In an age when academics are increasingly pushed to specialize in ever-more-arcane subtopics, Tyler Cowen's output is delightfully eclectic. In his books, his New York Times columns, and especially on Marginal Revolution, the blog he co-authors with colleague Alex Tabarrok, Cowen riffs as comfortably on Cantonese cuisine and classical music as on monetary policy and interest rates. Most importantly, the blog has become a kind of central gateway to the growing world of blogging economists. When a reader suggested that Cowen's uncanny information recall might be a sign of mild autism, rather than take offense, he wrote an entire book exploring the topic.
This year, Cowen released a widely discussed 15,000-word ebook, The Great Stagnation, in which he argued that the current economic slump is structural, rather than the result of specific policies, and that there's little hope of recovery anytime soon. Cowen thinks the United States has already picked the "low-hanging fruit" of growth -- cheap, available land, new information technology, the entrance of women and minorities into the workforce -- and future innovations are unlikely to have the same economic impact. And if that's too much of a downer for you, he also has a forthcoming monograph on how to use economics to order more effectively in restaurants. Hint: Go for the ribs.
Muse Foreign Policy?
Stimulus or austerity? A false dichotomy. Monetary accommodation, but a credible plan for long-term fiscal balance.
America or China? America.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? It's still February.
Reading list Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall, by Frank Brady; 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann; The Return, by Daniel Treisman.
Best idea The driverless car is a splendid idea. It already works; it just has to become cheaper and protected from the excesses of liability law.
Worst idea That the further government spending of trillions of dollars will restore prosperity.
From "Twitter revolutions" to WikiLeaks, 2011 was a year of profound transformation in how people both consume and produce news. So it is perhaps only fitting that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's pioneering media studies program hired two of the thinkers best poised to navigate the new media landscape -- because they helped create it.
In 2005, when Ethan Zuckerman co-founded Global Voices, a website to monitor and collect news from the international blogosphere, gleaning useful information from thousands of blog posts around the world seemed daunting. But this year's social media–driven revolutions affirmed Zuckerman's vision, with Global Voices at the center of the upheaval as a major news aggregator and amplifier. Zuckerman is no techno-utopian: In his new capacity at MIT's Center for Civic Media, he will be developing a system for monitoring the bias and reliability of news sources to allow consumers to make informed choices -- a kind of nutritional information for the news. Zuckerman will be working with Joi Ito, a Japanese-born venture capitalist appointed this year to head the university's famous Media Lab, despite never having earned a college diploma. Ito's eclectic career includes everything from a stint on the board of ICANN, the Internet's main governance body, to serving as a "guild master" in World of Warcraft. As both a programmer and investor, he was crucial in the early development of technologies including Flickr, Twitter, and Firefox.
Interested in where electronic media are heading next? Class is in session.
Muse Mother Nature.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus.
America or China? Both.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Spring.
Reading list Republic, Lost, by Lawrence Lessig; Consent of the Networked, by Rebecca MacKinnon; Too Big to Know, by David Weinberger.
Best idea Users controlling their own data.
Worst idea Assuming the Japanese government could deal with the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima.
Muse Vaclav Havel.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus. And much more than we've seen thus far.
America or China? Two great powers in a multipolar world, but not the only two.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Spring, but not all the seeds planted will bloom.
Reading list World 3.0, by Pankaj Ghemawat; The Unlikely Disciple, by Kevin Roose; It's Our Turn to Eat, by Michela Wrong.
Best idea The world isn't flat and globalization is only beginning, which means we have time to change what we're doing and get it right.
Worst idea That the way to react to fundamental political change is to retreat more deeply into a bunker mentality. I'm looking at you, Israel.
Rory Stewart rocketed to fame with his 2004 book, The Places in Between, which chronicled a 32-day solo walk that he took across Afghanistan. As a member of the British diplomatic service and later the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, he has spent most of his career working on military interventions, from East Timor to Iraq to Libya. So when he says that the Afghanistan war is on the path to dismal failure, it's time for foreign leaders to listen. Stewart, a skeptic of the counterinsurgency doctrine -- known as COIN -- that has dominated U.S. military thinking in recent years, argues that the Obama administration's much-touted "surge" strategy played into the Taliban's hands -- the massive influx of funds placed power with foreigners rather than with the Afghan government, while the increase in boots on the ground antagonized the Afghan people. "As far as I'm concerned, the troop deployment caused their return," Stewart said of the Taliban.
Elected as a Conservative member of Parliament in 2010, Stewart is now calling for a drastic drawdown in Afghanistan -- and a dash of humility about the ability of foreign powers to transform war-torn societies. Only then, he says, will we learn, "If we can often do much less than we pretend, we can do much more than we fear."