The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers

by on November 28, 2011 at 7:46 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

The new list has been published and I am pleased and honored to have made it.  The non-economists include such figures as Obama, Merkel, Sarkozy, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.  The economists — plenty of them — include Krugman, Stiglitz, Reinhart and Rogoff, Roubini, Lant Pritchett, and Duflo and Banerjee.  To engage in some superficial self-reflection, the striking thing about the list is that everyone on it is either a) more successful than I am, or b) has been to jail or is headed there.  Somehow I expect to continue to evade both categories.  Both Rogoff and I recommended the Frank Brady biography of Bobby Fischer.  My entering PhD. class put three people on the list, Roubini and Banerjee being the other two.

1 Ed Steussy November 28, 2011 at 7:48 am


2 e November 28, 2011 at 7:55 am

I love this line about top thinker #93: “Lant Pritchett is known for pairing careful empiricism with willful provocation”,50#thinker93

3 Jessika November 28, 2011 at 8:24 am

Large amount of information, but read without stopping.

4 Michael G Heller November 28, 2011 at 8:26 am

Have always liked your thoughts. Congratulations!

5 Torquil Macneil November 28, 2011 at 8:33 am

“Somehow I expect to continue to evade both categories. ”

Well you don’t have much chance of qualifying for category a), that’s for sure.

6 matt December 2, 2011 at 9:17 am

+10 points!

7 Bill November 28, 2011 at 8:36 am

Congratulations and Merry Christmas.

8 Leo November 28, 2011 at 8:51 am

Well deserved!

9 jk November 28, 2011 at 9:03 am

Well deserved Tyler!

10 josh November 28, 2011 at 9:10 am

Well deserved? Are you people nuts? Tyler is one of the 100 greatest “thinkers” in the world? If true, this would be terrifying.

Thank goodness that all this list demonstrates is the decline in the intellectual quality of the ruling elite. It’s almost enought to give one hope that the end of all of this CFR, globalist, evil, nonsense is near. So, way to go Tyler, I guess.

11 The Culture That Is Comments November 28, 2011 at 10:36 am

Thanks for this devastating takedown of people who were stupid enough to compliment someone for receiving recognition. No one deserved ridicule more than they. Also, thanks for your brilliant, stunning observations that a “top 100” list might be flawed and that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

p.s. I was being sarcastic, in case you were wondering.

12 josh November 28, 2011 at 10:41 am

The world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket?

13 Rahul November 28, 2011 at 10:57 am

Why don’t you post a list? Let’s see what you can come up with.

14 The Culture That Is Comments November 28, 2011 at 11:12 am

I think #1 will be pretty easy to come up with. It gets harder after that.

15 IVV November 28, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Not a handbasket. It’s more of a fanny pack.

16 Jesse "The Butthole" Ventura November 28, 2011 at 1:32 pm

+1 @ josh

17 anon November 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm

+1 @ The Culture That Is Comments

18 Hosj November 28, 2011 at 8:46 pm

All this comment demonstrates is the decline in the quality of MR comments. The end must be near. Way to go Josh, I guess.

19 Ted Craig November 28, 2011 at 9:31 am

The economists picks are good, but the political picks seem like pandering. Or else they show the limits of “thinking.” Even Zuckerberg is a stretch. Some times I feel people make this mistake with successful entrepreneurs, they confuse having a brilliant idea with being a genius.

20 Popeye November 28, 2011 at 9:40 am

You think Facebook was a brilliant idea? I think people often confuse making billions of dollars with having a brilliant idea.

21 prior_approval November 28, 2011 at 10:17 am

I think Zuckerberg and Facebook is a perfect accompaniment to any list of top 100 ‘global thinkers’ as a metaphor for the age we live in –
‘Mark Zuckerberg wrote Facemash, the predecessor to Facebook, on October 28, 2003, while attending Harvard as a sophomore. According to The Harvard Crimson, the site was comparable to Hot or Not, and “used photos compiled from the online facebooks of nine houses, placing two next to each other at a time and asking users to choose the ‘hotter’ person”.

To accomplish this, Zuckerberg hacked into the protected areas of Harvard’s computer network and copied the houses’ private dormitory ID images. Harvard at that time did not have a student “facebook” (a directory with photos and basic information). Facemash attracted 450 visitors and 22,000 photo-views in its first four hours online.’

Notice all the elements that make this so much part of the last decade – stealing ideas and data, shamelessly converting such ‘inspiration’ and theft into an ongoing business that provides a constant stream of revenue based on a morass of dubious data collection which the user (and depending on what one thinks about the concept of ‘shadow user,’ the non-user) has no control over.

22 dan1111 November 28, 2011 at 10:27 am

It did require thinking, though.

23 prior_approval November 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

Being someone who steals images at the beginning of their career of collecting personal data for private profit isn’t a comment on thinking skills – it is a comment on what those thoughts entail. Especially when one remembers that Facebook wasn’t even marginally original – Friendster predates it by a couple of years.

To put it a bit differently – Jobs and Wozniak had some interesting ideas, Gates stole some interesting ideas while implementing well tested principles in crushing competitors ruthlessly, but Dell simply made a bunch of money selling PCs. Dell does not deserve to be on a list of great thinkers.

24 dan1111 November 28, 2011 at 11:20 am

I agree. I was just being snarky.

25 D November 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I don’t know about being on the list, but Dell certainly did more than just sell PCs. He changed the way PCs are bought and sold and brought a ton of efficiency to the process. There were hundreds of PC competitors already in the market when he was still in his dorm room.

26 prior_approval November 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Dell had several excellent ideas, which were very profitable – not a single one of them original. Remember Apple? Remember how you did not have to install Apple’s software at the time Dell was founded? Remember buying an American car at any time over the last several generations – where you determined what ‘custom’ elements you wanted before it was delivered, ‘custom’ assembled? Remember Compaq, which was assembing IBM PC clones from stock components?

Dell, much like Zuckerberg, caught the wave perfectly, and rode it far beyond where the competition was able to. Whether a question of luck or skill is not very important – and the thinking involved was not especially unique.

27 Rahul November 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Dell did to computers what Walmart did to retailing.

28 prior_approval November 29, 2011 at 2:21 am

‘Dell did to computers what Walmart did to retailing’
Nope – Dell was simply the most successful of a number of companies operating in the essentially nascent consumer space. Of course, that market has changed, as has Dell – which hasn’t been competing as well as it used to against companies like HP (still 20% larger in sales than Dell), Acer (which used to be a supplier to companies like Dell), or Lenovo (growing into roughly the same global market space, with roughly half of Dell’s sales in 2010). Actually, Acer and Lenovo together sell more PCs than Dell. Throw in Apple, and the market is 20% Dell, and 10% each for the next three – where all three have grown by roughly the same amount as Dell lost in share between 2009 and 2010.

The real winners are companies like Foxconn – they do much of the actual work, after all, and don’t care what label they slap on the assembled item.

29 Laserlight November 28, 2011 at 10:27 am

Any idea which leads to me making billions is a brilliant idea.

30 CBBB November 28, 2011 at 10:32 am

One good business Idea shouldn’t be the criteria to be some kind of great global thinker.

31 bunker brown November 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm

One good business idea well executed does make one a great global thinker.

32 D November 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm

The original Facebook was a copycat, but the activity stream was a new idea and hugely controversial when it launched. It took a lot of balls to stick with it and not roll back to the old style. Now all social apps have implemented some variety of it.

Further, Facebook Connect succeeded in doing something Microsoft, AOL, Google and others desperately wanted to do but failed.

That said, I don’t think Zuckerberg deserves to be on this list.

33 Ester November 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Balls, or hubris?

34 D November 29, 2011 at 10:27 am

Balls. Hubris usually ends in failure.

35 bunker brown November 28, 2011 at 2:25 pm

What could possibly be more brilliant than making billions of dollars?

36 CBBB November 28, 2011 at 10:09 am

Zuckerberg is a HUGE stretch, okay the guy came up with an idea that turned out to make a lot of money. The problem is is that, especially when it comes to tech entrepreneurs, I feel the media gives way too much deference to successful business people who may know what they’re talking about in one area (running their specific business) but have crackpot ideas in other areas.
How is Zuckerberg a big thinker? I’ve seen interviews of that guy he just spouts a lot of fluffy social media bullshit.
Politicians and Business people shouldn’t be on these lists except for rare cases.

37 TallDave November 28, 2011 at 9:43 am


38 Austin November 28, 2011 at 9:55 am


Fun article to read. I must say it would have been a bit more interesting to read about the real “thinkers” behind the politicians. Like, are Obama, Cameron, Merkel, et al. truly the thinkers in power? Or are they feeding off of ideas and strategies from influential thinkers around them, directly or indirectly? Perhaps that would have blurred lines too much for a simple “Top 100 List” though.

39 Tom November 28, 2011 at 10:10 am

Merkel I’d give some consideration o. The other two do not make the top 100 million.

40 Austin November 28, 2011 at 11:57 am

Fair enough. Admittedly I do follow European politics as much as I should, especially Continental. What would you say for Sarkozy?

41 Jesse "The Butthole" Ventura November 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I’d say he’s a Mossad plant.

42 CBBB November 28, 2011 at 10:05 am

Not so much a crack a Tyler Cowen (although what is he on there for? That ZMP worker silliness?) but these lists are jokes. I mean from what I can see Barack Obama hasn’t had an original thought enter his head for at least the past 10 years. No politician should be on a list like this, they aren’t “thinkers” they just sort of react and blow in the wind.

43 Jeff November 28, 2011 at 10:17 am

Paul Ryan, Global Thinker

44 Ted Craig November 28, 2011 at 10:18 am

I believe Tyler is there for TGS.

45 CBBB November 28, 2011 at 10:31 am

The Only Great Stagnation I see is in the quality of thinkers

46 Rahul November 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Who’d be on your list that’s not on this list?

47 CBBB November 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I didn’t read the list. I don’t like these lists of the “greatest” anything – I don’t buy them. More then likely I’d say there’s probably WAY fewer then 100 people in the world right now who deserve to be on a list of greatest thinkers.

48 Rahul November 28, 2011 at 1:13 pm


You must have a dim view of mankind indeed. 6 billion souls and you deny that not even 100 deserve recognition?

49 CBBB November 28, 2011 at 10:22 am

Hey here’s a good article that I DOUBT Tyler Cowen would ever put up here

I guess it doesn’t involve MFAs in Puppetry so it doesn’t follow the big narrative of this blog.

50 The Culture That Is Comments November 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

Ooh, secret information that Tyler doesn’t want us to know! We’d better not click on it; he might get mad.

51 careless November 28, 2011 at 10:31 pm

You realize that article doesn’t support anything you’ve written here, right?

52 CBBB November 29, 2011 at 12:34 am

On the contrary, I’ve been arguing against this idea perpetuated by Tyler that the high unemployment rate is the product of people no having the skills to fill the jobs available. This article is a case in point of why that’s not really true.

53 Brian Timoney November 28, 2011 at 10:26 am


You’re only 50 spots behind BHL.

Time to start unbuttoning some shirt buttons.

(Run it by Yana beforehand…)


54 EM DC Economist November 28, 2011 at 10:40 am

Congratulations. We need economists like you as much (if note more) than the types who specialize in one specific area. The big picture is important, as is drawing connections between different phenomena.

55 DK November 28, 2011 at 10:53 am

Tyler: “Monetary accommodation, but a credible plan for long-term fiscal balance.”

WTF is that supposed to mean?

56 Professor von Nipples November 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm

It’s supposed to mean nothing, it’s Tyler talking out of both sides of his ass (again). Apparently, being considered a “top 100 global thinker” means: being a reliable stooge.

57 DK November 28, 2011 at 8:56 pm

“It’s supposed to mean nothing” – that’s precisely how I see it. I kinda hoped that someone who seriously aspires to be a “thinker” would have enough self-respect not to try slipping in these meaningless evasions.

58 ChrisA November 28, 2011 at 11:48 pm

It means Market Monetarism, as being practiced by Cameron and Bank of England in UK and as proposed by Scott Sumner. I would support if we had Philosopher Kings in charge, but since we don’t I worry we will only get part A (accommodation) and no part B.

59 David November 28, 2011 at 11:22 am

Only 1 person from a religious background–Desmond Tutu–and for being more of a political figure than a religious one.

FP’s writers are most likely secular, so religion may be foreign to them and they simply ignored important thinkers from areas outside of their experience.

More frightening is that if this list at all reflect the reality of global decision makers, the world is being shaped by people with little experience or interest in such an important part of life for billions of people.

60 Jim November 28, 2011 at 11:44 am

Still waiting for evidence that Obama is a thinker.


61 Jim November 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Never mind, the article makes it all clear. He bombed the hell of Libya, told the head of Egypt to go hang, and when the military said they knew where Osama was and asked if they should go kill him, he said yes.

In the old days, these kinds of things were seen as problematic. Now they are “gutsy.” Good times!

PS Congrats on the publicity, Tyler.

62 Tom November 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm

“and when the military said they knew where Osama was and asked if they should go kill him, he said yes.”

He was out golfing, and seemingly did not even know until after the operation was under way. I would be interested in who gave the go ahead, though.

63 bunker brown November 28, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Please provide citations to back up your statement.

64 Deman November 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Don’t feed the troll.

65 D November 29, 2011 at 10:29 am

A best-selling book that is very well written.

66 ad*m November 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Tyler, congratulations, well deserved!

You are really part of the 1% now, as we most o f us aspire to be. For me you deserve it, already for making this blog happen and sticking with it. It cannot be a pleasant experience all the time for you, given the sometimes somewhat personal nature of the snark – and that includes mine -.
But I have to say, TGS is more like a rephrase of demographic change than anything else.

67 Rich November 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm

“more successful than I am”… this implies that (1) you have some (subjective) set of criteria C such that “success” is defined as the weighted percent of criteria in C that you meet; (2) you believe others on the list–excluding those who have been in prison or will be someday–have achieved a higher weighted percent; and (3) you believe you will never surpass even the second-lowest percent (with yours being the lowest).

I think many MR readers would be interested to know the contents of C.

68 Rama November 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Congratulations! A few more modest people in the list and things would be even better.

69 David Wright November 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Congratulations on a well-deserved recognition!

70 Adam November 28, 2011 at 5:25 pm

“[…] everyone on it is either a) more successful than I am, or b) has been to jail or is headed there […]”

Since you are not in the jail neither going to there in the near future AFAIK, I bet you are in the threshold of the “Global Thinker success”. If you can make a numeric model from it, you can get a constant with your name!

I am just kidding, of course 🙂 Really, congratulations for being mentioned on such a remarkable list!

71 Yancey Ward November 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Obama also made the list of 100 greatest players in NBA history.

72 anon November 28, 2011 at 8:47 pm

as @bunker brown said: “Please provide citations to back up your statement.”


73 Will November 28, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Really disappointing to see Paul Ryan and John McCain on there. Great thinkers indeed.

Interesting how few of the people who talked to them are supportive of austerity.

74 Pat MacAuley November 28, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Congratulations. You make be proud to be a GMU alum.

However, I was a disappointed that the list didn’t include the scientists who are making amazing advances in medicine, robotics, astrophysics, alternate energy, biology, chemistry, etc. These are the people who are truly advacing human progress and the opportunities for long-term economic growth. My own list might have had 25 to 50 scientists on it.

75 Yancey Ward November 29, 2011 at 11:18 am

Yeah, but then the pickers wouldn’t have been able to fellate the economists and politicians.

76 TGGP November 29, 2011 at 2:18 am

Tyler’s a great linker on many things, but I don’t think of him as being that much of an ideas man. Even TGS is reportedly from Thiel & Mandel. Sumner, who I consider more important at this particular point in time*, isn’t a complete original either but has spent years elaborating NGDP targeting and come up with the most detailed proposals for it. ZMP is the sort of idea for Arnold Kling to latch onto instead of bog-standard economics, in his love of wrong ideas with no evidence to support them.

*Generally speaking, I would put Robin Hanson ahead of both.

77 Andreas Moser November 29, 2011 at 6:53 am

Going to jail is not that hard:
Just go to a country ruled by a dictatorship (in my case: Iran) and join protests against the regime, speak up for democracy and rule of law and try to instigate people to raise against the tyranny.
Done it, and luckily only spent one week in prison:

78 mark November 29, 2011 at 10:28 am

Congratulations and well deserved.

79 Ramagopal November 30, 2011 at 1:14 am

Congrats, Tyler! Perhaps if there is a list of top polymath thinkers, you would probably ranked # 1.

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