Feature

6 Ideas for the Ash Heap of History

The just-plain-wrong notions that (hopefully) bit the dust this year.

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.

4. The eurozone is for pretty much everyone in Europe. By now, it should be obvious that a 17-nation eurozone was a bad idea. The only questions left are how many countries do not belong and how painful will it be to push out those that shouldn't be there. Whether or not you think the current patchwork bailouts will work (probably not, see No. 5 below), just what, precisely, are those bailouts fighting to defend? No one knows anymore. The peripheral countries, like Greece and Portugal, used to think that if they suffered through a bit of deflation from eurozone membership, they still could benefit from the lower borrowing rates enjoyed by stronger economies like Germany. Now they're getting the deflationary pressures, stronger than ever before, but without the low borrowing rates. So what's in it for them to remain? What's in it for Germany and Finland and the Netherlands? It's hard to see.

5. Bailouts should be incremental. How many times over the last year have the Europeans announced Greek assistance or bailout plans? Everyone has lost count. By November, the most recent July plan already seemed out of date, and that was before all the required governments had agreed to it. So why should anyone take the next bailout plan any more seriously? A bailout should run ahead of the market and respond with overwhelming force rather than chasing after the market. After 2011, the multiple bailouts approach will look worse than ever.

6. Fiscal stimulus should be "temporary, targeted, and timely." Those were Obama's catchwords in 2009, the goal being to boost a sagging economy and bring it to recovery rapidly. Yet this recipe hasn't held up. The problem arises when the downturn lasts longer than the program of stimulus. Once the stimulus is removed, the labor market remains slow, and the workers, formerly employed thanks to the stimulus, don't have private-sector jobs to move into. The stimulus ends up having postponed the pain for a few years, but without much improving the economy over the medium term, much less the long run.

***

On the whole, 2011 has not been a good year for the global economy. But still, life expectancy continues to increase. Crime rates continue to fall in many countries, including the United States. Tolerance is on the rise. The developing world is elevating hundreds of millions of people from poverty. All these gains are real, and we should appreciate and applaud them. It's our economic core -- and in the most successful countries -- that is malfunctioning. I shudder to think what this list might look like next year.

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Feature

Global Thinkers, Fill in the Blanks

The world's smartest people tell us what to think about Barack Obama, the Arab Spring, and the dizzying events of 2011.

THE BEST MUSE FOR THESE TIMES IS

The millions of Egyptians on Feb. 11 who were gathered when Mubarak decided to leave. Alaa Al Aswany

Mohamed Bouazizi. —Mohamed ElBaradei

The chanting of Syrian protesters: people want to topple the regime. —Razan Zaitouneh

The voice of the youth. —Wadah Khanfar

Gandhi. —Eman Al Nafjan

Seeing peaceful demonstration and civil disobedience succeed in bringing down dictatorships. —Manal al-Sharif

Desmond Tutu. —Srdja Popovic

Mahatma Gandhi; simplicity in life, morality in character. —Azim Premji

My wife and son. —Daniel Domscheit-Berg

Optimism. —Gene Cretz

Caïssa. —Kenneth Rogoff

Steve Jobs. —Salam Fayyad

Natalie Portman. —Mizuho Fukushima

Jessica Alba, especially in Dark Angel. —Yuichi Kaido

Lady Gaga. —Nouriel Roubini

Tariq Jahan, the grieving father who called for peace and tolerance just hours after his son was killed in the Birmingham riots this summer. —Amy Chua

Seamus McGraw, author of The End of Country (2011). —Terry Engelder

That we should have faith in this country's future and gain inspiration from its past. —Gary Lash

The Rolling Stones. After all, you can't always get what you want. —Paul Ryan

Yogi Berra: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." —Robert Zoellick

Clio. —Edward Glaeser

Keynes. —Saskia Sassen

The courage of the nameless protester against tyranny. —David Scheffer

Steve Jobs, with his knowledge and knife-edged mind, followed closely by a woman, any woman, as ayatollah or pope. —Sherry Rehman

Statisticians. —Steven Pinker

Thomas Merton. —Andrew Sullivan

Pollyanna: someone has to stay optimistic. —Gareth Evans

William Shakespeare. —Martin Wolf

Martin Wolf. —Paul Collier

Voltaire: His combination of reason and skepticism, tempered with irony and hope, will help keep us sane. —Abhijit Banerjee

Twitter. —Mikko Hypponen

The Internet. —Herman Chinery-Hesse

Open. —Joseph Nye

Bob Dylan (the times they are a-changin'). —Nancy Birdsall

Aimee Mann. —Barry Eichengreen

The yearning for dignity and justice in the developing world. —Robert D. Kaplan

Honest self-reflection. —Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

The people of Japan, for their resilience and dignity in coping with the aftermath of the devastating tsunami. —Zaha Hadid

Foreign Policy magazine? —Tyler Cowen

Vaclav Havel. —Ethan Zuckerman

As always, rationality. —Bjorn Lomborg

My family. —Cem Özdemir

Warren Buffett. —Deepa Narayan

The freedom brought by new technologies. —Yoani Sánchez

It would be a bipartisan commission chaired by FDR and Reagan. —Jared Cohen

Theodore Roosevelt. —Alec Ross

The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. —Mustafa Barghouti

Our planet is sick, losing the wealth of life forms gifted by its countless ages. Yet humans insist on placing their economy at the center of the universe, forgetting that without the biosphere there can be atoms but no life. —Pervez Hoodbhoy

To meditate and clear the mind. —Andy Sumner

Inequality rules, and the youth shall define both what it means and how it will shape the future. —John Githongo

FDR. —Paul Farmer.

Franklin Roosevelt, for continually learning and adapting to change. —Anne-Marie Slaughter

Niccolo Machiavelli. —Kishore Mahbubani

Still Springsteen. —Lant Pritchett

Lady Gaga. —Mari Kuraishi

As for all times, Mahatma Gandhi. —Arvind Subramanian

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty. —Rick Falkvinge

Calliope. —Stéphane Hessel


BARACK OBAMA IS…

A very inspiring human model. —Alaa Al Aswany

Has his heart in the right place but is bogged down by partisan politics. —Mohamed ElBaradei

Another president of the U.S. —Razan Zaitouneh

A president with good intentions but who lacks the ability to implement them. —Rached Ghannouchi

A president besieged by unrealized dreams. —Wadah Khanfar

Living proof that democracy and the voice of the people is a reality. —Eman Al Nafjan

The black man in the White House! Makes you believe that miracles do happen! —Manal al-Sharif

In front of many challenges. By far the biggest international challenge is whether to support principles of democracy on which the USA is founded or "traditional allies" like Mubarak. —Srdja Popovic

Having one of the toughest jobs on the planet. He needs to do a balancing act on the tightrope while keeping the audience happy (win the elections). —Azim Premji

More like a character from a tragedy than a comedy. —He Weifang

A president whom we can all admire. —Gene Cretz

Another man walking in the same shoes. —Daniel Domscheit-Berg

Still facing the fallout of the huge financial crisis he inherited on coming to office. —Kenneth Rogoff

Under a lot of pressure. —Salam Fayyad

Still hope. —Mizuho Fukushima

Doing well fighting with neoliberals, but due to the world economic crisis, he cannot get enough results until now. —Yuichi Kaido

Doing his best against a GOP that has taken the Leninist approach of "the worst, the better." —Nouriel Roubini

The inheritor of a tough situation. —Amy Chua

Swimming upstream against Congress. —Terry Engelder

Fighting an uphill battle at the moment. —Gary Lash

A leader who missed an opportunity to lead. —Paul Ryan

In a near impossible position. —Edward Glaeser

Finding his stride. —Saskia Sassen

The most challenged president in modern times. —David Scheffer

Brought promise, but so far has been caught in the cross hairs of overcaution, triggered by managing competing expectations and a crisis of global capitalism that needs a new leadership model. —Sherry Rehman

Unlucky. —Steven Pinker

The best conservative president since Bill Clinton. —Andrew Sullivan

Still a potentially very great American president. —Gareth Evans

A disappointment. —Martin Wolf

Too academic. —Paul Collier

A pigeon among the cats. —Abhijit Banerjee

President of the United States of America -- and that's it. He's not the "leader of the free world." —Mikko Hypponen

In power during extraordinary times. —Herman Chinery-Hesse

Worthy of reelection. —Joseph Nye

Still in OJT phase (on-the-job training). —Nancy Birdsall

Going to have to now show that he is as inspiring a president as he was a candidate. —Barry Eichengreen

A much better president than media coverage indicates. —Robert D. Kaplan

In need of a stronger, more visionary foreign-policy team. —Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

Far more gutsy in his foreign policy than he has been in dealing with Congress. —Kenneth Roth

Doing his utmost in very challenging circumstances. —Zaha Hadid

Floundering. —Tyler Cowen

Not as disappointing as U.S. Congress is. —Ethan Zuckerman

A realist, but needs more conviction. —Bjorn Lomborg

Still the best alternative. —Cem Özdemir

A great thinker and a disappointing leader. —Deepa Narayan

A man like any other. —Yoani Sánchez

Facing one of the toughest blends of domestic and foreign-policy challenges we have seen in a very long time. —Jared Cohen

President at a time of greater challenges than the United States has seen since Lincoln's presidency. —Alec Ross

Could have done much better. —Mustafa Barghouti

Brainy, witty, perceptive. But he doesn't have what makes a president great -- the grit to fight it out. —Pervez Hoodbhoy

Going to get reelected (fingers crossed). —Andy Sumner

The personification of hope, a beacon. —John Githongo

A native-born U.S. citizen. —Paul Farmer

To be credited for having made the right decision on Libya and creating the conditions and the coalition necessary for success. —Anne-Marie Slaughter

The only American president who genuinely understands how the rest really think about our world order. —Kishore Mahbubani

A policy wonk's president, which probably explains his unpopularity. —Lant Pritchett

An icon as much as president, and has not fully internalized the impact he has for both good and bad as an icon. —Mari Kuraishi

Philosopher-king, but could be more king than philosopher. —Arvind Subramanian

The Gorbachev of the United States. —Rick Falkvinge

Still the greatest promise for the USA. —Stéphane Hessel

THE ARAB SPRING IS…

A turning point in Arab history. —Alaa Al Aswany

A work in progress. —Mohamed ElBaradei

The Arab birthday. —Razan Zaitouneh

A glimpse of hope to all peoples living under oppression. —Rached Ghannouchi

A dawn of a new reality. —Wadah Khanfar

About justice and equity and not ideology or religion. —Eman Al Nafjan

Where there is a place for the youth, the women, the minorities, and simple unarmed people to rewrite history and decide their destiny now. —Manal al-Sharif

Definite proof that "people power" or "nonviolent struggle" is the most powerful force for changing societies, however isolated or repressive the environment. —Srdja Popovic

Is influenced by globalization, which is not only about goods but about ideas. —He Weifang

A representation of citizens' basic need for a life with dignity and equal economic opportunities, delivered by a just government. —Azim Premji

Just the beginning. —Daniel Domscheit-Berg

Promising but full of risks. —Anne Patterson

A phenomenon that many of us would never have expected to have happened this soon. —Gene Cretz

Fundamentally a huge positive development, for all its risks and uncertainties. —Kenneth Rogoff

About the possibilities of freedom. —David Beers

Overdue. —Salam Fayyad

A good sign toward democratic society, but I am concerned about emerging intolerance in Arabic society. —Mizuho Fukushima

A hope to new democracy, but there will be a possibility to turn to confusion and intolerance in the region. —Yuichi Kaido

At risk of ending up like Iraq, Iran, Gaza, and Lebanon, where elections did not lead to true democracy. —Nouriel Roubini

The name of Banana Republic's next competitor. —Amy Chua

A small step in a good direction. —Terry Engelder

An unstoppable force. —Gary Lash

Promising. —Paul Ryan

Another reminder to never underestimate people's desire for dignity and liberty. —Robert Zoellick

Coming in like a lion, and let's hope we see an ovine ending. —Edward Glaeser

Thrilling. —Saskia Sassen

Without end now, for it has unleashed the idea of freedom among the Arab peoples. —David Scheffer

A radical shift in the core political dynamic of the Middle East. The anger on the Arab street is hydraulic and will continue to erupt, with far reaching, tectonic shifts that need close watching. Instability need not be the last winner if new governments can secure consensus transitions and consolidate gains for democracy. —Sherry Rehman

A reminder of the unpredictability of political change. —Steven Pinker

Long overdue. —Andrew Sullivan

The most encouraging reaffirmation of the human spirit we've seen for a long time. —Gareth Evans

Exciting. —Martin Wolf

The restoration of Arab dignity. —Paul Collier

Like spring here in Boston -- there is always the risk that there are one or two more snowstorms around the corner. —Abhijit Banerjee

Evidence of the growing influence of the global information culture that has developed. Viral marketing is becoming viral revolutions. —Mikko Hypponen

The start of something big and unpredictable. —Herman Chinery-Hesse

The first act of a long and exciting drama. —Joseph Nye

A poor metaphor for a movement that, while out of full bloom, will survive the winter. —Nancy Birdsall

1991 all over again: If the rough patch is successfully navigated, the promise is unlimited. —Barry Eichengreen

Less about democracy than about the crisis of central authority. —Robert D. Kaplan

A movement toward a little more freedom in the Middle East that will translate into stronger anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment and policy. —Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

Will require an urgent reappraisal of the West's traditional embrace of authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa. —Kenneth Roth

A critical moment in a region with a history that already dates back over 7,000 years to the beginnings of civilization. —Zaha Hadid

Overhyped. —Tyler Cowen

As complex, intricate and unpredictable as the fall of the Berlin Wall. —Ethan Zuckerman

A blessing for its people and the West. —Bjorn Lomborg

Just beginning. —Cem Özdemir

A beacon of hope and a lighthouse of courage. —Deepa Narayan

Something no political scientist had calculated. —Yoanni Sánchez

A demonstration that the youth of the Middle East are the de facto opposition. —Jared Cohen

Exhibit 1 demonstrating the devolution of power from the nation-state to individuals because of the power of networks. —Alec Ross

Hopeful and promising. —Mustafa Barghouti

A political revolution not a cultural one. Enlightenment may come someday, but it is not around the corner. —Pervez Hoodbhoy

Just the beginning. —Andy Sumner

As historic as the fall of the Berlin Wall. —John Githongo

A test. —Paul Farmer

The first significant example of the continual disruption that will characterize global affairs now that individuals have the technology that will allow them to challenge governments continually through information, organization, and transparency. —Anne-Marie Slaughter

Destined to demonstrate Europe's strategic folly in not exporting modernization to North Africa. —Kishore Mahbubani

Just the first of many seasons on the path to democracy. —Lant Pritchett

Has a nonlinear link with the Spring of Nations (1848). —Mari Kuraishi

Going to disappoint. —Arvind Subramanian

Maybe the end of the beginning. —Rick Falkvinge

Only a beginning. —Stéphane Hessel

THE YEAR THAT MOST RESEMBLES 2011 IS…

409, the year that the Vandals invaded Roman Hispania. —Terry Engelder

1789 -- the world is pregnant with possibilities, for better and for worse. —Abhijit Banerjee

1848. —Mustafa Barghouti, Robert D. Kaplan, Mari Kuraishi, Steven Pinker, Alec Ross, Martin Wolf, Robert Zoellick

1890. —Kishore Mahbubani ("When the USA passed Britain economically.")

1894. —Edward Glaeser

1916-1918, when Arabs revolted against the Ottomans. —Manal al-Sharif

1920 -- for Egypt. —Alaa Al Aswany

1929. —Herman Chinery-Hesse, Stéphane Hessel, Andy Sumner ("But 2012 won't necessarily resemble 1930. ")

1930. —Paul Collier

1930-1931. —Tyler Cowen

1931. —Barry Eichengreen, Nouriel Roubini, Andrew Sullivan

1936-1937. —Nancy Birdsall

1937. —Deepa Narayan, Saskia Sassen, Robert Zoellick

1945. —Rached Ghannouchi

Japan in 1945. —Mizuho Fukushima

1949 to 1960. —Anne-Marie Slaughter ("When many colonies achieved independence.")

1952. —Eman Al Nafjan

1956. —Arvind Subramanian ("Because they both augur the twilight of empires.")

1958. —Jared Cohen ("Because of nationalist revolutions that swept the Middle East and North Africa.")

1968. —Gareth Evans ("Revolutions and hope in the air."), John Githongo ("Multicultural"), Yuichi Kaido ("There is a lot of turmoil, but there remains new hope for a positive future.")

1974. —Srdja Popovic

1979. —Joseph Nye, Anne Patterson

1983. —Rick Falkvinge ("The times looming darkly before 1984.")

1984. —Daniel Domscheit-Berg ("In some parts of the world, and 1989 in others.")

1989. —Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Gene Cretz, Mohamed ElBaradei, Salam Fayyad, Wadah Khanfar, Gary Lash, Lant Pritchett ("As the last regional bastion of autocracy was irrevocably breached."), Kenneth Roth ("In each case, the guardians of repressive rule stood little chance against a people animated by the values of freedom and dignity."), Yoani Sánchez, David Scheffer, Ethan Zuckerman

2008. —David Beers, Paul Farmer, He Weifang

2008-2009, in terms of economic uncertainty. —Azim Premji

2010. —Mikko Hypponen ("We are moving to the future at a faster pace than ever before."), Paul Ryan

2012. —Cem Özdemir, Kenneth Rogoff

It's hard to remember a year with so many events that impacted so many people. The tsunami in Japan, the Arab Spring, famine in East Africa, riots in London, the eurozone crisis… —Zaha Hadid

No way there is one. —Razan Zaitouneh

Not particularly helpful to identify, but gives columnists much to chew over. —Bjorn Lomborg