PARIS – In Europe, 2015 began with the far-left Syriza party’s election victory in Greece. It ended with another three elections that attested to increasing political polarization. In Portugal, the Socialist Party formed an alliance with its former archenemy, the Communists. In Poland, the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party won enough support to govern on its own. And in Spain, the emergence of Podemos, another new left-wing party, has ended the traditional hegemony of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party on the center left and the Partido Popular on the center right. (In France, moreover, the far-right National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, showed its strength in the first round of December’s regional elections, though it eventually failed to win any).
GENEVA – Of the myriad challenges the world faces today, perhaps the most overwhelming is how to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution that began at the turn of the century. New technologies and approaches are merging the physical, digital, and biological worlds in ways that will fundamentally transform humankind. The extent to which that transformation is positive will depend on how we navigate the risks and opportunities that arise along the way.
PRINCETON – The breach in diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a dangerous watershed in an already unstable, war-torn region. The trigger was the execution by Saudi Arabia of Nimr al-Nimr, a firebrand Shia sheikh who had called for the end of the country’s monarchy. But the rupture has its roots in a strategic rivalry that stretches across the Middle East.
NAIROBI – To the chagrin of most Africans, the world has long viewed their continent through the prism of the three “Cs” – conflict, contagion, and corruption.
NEW YORK – Before November’s terrorist attacks in Paris, it was legal to stage a demonstration in a public square in that city. Now it isn’t. In Uganda, although citizens campaigning against corruption or in favor of gay rights often faced a hostile public, they didn’t face jail time for demonstrating. But under a frighteningly vague new statute, now they do. In Egypt, government authorities recently raided and shut down prominent cultural institutions – an art gallery, a theater, and a publishing house – where artists and activists once gathered.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.