The foreign policy of the world's No. 2 superpower remains a bit of a mystery. Chinese leaders rarely elaborate or take questions in news conferences, instead offering canned statements to Communist Party propaganda outlets such as the People's Daily. And lower-ranking Chinese officials and think-tank experts are far more constrained in their ability to explain what's really going on than their voluble U.S. counterparts.
That's why Wang Jisi, China's most respected expert on the United States, is so crucial to understanding what Chinese leaders think about the world. A gifted writer and the former director of the Institute of International Strategic Studies at the Central Party School, the most prestigious training institution for Communist Party officials, Wang has both the ability and, crucially, the permission to demystify Chinese views. What does Wang want us to know? That the feel-good stories U.S. officials tell themselves about China's global ascent are an elaborate form of denial. In an influential monograph co-authored by Brookings Institution senior fellow Kenneth Lieberthal, Wang this year described China's actions on the world stage as rooted in the conclusion that "America will seek to constrain or even upset China's rise." Beijing's view, he says, is that the United States is "heading for decline" and that China's development model provides an "alternative to Western democracy and market economies." The result? "[T]hese views make many Chinese political elites suspect that it is the United States," Wang says, "that is 'on the wrong side of history.'"
How much is a good fourth-grade teacher worth? Enough to pack an extra apple with your kid's lunch? Or maybe a nice gift for the holidays? How about $700,000? That figure, it turns out, is the amount of extra income the students of an average-sized U.S. classroom, combined, can earn over their lifetimes thanks to a good fourth-grade teacher. If that sounds excessive, Raj Chetty, a Harvard University economist, has the numbers to back it up -- just one of this 33-year-old's pioneering, empirical discoveries in his short career so far.
The Indian-American Chetty, who earned tenure at Harvard at the tender age of 29 and is a winner of a MacArthur "genius" grant this year, has been bucking the conventional economic wisdom since he was an undergraduate, also at Harvard. As a sophomore, he caught the eye of legendary economist Martin Feldstein (No. 52) by proposing a counterintuitive reason that companies might increase investment under higher interest rates; Feldstein told Chetty to quit working for him and instead pursue his own research. Since then, Chetty -- driven by the simple impulse for "math to guide the intuition, not for the intuition to guide the math," as he has put it -- has managed to overturn various age-old assumptions and ensure his place at the center of the U.S. policy debate over everything from unemployment benefits (they're not necessarily a crutch -- they give people time to find well-suited jobs) to tax breaks (one of their most important qualities, it turns out, is that beneficiaries actually know how they work). With an already hefty list of findings like these, Chetty is at the forefront of the growing field of behavioral public finance, using hard data to track how economic policy affects individual behavior and social welfare. It may sound simple, but, as Feldstein once put it, most economists today are "happy to take the data as they find it." That's just what makes Chetty's novel, truth-testing experiments, in Feldstein's words, "ingenious."