Special Report

The Wisdom of the Smart Crowd

We've polled the FP 100 to offer you cutting-edge thinking on everything from what's ahead in 2010 to what they're reading now. Here, the breakdown of who's who on our list. $(document).ready(function() { $("#thinkers-nav").insertBefore("#tool-bar"); $("#thinkers-nav").show(); });


Want to know what former President Bill Clinton, Gen. David Petraeus, three Nobel Prize-winners, best-selling authors such as Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria, and thought leaders from China and Canada to India and Indonesia think about the world’s most pressing problems? So did we, which is why Foreign Policy surveyed 2009’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, asking them to rate everything from U.S. President Barack Obama’s first year in office to which country is the world’s most dangerous. Nearly two-thirds participated, offering us unique insight into the collective wisdom of this very special crowd.

Here’s what they told us:

  • Barack Obama had a solid first year in office, with the world’s big thinkers rating him on average a 7 out of 10 for his performance. But when asked what, exactly, had been his intellectual contribution to foreign policy, our thinkers were hard-pressed to name a specific idea, instead collectively applauding qualities like his “openness” and “multipolar worldview” (and even, explicitly, the fact that he isn’t George W. Bush).

  • A majority (59 percent) think the worst of the global recession is over, that the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan is the world’s most dangerous (79 percent), that China is the inevitable next global power (71 percent), and prefer the BlackBerry (54 percent) over the much ballyhooed iPhone.

  • The most influential world leaders outside the United States are Chinese President Hu Jintao (by a large margin), Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. But our thinkers reached absolutely no consensus at all about the thinkers who should be shaping the world. Asked what one person we should listen to in order to make the world a better place, our thinkers produced no fewer than 34 nominees, including everyone from the Dalai Lama to James Hansen, Samuel Huntington, Angela Merkel, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

  • Although daily headlines this year often focused on the bloody mayhem in Afghanistan and Iraq, our global thinkers identified news from Africa — the good (successful grassroots development), the bad (widespread crop failures), and the tragic (unrest in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) — as among the most underreported stories of 2009. Perhaps counterintuitively, our thinkers also ranked economic news as partially overlooked even in this year of global economic crisis.

  • Finally, looking ahead to 2010, the survey found many big thinkers convinced that a major crisis with Iran (29 percent) will be next year’s major “global game-changer.” Other predictions for 2010 include: a possible collapse of the Pakistani state, a dollar crisis or Asian asset bubble-burst, civil unrest in China, biological terrorism, and a global pandemic.

Selected answers:

“Pakistan getting entirely out of control. They already HAVE a nuclear weapon.”

“The ouster of Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela by members of their own security apparatus. Revolutions have a way of consuming their own heroes.”

“Iran is the unknown unknown. Still a black box. We don’t know what’s inside that black box. It’s the place where what happens in 2010 will most impact what happens elsewhere in 2010.”

“Terror networks are not at all likely to obtain nuclear weapons in 2010, but there is a real possibility that al Qaeda and some affiliates will figure out how to use human vectors of disease as ‘suicide biological bombers.'”

Selected answers:

“The degree of erosion to the position of the U.S. at the center of the global economic system.”

“The depression scare of 2008 morphed into a sudden new confidence — into an attitude that it was just a recession after all. We went from thinking we had terminal cancer into thinking that it is just an ordinary cold, a remarkable transformation whose cultural roots should have been dissected.”

“Pakistan is already at war, with the United States already deeply involved. [The United States has] carried [out] more robotic drone strikes in the last year than [it] did strikes using manned bombers in the opening round of the Kosovo war — into a nuclear power that is teetering toward collapse.”

“The erosion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan, laying the basis for a possible war next year.”

Getty Images

Getty Images; Alex Wong/Getty Images

The world would be a better place if we listened to what one person’s ideas?

Nominees (in alphabetical order): Karen Armstrong, Ban Ki-Moon, Isaiah Berlin, Tony Blair, Stuart Brand, Bill Clinton, Dalai Lama, Mohandas Gandhi, Dan Gilbert, Al Gore, James Hansen, Friedrich Von Hayek, Samuel Huntington, Jesus, Paul Kagame, Fred Kagan, Daniel Kahneman, Martin Luther King Jr., Nicholas Kristof, Angela Merkel, Thomas S. Monson, Isaac Newton, Barack Obama, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kevin Rudd, Amartya Sen, Abdol Karim Soroush, Irwin Stelzer, Joseph Stiglitz, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Alexis de Tocqueville, Desmond Tutu, Washington Post editorials, Muhammad Yunus

Selected answers:

“I’d say it will be better if we listen to many people’s ideas and try to evaluate their worth”

“Is this a trick question?”



“Jesus Christ (but ignore his followers).”

“Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, with their book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Fortunately, Obama has Cass Sunstein on his staff.”


Selected answers:

“A slogan in search of a strategy.”

“Skillful and humane, but not yet worth a Nobel Prize.”

“Nonexistent — which is a big improvement over George W. Bush.”

“He’s a popularizer, but a discerning and effective one.”

Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Survey participants (63):

Chris Anderson, Karen Armstrong, John Arquilla, Jacques Attali, George Ayittey, Nick Bostrom, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Willem Buiter, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jamais Cascio, Nicholas Christakis, Bill Clinton, Paul Collier, Jared Diamond, Esther Duflo, Esther Dyson, William Easterly, Mohamed El-Erian, Paul Farmer, Salam Fayyad, Niall Ferguson, Thomas Friedman, Francis Fukuyama, Helene Gayle, Ashraf Ghani, David Grossman, Richard Haass, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Hu Shuli, Valerie Hudson, Anwar Ibrahim, Michael Ignatieff, Robert Kagan, David Kilcullen, Henry Kissinger, Enrique Krauze, Ray Kurzweil, Clare Lockhart, Amory Lovins, C. Raja Mohan, Andrew Mwenda, Jacqueline Novogratz, Emily Oster, Rajendra Pachauri, Minxin Pei, David Petraeus, Tariq Ramadan, Ahmed Rashid, Hans Rosling, Amartya Sen, Robert Shiller, Peter W. Singer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Abdolkarim Soroush, Joseph Stiglitz, Rizal Sukma, Richard Thaler, Mario Vargas Llosa, Robert Wright, Xu Zhiyong, Fareed Zakaria, Zhou Xiachuan, Robert Zoellick

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