Commentary

Piketty vs. Piketty

BERKELEY – In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the French economist Thomas Piketty highlights the striking contrasts in North America and Europe between the Gilded Age that preceded World War I and the decades following World War II. In the first period, economic growth was sluggish, wealth was predominantly inherited, the rich dominated politics, and economic (as well as race and gender) inequality was extreme.

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The Polio Heroes

SEATTLE – The world’s progress in fighting polio might be one of the best-kept secrets in global health. Indeed, my heroes for 2015 are the men and women on the front line in the fight against the disease.

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Executing Foreign Policy

NEW YORK – The filmmaker Woody Allen is often quoted as saying that “Showing up is 80% of life.” One can quibble with the percentage, but Allen’s insight is important: You have to get in the game – be a player – to have any chance of obtaining your objectives.

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Feeding a Flawed Society

STANFORD/BERKELEY – Virtually everyone in the scientific community agrees that ensuring sufficient food supplies for a surging human population, which is set to grow by 2.4 billion by mid-century, will require serious work. Indeed, we have not even succeeded at providing enough food for today’s population of 7.3 billion: Nearly 800 million people currently are starving or hungry, and another couple billion do not get enough micronutrients. But there is no such consensus about how to address the food-security problem.

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The Kingdom Beyond Oil

RIYADH – Over the past few weeks, the government of Saudi Arabia has been engaged in an unprecedented strategic policy review that could have ramifications for every aspect of the country’s social and economic life. The full details are expected to be announced in January, but it is already clear that the kingdom – the world’s nineteenth-largest economy – is in desperate need of far-reaching reform.

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The Grassroots of Climate Change

PARIS – The climate-change agreement reached here on December 12 was a rich victory for diplomacy. Both the agreement itself and the atmosphere of cooperation that permeated the proceedings represent a sea change from the failed Copenhagen summit in 2009. But while we should congratulate world leaders on their success, Paris marks the beginning, not the end, of the road. It is now our collective duty to hold our leaders to account and ensure that they turn promises into action – especially in the world’s most vulnerable regions, such as Africa.

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A New Century for the Middle East

NEW YORK – The United States, the European Union, and Western-led institutions such as the World Bank repeatedly ask why the Middle East can’t govern itself. The question is asked honestly but without much self-awareness. After all, the single most important impediment to good governance in the region has been its lack of self-governance: The region’s political institutions have been crippled as a result of repeated US and European intervention dating back to World War I, and in some places even earlier.

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Megafunding Drug Research

SEATTLE – As price-gouging practices by a handful of drug companies attract headlines, one troubling aspect of the story remains underplayed. Exorbitant increases in the prices of existing drugs, including generics, are motivated not just by crass profiteering but by a deep skepticism about the economic feasibility of developing new drugs. That skepticism is justified.

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Oil Prices and Global Growth

CAMBRIDGE – One of the biggest economic surprises of 2015 is that the stunning drop in global oil prices did not deliver a bigger boost to global growth. Despite the collapse in prices, from over $115 per barrel in June 2014 to $45 at the end of November 2015, most macroeconomic models suggest that the impact on global growth has been less than expected – perhaps 0.5% of global GDP.

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Europe’s Three Fault Lines

PARIS – Ten or 20 years ago, the existential question facing the European Union was whether it still had a purpose in a globalized world. The question today is whether the EU can respond effectively to major external shocks.

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