Willem Buiter, Citigroup's chief economist, relishes a good intellectual dust-up, especially if it involves debunking an economic conventional wisdom or two. "I like saying things that drive people around the bend," he recently told the Wall Street Journal.
When it comes to Europe's monetary union, Buiter has been doing just that for quite some time. In 1999, the Dutch-born economist published a paper, "Alice in Euroland," arguing that the European Central Bank (ECB), created a year earlier, was so flawed it could threaten not just the embryonic common currency but the "continued success of the post Second World War European integration process." At the time, it seemed an unlikely critique; today, it seems like gospel. Buiter is Europe's prophet of doom. Ever since the European debt crisis broke out in 2009, he has considered whether debt-hobbled, bailout-bound Greece will exit the eurozone -- a prospect so often discussed that Buiter and a colleague coined a word in February to describe it: "Grexit." The term went viral by May as political instability rocked Athens and the media embraced the year's catchiest eurocrisis shorthand. By September, even Greece's beleaguered prime minister was using it, as in: "What they call 'Grexit' is not an option for us -- it would be a catastrophe." Buiter isn't done prophesying. In September, his team challenged the conventional wisdom that an ECB bond-buying program marked a turning point in the debt crisis, arguing that the plan made a Greek departure from the eurozone "more manageable" and estimating the probability of a Grexit in the next 12 to 18 months at 90 percent. The news isn't good for Europe either. The eurozone could be in "cardiac arrest" for at least two to three more years, he informed clients that same month. That's plenty of time to drive more euro-optimists around the bend.Reading list: Books -- what's that? Best idea: Listen more to your kids. Worst idea: "We must have growth, not austerity." American decline or American renewal? Renewal through decline. More Europe or less? More please… To tweet or not to tweet? Tweeting is for mindless illiterates.
Look closely during a party scene in the blockbuster Iron Man 2, and you'll see eccentric playboy billionaire Tony Stark shaking hands with Elon Musk, the real-life model for Robert Downey Jr.'s update of the comic-book superhero.
He may not be able to fly -- yet -- but at 42, Musk's way-outside-the-box ideas of how to make the world a better place have resulted in the creation of not one but four of America's most innovative companies. Shortly after college, Musk and fellow future billionaire Peter Thiel founded the online payment system that eventually became the now-ubiquitous PayPal. After selling it for $1.5 billion in 2002, Musk started SpaceX, the private spaceflight company that in 2008 won a NASA contract to take over cargo transportation to the International Space Station from the now-defunct space shuttle. This May, SpaceX launched the first-ever commercial flight to the station. Musk is also co-founder of Tesla Motors, which stands a real chance of producing the first economically viable all-electric cars. And his latest passion project is SolarCity, an innovative energy company that provides low-cost solar services to businesses and is working to build electric car-charging stations in California -- a business idea that came to Musk during a road trip to Burning Man, the annual hippie-meets-Silicon Valley extravaganza.
He isn't done yet. Other plans include the "Hyperloop," a tube-based "fifth mode of transportation" that he claims will one day be able to take passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes, and an idea to build a Mars lander that can create a mini-greenhouse to grow crops and set the stage for eventual human habitation of the red planet. "I would like to die on Mars," Musk has said. At this rate, it would be foolish to bet against him.