By Jeff Harding.
I have all this vitriol stored up from not being able to publish for two weeks and it needs to be spewed. I just read Foreign Policy magazine’s “The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers,” and it is worthy of my bile. Of all the crap I have to read every day to get to ideas of real value, this article is the most pompous fluff piece that I have seen in, well, quite a while.
Now I am not saying that the magazine is crap; I don’t read it so it wouldn’t be a fair comment. I’m not saying that all their articles are crap, for the same reason. And I understand their foreign affairs focus. But their ”100 Greatest” stuff just brims with a lack of intellectual rigor, reason, and good scholarship. It is a kind of Parade magazine feel-good fluff that we see in many of these types of lists. At least the Forbes 400 has some measurable quantifier: money. I can imagine the FP editors going home feeling smug about the “Brainies” (you know, like the Grammies). “Hey Honey, I got to pick No. 7, 13, and 67 today!”
I am also not saying that these people on the list are not well meaning individuals, or that all their accomplishments are fake or meaningless. In fact, some of these people I greatly admire. I think I am being more critical of the editors for coming up with a meaningless list based on such little comprehension of economics, for example.
Here are the top 25 winners of the Brainies with their tag line for each person. Comments are mine. If you’ve got the stomach for it, go to their site and to read the entire list.
1. Ben Bernanke: for staving off creating a new Great Depression.
I guess you could say that he staved off the collapse of certain large financial institutions which collapse certainly would have led to worse short-term consequences for the worlds’ economies. But, it was the Fed (during Alan Greenspan’s reign) which largely caused the financial collapse in the first place by flooding the economy with money and credit. The consequences of Chairman Bernanke’s short-term policies will not only lead to a drawn out recession, but may lead to much greater negative long-term consequences to the U.S. (See, “The Japanese Disease,” and “The Smartest Guys in the Room.”) The editors of FP have no clue what caused the crash or what he’s done to “cure” it, but, gosh, everyone’s saying it, so it has to be true.
2. Barack Obama: for reimagining America’s role in the world.
I say the jury is still out on this. Like many of his predecessors, I don’t think he has a firm concept of what our national interests are or how American power should and can be used. I am listening to his Afghanistan speech right now. I hope he can live up to his rhetoric and I want to be fair to him and see the results before I dismiss him as a failure on foreign policy. Yes, I do think his domestic policies are disastrous.
I thought Afghanistan was the good war. I believe that Iraq was a huge mistake, and, despite our mistakes in Iraq we “won” in a sense. I have the greatest respect and awe of the men and women who have served and now serve in our armed forces, and what we’ve achieved in Iraq is due to their bravery, intelligence, and sacrifice.
But, I don’t see how we can just pull out of Afghanistan. I don’t think it can be a war of counter-terrorism, but rather one of regional, if not global, implications for our security. I don’t see how our national interests are served by letting the Taliban re-establish themselves and threaten Pakistan and it’s nuclear weapons. A new fundamentalist beachhead in that area is something we can’t afford. But we can’t stop them by pressing a button from 30,000 feet in the air. So we need to reset our goals. I think we should get back to Real Politik (that Cold War policy of making friends with any Devil to defeat a common enemy), and just devise a policy that says, let’s do whatever it takes to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda. We should get rid of ideas of converting them to a western style democracy; we will just be denting our pick.
3. Zahra Rahnavard: for being the brains behind Iran’s Green Revolution and the campaign of her husband, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Uh, OK, I guess. Number 3 though?
4. Nouriel Roubini: for accurately forecasting the global financial pandemic.
Dr. Doom! I like this playboy-economist. I rarely agree with his prescriptions for solving the economic crisis, but he did put himself out there by saying we were in for a big fall. And the guy has built a substantial business as an economics consultant. Professor Roubini did attend the Mises Institute as a scholar, and got many of his ideas on the risks of the economy there, but it is as if he didn’t attend Austrian Economics 102, so his solutions are basically Keynesian. Too bad. But is there anyone who has a gloomier visage than Nouriel?
By the way, lots of Austrian school economists got it right as well. And what about David Rosenberg? He was Merrill’s chief economist and he called it correctly. But they are ignored.
5. Rajendra Pachauri: for ending the debate over whether climate change matters.
This one makes me a bit ill. If there ever was a debate over this issue it’s with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which he formerly chaired. Don’t the FP editors read the news about the information that was withheld from their reports which has been a huge recent controversy? The science here stinks. It is my opinion that the global warming issue is just a stalking horse for socialists to attack capitalism. There is, of course evidence of global warming, but it has been going on long before human industrial activity. Global cooling too. For many millennia. Actually we have been experiencing global cooling lately but that doesn’t fit in their science ideology.
6. Bill Clinton: for redefining philanthropy in the modern era.
6. Hillary Rodham Clinton: for giving “smart power” a star turn at the State Department.
I have to smile a bit here. I kind of miss Bill. And Monica. We had the perfect system when he was president. The Democrats controlled the presidency and the Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, controlled Congress. The Contract with America actually resulted in some good legislation (repealing many welfare and regulatory laws).
Hillary I think is an empty suit. This whole SmartPower® thing is just an vapid political phrase created to denigrate the Bush Administration who obviously demonstrated DumbPower. What the hell is smart power?
7. Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler: for taking behavioralism from niche to necessary.
I don’t follow Thaler’s behavioral work so I can’t really speak to it. He was an adviser to the Obama campaign. Sunstein is in the Obama Administration. Their recent book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, advocates a so-called libertarian paternalism to direct people to what the authors think are better decisions about their life. I haven’t read the book, but I can point you to an excellent critique of the concept (“Libertarian Paternalism“).
8. David Petraeus: for reshaping the way the U.S. military goes to war.
Scholar, intellectual, warrior. He was right on Iraq. But the armed services have a nasty habit of fighting the previous war over again. I hope he’s right in Afghanistan.
9. Zhou Xiaochuan: for reminding the world that we can’t take the dollar for granted.
The head of China’s central bank understands full well the importance of our debt financed fiscal stimulus and he knows he’s grabbing his ankles, but he also knows he can’t do much about it without creating a disaster. That is, if he rejects the dollar for some other currency(ies), he will immediately devalue China’s holdings of our debt and revalue the yuan. And the cost of financing our deficit will go up, causing increased taxes and less consumer spending here. And general chaos.
But what the hell does the FP comment mean? Everyone knows the dollar is screwed, so why does China need to remind the world? Yes, I know they are one of the top three holders of our federal debt.
11. Fernando Henrique Cardoso: for calling the war on drugs what it is: a disaster.
Here’s a guy who actually makes sense. Brazil and other countries are punished because buying, selling, and using drugs here is a crime. I’m all for legalizing “illegal” drugs. What good has prohibition done anyway? Besides causing the rise of powerful international gangs, buying and corrupting whole countries, and being completely useless in preventing the drug business.
12. Bill Gates: for taking the efficiency of Microsoft to the poorest of the poor.
I have no idea what this means. Bill gives away billions. Thank you Bill.
13. Dick Cheney: for his full-throated defense of American power.
I have no idea what this means either. Cheney was one of the perpetrators of Iraq. He was wrong. He was one of the perpetrators of the invasion of our civil liberties. He was wrong. He advised W. W was wrong on most things.
14. Larry Summers: for being the brains behind Obama’s economic policy.
Now this is a true statement. But Larry has no idea what he is doing. Why give the keys of the economic truck back to the same drunks who got us into this crash? Please see, “John Maynard Summers,” “The Washington-Wall Street Complex,” and “The Smartest Guys in the Room.” By the way, does anyone know if he’s narcoleptic? He always looks like he’s falling asleep.
15. Martin Wolf: for being the dean of financial columnists.
Mr. Wolf is a very bright guy and an excellent observer and writer, but … mostly Keynesian and therefore mostly wrong. If you wish, please check out my conversation with him.
16. Mohamed El-Erian: for his unparalleled knowledge of global finance.
Well, OK. Thanks Mohamed. Keep up the good work at Pimco. Umm, John Paulson, Jim Rogers, David Rosenberg?
17. Benedict XVI: for showing that even the supposedly infallible can change.
He is The Pope, so why not throw him in too. But the former Grand Inquisitor doesn’t seem to be changing much from my viewpoint. How do you reconcile reason with faith?
18. Richard Dawkins: for his unceasing advocacy on behalf of science.
Here’s a guy I like. He doesn’t believe in evolution, he actually presents reason and logic to prove it and to defend science in general. Did I mention he’s an atheist.
19. Malcolm Gladwell: for rethinking how we think about thinkers.
I thought his first book on behavioral research, Blink was interesting. But, Tipping Point, didn’t hold together for me. Haven’t read Outliers yet.
20. Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart: for having the courage to call out failed states — and then try to fix them.
No comment. Never heard of them.
21. Thomas Friedman: for his genius at popularizing complex ideas.
I thought his defense of free trade and globalism in The World is Flat was done very well. You don’t have to agree with everything he says, and I don’t. But he’s a good writer. I think his discussions about climate change are incorrect. I haven’t read The World is Hot Flat and Crowded, and probably won’t.
22. Robert Shiller: for warning us — over and over — about dangerous bubbles.
Yes, he did talk about the housing bubble and was right. Never got the big picture though. A good economist and co-author of the Case-Shiller Housing Index, but basically a Keynesian econometrician.
23. Vaclav Havel: for four decades of speaking truth to power.
Here’s a man who really accomplished something and should be enshrined in our pantheon of heroes. The Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia helped lead to the fall of the Soviet Union.
24. Chris Anderson: for bleeding-edge thinking on how the Internet’s marketplace of ideas should work.
He’s the editor of Wired magazine. Don’t know him. For some reason they started sending me their magazine gratis. By the way, what does “bleeding-edge thinking” mean? Is it more leading edge than “leading edge”?
25. Joseph Stiglitz: for relentlessly questioning creating economic dogma.
He’s one of the economists I least respect. Yes, Paul Krugman is on the list too, No. 29. At least Krugman comes after No. 28, Elinor Ostrom, the fine U.S. economist who just won the Nobel Prize. Stiglitz is just another Keynesian technocrat type.