For Dilma Rousseff, a former member of a Marxist guerrilla movement who was imprisoned and tortured by Brazil's ruling military junta in the 1970s, her country's modern-day problems must seem positively trifling. While many world leaders are forced to contend with populist anger in an age of growing unemployment and shrinking federal budgets, Brazil's first female president is charged with managing her country's booming economy, which has more than tripled over the last decade, and its determined ascent to prominence on the world stage.
It's a task that she has undertaken with low-key aplomb in her first year since taking over from Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the populist president who chose her as his successor. Rousseff has pledged to bring down Brazil's national debt and has even inserted her country into efforts to resolve the eurozone's fiscal crisis, dramatically reversing Brazil's decades-long role as supplicant to Europe.
Brazil may still be one of the world's most unequal countries, but Rousseff has put the eradication of this problem front and center. In her first months in office, she laid out a plan dubbed "Brazil Without Poverty," which aims to lift more than 16 million Brazilians out of extreme deprivation. "In jail you learn to survive, but also that you can't solve your problems overnight," she explained to Newsweek. "Waiting necessarily means hope, and if you lose hope, fear takes over. I learned how to wait."
This year's political upheavals have been as much about cities as countries. From Cairo's Tahrir Square to London's Tottenham, we've seen vivid illustrations of how urban spaces can shape social movements. Saskia Sassen, an academic guru who famously coined the term "global city," has been very much part of the conversation, arguing that the same melting-pot factors that make cities drivers of capitalism can also make them highly unstable. "The poor in Britain, living next to enclaves of wealth and privilege, chose street riots to deliver their message," she wrote.
Glaeser and Sassen pick the urban centers that are shaping the next century
For a more optimistic take on the potential of cities, there is Edward Glaeser's critically acclaimed Triumph of the City, released this year. The book overturns scores of conventional wisdoms about urban spaces: Teeming slums aren't a sign of poverty but of economic dynamism. Green, rural spaces actually hurt the environment. Historical preservation punishes a city's poorest residents. Glaeser's research has taken him from the fading industrial centers of America's Rust Belt to the exploding megalopolises of Rio de Janeiro and Lagos. But Glaeser doesn't always practice what he preaches. "About five years ago my wife and I did what millions of Americans do throughout the country," he has said. "We chose a suburb."
Stimulus or austerity? Mild stimulus today. Austerity soon.
America or China? America and China.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Spring for the Arabs, but a real threat of winter for Israel.
Reading list The Education of Henry Adams, by Henry Adams; Hidden Harmonies, by Robert Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan (disclosure: Bob teaches my son math); 1688: The First Modern Revolution, by Steven Pincus.
Best idea Crowdsourcing innovation in local government, like the privately and freely developed app that allows riders to know when buses in Boston will arrive.
Worst idea Ever more subsidies for highway construction contained in the American Jobs Act. Drivers should pay for their own infrastructure.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus.
America or China? Neither -- not the G-2 but the G-20.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Spring.
Reading list Open City, by Teju Cole; Keynes: The Return of the Master, by Robert Skidelsky; Confidence Men, by Ron Suskind.
Best idea Cooperation as a craft, not simply a decision.
Worst idea Rescuing the big banks as a way to rescue our economy.