This explains so much. Foreign Policy magazine, that impressive and deep-looking tome that stands out on magazine stands because it looks, well, really serious, has published a list of the most important “Global Thinkers” in the world today. Since I’m not a regular reader, I don’t know if this is an annual list, like the Buffalo Beast’s list of the year’s most loathsome people—which is the only real inheritor of the good old Esquire Dubious Achievement awards when they meant something, or of the glorious Spy 100 lists. Or this could be a complete one-off, never to be seen again. Depending on whether the list was undertaken for satirical value or not, we may wish it never graces our screen again.
Why? Let’s start out with Paul Ryan as being number eight on the list of—wait, what’s it called?—Global Thinkers. If I read this correctly, this means that the editors of Foreign Policy think that Paul Ryan is (a) a really deep and important thinker, or (b) has ideas that are really big and important, even though they may not be very good ideas—in fact, they could be complete shit, but that doesn’t matter. Being in the camp that, like Paul Krugman, thinks that Ryan is a complete fraud—a con man, in Krugman’s curt terminology, and it fits—my inclination of to gravitate to door number two. But we run into our first problem when it turns out the list of “The 100 Global Thinkers” actually has, let’s see—sorry, have to count them up—127 people. So Foreign Policy magazine, kind of like Paul Ryan, can’t count.
Wow. Who else is on this list of “Global Thinkers?” Well, for starters, a number of people I’ve never heard of, which means nothing, of course. I probably should have, in most cases, so I would normally rely on something like Foreign Policy to tell me why some is a “Global Thinker.” But this is a list that puts both Clintons ahead of Barack Obama, which may or may not be correct, but has them, at numbers three (the Clintons, who seem to some as a set) and seven, respectively. It has Paul Krugman as number 34, which means, what? That Ryan is 27 places more important in thinkingness than Krugman is? Whatever Krugman’s faults, he knows how to count, and is generally right. Neither is true in Ryans’s case. So I have to assume that this list is satire.
Why else might I assume that? Well, it’s got crazy physicist Richard Muller of Berkeley, who made a splash when he admitted global warming existed earlier this year, ahead of James Hansen, who has been banging on about it for years. So apparently FP thinks that overcoming your own inner resistance to common sense and coming late to the game to what 99% of the rest of the scientific world already suspects is true is a criterion to being a ”Global Thinker,” apparently. There are those deeply hard line Israeli leaders—Barak and Netanyahu—right there at number 13, ahead of Israeli military peaceniks Dagan and Diskin, who think war is a bad idea. Well, war is foreign policy yadda yadda yadda. Wow, Dick and Liz Cheney at number 38, and Condi Rice at 39. Well, if we’re still celebrating deeply bad thinking, this works. Charles Murray comes in at 43. Ah, Bjorn Lomborg is there too, at 58, well ahead of Daron Acemogly and James Robinson, who in my opinion should be in the top five (for Why Nations Fail). At least they made it, but this is starting to look like a list that no one with any sense would want to be on. Hey, look, Rand Paul is there at 71. He’s certainly someone with ideas. I rest my case.
I have no doubt that many of these people have good ideas, which should be widely shared. Nor do I think this is a particularly easy task, knowing which ideas are good ones worthy of consideration—this often takes time, which lists like this one are the enemy of. I also have no doubt that this is a list compiled by someone who was seeking “balance.” Steven D over at Kos has a much more sensible critique of this list and what it stands for. If what it stands for is consensus thinking in Washington and the foreign policy establishment, we’re in even deeper trouble than I thought.