse a year later: 444 percent. Then came a period of relative stability following spending cuts, but then the government reversed course and sparked an inflation rate in 1989 that hit 5,000 percent.

Do you wonder what that means? Say a gallon of milk is about $3. At 5,000 percent inflation, by the end of the year, that same gallon of milk would cost $153.

REICHARD: WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky recently spoke with economist Vito Tanzi. He served as a senior staff member of the International Monetary Fund for 27 years. Tanzi is currently the honorary president of the International Institute of Public Finance. 

In this excerpt of their discussion, Marvin begins by asking if Argentina’s economic miseries could happen in our country.

OLASKY: So what lessons does the experience of Argentina hold for the United States?

TANZI: Yeah, well you cannot overdo it. You know, in Argentina, you know, they had some terrible years in the 80s you know, when the inflation went to the sky, hyper-inflation and so forth. They created, they tried to create orthodox policy and then the bad habits came back. Now that bad habit essentially was too much spending in relation to taxes. If you spend too much and you don’t have a high saving rate domestically, you begin to accumulate…you have to sell bonds. 

In the case of Argentina, unfortunately the bonds they could sell, were bought by foreigners so they had to pay them in dollars and not the pesos. The U.S. doesn’t have this situation yet, not at this moment, but can this go on forever? Ah, I doubt it.

OLASKY: And so the Keynesian Theory, you can run deficits in bad times, but basically we’re running deficits all the time now.

TANZI: Yeah. You can run deficits where first, if you ever get into a recession, you know, if you’re in a recession, taxes go down. Spending doesn’t not fall and therefore you run a deficit. And that’s, you know, the Keynesian theory. I think there are very few people who would be against that. There are some at the, at the Chicago school, you know, but uh, but essentially that kind of deficit is tolerated. 

Another one is that if you have good times, for a while, you could run a deficit. Especially if you do certain things. Suppose that you can identify infrastructure projects which are highly productive, you know, projects you  really should do. You know, and you borrow money and you invest it in that thing, then you are doing the same thing that some companies do. Companies borrow money and make investments. As long as the rate of return on the investment is higher than the cost of the borrowing, it’s not a problem. But you know, most governments don’t spend money that way. Most governments don’t spend money in the most productive projects. They spend money for welfare, for groups that should not be getting the money and for inefficiency and so forth. So that’s a different story. You know.

OLASKY: If we keep doing what we’re doing, what would you expect our situation to be in say 10 years from now?

TANZI: Well, if you look at the data of public debt, the public debt of the U.S. is slowly approaching the level of Italy. If you project that for 10 years, you could have a disaster situation where the debt has grown so fast that people will not want to buy it anymore. The banks sooner or later will begin to have an impact on prices. So, you know, you could have a situation that could easily deteriorate and the economy always comes back to haunt you when you try to defeat it. But sometimes it doesn’t happen quickly enough that people see the connection. You know,

OLASKY: Are there are some basic rules that countries should follow to avoid this kind of devolution of falling into poverty, for example: don’t make slicing up pies more important than picking more pies.

TANZI: Yeah. Then there is, you know, there is s big controversy among economists at the moment. Some people like Blanchard for example, he is a well known economist, and some others, who have come to this idea of what they call the new monetary theory, which is that a country can spend…don’t worry, you know, keep spending, it doesn’t matter, you know, spending doesn’t matter. So that’s one theory. 

Another one is the traditionalist. And I was for 20 years, I was the director of the fiscal affairs department of the IMF, you know, and uh, I became convinced that the first responsibility of the country is to keep macroeconomic data in equilibrium. You cannot keep growing a fiscal deficit as the U.S. is. The U.S. is moving to a very dangerous direction. I think over the longer run, you know, of course the U.S. is still a long way from it, but if they continue this space of having a fiscal deficit of 4percent or 5 percent a year and the debt keeps going up, at some point there will be problems. The first rule is macroeconomic equilibrium. The second one is, it’s very much related to the first, that you cannot spend more money than you have.

OLASKY: So in the United States we have the tendency to think that it cannot happen here. But you’re saying basically it could happen here I take it?

TANZI: Yeah, it’s less likely. You know, and I don’t want to be pessimistic. I mean, the U.S. is not Argentina. The U.S. is still a world currency, you know, but if they keep running this year, you know, with full employment, they, you know, the lowest unemployment rate, ever, they say. You know, 3.6 percent. With that situation, and you have a 5 percent fiscal deficit, that means that you’re spending more than you’re getting in revenue. You know, you begin to worry about, you know…

REICHARD: That’s economist Vito Tanzi speaking with WORLD’s Marvin Olasky. Excerpts of their conversation also appeared in the February 1st issue of WORLD Magazine.

MARY REICHARD: Today is Tuesday, February 18th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. The Bible tells us that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Here’s WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson on new beginnings.

KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: Nola is a rural community like a thousand more dotting the landscape of the South. Emptied out by changed railway lines. Leaving little to work with come census-taking time.

For nearly 10 years, people walked past the unused baptistry sitting square at the front of Nola’s only church. Then one weekend, 200 gallons of water filled its 1960s blue fiberglass. A brand-new heater bought off the internet spent a whole night warming that basin of water.

Sunday morning dawned bright, holding enough temperature of its own to make the air conditioner start up. Members and visitors piled into the pews, ready to celebrate the rebirth of two young moms and a National Guardsman. By all indications, a church had been rebirthed as well. Silverados and Sentras parked bumper to bumper. Just three years ago attendance under that very steeple could be counted on one hand.

There was a sermon, then a song of being whiter than snow, then the first came out. Her own white-as-snow baptismal robe floated through a fair share of those 200 gallons of water.

Some denominations would call her a candidate for baptism. Maybe that’s why she made such a good speech. The confession of her tongue filled the sanctuary, spelling out where a hard heart had gotten her and where a changed one is taking her. Ears in the pews perked up. Ears belonging to the saints and a family‘s black sheep and a seeker from another faith—we all listened, taking in a testimony that was more than talk. 

Then the preacher rolled up his sleeves and her silhouette dipped. The water sloshed. She came up smiling.

Another descended the steps. Her history of passing by that baptistry ran deep. But now she was on a new path, a narrow road. Standing there in the water, she said it loud and she said it for all to hear, that she wanted to follow Jesus.

There was a problem, though.

The preacher made light of it, asking the crowd, “Did John the Baptist have to deal with glasses?” She passed her pair over, then went under.

Next, the soldier made his own waves. With a mic to his mouth, he told it like it is—and like it was—wearing an obituary for all the world to read that said the old him is dead. A wife watching from a spot near stained glass knew his words were true, knew she liked being that kind of widow.

The soldier rose from the water, and the preacher wrapped things up, explaining that they were “just being obedient to the command found in the Scriptures.” Those three were left dripping, but no more than several cheeks in the congregation. I looked around hard in an effort to take it all in.

Because that old fiberglass baptistry, the one sporting the vintage blue? Well, it was back in use—in a very big way.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson.

NICK EICHER: Tomorrow: Donald Trump has a small but devoted base of support among black voters. WORLD’s Jamie Dean will tell us what’s behind their appreciation for the president.

And, Paul Butler tells the story of a former slave who became a respected 19th century educator in Princeton, New Jersey.

That and more tomorrow. 

I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD: And I’m Mary Reichard.

The World and Everything in It comes to you from WORLD Radio.

WORLD’s mission is biblically objective journalism that informs, educates, and inspires.

Exhort one another every day…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Go now in grace and peace.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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