Kristof at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 30, 2010
|Born||Nicholas Donabet Kristof
April 27, 1959
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Alma mater||Harvard University
Magdalen College, Oxford
|Occupation||Journalist, author, columnist|
|Spouse(s)||Sheryl WuDunn (m. 1988)|
My father, a refugee from Eastern Europe, was preparing a fraudulent marriage to an American citizen as a route to this country when he was sponsored, making fraud unnecessary. My wife's grandfather bought papers from another Chinese villager to be able to come to the United States.
I think humanitarians really feel very awkward and embarrassed about marketing, but it really doesn't matter whether a shampoo gets better marketing. It does matter when a famine or a huge crisis is – oh – well, I hate to use the word 'marketed' better but, you know, is publicized in a way that will be more effective.
The greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them.
Girls' education is no silver bullet. Iran and Saudi Arabia have both educated girls but refused to empower them, so both remain mired in the past. But when a country educates and unleashes women, those educated women often become force multipliers for good.
Young people often aren't in a position to write checks to charities. But there are two things they can do that are invaluable. One is volunteering, especially mentoring other young people with reading, math or help thinking about college. Through iMentor, one can even mentor people online.
One of the biggest complaints readers have about my work is that I don't tell them often enough what they can do. I do think this is an area where journalism sometimes falls short. We describe a really grim situation but don't really explain to people what they can do about it.
You educate a boy, and he'll have fewer children, but it's a small effect. You educate a girl, and, on average, she will have a significantly smaller family.
Every high school and college graduate in America should, I think, have some familiarity with statistics, economics and a foreign language such as Spanish. Religion may not be as indispensable, but the humanities should be a part of our repertory. They may not enrich our wallets, but they do enrich our lives. They civilize us. They provide context.
The great divide is not between faiths, but one between intolerant zealots of any tradition and the large numbers of decent, peaceful believers likewise found in each tradition.
Gays and lesbians began to gain civil rights when Americans realized that their brothers, cousins, daughters were gay.
The one public system in which America goes out of its way to provide services to African-Americans is prison.
Wilderness trails constitute a rare space in America marked by economic diversity. Lawyers and construction workers get bitten by the same mosquitoes and sip from the same streams; there are none of the usual signals about socioeconomic status, for most hikers are in shorts and a T-shirt and enveloped by an aroma that would make a skunk queasy.
There are very few things I've done just twice in my life, 40 years apart, and one is to backpack on the Pacific Crest Trail across the California/Oregon border.
Conservatives are, I think, correct to highlight family stability as a fundamental issue that goes to the welfare of children as much as food stamps or anything else.
Technology companies must constantly weigh ethical decisions: Where should Facebook set its privacy defaults, and should it tolerate glimpses of nudity? Should Twitter close accounts that seem sympathetic to terrorists? How should Google handle sex and violence, or defamatory articles?
Humans pull together in an odd way when they're in the wilderness. It's astonishing how few people litter and how much they help one another. Indeed, the smartphone app to navigate the Pacific Crest Trail, Halfmile, is a labor of love by hikers who make it available as a free download.
Anybody looking at the history even of the 20th century would not single out Islam as the bloodthirsty religion; it was Christian/Nazi/Communist Europe and Buddhist/Taoist/Hindu/atheist Asia that set records for mass slaughter.
Our world is enriched when coders and marketers dazzle us with smartphones and tablets, but, by themselves, they are just slabs. It is the music, essays, entertainment and provocations that they access, spawned by the humanities, that animate them – and us.
I suspect unconscious bias has been far more of a factor for President Obama than overt racism and will also be a challenge for Hillary Rodham Clinton if she runs for president again.
Purely altruistic behavior is pretty much impossible because of the selfish pleasures we derive from it.
Worrying about bills, food, or other problems leaves less capacity to think ahead or to exert self-discipline. So, poverty imposes a mental tax.
Too often, wealthy people born on third base blithely criticize the poor for failing to hit home runs. The advantaged sometimes perceive empathy as a sign of muddle-headed weakness rather than as a marker of civilization.
Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised.
Ben Affleck exec-produced a documentary for HBO called 'Reporter' about my 2007 win-a-trip journey. I take the trip each year partly to encourage young people to think about global humanitarian issues: I think blogs by a student may be more compelling for that audience than my own work.
I can't help thinking that if the American West were discovered today, the most glorious bits would be sold off to the highest bidder. Yosemite might be nothing but weekend homes for Internet tycoons.
We journalists are a bit like vultures, feasting on war, scandal and disaster. Turn on the news, and you see Syrian refugees, Volkswagen corruption, dysfunctional government. Yet that reflects a selection bias in how we report the news: We cover planes that crash, not planes that take off.
She may hide it, but Clinton is a policy nerd. Ask about microfinance, and she'll talk your ear off. Mention early childhood interventions, and she will gush about obscure details of a home visitation experiment in Elmira, N.Y., that dramatically improved child outcomes.
The Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine, is in northwestern India near the Pakistani border, and it is a delightful place to contemplate the draw of faith.
One of the most crucial kinds of intervention is in advocacy. We can think about charities in the context of delivering services, and indeed that is part of their job, but advocacy is also getting governments to step up to the plate. They can also give more voice to those who don't have one.
It is so much easier to try to help a six-month-old child or a six-year-old child than it is a 16-year-old troubled kid.
Sure, food stamps are occasionally misused, but anyone familiar with business knows that the abuse of food subsidies is far greater in the corporate suite. Every time an executive wines and dines a hot date on the corporate dime, the average taxpayer helps foot the bill.
Most of the time in America, we're surrounded by oppressive inequality such that the wealthiest 1 percent collectively own substantially more than the bottom 90 percent. One escape from that is America's wild places.
If only meat weren't so delicious! Sure, meat may pave the way to a heart attack. Yes, factory farms torture animals. Indeed, producing a single hamburger patty requires more water than two weeks of showers. But for those of us who are weak-willed, there's nothing like a juicy burger.
One of the things you learn as a journalist is that when there's no accountability, we humans are capable of tremendous avarice and venality. That's true of union bosses – and of corporate tycoons. Unions, even flawed ones, can provide checks and balances for flawed corporations.
You no more have the right to risk others by failing to vaccinate than you do by sending your child to school with a hunting knife. Vaccination isn't a private choice but a civic obligation.
Utah may well be the most cosmopolitan state in America. Vast numbers of young Mormons – increasingly women as well as men – spend a couple of years abroad as missionaries and return jabbering in Thai or Portuguese and bearing a wealth of international experience.
When I was born in 1959, the hospital in which I arrived had separate floors for black babies and white babies, and it was then illegal for blacks and whites to marry in many states.
I think we need to rethink a lot of business skills. In finance, for example, social impact bonds are potentially a way of providing capital for investments that save the public money in a context in which government often doesn't invest in things that would save it money.
Since the end of the 1970s, something has gone profoundly wrong in America. Inequality has soared. Educational progress slowed. Incarceration rates quintupled. Family breakdown accelerated. Median household income stagnated.
When I was growing up, yearning with my pals to be a track star, one of our heroes was Bruce Jenner. He won a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in the decathlon, and he adorned our Wheaties boxes. We all wanted to be Bruce Jenner.
At some point, extra incomes don't go to sate desires but to attempt to buy status through 'positional goods' – like the hottest car on the block. The problem is that there can only be one hottest car on the block.
What use could the humanities be in a digital age? University students focusing on the humanities may end up, at least in their parents' nightmares, as dog-walkers for those majoring in computer science. But, for me, the humanities are not only relevant but also give us a toolbox to think seriously about ourselves and the world.
I wouldn't want everybody to be an art or literature major, but the world would be poorer – figuratively, anyway – if we were all coding software or running companies. We also want musicians to awaken our souls, writers to lead us into fictional lands, and philosophers to help us exercise our minds and engage the world.
Most moms and dads, they want to be good moms and dads. But it's an incredibly hard job when you are stressed out, when you are poor, when your life is in chaos. And giving them some of the tools to be better parents, to whittle away at that parenting gap, gives those kids a much better starting point in life.
I think we in journalism were really late to social networks. We had a built-in network already in terms of our readers, and we didn't capitalize on that.
In 2013, 71 percent of black children in America were born to an unwed mother, as were 53 percent of Hispanic children and 36 percent of white children. Indeed, a single parent is the new norm.
Why are fanatics so terrified of girls' education? Because there's no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn't drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.
One of my frustrations is that we in society generally have this bifurcation in how we see the world. That's probably a little less true with business audiences, but in general, there tends to be this view that for-profit companies are greedy, and nonprofits are noble. It's absolutely more complicated than that.
Above all, we want Millennials to realize that they can have an impact on the world and that, in the course of empowering others, they can also empower themselves.
The ice bucket challenge went viral in 2014, partly because it was so much fun to watch videos of celebrities or friends dumping ice water on their heads. Videos of people in the challenge have been watched more than 10 billion times on Facebook – more than once per person on the planet.
There's something to be said for CEOs' entering politics: In theory, they have management expertise and financial savvy. Then again, it didn't work so well with Dick Cheney.
I took a gap year myself after high school and worked on a farm near Lyon, France. I stayed with the Vallet family, picked and packed fruit, and discovered that red wine can be a breakfast drink. That led to further travel as a university student.
Zimbabwe has far fewer tourists than South Africa or Kenya, and there's less crime as well.
Seniors vote, and that is why we have, you know, Medicare since the 1960s for seniors, and we didn't have a national healthcare program for children, even though it's a lot more cost-effective to deal with children than with seniors.
I do think that humanitarians and journalists alike have focused on all the things that go wrong, and that they sometimes leave the perception in the public that the war on poverty has been lost. That Africa is just a bottomless pit of despair. When, in fact, really the opposite is true on both fronts.
In America, we have subsidized private jets, big banks and hedge fund managers. Wouldn't it make more sense to subsidize kids?
I think humanitarian organizations should acknowledge the progress more than they do. I think that one reason people are reluctant to provide more help to Africa, for example, is this sense that it's just hopeless, in a way that I think is untrue.
Saudi Arabia has supported Wahhabi madrasas in poor countries in Africa and Asia, exporting extremism and intolerance. Saudi Arabia also exports instability with its brutal war in Yemen, intended to check what it sees as Iranian influence.
One of the aims of higher education is to broaden perspectives, and what better way than by a home stay in a really different country, like Bangladesh or Senegal? Time abroad also leaves one more aware of the complex prism of suspicion through which the United States is often viewed.
If I wanted a circus ringmaster, I'd hire Trump. If I wanted advice on brain surgery or hospital management, I'd turn to Carson. Fiorina would make an articulate television pundit. But for president?
Sex and gender are such befuddling mysteries even for those of us who are in the mainstream that you'd think we'd be wary of being judgmental. Yet much of society clings to a view that gender is completely binary, when, in fact, there's overwhelming evidence of a continuum.
Things that happen every day are, frankly, what we in the news business aren't good at covering because there is no one day in which they are news.
In Angola, I visited 'HeroRats' that have been trained to sniff out land mines (and, in some countries, diagnose tuberculosis). In a day, they can clear 20 times as much of a minefield as a human, and they work for bananas!
I've always been interested in public health approaches because it seems to me we have this yearning for silver bullets, and that is not in fact how change comes about. Change comes through silver buckshot – a lot of little things that achieve results. That's a classic public health approach.
For all Trump's criticisms of government, his family wealth came from feeding at the government trough. His father, Fred Trump, leveraged government housing programs into a construction business; the empire was founded on public money.
Beware of generalizations about any faith because they sometimes amount to the religious equivalent of racial profiling. Hinduism contained both Gandhi and the fanatic who assassinated him.
Traditionally, what we in the news business do is cover what happened yesterday.
Dr. Ben Carson has the most moving personal narrative in modern presidential politics. His mother, one of 24 children, had only a third-grade education. She was married at age 13, bore Ben and his brother, and then raised the boys as an impoverished single mother in Detroit. As a young boy, Carson was a terrible student.
It's maddening in my travels to watch children dying simply because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Climate change is hugely exacerbated by changing patterns of how we choose to live, often in danger zones such as extremely vulnerable coastal zones – from New Jersey to the Philippines. This enormously increases the economic and human costs of hurricanes, rising seas and changing weather patterns.
One of our worst traits in journalism is that when we have a narrative in our minds, we often plug in anecdotes that confirm it. Thus we managed to portray President Gerald Ford, a first-rate athlete, as a klutz.
Individual storytelling is incredibly powerful. We as journalists know intuitively what scientists of the brain are discovering through brain scans, which is that emotional stories tend to open the portals, and that once there's a connection made, people are more open to rational arguments.
Our public figures are often narcissists, utterly self-absorbed in their quest for power.
Remember that disadvantage is less about income than environment. The best metrics of child poverty aren't monetary, but rather how often a child is read to or hugged.
Maybe our best family trip started at Victoria Falls, which drenches you with spray and is so vast that it makes Niagara Falls seem like a backyard creek. Then we rented a car and made our way to Hwange National Park, which was empty of people but crowded with zebras, giraffes, elephants and more.
We all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. We're in a relay race, relying on the financial and human capital of our parents and grandparents. Blacks were shackled for the early part of that relay race, and although many of the fetters have come off, whites have developed a huge lead.
However imperfectly, subsidies for the poor do actually reduce hunger, ease suffering and create opportunity, while subsidies for the rich result in more private jets and yachts. Would we rather subsidize opportunity or yachts? Which kind of subsidies deserve more scrutiny?
I was the first blogger on the 'Times''s website. That happened during the Iraq war, when I wanted an outlet for the things I was seeing every day that couldn't fit into just two columns a week. Then I became interested in using multimedia, specifically as a way to engage young people.
Doesn't it seem odd that your cellphone can be set up to require a PIN or a fingerprint, but there's no such option for a gun?
My take is that the optimal approach to food, for health and ethical reasons, may be vegetarianism.
When the poor know that their children will survive, when they educate their daughters, when they access family planning, they have fewer children.
In effect, Saudi Arabia legitimizes fundamentalism, religious discrimination, intolerance and the oppression of women. Saudi women not only can't drive, but are also told by some clerics that they mustn't wear seatbelts for fear of showing the outlines of their bodies.
Saudi Arabia inflames the Sunni-Shiite divide and sets a pernicious example of intolerance by banning churches.
I have a one-question language test that people who have lived abroad do better on than those who studied in a classroom. Try my test yourself: In a foreign language you've studied, how do you say 'doorknob'?
During the Arab Spring, I learned all sorts of things from Twitter. I wouldn't necessarily trust that information, but it gave me ideas about questions to ask. You can really learn things from the wisdom of crowds.
Numeracy isn't a sign of geekiness, but a basic requirement for intelligent discussions of public policy.
Conservatives highlight the primacy of family and argue that family breakdown exacerbates poverty, and they're right. Children raised by single parents are three times as likely to live in poverty as kids in two-parent homes.
The caricature of Islam as a violent and intolerant religion is horrendously incomplete. Remember that those standing up to Muslim fanatics are mostly Muslims.
A basic element of the American dream is equal access to education as the lubricant of social and economic mobility.
Most of the time in the 21st century, we dominate our surroundings: We tweak the thermostat, and the temperature falls one degree. We push a button, and Taylor Swift sings for us. It's the opposite in the wilderness, which teaches us constantly that we are not lords of the universe but rather building blocks of it.
I'm sometimes embarrassed by how clinical I can become when I'm out reporting.
Literature seems to offer lessons in human nature that help us decode the world around us and be better friends.
Perhaps no country in Latin America is more picturesque than Bolivia, and the most memorable Bolivian city may be Potosi.
One of the things that evangelicals do really, really well is to make giving a joyous, social enterprise. Too often, the world sees giving as a burden, a sacrifice, when in fact it's more like an opportunity to help others and oneself at the same time.
Saudi Arabia isn't the enemy, but it is a problem. It could make so much positive difference in the Islamic world if it used its status to soothe Sunni-Shiite tensions and encourage tolerance. For a time, under King Abdullah, it seemed that the country was trying to reform, but now under King Salman, it has stalled.