Any book, journal article, magazine piece, op-ed, or blog post published in the last calendar year that made you rethink how the world works in such a way that you will never be able "unthink" the argument.
The 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath are still topic numero uno. As I told the editors of FP when they asked me for my favorite books of the past year, "If last year's crop of books was about the tick tock of what happened, this year's harvest was more about why it happened." Topic numero duo for me was the future of Sino-American relations in the global political economy. These two topics govern my list:
1) Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine, Norton. By honing in on the few people who bet against the subprime mortgage boom, Lewis's book nicely demonstrates the myriad ways in which the bubble was allowed to inflate for so long -- and why the people who got it right were, to be blunt, too socially awkward to help the markets correct sooner.
2) Raghuram Rajan, Fault Lines, Princeton University Press. The best combined political economy take on the underlying domestic and international factors that contributed to the crisis.
3) John Quiggin, Zombie Economics, Princeton University Press. Quiggin ruthlessly deconstructs the ways in which market-friendly ideas devolved from rigorous theory into caricature. Free market advocates won't want to read this book, but they should.
4) Yu Yongding, "A Different Road Forward," China Daily, December 23, 2010. Anyone who thinks that it's possible to extrapolate China's recent growth trends indefinitely into the future needs to read this, like, now. Yu's brutally candid assessment of what's wrong with China's current growth model could easily be written off as the musings of a crank -- if it wasn't for the fact that the guy was a former member of the monetary policy committee of the Peoples' Bank of China, and that China Daily printed the op-ed in the first place.
5) McKinsey Global Institute, "Farewell to Cheap Capital," December 2010, and Goldman Sachs Global Economics Paper No. 204, "EM Equity in Two Decades: A Changing Landscape," September 2010 (tie). Both of these reports make a similar point -- a lot of the action in capital markets over the next two decades will be taking place in the developing world. The McKinsey report is particularly intriguing on this point: it suggests that United States will stop seeing historically low interest rates very soon, and won't see them again for at least a generation.
6) Nicholas Eberstadt, "The Demographic Future," Foreign Affairs, November/December 2010. Eberstadt's essay provides a cogent summary of the demographic future of every great power in the world, and the challenges each country -- including the United States -- faces in confronting its demographic future.
7) Pew Global Attitudes Survey responses to "economic power" question, April 2010. In their surveys, Pew asked respondents to identify "the world's leading economic power." Compare and contrast the countries where the plurality response was "The United States" versus those responding "China."
8) The Wikileaks' economics cables. The cables I've read that touch on economic policy are revealing, not because they say anything different from what one could read from open sources, but because they say the exact same thing as what one could divine from open sources. Now, there are important caveats that need to be kept in mind when interpreting these cables -- but I find this observation to be veeeeeerrrrry interesting.
9) GOP, "A Pledge To America," September 2010. When the GOP disappoints deficit hawks and Tea Party activists in 2011 -- and they will, they so, so will -- go back and look at this craptastic document to understand why. Marvel at a document that pledges to cut America's deficit while not touching Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense, or raise taxes. After reading this, I stopped taking GOP economic policy pronouncements seriously.
10) Linda Jakobson and Dean Knox, "New Foreign Policy Actors in China," SIPRI Policy Paper No. 26, September 2010. This isn't just about foreign economic policy, but it provides a very useful lens into the fotreign policymaking machine of the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party.
I have to close with the depressing observation that there was no single peer-reviewed scholarly article in this bunch. Now, in fairness, it's very difficult to get something through the peer-review mechanism and have it still be au courant. Still, I'd be happy to hear from among the academics in the audience if there was any peer-reviewed scholarship that belongs on this list.