PRESENTER: All right. And this is the real start. So if folks could quietly take your seats, we're all set to begin. So it's a tremendous pleasure and privilege to welcome all of you here, and it's wonderful to see such a great turnout. Just a bit of housekeeping at the beginning. There is both the sales of books and a signing following this. So if folks are interested in purchasing books and having them signed, our speaker has agreed to do so. One brief moment. Gotcha.
That was a very important announcement that I was just given because I have a couple of acknowledgments to make. First, I would like to acknowledge the very generous support for this event from alumni Connie Ferris and the Ferris Family Foundation. But I would also like to recognize another person as well who will probably be irritated at me for recognizing her, but I'm going to anyway, who not only provided financial assistance for this event but to whom we are also, in the Bronfenbrenner Center, indebted for a wide range of reasons, and that is Liese Bronfenbrenner, who is somewhere in the audience. Urie's wife was here with us today. And I believe that maybe daughter-- at least one other member of the family is here as well. But Liese has been a great friend to the Center and an inspiration to all of us who know her. She was a life partner in Urie's many adventures, both personal and academic, and we're privileged to have her here with us today.
So in this event, we are celebrating the 100th birth year of Urie Bronfenbrenner, who was one of the most influential social scientists of the last century. Urie was born in Russia in 1917, and after attending the University of Michigan for graduate school, spent his entire long career here at Cornell. He was a legendary teacher and a mentor to some of today's most distinguished developmental psychologists. He is perhaps best known for creating one of the most enduring and still extremely relevant theoretical models in child development, his ecological model, which placed the developing human, and especially the child, in the context of families and neighborhoods and larger communities and the society at large.
But Urie also had a career-long interest in applying psychological theory and research to the real world. Urie's ideas and his ability to translate them into effective social policies are perhaps best exemplified by his role as one of the creators in 1965 of the Head Start program, which is the federal program for low-income children and their families. Six years ago, we were able to honor Urie's legacy by naming our new Translational Research Institute and the College of Human Ecology after him. And so he's still very much alive today in the mission and the work of the Bronfenbrenner Center for translational research.
So having said this, I'm sure it's therefore easy to understand why, when we decided to hold a major event to celebrate the centennial of Yuri's birth, that we thought immediately of Nicholas Kristof. All of you because you're here, I'm sure, are aware of his powerful columns in The New York Times and his influential and compelling books. I will add that he has a strong Cornell connection. His wife, Sheryl WuDunn, is a Cornell alumna and former trustee.
His career has been nothing short of extraordinary. He's lived on four continents and reported on six, has traveled to more than 150 countries. During his travels, he has caught the malaria, experienced wars, confronted warlords, and even survived a plane crash. He's not only managed to survive and to press on, he's also won two Pulitzer Prizes in the process. He's made a career of advocating human rights and giving a voice to the voiceless, which I think you will agree is now more important than ever.
Nicholas Kristof's work links so well to Urie's in his passion for uncovering the truth and for creating a better world for children and for all human beings. He's a powerful public advocate for the poor and the vulnerable and the oppressed. And we are extraordinarily grateful that he could be here with us today. So with no further delay, please join me in welcoming Nicholas Kristof.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: Thank you.
Thanks very much. I'm really delighted to be here for a number of reasons. Professor Bronfenbrenner was a great example of somebody who not only did tremendous scholarship, but also was really engaged in advocacy. And his work lives on in kids who are on Head Start around the country. And indeed, the Center likewise does that same task of taking important scholarship and also trying to employ it in the public arena.
And I'm also delighted because my wife would kill me if I didn't say that I was thrilled to be here.
And Sheryl has-- I've come up here many times with Sheryl. She sends her warmest wishes. And then another reason-- I mean, I'm sure everybody says that they're thrilled to be here when they come. But on Saturday, I was in North Korea. And so flew out on Saturday morning. We'd had a somewhat dicey Friday. I was with three New York Times colleagues, and on Friday, there were some bad vibes. And so we were quite nervous at the airport Saturday morning of flying from North Korea to Beijing. And when the plane finally left North Korean airspace, boy, we breathed a deep sigh of relief. So I'm so glad to be here and not in Pyongyang right now.
I also want to-- since I am attending to human rights, I should say that any of you who are standing over there, there are seats down here on the far corner. And you're welcome to migrate down here. There are about a dozen seats down there in that corner. So Sheryl sends her best wishes. It was actually kind of funny. When I entered North Korea, they took my cell phone, and they went through the photos on it, I think to make sure that I didn't have any subversive materials there. And they saw a number of pictures of Sheryl and said-- clearly deeply suspicious-- who's this Asian woman? And I said, my wife. They were very deflated at that.
So I want to talk about how I became engaged in some of these issues and what we've learned about what makes a difference. But first of all, I just want to talk about the news today, what happened in Las Vegas, because that also relates to public policy issues and safety, and I think a real failure of public policy. We had one person essentially shoot 500 people. 58 of them are dead at last count.
And of course, this was, in a sense, entirely predictable. We know that there are going to be more mass shootings. We know that this year, as every year, there will be around 33,000, 34,000 people who die from guns. We know that a kid in the US is 12 times more likely to die from a gun than in other developed countries. And we also have some sense of the kind of steps that would reduce gun deaths in the US. And I think there has been a political failure and a public policy failure that we haven't taken some of these steps.
And I think that it's a useful way of thinking about challenges. I think that the best way to think about gun deaths in the US is as a public health challenge. And when I write about this issue, I always get indignant emails or tweets from people who say, what about cars? Cars kill a similar number of people each year, and we don't ban cars.
But what we do is we have taken-- I think cars are actually a great example of how we have taken a very serious public health approach to live with a dangerous product and make it safer. And I looked at auto fatality statistics back to 1921, the first year for which they're available. If we had the same auto fatality rate per 100 million miles driven that we had in 1921, we would lose about 750,000 people a year in the US to auto deaths. But in fact, we've reduced that auto fatality rate by more than 95% over the decades.
And it was no one thing that made a huge difference. There was no magic wand there. It was a million different things. There's no silver bullet, but there's, in a sense, silver buckshot. And so it's seatbelts. It's airbags. It's padded dashboards. It's better bumpers. It's crash tests. It's a tremendous amount of research so that when there is a fatal accident, then investigators go and they see what went wrong and try to figure out how that can be prevented.
It's better light. It's better-designed roads. It's limits on left turns. It's crackdowns on drunken driving. It's graduated licenses for young drivers. And the upshot is that we can take a product that is inherently both dangerous and also an important part of modern life, and we can dramatically reduce the death toll. And I think that that is the kind of standard that we should take to firearms as well.
And there's still going to be-- there would still be a lot of people who would die from guns in the US, but I think that there is some evidence that if we-- that a number of these steps could probably reduce gun deaths by about one third, which would be more than 10,000 lives saved a year. So I think that that is the mode of analysis we should take to guns and other public policy problems, see them much more through this lens of public health and how one can use a base of evidence to try to reduce the toll.
Well, let me explain a little how I came engaged in some of these issues. And part of it-- as you know, I've written a lot about the importance of female empowerment and the dividends from it and the importance of investing in kids early on. And part of that came when Sheryl and I were living in China. That's us at Tiananmen Square two or three years ago.
Oh, that was rude.
Actually, one way of gauging that is that's our eldest son on my shoulders, and he's now 25, which just goes to show how quickly kids grow up in a few years. But when we were in China, one of the things that we saw was how many kids were dropping out of school, and girls in particular, and weren't getting an education. And so we decided to write about this phenomenon. We wanted to find a poster child for this phenomenon. So in the middle of the country in Hubei Province and the [INAUDIBLE] Mountains, they're a very rural, poor area. We found a school. This is 1990. And this girl, [INAUDIBLE], is the brightest girl in her school. And she's had to drop out of school in sixth grade for want of $13 in school fees.
And so she was hanging out forlornly at the front gate. The teachers were giving her scraps of paper and pencils. And so we wrote about the problem of girls not getting an education for want of small amounts of money. And we ran her photo three columns on the front page of The New York Times. You can imagine what happened next. This is before email. But we got deluged with letters from readers, mostly containing checks for $13 to help [INAUDIBLE].
And we also, though, got one wire transfer for $10,000. And we took all this money down to the principal. That was that guy right there. And we worked out a deal where the money would go to keep these girls in school as long as they could maintain the grade. And they were thrilled. For the first time in this area, your prospects would depend not in your chromosomes but on your intellectual capacity. Then we-- I should say again, for those folks who were standing, there are some seats right down here. You'll have to embarrass yourselves and go through the crowds, but there are a bunch of seats right down here, or you're welcome to sit in the aisles there.
In any case, we called the donor then of the $10,000 to tell him how much of an impact he'd had. He was sort of surprised that we would call him up. And I explained, you just don't understand how far $10,000 goes in rural China. He kind of gasped and said, $10,000? I only sent $100. Yeah, now it's our turn to gasp.
Well, it turned out that he had attempted to send $100, but the bank had had a little trouble with that decimal point. I figured the banker was probably later put in charge of mortgage-backed securities or something. But we figured then at the end of the month or end of the quarter, the bank would figure this out. And I didn't know what to do. I couldn't go back to the school and say, sorry, it was all a banking error in New York.
So I'm a little embarrassed about what I did. I knew the chief spokesman for the bank, and I called him up. And I explained exactly what had happened. The bank had made this mistake. These girls, as a result, were getting their first chance at a real education. And then I let slip the follow-up article I was working on.
And I said, now, on the record, you're going to try to get that $9,900 back and force all these girls to drop out of school? And he didn't miss a beat. He said, on the record, we're delighted to make a donation of the difference.
Well, so that was 1990. And it's kind of a fascinating natural experiment in what happens when you get investments in girls' education in one place, not, another. So there were all kinds of very poor villages in this area. This one, the girls got a good education just because of this banking error. And [INAUDIBLE] herself went back to school. She became the first person in her family to graduate from elemenatary school, from middle school, from high school, earned an accounting degree, joined an accounting firm in Guangdong Province, later started her own accounting firm.
And so many other girls who otherwise would have been working in the rice paddies or tending goats ended up getting a great education in ways that didn't just benefit them, but benefited the entire community. So you go back now. And obviously, all the villages are hugely better off, much better education standards than in 1990. But this village is way ahead of the others because of that one-time investment in girls' education. And that really influenced Sheryl and me, and we could see this happening as time went on and the degree it created this virtuous cycle by investing in kids' education, especially girls' education.
And so that was influential in getting us thinking in these directions. And then another-- then there was also the grimmer side of the equation. And we also saw some of the really brutal things that happen so often to kids, and again, disproportionately girls. And in particular, I was very shaken by, in the 1990s what I thought was going to be one story that I did about kids being sold for sex in Asia. And went to Cambodia and saw very young girls essentially having their virginity auctioned off.
And in one brothel, a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old who were essentially slaves-- if they had tried to run away, grabbed them and handed them right back to the brothel owners who paid bribes to keep good relations with the police. And they were going to be-- the main difference from 19th-century slavery was that they were going to be dead of AIDS by their early 20s. And it kind of haunted me.
And so I went back and reported on it more. And then when I became a columnist, I did something that raised a lot of eyebrows and some hackles within journalism. This is a Cambodian brothel. I ended up buying two girls. This is [INAUDIBLE]. And it's in a different brothel, a [INAUDIBLE] in the white blouse. And took them back to their families, worked with NGOs to have them start small businesses.
But what really struck me was that I got written receipts from the brothel owner for buying a human being. I mean, you get a written receipt. This is 2004 when you get a written receipt for buying a human being in the 21st century. Really, something is profoundly wrong. And then this made me curious about the situation in this country. So I reported a lot about human trafficking in Asia and Malaysia and Pakistan and India and Nepal, Thailand, Philippines. But I was curious about the situation in the US. And it became clear that we also have a huge trafficking problem in the US. And we tend to think this is about foreign women smuggled into the US, and that is a factor. That is part of it. But an awful lot of it is about homegrown American girls who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.
And the police then traditionally arrest the girls, who are the victims in this, and not the pimps or the Johns. And this is a woman, Seana Goodwin, who we got to know who was first sold when she was age 13. She was injected with heroin so she wouldn't resist. And over her years in the sex trade, she was arrested 158 times, and her pimp never, never. And these are difficult problems to address, and there's no perfect solution. But when you have that kind of discrepancy, then the pimping is going to continue indefinitely. And the pimps grab these young girls and exploit them.
And it is encouraging that in recent years, there has been a certain amount of progress on this, and police now are much more willing to target Johns, to target pimps, and more willing to see underage girls as victims. There's also an effort to crack down on backpage.com, which is the online emporium where most of these transactions take place. But there's still an awful lot of work left to be done.
And I guess another lens through which to think about it is there's a lot of discussion, I think importantly, about inequality. And I think increasingly, I've come to see this as one of the most fundamental challenges that we face in the US. And these statistics are just staggering. The top 1% owns more than the bottom 90%. But I think one reason we haven't been more effective at addressing inequality is that we often start too late. And the roots of inequality are often very early in life.
And I think that we also tend to focus on inequality in economic metrics because those are the metrics that are easiest to gauge. And so we can look at inequality of income. We can look at inequality of assets. But inequality of opportunity is maybe the most fundamental inequality of all. And there actually is a certain amount of agreement in principle that we should do more to address that. In one poll, 97% of Americans agree that there should be greater equality for children as a starting point. And 97% of Americans-- that's more Americans than realize that the Earth is round. I mean, it's an astonishing consensus in this polarized time.
And there has been more and more scholarship looking at this issue of the roots of inequality and the impact of early childhood, even prenatal experiences on lifetime outcomes. I think the traditional view was that children are endlessly resilient, and it's clear that that is not the case. And in fact, some of the really important work on this was-- and about the solution to it-- was done by a man called David Olds when he was doing his PhD here at Cornell. He had earlier worked in a nursery school, and he felt that even when he was working with three-year-olds, it was sometimes too late for a kids who had been born with drugs in their system, who had been abused.
And so while he was working on his PhD here, he ran a program in Elmira. And it looked at, essentially, coaching the most at-risk moms during pregnancy and for the first two years with basic things like avoiding alcohol when pregnant, avoiding drugs when pregnant, coaching when one gets mad, how to manage that anger and not take it out in the child, what to do if your boyfriend or husband is picking on the child in ways that threaten that child, and fairly simple interventions. And it turned out to have this dramatic-- it ends at age two and has important long-term effects on high school graduation rates, on the risk that that child, many years later, is going to get pregnant as a teenager, and drug and alcohol use, and so on.
And it evolved into a program called Nurse Family Partnership that is both very cheap as an intervention, and with most at-risk kids, saves public money seven times over because if you have a kid who ends up in trouble, then incarcerating kids is expensive. Dealing with drug and alcohol issues is expensive. Nurse Family Partnership is not. And in my reporting, I see this low-hanging fruit of helping kids. This is a kid I met in West Virginia, Johnny, who couldn't talk. Why couldn't he talk? Because he had had a hearing impairment, and he'd never had a hearing screening.
And so finally, the group Save the Children did a hearing screening and realized that he couldn't hear at all in one ear and barely hear in the other ear. And they were able to fix the hearing problem quite quickly. But at this point, his brain had been developing without getting any of that auditory input. And it was unclear whether his brain would ever be able to fully compensate for that and whether he ever would be able to fully speak again for want of something as simple as a hearing screening. And it's just heartbreaking to run into problems like this over and over.
Another of my pet peeves is lead poisoning. 535,000 kids in the US get elevated lead each year, 535,000. That's a scandal. And it's disproportionately kids of color and low-income kids who end up exposed to that lead. If it was happening in wealthier communities, there would be outrage. This would be unacceptable. And those kids end up on a pathway to learning difficulties, to behavioral difficulties. And again, we do know how to deal with lead and how to reduce the exposures, and yet we don't do it.
One of the great debates in recent decades has been about family structure. And Daniel Patrick Moynihan originally raised it. Liberals often argue that he was blaming the victim. In fact, I think that over time, conservatives were largely proven right about family structure often having really important outcomes, especially for boys. For reasons we don't fully understand, boys do better when they have a two-parent household. It seems to matter somewhat less for girls. And it doesn't matter with every child. It's complicated. But especially for low-income at-risk kids, that does seem to matter.
But in terms of how we respond to this, how we deal with this disadvantage, the conservative solution-- the diagnosis was probably largely right, but the solution-- it was tested a lot during that George W Bush presidency-- was advocacy program, marriage promotion programs. And they were tested, and essentially, they completely failed. They just don't-- you can promote marriage all you want, and it doesn't really work.
There is, though, one intervention that turned out to really be quite successful in encouraging marriages and more traditional family structure, and that was family planning. It turns out, essentially, that if you can help 16-year-old girls not get pregnant and have babies when they're 16, 17, then later on, they will be in a better position to marry and have babies in that family and stick with the same partner for years after that. And this, again, is, I think, a huge failure in the US compared to other advanced countries.
These are some of the stats. As far as we can tell, American kids and European kids have sex at about the same rates based on self-reporting surveys, and yet American girls get pregnant and have babies three times as often. And it seems to be because American kids don't have as good access to comprehensive sex education and because they don't have as good access to reliable forms of birth control, especially LARCs, Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives. And again, there have been some good, careful experiments, particularly in St. Louis, involving providing LARCs to at-risk kids. And not only does it hugely empower these girls, those who want them, but it also means that they are more likely to stay in school, and they're more likely to do well afterward. And of course, also, when a 15-year-old has a baby, the outcomes for that child also aren't as good as if she has the baby somewhat later.
These programs also save significant amounts of money. A LARC is an awful lot cheaper than a Medicaid childbirth, for example, and yet we don't follow this logic. We invest in all kinds of other programs, but there's still a tremendous reluctance. We don't provide LARCs nearly to the same degree that we should. And indeed, organizations that provide LARCs have been in danger of having their funding pulled and still are in some jeopardy there. This is a main family planning program that I visited that was at grave risk of losing various income streams.
And one of the differences, I think, from the past is that increasingly, we do really have an evidence base and randomized controlled trials to give us a sense of what works, what makes a difference, what creates opportunity. And the randomized controlled trials are a little like a pharmaceutical double-blind trial, but with some other kind of intervention. And so for education in Kenya, for example, everybody tends to think that the best way to get more kids in school is you build a school. And indeed, that's useful. But the challenge is that you can build a school, but how do you make sure the teachers show up? How do you make sure there are going to be school books there? And it's complicated.
But one thing that works incredibly well we tend not to think of is deworming kids. We tend not to think of deworming because kids in this country typically don't have intestinal parasites. But the Rockefeller Foundation dewormed American kids 100 years ago, and it has dramatic effect on the ability of American kids to learn to study to stay in school. If you have worms in your gut, then some of the nutrition is going to the worms, not to you, and you're more likely to be anemic. You're more likely to be sick. You miss school.
And deworming is cheap. One or two pills of albendazole, costing about $0.05 each in the international market, will get rid of those worms. And kids who get dewormed stay in school longer. They have higher earnings as adults later on. And this is one of these incredibly cheap interventions that we might not have known about if people didn't do these experiments. So one of the things that always puzzles me is we have, increasingly, this evidence base of what works at what cost, and yet we don't apply that knowledge.
The program that I mentioned that David Olds had pioneered in Elmira, the Nurse Family Partnership, they're called home visitation programs. And they were up for renewal in Congress, didn't get around to renewing funding for them a few days ago. And when working with the most at-risk kids, every dollar invested in them has $7 of savings later on. So how is it that we repeatedly don't invest in things that really would make a difference even when it's going to save the public money?
And I think part of the answer is what might be called an empathy gap. And I think over time, I've increasingly felt that that is one of the key challenges to try to address poverty and inequity. What do I mean by an empathy gap? Well, one way of thinking about it is that the most affluent 20% of Americans actually give less to charity as a percentage of incomes than the poorest 20%. And why is that? It's not because affluent Americans are any less good or any less compassionate than poorer Americans. But rather, it seems to be that if you are affluent in America today to a degree that was not true a generation ago, then you're insulated from need to some degree.
You probably live in a reasonably nice neighborhood. Most of your workmates and friends are also reasonably well off. And so you're intellectually aware of disadvantage, but it's not something that you confront every day. And in contrast, if you're poor in America, then every day, you confront people who are needier than your. And confronted with that, you help out. And so the poorest 20% donate almost twice as much as a percentage of incomes to charity as the most affluent 20% even though the poorest 20% get no tax benefit because they're not itemizing their deductions.
And it's also-- part of the challenge of affluence is this degree of insulation, but part of it also is it becomes easier to develop narratives in which poverty is not just an economic failing, if you will, but also a moral failing. And it's all about personal responsibility. And I think this is an important discussion to have. And look, there is no doubt that poverty sometimes involves self-destructive behaviors that compound poverty. And it's complicated, Poverty creates stress that creates cortisol in the brain, and that changes, to some degree, one's time horizons.
But in addition-- I mean, fundamentally, I think that if we're going to talk about personal responsibility, then we also have to talk about our collective social responsibility, our collective responsibility to address these issues. And that's where I think we have a collective failing when we have so many impoverished kids in this country. And then there's also-- I think the empathy gap becomes more complicated and challenging when one can otherize the people who are disadvantaged when they are of a different race or religion or immigration status, whatever it may be. And again, I think we have a much better understanding of how otherizing works.
The brain classifies people as in group or out group, often by race, in about one hundredth of a second. One isn't necessarily aware of exactly what one is seeing, but one has already made that classification. And I think that the evidence is increasingly that the biggest problem isn't traditional, old-fashioned racists or bigots who believe in inequality, but the biggest problem is well-meaning people who intellectually believe in equality but yet act in ways that perpetuate inequality. And one scholar has famously called it racism without racists.
But you see it in all kinds of ways. And I was particularly struck by a study of NBA refs and the way they called fouls. And it turns out that refs in the NBA were more likely to call fouls on players of a different race than they were on players of their own race. And you think about this-- and this is professional refs monitored by coaches, by fans in televised games. And this is happening with these refs. You think, what hope is there for a principal who's trying to sort out a fight and trying to figure out who's to blame or in so many other areas of daily life where there are these decisions being made?
And it's clear that these decisions are often made by people acting in ways that create inequality. If you send out a résumé with a name that suggests the person is Black, that person is much less likely to get a callback, about half as likely to get a callback, as if the same résumé, the identical résumé, has a name that sounds like a white person. And so this kind of bias, I think, makes it harder to bridge that empathy gap.
But there was a follow-up to that NBA study that I found kind of encouraging. When the first study was done, the NBA was outraged. And they said, no way! Impossible! No bias. And they commissioned their own incredibly bogus study to show that there was no bias. And their study really was flimsy. It didn't really prove much of anything.
But the issue was heavily discussed within NBA, among refs and others. And then the people who had done the original study, a few years later, they came back and did it again. And this time, that they found that the bias had actually disappeared. And it did seem, perhaps, that by having these hard conversations about unconscious bias, that perhaps that did indeed diminish it to the point that it became unmeasurable. And I think one of the challenges with race, with immigration status, with religion-- these are really hard conversations to have, and they make people feel very awkward. But I do think that we're not going to bridge that empathy gap and create greater equality unless you're willing to have some of these really difficult conversations.
And when one can bridge that empathy gap, it's kind of remarkable what one can achieve. One of the stories we tell in A Path Appears that moved us a lot involved a young man growing up in rural Arkansas, a young African-American growing up in rural Arkansas in the 1950s. His name is Olly Neal. He went to a segregated Black school with many fewer resources. And he was a very bright kid. The teachers recognized that. But he was also just kind of a screw-up. He was frankly kind of a jerk.
He got fired from his job at the store for shoplifting. The school had a sainted librarian, Mrs. Grady, and Olly Neal reduced her to tears. And then one day, Ollie is skipping English class, and he's in the little school library, browsing. And one title catches his eye. It's a young adult novel by an African-American author named Frank Yerby. And Ollie-- actually, he explains that it catches his eye mostly because the cover shows this scantily clad woman. And actually, I've always wondered about that, because this is, I think, 1957. And what did scantily clad mean in 1957?
So he sees it, and he's not a reader, but the cover catches his eye. And he thinks he might check it out. Then he looks over the checkout counter, and there's a girl in his class. He can't be seen checking out a book. He's a tough kid. Tough kids don't read books. So he puts it in his jacket and walks out. He steals the book.
Well, he reads it at home, and it's just a great read. He really enjoys it. It's the first book he's really read for pleasure. And so a week later, he returns it to the library and slips back into place. And he notices there's another Frank Yerby novel. So he steals that one. And again, it's a great read. He just really enjoys it. He eventually returns it, and he sees a third Frank Yerby novel he hadn't seen before. He steals that one. You see how this goes. This happens four times. And it turns Olly Neal into a reader.
He graduates to other fiction, to more serious literature, to current events. And he goes on from this segregated Black school to college and eventually to law school, becomes one of Arkansas's first African-American lawyers, a leader in the civil rights movement there, a judge. This is Olly Neal as a judge. And so he's kind of a hero in his old school. And at one of the reunions, he goes back, and he sits down with Mrs. Grady and says, Mrs. Grady, your little library completely transformed my life, but I got a confession. I stole some of your books. And Mrs. Grady said to Olly, well, Olly, I have a confession too. I saw you steal that first book.
And she explained that she had seen him put it in his jacket, and she'd been furious. And she'd been ready to stomp up to him and yell at him. And then in this flash of empathy, she understood that he was embarrassed to be seen reading a book. And so she let him steal it. And that weekend, she drove 70 miles to Memphis to the used bookstores there to try to find another book by Frank Yerby. The first bookstore didn't have one. The second didn't have one. She can't remember if it's the third or the fourth that did. She bought it with her own money, drove back, put it on the shelf. And when Olly Neal stole that second Frank Yerby novel, she was thrilled.
Then she drove back to Memphis and did the same thing. And Mrs. Grady, as a Black woman in the 1950s, discriminated against both on the basis of gender and of race, had every reason to feel bitter at the world and angry at Olly for being just a jerk of a kid. But she took a chance on him, and she overcame that empathy gap and invested in him in ways that rippled through his life into the lives of so many other people. And I think that that's what anybody who works on these issues sees, that reaching people and making a difference is harder than it looks. And all the time, one takes a chance on somebody, tries to help, and it doesn't work. You end up getting your heart broken. And writing about narcotics, I see that all the time. There are an awful lot of relapses. It's hard.
But every now and then, if one can bridge that empathy gap, when one takes a chance on somebody, even somebody who doesn't seem to deserve it, even somebody who's behaved in self-destructive ways, even somebody who doesn't seem to have shown as much personal responsibility as they should-- when one does that, then periodically and unpredictably, it has this dramatic effect on them and on into others. And I think that if we can bridge that empathy gap more often and bring in evidence-based policies that create opportunity, then we can create a very different kind of America.
I do think that one of the challenges is that we face is the sense that anything we do is going to be a drop in the bucket. And I talk to volunteers who are always frustrated by that, that the problem seems so vast. And it's great to help an individual here or there, but it does seem so tiny compared to the scale of the challenges. And I think that's true in a sense. Anything that we do is a drop in the bucket.
But I've become a believer in drops in the bucket, and that's partly because of this person. And I'll leave you with his story. This is Vladislav [INAUDIBLE], a World War II refugee. And he fled Romania, was in a concentration camp in Yugoslavia, eventually made his way to France, couldn't get a work permit, and so was doing illegal jobs here and there. But also felt that France wasn't fully accepting of East European refugees and that neither he nor his children, whatever yet-unborn children, would ever be fully accepted. And so he began to think about trying to figure out how to get to America.
And he worked out a fake marriage with an American citizen, an American woman, to try to get a visa. And that was almost worked out, and then it collapsed. But in the meantime, one of his under-the-table jobs was cleaning hotel rooms. And one of the rooms was being used by a young American woman who worked for the Marshall Plan from Portland, Oregon. And they got along very well. She liked him. And so she wrote to her parents and their church in Portland, Oregon to tell them to sponsor Vladislav [INAUDIBLE]. And so that involved providing him with a job, providing him with a boat ticket over, guaranteeing his expenses for two years. And they didn't know him. They were taking a risk on him. But they did it.
And so he came over in 1951. And this was absolutely just a drop in the bucket. They didn't make a dent in the global refugee crisis. Completely transformative, though, for him. And after he got to the US, he realized a name like [INAUDIBLE] was completely unworkable. It had three Z's. And so he shortened it to Kristof, who's my dad. So take it from me. Drops in the bucket-- that is how you fill buckets. Thanks very much.
Thank you. You're embarrassing me.
Thank you. Thank you.
So now's your chance. Put me on the spot, these microphones.
PRESENTER: So we do have time for questions if people could come up and use the microphone. And I think about anything and everything, right?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: Absolutely. So just come to the microphones and ask away.
AUDIENCE: Just great hearing the empathy story, seeing that you also had facts. I feel like I'm living in an age where facts become less and less important, where our abilities to take the facts and just make them fit what we believe and reject those others becomes realer and realer all the time. Can you speak to what we do about that and if you think that's happening?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: Yeah, I mean, this is one thing that troubles me as a journalist, that increasingly-- we know from social psychology that essentially, what we as human beings want is not neutral, objective facts. What we want is a set of facts that will confirm our every prejudice. And that's human nature. And it used to be that the business models of journalism were such that the news organizations wanted to have liberal subscribers and conservative subscribers, and so they had to be more neutral and objective for business reasons.
And that has really changed. And so now you have niches. And so increasingly, it is possible for people to have news sources that don't challenge them and that do confirm their every bias. And I think that it is deeply problematic. Although I'm an opinion journalist, I tend to think that the really crucial journalism is done by reporters who dig up facts. But I'm afraid that we are now so polarized, and there's such a tendency to discount facts that one perceives as inconvenient, that it makes it an awful lot harder to engage in public policy. And I think there also has to be a conversation about the role of universities in this because there is so much knowledge about public policy in universities around the country, and yet universities have often been marginalized from these discussions and their role taken over by think tanks.
And I think that part of the blame goes to conservatives who write off universities as liberals who can't be trusted. I do, though, think that universities themselves have had a tendency in academic writing, for example, to move away from writing that can be easily understood. I think that the focus on publication in-- that the tenure track has tended to discount advocacy and impact on the country and focus on publication in sometimes-obscure journals in ways that limit the public good role of universities.
And I also actually think that one of the problems is that some academic departments have become so liberal with so few conservatives in them that the conversation within those disciplines becomes further from where the discussion of the country is. It's not closely tethered to where the public discussion is. And I think that the disciplines would have more impact if there were more conservatives within them to have debates about these issues. So I think there also needs to be more of a conversation within universities and within disciplines about how to play this incredibly important potential role of public good that universities can and should play.
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much. I work for an organization that does development in rural Nepal, and one of the things that we're focused on is children's education, which you've, of course, written and spoken about, both domestically and internationally. What I would like to know-- and this is of direct interest to me professionally, but also, I think, to all of us-- is how do we prevent-- what are some best practices, based on your experience and your travels, for preventing educated people from draining the rural areas and settling in the urban areas and then devitalizing the rural areas. How can we encourage them to stay and build their communities?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: So how does one prevent educated people from all moving off to the cities? Yeah. This is a perennial challenge. And in almost every country, you've had this migration, with the exception of those countries where there are legal bans on people moving. North Korea, it's not a big problem. But just about everywhere else, it is. And it's about opportunity.
I think part of it also is that leaders tend to be more concerned about urban unrest and tend to invest more in urban areas rather than in rural areas. I do think that there is so much more we can do in rural areas in terms of investments in education, investments in areas like nutrition. One of the things that-- it seems to me one of the great scandals of the world today is that almost one quarter of kids worldwide are stunted. And that's from lack of nutrition early in life. And we measure stunting by measuring kids physically. But what we also know is that where there is physical stunting, there is also brain stunting. And those kids won't be able to fully live up to their capacity 30, 40 years from now because in 2017, we're not able to get them adequate nutrition.
And again, there is no silver bullet, but there is, if you will, silver buckshot. One of the most important nutritional interventions that it's estimated would save 800,000 lives a year in the developing world by improving nutrition requires no refrigeration, no lines of shipment. It's optimal breastfeeding. In most developed countries optimal, breastfeeding is running around about one third of kids. It means they get exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
If one could get that to, say, 65%, 70%, as has been done in some countries, then you save an awful lot of kids' lives, and you improve their cognitive capacity later on and get them more prepared for schooling when they reach that point. And there are micronutrients as well-- vitamin A supplementation, iron to reduce anemia, zinc. So I think that some of those things may be easier ways to move the needle than trying to keep those educated people in rural areas, although I totally take your point. And more power to you in Nepal.
AUDIENCE: Thanks for your talk. I'm wondering, A, what made your departure from North Korea this weekend so dicey, and B, If you have an optimistic take on the future of US-North Korean relations. It's easy to come up with a lot of pessimistic takes, but if there's an optimistic way the current animus can be resolved, what that might be.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: So what was kind of dicey was-- and can I just make this off the record for a moment? Because I'm going to be writing about it, I don't want to steal my own thunder. But there were a couple of things. So I've been to North Korea before, and in the past, we were able to stay in hotels in the capital. This time, the Foreign Ministry put us in its own compound out in the middle of nowhere. And at first, I thought this is to keep us out of mischief, to keep us isolated. Increasingly over the time, I realized that this was actually probably to protect us from the military and the security agencies who might not be fully on board with the Foreign Ministry's outreach.
And there were some weird signs as the week went on that the Foreign Ministry was nervous about-- it seemed like we were being-- we were in Foreign Ministry cars, escorted by Foreign Ministry people, and I think we were tailed by the security agencies, maybe trying to embarrass the Foreign Ministry people. And our last day on Friday, our luggage-- we were being filmed by somebody. Our bags were gone through. We were afraid maybe something was going to be planted on it. The foreign minister seemed to be fending off some other mysterious agency. It just got a little nerve-wracking. And they were also a little indignant at some of my questions.
So it was a sigh of relief to get out of North Korean airspace. And I wish I could give you a sense of optimism about where things go from here, but-- and I guess I can be back on the record now. But frankly, it felt a little like the run-up to Iraq. I remember making a trip to Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 2002, about six months before the war, and feeling this deep frustration that these two freight trains were headed for each other. And it felt kind of the same way right now, that-- I think President Trump and Kim Jong-un have kind of similar personalities, and both respond by wanting to escalate.
And when you have two rivals, each with nuclear weapons, each intuitively trying to intimidate the other by escalating, that's dangerous. And frankly, North Korea did not find a huge desire for talks or to find some exit ramp. And I think Rex Tillerson actually was interested in that here. And as you saw, he got slapped down by the president yesterday. So I'm nervous about what might happen. And I think a deal is going to be difficult or impossible to reach. So you asked for good cheer. I wish I could provide it.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much for your talk. One thing I've been thinking a lot about as a journalist, especially since November 8 and before, is I'm finding that the line between normal reporting journalists and opinion columnists is becoming increasingly blurred, especially on Twitter. You can look to people like Glenn Thrush as potential examples of this before Glenn deleted his Twitter. But I'm just wondering what your opinion is versus what public role reporters should have versus what kind of role opinion columnists should have.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: So this is a really good question. It's one that journalism is kind of struggling with. And traditionally, there was a clear line. And when we had a print paper, it was easier to discern. So you had columnist and editorial writers on this particular page. Now on a website, it's a lot fuzzier. And we've been debating this. On this North Korea trip, there was, in a sense, news, but we decided we couldn't really write it because we couldn't write for the news sections. And maybe that will change in the future.
And more broadly, I think there is an inherent challenge in that I think a lot of people go into journalism because they want to make a difference, but you can't cover every city council meeting wanting to make a difference. That would be pretty rough on the city council. And so there are real balances to draw about fairness and being professional versus giving voice to one's passions and to larger issues of equity. And one of the things-- one of the trends in journalism that I guess I worry about the most is the business model of journalism has been kind of collapsing, as you know, whether it's TV or news magazines or newspapers. We're all kind of groping for what that business model will be. And it's dependent on audiences.
And in the past, we were often kind of arrogant and didn't really pay attention to audience. These days, everybody cares. And the problem is that audiences, frankly, don't care deeply about issues of social inequity or about Syria or South Sudan or whatever it may be. I always knew this at some level, but now I can get precise metrics on how many page views my columns will get. And South Sudan is maybe one of the most under-covered stories in the world. It's the edge of a genocide. It's had a famine. It desperately needs more coverage.
But from The New York Times point of view, it's expensive to get there. There are real risks involved. And my audience will go down not 10%, but maybe 70%, if I go to South Sudan and do stories. And The New York Times is incredibly, incredibly good about letting me go and cover stories that readers aren't interested in. But this is an exception. And I'm at a point in my career where I'm willing to be unread. But that's a lot harder. And TV in particular has dropped the ball on these issues.
And one of the-- I really worry as TV doesn't cover issues of domestic poverty or public health, let alone some of these global issues, then I just think they won't get addressed. The Gates Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a few years ago essentially bribed ABC News to cover global health and nutrition. I say bribe. It was called a grant. But it was controversial within the development community, because why should the Gates Foundation be using scarce resources not to vaccinate children, but to pay television executives to do their job?
But in fact, ABC did really fine reporting with that money on maternal mortality, on micronutrients, and so on, and so it was viewed as a success. And so after a year, the Gates Foundation went back to ABC News and said, we'd like to renew the grant. And ABC said, no, we don't want to take your money. Because we can see from our metrics that when we air these important stories, then viewers switch the channel. I found that really discouraging.
And I do hope that-- it's important to hold us accountable, that we in journalism-- we claim various special privileges because of our role in society. And I think it's important to hold us collectively to account and say, then you also have to cover stories, even if your audience may go down. But things that are important have got to be covered. So thank you, and more power to you.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, Mr. Kristof. I'm a big fan of your coverage of Darfur. And I was just wondering how you dealt with the political consequence and backlash at both a local and international level while maintaining the access and credibility of a journalist at the same time.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: Well, access is the perennial issue. So I was quickly banned from Sudan and Darfur. So for a while, I was going in illegally from Chad. Then Chad was threatening me with arrest. And I must say, my wife wasn't thrilled about all this either.
And these days-- I mean, in the last year, I've been denied visas to Venezuela, Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan, Bahrain. I'm sure I'm forgetting one or two as well. And I kind of wonder if President Trump's hostility to the press doesn't empower some dictators to-- oh, Congo too-- to not give visas as well. I don't mind criticism. I figure I dish it out, and so I'm perfectly fine-- I tend not to be bothered by that. But this issue of access really is an impediment.
In the case of Darfur, I was stymied for a while, and then Kofi Annan was making a brief trip to Darfur. And he was basically stopping for about two hours there. But he let me go on the plane. And as we were about to land-- I had been searching my conscience whether I should tell them this or not, but I figured I had to tell him. I said, look, I'm going to miss the plane when it leaves. And he looked pained, but he said OK.
And so then the plane left, and the Sudanese thought that I was gone with it. And I was able to stay for another week and do my reporting with the authorities not realizing I was there. And while there were a lot of checkpoints to get around, I realized that the checkpoint guards only read Arabic and that the humanitarian workers who were going through would have these passes around their neck in English. And so I took my frequent flyer cards and put them on a lanyard around my neck. And it is amazing how United MileagePlus will get you through a checkpoint in Darfur.
So one has to be creative sometimes, but there are ways.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: OK.
AUDIENCE: Thank you for your speech. It was really educational. So I'm actually working on a paper for my class this semester on-- it's on the political economy of sex work around the world. And since you brought up comments about that recently, I was curious-- as there's a very variable understanding of it, legality-wise, around the world-- in the US, all but a few counties have it legal, whereas in some countries in Europe, it's free. It's that. So I was just curious, perhaps on a domestic scale because it's closer to us right now, what do you think is the most effective approach to prevent the exploitation of women, which is often connected to this industry?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: So originally, I think Sheryl and I were sympathetic to the legalize and regulate model on the theory that then if you legalize and regulate, then you can prevent underage girls from being trafficked. You can provide health support, this kind of thing. But in fact, my sense is that the legalize and regulate model hasn't worked very well in those places where it's been adopted, either adopted legally or kind of been the de facto system. And what tends to happen is that parallel to the legal brothels, you have underage girls being trafficked in. And the pimps, it's in their economic interest not to pay these girls and just to threaten them, take their passports, and this kind of thing. So you don't tend to get rid of the exploitation with that model.
And in fact, the model that seems to have worked better than any other, although nothing works great, is the Swedish model, also sometimes called the Nordic model, which is essentially that they treat the sale of sex, typically by the women, as that is not a crime. They would try to steer those women to social services. But buying sex, paying for sex, is a crime.
And so in Sweden-- typically, the customer is men-- it would be a fairly minor offense. But what this has done-- again, it hasn't worked perfectly, but it has reduced demand. And so if you reduce demand, you reduce trafficking into the country. Traffickers have been intercepted saying, oh, not worth smuggling girls into Sweden. And so indeed, that Nordic model has been spreading. More countries seem to be moving in that direction. And I'd say that I'd like to see more experiments along that line in the US. I think that while imperfect, it seems to work better than in other models. Good luck with your paper.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: Last question.
AUDIENCE: Hi. Thanks. Thank you so much for your talk. I want to take up your provocation on hard conversations and ask you a little question about how you think about the ethics of your writing. So I'm thinking specifically about some of your work in Rakhine State and what's going on there. I'm a PhD candidate here. I speak Burmese, and I've been working in Myanmar for about four years.
So when I see an editorial like the one you published on September 9, which is kind of laid out like Apocalypse Now, has a call for stripping Aung San Suu Kyi of her Nobel Peace Prize, and I think about the way that's being received in Burma as an influential white American male abandoning the history and the complexity of the situation there. How do you weigh those things? Yeah, American readers need to know about the ethnic cleansing happening in Rakhine State. But Burmese people, to actually leave authoritarianism, also need to know that they are supported in the complexity of their situation. And how do you think about that when you write? Thanks.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: So there are some similar issues that give me much more trouble. I must say, in Rakhine-- I mean, one thing I do is try to look at levers where I can embarrass somebody who is going to read my column. And so one reason that I've focused on Aung San Suu Kyi as opposed to the Burmese military, which is clearly much more responsible, is that Suu Kyi reads my columns, and the Burmese military doesn't. And Suu Kyi is more embarrassable, I think.
And there are plenty of Burmese friends who are indignant and much more sympathetic to the Rakhine people. And the standard line is that it's much more complicated, and they've been marginalized, all of which is true. But I do think that at the end of the day, what history will look back on is Rohingya being murdered and raped and driven away because of their ethnicity, and that will be kind of the key factor. So if I can jump up and down and get Suu Kyi's attention or get the attention of other people and slightly raise the price of that kind of behavior, then I feel that that's useful.
I must say, though, it's always frustrating and incomplete, and with Darfur as well. It used to be so frustrating to write about Darfur over and over, and it just felt like a stone dropping in a pond without a ripple. And all these years later, Darfur is still a mess, South Sudan as well. I mean, these are really hard issues. But I do think that what I have seen repeatedly is that where there is a spotlight on something from the international media, it, to some degree, raises the cost of mass atrocities and, to some degree, diminishes them or makes them less likely the next time around.
So with my tools-- journalists can be in the heating business or the lighting business, and I think of myself with this little spotlight to try to shine it on some of these places-- South Sudan, Congo, Darfur, and Rakhine State and what's happening to the Rohingya. But Suu Kyi is not my biggest fan these days.
Thank you all so much for having me here.
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To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Cornell developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner and his contributions to child well-being, the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research welcomed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times to deliver the Urie Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture. Kristof's talk drew on his work promoting gender equality around the world and on public health and poverty with a focus on children.