The world can be a humbling place for the purveyor of big ideas. Each year, earth-shattering events, be it the 9/11 attacks, the 2008 financial crisis, or the 2011 Arab Spring, upend received wisdom and demand fresh thinking. So what are the big ideas that should be thrown out this year?
1. Illegal Mexican immigration is a growing threat. This sure doesn't seem like a dead issue, as the rhetoric is alive and well among conservative Republican politicians; observe the reaction to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's in-state tuition plan for illegal immigrant students. Even Democratic President Barack Obama has pursued deportations at a relatively rapid pace. Nonetheless, the reality on the ground is outracing the political debate. The annual flow of about 500,000 illegal Mexican migrants has slowed to about 100,000 a year; that's a huge change. Mexico, meanwhile, is undergoing one of the most rapid demographic transitions in history as its fertility rate is just slightly over two per family, barely above America's. Thirty years from now, the United States may have to compete to lure Mexican immigrants across the border.
2. Green energy will save us. Not anytime soon. Obama came into office vowing to bring about a "clean energy" nation, but the recession has turned priorities away from environmental causes. The United States seems further than ever from addressing its carbon problem. Americans now see the expansion of fossil fuel production as a higher priority than green energy, and this margin of difference has only grown since 2007. Rightly or wrongly, the Solyndra scandal has given solar power a bad name. Nuclear power seems to have lost its allure after the Fukushima disaster, as greens who once saw it as a possible carbon-light solution are now swearing off it. Perhaps a surprising technological miracle lies right around the corner, but the more likely outcome is that the political impetus for green energy will be largely dormant for some time to come.
3. Bank runs are a thing of the past. Sadly, bank runs are alive and well. They first resurfaced in the United States with a run on money-market funds and on the so-called shadow banking system in 2008. We're now seeing gradual "silent runs" on European banks, as depositors wonder why they should keep their money in Greece or Portugal, leading the banks of those countries to wither. The withdrawals of these peripheral eurozone countries from capital markets are like another form of bank run, except the victim is a country rather than a bank. Expect more bank runs, not fewer, at least for the foreseeable future.