With 2011 down to a few hours, it's now safe to announce the 2011 Albies -- named in honor of noted political economist Albert O. Hirschman. The Albies are awarded to the best writing in global political economy for the past calendar year. The writing can be in a book, journal article, think tank report, or blog post -- the key is that the article makes you reconsider the way the world works.
This year yielded a bumper crop of excellent IPE writing. I attribute this to the 2008 crisis and its aftereffects generating such a bounty of fascinating trends/events that even straight reportage has been interesting. Indeed, it was such a good year that, for the first time, I'm including some "honorable mentions" at the bottom.
In no particular order, here's the top 10:
1) Chrystia Freeland, "The Rise of the New Global Elite," The Atlantic, January/February 2011. A slender common thread of the Arab Spring protests, Occupy Wall Street, and the Russia protests was a perception of rising inequality, and the refusal of elites to acknowledge that there is even a problem. Before any of these movements made the front page, Freeland examined the global 1% in this essay. As much as political scientists like to talk about public ignorance of the way the world works, Freeland makes the case that the global elite suffers from a different but very dangerous perception -- that fortuna and inherited advantage had no role in their own prosperity.
2) Thomas Oatley, "The Reductionist Gamble: Open Economy Politics in the Global Economy," International Organization, April 2011. Over the past decade, the "open economy politics" paradigm has dominated the study of global political economy. There are some strengths to this kind of approach, but the law of diminishing marginal returns kicked in a long time ago (OEP has little to say about the 2008 financial crisis). Oatley's paper -- published in the leading journal -- was a powerful wake-up call to the subfield.
3) Tyler Cowen, The Great Stagnation, Dutton. Americans have taken prospertity, and the engines of prosperity, for granted. Cowen's short book suggests that, appearances to the contrary, all of the easy ways for promoting economic growth in the developed world have dried up. I would posit that Cowen contradicts himself with his innovative way of getting this argument published (first as an ebook) but this is an excellent, accessible read on the future of the U.S. economy.
4) Boston Consulting Group, "Made in America, Again," May, and Edward Luce, "America is Entering a New Age of Plenty," Financial Times, November 20. These two essays provide an interesting counter to Cowen's prognosis. BCG's projections on manufacturing, and Luce's summary on energy innovations, suggest that a decade from now -- regardless of who is president -- the United States will be a manufacturing and energy powerhouse.
5) Damien Cave, "Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North," New York Times, July 6, 2011. I blogged about this story when it was first published about why it was so interesting. Now, I just want the debate moderators to hold it up like John Cusack in Say Anything whenever the GOP candidates natter on about stopping illegal immigration.
6) Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth, "Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe, 1919-2009," Centre for Economic Policy Research discussion paper no. 8513, August 2011. 2012 is going to be a year of austerity for a lot of countries. This timely paper looks at the causes of European social unrest over the 20th century, and concludes that fiscal retrenchment is the primary driver of unrest. Bear this in mind whenever you read about new austerity measures being imposed.
7) Andrew Hill, "Inside McKinsey," FT Magazine, November 25. As the GOP looks set to nominate a former consultant as its standard-bearer, the culture of management consulting is worth considering. McKinsey is to consulting as Goldman Sachs was to management consulting, and this year a scandal has rocked that firm to the core. Hill's FT story gets at the powerful corporate culture that defines McKinsey -- and the ways in which the renumeration gap between management consultants and hedge fund managers led to a breakdown in McKinsey's norms.
8) Prabhat Jha et al, "Trends in selective abortions of girls in India," The Lancet, June 4, 2011. I blogged about this article back in May. Long story short: as India has grown richey, India's educated, wealthy elite have engaged in selective gender-based abortion on a massive scale. A very sobering reminder that modernizing societies will not necessarily become more Western in their values.
One does not have to dig very deep into foreign-policy punditry to find the belief that the question of the next decade is how world order will adapt to a waxing China and a waning United States. Will China embrace, reject, or simply ignore the set of pre-existing global norms? Will the United States continue to assert its privilege in setting global norms, or will it retreat into unilateralism? Beyond the punditry, very few scholars have bothered to look systematically at how both of these countries interact with global governance norms and structures. Rosemary Foot and Andrew Walter tackle the general question of Sino-American interactions with global rules and norms in a rigorous and informative manner, discussing issues as diverse as nonproliferation and financial regulation with a degree of empirical sophistication that borders on the astonishing. Foot and Walter have produced a must-read for anyone interested in the future of global governance
10) Michael Forsythe and Henry Sanderson, "China Debts Dwarf Official Data with Too-Big-To-Finish-Alarm," Bloomberg News, December 17, 2011. This was the year that China bears came to the forefront. I'm a bit more optimistic about the communist regime's prospects than, say, Gordon Chang, but this piece of investigative reporting by Bloomberg does a fine job of demonstrating the depths of the bad debt problem that pervades China's banking sector.
Honorable mentions: Nouriel Roubini, "China's Bad Growth Bet," Project Syndicate; Henry Farrell's "contagion" blog post, The Monkey Cage, August 15, 2011; J.C. Chandor's audacous directorial debut Margin Call, and, last but not least, the Ryan Gosling International Development Tumblr.