The Wisdom of the Smart Crowd

We asked the 2012 Global Thinkers to weigh in on the big questions of the year. Here’s what they had to say…

Dear American president, in the next four years please...

Improve relations between the Democrats and Republicans so the U.S. government can work, and please engage more and better with allies and enemies abroad. -Farahnaz Ispahani • Propose a grand bargain on reforming politics, which will reduce gridlock, the role of money, and the power of hyper-partisans. -Jonathan Haidt • Use your resourcefulness and toughness to force the Republican Party back to sanity and problem-solving. -Thomas Mann • Make decisions. -Sebastian Thrun •

Fix the economy. -Melinda Gates • Build a new American economy. -Anne-Marie Slaughter • Create the conditions for sustained economic growth. -Eliot Cohen • Copy Bill Clinton's economics. -Abraham Karem • Improve infrastructure. -John Coates • Focus on infrastructure renewal. -Robert D. Kaplan • Rebuild the social safety net and address increasing inequality. -danah boyd • Fix our education system. -Daphne Koller • Implement the health care program. -Martha Nussbaum • Enforce universal healthcare. -Slavoj Zizek • Deal with entitlements and taxes. -Robert Kagan • Fundamentally reform entitlements. -Charles Murray • Cut entitlements. -Luigi Zingales • Raise taxes on rich people. -James Robinson • Fix the disastrous campaign finance system. -Norman Ornstein • Cut the deficit and the corporate tax ratio. -Ruchir Sharma • Get rid of secret laws. -Roger Dingledine • Bring back Battlestar Galactica. Failing that, please use novel Internet strategies to catalyze the public's enormous latent goodwill and desire to help out on a range of problems. -Jonathan Zittrain • Embrace open data and participatory innovation. -Beth Noveck • Respect America's constitutional guarantees, and trust the public to use them wisely. -Nick Mathewson • Change the American software/design patent system. It is wrong, and it is really bad for innovation in the U.S. -Eugene Kaspersky • Respect civil rights and consider serious tax reform. -Daron Acemoglu • Reform immigration and invest in preparing the workforce for the amazing advances that are happening in technology. -Vivek Wadhwa • Fight addiction and drug abuse. -Adela Navarro Bello • Wind down the drone war. Jameel Jaffer •

Release illegal detainees and shut down Guantanamo Bay and all other illegal detention centers, discontinue the practice of illegally sending drones into other nations, change the international trade agreements that enable American companies to profit at the cost of other people. - Sana Saleem • Be a global leader. -Kiyoshi Kurokawa • Exercise global leadership and do not let the world continue to drift. -Husain Haqqani • Address global warming. -Emmanuel Saez • Recognize the extraordinary transformational potential in the shale gas and oil revolution of the United States and formulate policies to accelerate a lower carbon, higher employment, bigger industrial expansion for America. -Ed Morse • Help us start tackling climate change smartly and effectively. -Bjorn Lomborg • Do everything to make your country an example for the world of a responsible environmental activist, a nature-loving society. -Yevgenia Chirikova • Adopt a more objective and less politicized energy policy. -Richard A. Muller • Make science-based decisions. -Andrew Ng • Provide leadership for the western alliance. -Hew Strachan • Look at Europe as your best ally and the most trusted friend. -Radek Sikorski • Support Arab democracy. -Moncef Marzouki • Let us work for democracy in the Middle East. -Mohammed al Qahtani • Emphasize human rights in authoritarian countries and economic stability of the world. -Yu Jianrong • Think about developing countries. -Shai Reshef • Give more attention to ethics in American foreign policy. -Rima Dali • Promote peace and freedom. -Nabeel Rajab • Don't start any wars. -Li Kai Fu, Scott Sumner • Stop your policies of double standards toward human rights violations. -Maryam al-Khawaja • Stand firm for humanity and human rights. -Ai Weiwei • Be courageous. -Tariq Ramadan • Be less U.S.-centric. -Thomas Piketty


China is...

Our friend and needs help. -Sebastian Thrun • An economic power that does not share liberal values.-Farahnaz Ispahani • A problem that can be managed. -Robert Kagan • Still too caught by its own past to maximize its potential. -Hew Strachan • The key country for the future of the world. -Slavoj Zizek • An economic power in need of democracy and openness. -Husain Haqqani • A demonstration of the power of capitalism to create wealth quickly, but rapid change is likely to bring many problems. -Jonathan Haidt • The wrong political model for developing countries. -Daron Acemoglu • Putting far more resources into Internet censorship than any other country. -Roger Dingledine •

Much less likely to overtake the United States as a superpower than many people think.. -Eliot Cohen • Taking its place at the table. -John Coates • The leader of the world by 2022. -Rima Dali • Needed for global diplomacy. -Danah Boyd • The biggest workshop in the world, where it is time for people to realize that there are bigger values than money, for instance their children's health. -Yevgenia Chirikova • An unclear, unstable, and uncertain society. -Ai Weiwei • Going to get old before it gets rich. -Charles Murray • Crucial to global prosperity and security in the 21st century. -Radek Sikorski • Neither our partner nor our adversary, and she will severely test our resolve and patience for years to come. -Thomas Mann • The most exciting yet the most dangerous country in the world. The Chinese evaluation of the United States is the same. Our countries need to work together rather than compete. -Richard A. Muller • Going through a transformation that has the power to bring millions of people in China and across the globe out of poverty. -Melinda Gates • A powerful unknown entity. It can be dangerous like all dictatorships. Their "Peaceful climb" is our hope, but we should not trust it. Turnaround of Western economy is the best defense. -Abraham Karem • A disaster for human rights. -Maryam al Khawaja • At once a potential threat and a potential resource and ally. -Moncef Marzouki • Likely to undergo a massive economic and political crisis before the end of this decade. -Ed Morse • Big, complicated, and getting bigger and more complicated. -Andrew Ng • Going to continue to take an increasingly central role on the world stage. -Daphne Koller • A fascinating experiment in change management, at a massive scale. -Nadim Matta • Different from what you think. -Li Kai Fu • Going to be a much more serious global power after they get their act together, drop the media control, and democratize. -Nick Mathewson • Headed for more instability. -Robert D. Kaplan • Great for having lifted 620 million people out of poverty. Now they need more political freedom. -Bjorn Lomborg A great opportunity. -Luigi Zingales • At its economic peak and will economically go the way of Japan.. -Vivek Wadhwa • Likely to move toward democracy and nomocracy. -Yu Jianrong • About to undergo an enormous demographic shift. -Anne-Marie Slaughter •The anti-eurozone; a booming economy with two (or three?) currencies.. -Scott Sumner • A fixation. -James Robinson • An economic miracle here to stay. -Emmanuel Saez • Becoming a more normal country that cannot keep defying the laws of economic gravity. -Ruchir Sharma •

Not a democracy and is very unlikely to become one. -Martha Nussbaum • In need of being understood better. -Shai Reshef • A rising economic giant that will soon hit a ceiling due to lack of democracy. -Mohammed al Qahtani • Going to have very rocky times ahead, economically and politically. -Norman Ornstein • A fast emerging economic and political giant. -Nabeel Rajab • Censored. -Sana Saleem • A frightening mirror. -Tariq Ramadan • The best source of new, highly talented students for expanding the U.S. education system.. -Beth Noveck • Bigger than markets. -Thomas Piketty 

The best muse for these times is...

Aung San Suu Kyi. -Farahnaz Ispahani • Gandhi. -Husain Haqqani, Yevgenia Chirikova • Adam Smith -- for his theory of moral sentiments and his balanced view of the moral effects of capitalism. -Jonathan Haidt • John Maynard Keynes. -Thomas Mann • Clio (muse of history, we should still learn from the past). -Radek Sikorski • Clio. But if I may explore the rest of the pantheon, I would urge reverence for Minerva, and a deep, if wary respect for Nemesis. She's the one who will get you in the end. -Eliot Cohen • Urania. -Sebastian Thrun • Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, because we need poetry to understand our lives. -Martha Nussbaum • Aristotle, or anyone else who applies science to policy. -John Coates • Dostoevsky. -Hew Strachan •

Michel Foucault. -Danah Boyd • Condorcet. -Thomas Piketty • Friedrich Hayek. -Ruchir Sharma • The bloggers fighting oppression in their countries.. -Roger Dingledine • Revolutions. -Rima Dali • The people who demand change regardless of the consequences. -Maryam al Khawaja • Women who are changing the world by refusing to accept historical boundaries. -Melinda Gates • The empowered youth around the world. -Nadim Matta • People of courage fighting against odds to reclaim their dignity. -Sana Saleem • The Arab popular will. -Tariq Ramadan • Political turmoil. -Slavoj Zizek • Europe after World War II, where the first wave of democracy took place. -Mohammed al Qahtani • Objectivity. This goddess was not counted as one of the original Greek nine muses, but she is the source of the physical and economic well-being that enables the inspiration of the other muses.. -Richard A. Muller • Democracy and nomocracy. -Yu Jianrong • Freedom. -Adela Navarro Bello • The Internet. -Andrew Ng • Silicon Valley. -Vivek Wadhwa • The use of social media to spread awareness. -Nabeel Rajab • The Huffington Post. -Shai Reshef • All of us, if only institutions knew better how to let themselves be inspired. -Beth Noveck • Loud music on the iPhone. -Daron Acemoglu • Neil Young. -Norman Ornstein • Radiohead. -James Robinson • Abraham Lincoln. -Daphne Koller • Bill Gates. -Li Kai fu • Tyler Cowen. -Scott Sumner • Leslie Gelb. -Ed Morse • Andrew Sullivan among the living. Otherwise, perhaps Jacob Riis and Upton Sinclair, who harnessed the newest forms of technology to broach the inequalities of their time. -Jonathan Zittrain. • My wife, and David Byrne. -Robert Kagan • My two grand-daughters. -Moncef Marzouki • Amartya Sen, author of development as freedom. -Anne-Marie Slaughter • Orwell, on a bad day. Maybe Niebuhr on a good one. -Nick Mathewson • Uncertainty. -Robert D. Kaplan • Rationality, as always. -Bjorn Lomborg • Times don't have muses. People do. -Charles Murray • There is no muse at the present time, and this is the great problem of the modern world. -Eugene Kaspersky • Zbigniew Herbert. -Jameel Jaffer

The year that most resembles 2012 is...

What I imagine 1790 might have been like in Europe. The French revolution had started the year before. -Nadim Matta • 1848, best summed up: ‘Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom'. -Sana Saleem • 1896, the end of the Gilded Age. -Daron Acemoglu •

1912... (I hope not). -Thomas Piketty • 1914. -Rima Dali; Husain Haqqani ("With new ideologies and hyper-nationalism in the greater Middle East seeking to change the world order.") • I realize it is 1917 but I hate to admit it.  Here in my home town Khimki, where I run for mayoral elections today, thousands fell victim to Stalin's regime that followed the October revolution. -Yevgenia Chirikova • Germany in 1920 (heading toward 1922-23). -Charles Murray • 1922, when either democracy or totalitarianism could still prevail in the world. -Beth Noveck • 1929. -Hew Strachan • 1932. -Luigi Zingales • 1935. -Andrew Ng, Danah Boyd • 1936. -Ed Morse, John Coates, Thomas Mann • 1938. -Ai Weiwei • 1940. -Kiyoshi Kurokawa • 1945. -Li Kai Fu • 1969, the year after the events. -Slavoj Zizek • 1973/4. The American and Soviet moon programs are discontinued. Oil crisis. The world is more or less stable, but no predictable future, no clear vector. Peaceful but fragile coexistence of world powers. -Eugene Kaspersky • 1974. -James Robinson • America after Watergate. Self-doubting, divided and weak. -Farahnaz Ispahani • 1975. -Robert Kagan • 1978-Jonathan Haidt ("For the USA."), Mohammed al Qahtani ("Just a year prior to the Iranian revolution.") • 1984, when the incumbent was re-elected and the hard choices of his first term started to pay off in both domestic and foreign policy. -Anne-Marie Slaughter • 1988. -Yu Jianrong • 1989 (the year ended some communist regimes in Eastern Europe). -Nabeel Rajab • Hopefully 1990. -Abraham Karem • 1990 or 1991. Now some Arab countries, like Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of communism in 1989, need to find their way to democracy and prosperity. -Radek Sikorski • 1995. -Jonathan Zittrain ("Before the technology boom."), Melinda Gates ("When the world came together at the Beijing Conference on women to declare the importance of empowering women as a way to strengthen families and societies.") •  1998. -Ruchir Sharma, Tariq Ramadan • 2000. -Shai Reshef • 2004. -Norman Ornstein • 2008. -Adela Navarro Bello •

2011. -Daphne Koller, Roger Dingledine, Scott Sumner, Eliot Cohen ("Except where it is completely different."), Nick Mathewson ("Or possibly 2013"), Richard A. Muller ("Despite our pessimism and breast-beating, we are living in the best era experienced by Homo sapiens. As we strive to make the world better, let's rejoice in the past success we have had") • 2012. -Moncef Marzouki, Bjorn Lomborg ("Human progress continues.") • 2013. -Sebastian Thrun • Each year is unique. -RobertD.  Kaplan • No previous year. -Martha Nussbaum • None. -Maryam al Khawaja • Not yet complete. -Jameel Jaffer


Homeland Insecurity

The new Red Dawn movie is really just a throwback to the ‘80s ... the 1880s.

This week, audiences will line up to see the new remake of Red Dawn, a cult classic of chest-thumping Reagan-era bombast in which a group of all-American teenagers -- including the bulk of the future cast of Dirty Dancing -- transform themselves into Colorado mujahedeen to fight off the invading Soviet and Cuban forces.

The remake -- which features Thor star Chris Hemsworth in the Patrick Swayze role -- has been mocked by critics and journalists for months before its opening, thanks in large part to the filmmakers' decision to re-edit the movie to turn the invading Chinese army into far less plausible North Koreans. Yes, the idea of a country incapable of successfully launching a single rocket invading the United States is pretty far-fetched. But many of those laughing dismissively at the premise of Red Dawn were probably more than happy to plop down their $12 to watch a plutocrat in a bat suit fight crime from his private hovercraft or a suave British spy grapple a bad guy on top of a speeding train without wrinkling his immaculate Saville Row tailoring.

The reason why we find Red Dawn so much more ridiculous than Batman or Bond (well, apart from inferior writing, directing, and acting) may have less to do with the plausibility of the premise than the fact that images of invading armies fanning out across the American homeland are rare in contemporary pop culture -- compared to terrorist cells, shadowy crime syndicates, or even aliens. But this wasn't always the case. From the last decades of the 19th century until World War I, invasion scenarios and tales of future wars were a staple of popular fiction in both the United States and Europe. In many ways, the new Red Dawn is less a throwback to the 1980s than the 1880s.

In 1871, shortly after the end of the Franco-Prussian war and the unification of Germany, a British Army engineer and India veteran named George Tomkyns Chesney published a short story in Blackwood's magazine titled The Battle of Dorking. Told from the perspective of a former gentleman volunteer speaking years later in occupied Britain, it tells a tale of how disciplined and technologically superior forces (Germany is never mentioned by name, but it's pretty clear who he has in mind) overwhelmed British defense at the decisive Battle of Dorking -- putting an end to British freedom forever.

Alarmed by growing German militarism, Chesney's scenario was a not-so-subtle call for the reorganization of the British military to defend an increasingly vulnerable empire:

I need hardly tell you how the crash came about. First, the rising in India drew away a part of our small army; then came the difficulty with America, which had been threatening for years, and we sent off ten thousand men to defend Canada -- a handful which did not go far to strengthen the real defences of that country, but formed an irresistible temptation to the Americans to try to take them prisoners, especially as the contingent included three battalions of the Guards. Thus the regular army at home was even smaller than usual, and nearly half of it was in Ireland to check the talked-of Fenian invasion fitting out in the West. Worse still -- though I do not know it would really have mattered as things turned out -- the fleet was scattered abroad; some ships to guard the West Indies, others to check privateering in the China seas, and a large part to try to protect our colonies on the Northern Pacific shore of America, where, with incredible folly, we continued to retain possessions which we could not possibly defend.

As British intelligence officer turned literature professor I.F. Clarke recounts in his entertaining history of the genre, Voices Prophesying War, The Battle of Dorking wasn't the first tale of future war, but the inventiveness of Chesney's scenario and the timing of its publication -- amid growing fears of German militarism and the quality of Otto Von Bismarck's army -- combined to make the story a sensation. (In its depictions of how the technological advances of the invaders would change the global balance of power, The Battle of Dorking is also considered to be a precursor to modern science fiction.) Blackwood's quickly sold out its initial print run and proceeded to sell 800,000 copies of the story as a stand-alone pamphlet. Editions of the story were reprinted in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States and translated into French and German. Rebuttals to Chesney in the form of unauthorized sequels to his story like After the Battle of Dorking and The Other Side at the Battle of Dorking packed the popular press. The story was even adapted into a popular dancehall tune. Decades later, it would take on a second life as a Nazi propaganda pamphlet.

Prime Minister William Gladstone even felt compelled to address the Battle of Dorking sensation in a speech decrying the dangers of alarmism. "I should not mind this Battle of Dorking, if we could keep it to ourselves," he said in a speech to the Working Men's Liberal Association on Sept. 2, 1871. "But unfortunately these things go abroad and they make us ridiculous in the eyes of the world."

Indeed, the phenomenon had already crossed the Channel. As Clarke writes, "From 1871 onwards, Chesney's story showed Europe how to manipulate the new literature of anxiety and belligerent nationalism. Between 1871 and 1914 it was unusual to find a single year without some tale of future warfare appearing in some European country. Italy had La Guerra del 190 -- a story of future naval defeat. In the story Vulnerable by Sea in 1900, a German author told of a future war against the combined forces of Russia, France, and Italy. The pseudonymous French author Capitaine Danrit churned out a series of jingoistic stories of 20th century warfare between 1889 and 1893 in a series titled The War of Tomorrow.

And back in England, writers continued to pump out anti-German, anti-French, and even anti-American diatribes in the form of invasion stories. (French and English authors often traded volleys across the Channel by writing similarly themed stories with different outcomes.) The master of the form was the famed yellow journalist and propagandist William Le Queux -- Queen Alexandra's favorite writer -- who enthralled readers of the Daily Mail in the 1890s and 1890s with serialized titles like The Great War in England in 1897, The Invasion of 1910, and England's Peril, the last of which infuriated the French government with the suggestion that its embassy in London was a nest of spies. Well-known authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, A.A. Milne, and H.G. Wells also penned future war stories. (The War of the Worlds was in many ways just an update of The Battle of Dorking with Martians substituted for Germans.) And P.G. Wodehouse of Jeeves fame parodied the genre in his novel The Swoop!

Naturally, it was only a matter of time before the genre crossed the Atlantic. Invasion stories were a staple of the American popular press from the 1880s on. As Clarke notes, the fact that -- as opposed to European countries -- the United States didn't face any major external threats at the time meant that "American writers were free to declare war upon any nations they considered to be a threat to the future of the United States -- British, Canadians, Chinese, Mexicans, Spanish, or Japanese." The Chinese threat was a particularly popular topic during the "Yellow Peril" craze of the late 19th century. And the British -- often with their evil Canadian compadres -- were popular villains, at least until Germany emerged as a clear adversary in the years leading up to World War I.

One notable example was H. Irving Hancock's 1916 popular young adult novel Uncle Sam's Boys at the Battle of Boston. Like Chesney, Hancock's tale, set in the year 1920, was making the case that the United States was insufficiently prepared for the possible future defense of the homeland:

"Mr. Prescott, if the Americans are headed toward complete disaster at last, be sure that they fully deserve it. For years the Americans have been told, daily, that they were not prepared for just such an invasion as is now coming upon us. The military experts of this country have begged Congress to authorize a larger and more efficient fleet, and to provide an army large enough for handling capably anything that an enemy might try to do to us. But Congress and the people have gone on laughing -- and now, over night, we find ourselves at war, and an enemy at our gates in numbers that assure the capture of every really valuable part of this country of ours!"

In Hancock's story, one can see the ancestors of Swayze and the Wolverines in Bert Howard and the volunteer cadets of Gridley High School, who heroically defend New England from German invaders:

"My, those boys are tireless, and there's some fine soldier stuff in them," murmured Lieutenant Greg Holmes, an hour later, as he watched the drill. "There ought to be good stuff in them," returned Prescott. "Back in 1916 there was a wave of preparedness excitement swept this country, and a lot of high school boys everywhere were drilled enthusiastically. Then, bit by bit, the interest began to die out, and to-day we have comparatively few high schools were real soldiering is taught. But in Gridley the enthusiasm never died out."

Uncle Sam's Boys at the Battle of Boston was just the first part of Hancock's series depicting a war with German invaders rampaging across the United States; later stories included In the Battle for New York and At the Defense of Pittsburgh. On the eve of World War I, this didn't seem like a particularly far-fetched scenario. After all, it was a telegram suggesting a German-Mexican plan to invade the United States from the south that helped push American into the war.

The very real carnage of World War I, however, largely put an end to the fanciful genre, according to Clarke. Invasion stories never really recovered in popularity in the post-World War I period. In the interwar period, future-war fiction took a darker turn, with totalitarian dystopias and tales of poisonous gas clouds seeming to anticipate the rise of fascism and the carnage of Hiroshima, though there were still occasional invasion tales being produced, such as the dark 1929 novel Red Napoleon, which depicts a communist takeover of the United States. During the Cold War, books and films depicting a Soviet military invasion of the West were far less common than books and films like On the Beach and Dr. Strangelove depicting the threat of nuclear war, or The Manchurian Candidate, telling of undercover Communist subversion. When fighting did take place in America, the culprits were more likely to be extraterrestrials than real-world adversaries.

It's fair to say that the development of the atom bomb sounded the death knell for invasion literature. Fulda Gap aside, it has been clear that World War III would likely end in nuclear disaster rather than armies streaming across the borders of industrialized nations. And since the end of the Cold War, movies like The Siege and television series like 24 and Homeland have reflected anxieties over the potential of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil -- but there's little fear, in either military planning or popular fiction, of battle lines being drawn on U.S. soil.

Which brings us back to Red Dawn. Even at the time the original film was released, the scenario was pretty far-fetched. "Those who consider the events set forth in 'Red Dawn' to be probable are no more apt to find the movie credible than those who regard them as ludicrous," Janet Maslin wrote in her review for the New York Times. Books and movies from the same era, such as John Hackett's The Third World War: The Untold Story and Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October warned of catastrophic nuclear military confrontation with the Soviet Union, but they stopped well short of depicting fighting on U.S. soil. Red Dawn feels like such a bizarre outlier because, for the past 70 years or so, Americans have felt fairly confident that whatever threats they face, an enemy occupation is pretty low on the list. (Notable exceptions to the rule are video games like the Call of Duty series, which have allowed players to battle Russian baddies on the American homeland.)

Of course, as Clarke points out, the alarmist authors of the late 19th and early 20th century were strikingly bad at imagining what "future war" would look like. Rather than decisive Battle of Dorking-style routs, the modern military technology that was just over the horizon resulted in the grueling, brutal stalemate of trench warfare. He ends his history by noting that "This fiction has an almost unbroken record of failing to forecast the true course of future wars. The Germans never invaded the British Isles; and the French did not conquer Germany. When the long-expected war came in 1914, it turned out to be very different from the swift campaigns and decisive naval actions described in the tales of the ‘The Next Great War.'"

In other words, it's easy to laugh at Red Dawn. But just because Hollywood has, for the most part, decided that terrorists, hackers, spies, and nukes are the real threats we should be worried about doesn't mean we have any real idea of what the next war will bring.