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Throughout history, civilization has moved forward through innovation—fire, agriculture, the Internet. Yet as the world’s economies sputter, nations and businesses are tightening their financial belts, and the first investment to go is often Innovation. Dealing with today’s global threats from pandemic diseases to climate change requires Big Ideas. Innovators are commonly perceived as lone scientists or engineers laboring until their eureka moment.
In today’s world, however, real invention is a group effort, requiring resources, laws, and a creative culture as well as the eternal fundamental—individual genius and pure imagination. Innovation also has a dark side, leading to new methods of waging war, pollution, and consumption. To address this cover theme, World Policy Journal has assembled novelists, physicists, policy experts, and even a British general to address the prospects for a new, sustainable era of Innovation.
The Fall 2011 issue of World Policy Journal also explores Yemen’s descent into chaos and starvation; the tragic tale of the dancers of Pakistan’s Swat Valley at the nexus of terrorism and fundamentalism; why the United States should consider unfriending Pakistan; how to find partners (and success) in China; the illusion of a liberal Morocco; and the double-edged nature of democracy. World Policy Journal is also privileged to publish a Portfolio by the late Getty photographer Chris Hondros, killed earlier this year in Libya with friend and colleague Tim Hetherington.
What is the most significant invention of the past decade, and what do you anticipate for the future? A panel of global experts weighs in on past and future tech revolutions. Featuring Shaifali Puri, Iqbal Quadir, Giuseppe Battaglia, and other leading thinkers.
Sometimes one innovation can transform the lives of millions in unforeseen ways. In Kenya, the introduction of mobile phone banking in 2007 gave rural villagers improved access to water. Women now have more control over their own funds. City-dwellers can more easily send money home, and Kenyans report feeling safer on the streets now that they’re no longer returning home with cash earnings.
It’s been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy challenged the United States to send a man to the moon. Now, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the Hugo Award-winning science fiction author Neal Stephenson laments that the world has lost that ability to get “Big Stuff Done.” Any strategy that involves short-term losses would be stopped in today’s system, he argues. We now celebrate immediate gains and tolerate long-term stagnation. A truly innovative approach, he says, needs to accept failure.
The world’s leaders met in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire to create a new global economic system almost 70 years ago. Out of the meeting came the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the precursor to the World Trade Organization—institutions that managed the world economy for five decades. But with today’s system—a global knowledge and innovation economy—the old economic frameworks are past their expiration date, says Stephen Ezell. Countries need to realize that genuine innovation, not manipulation of currency, drives economic growth. The only way this can happen, he argues, is a new international agreement, a Bretton Woods for innovation.
World Policy Journal set out to find the next creative hotspots and figure out exactly what separates these innovation incubators from everywhere else. Each such locale has its own unique take on innovative processes. Philosopher Pekka Himanen explains how Finland creates a virtuous circle where successful innovation leads to investments in education, in turn producing an educated workforce of future innovators. In Singapore, Alex Au describes how the government—through investment and an open-door immigration policy—guides dramatic innovation in the city-state, yet fails to produce a grassroots, entrepreneurial culture. Paula Margulies explains why Israel has more startups per capita than anywhere else on Earth.
What if innovation is inherently unsustainable? With this question, Greg Lindsay explores the dark side of innovation. Many people assume unsustainable consumption happens because of the large polluters. The real problems, he argues, come in small packages. It’s the not the super-sized SUVs that the world needs to worry about; it’s the likes of the Tata Nano, an affordable car for millions of Indians. Assuming another innovation will come along to cure the problems of its predecessor only kicks the can of responsibility forever forward.
With global population inching ever closer toward 10 billion, the world needs new sources of sustainable energy—lots of it. With the threat of climate change, the planet and its inhabitants cannot afford to keep burning fossil fuels, nor is fission a safe or permanent solution. Princeton physicist Rob Goldston guides us through the holy grail of energy: the fusion reactor, a source of power that’s safe, inexhaustible, available to all countries—and on the cusp of realization.
British Major General Jonathan Shaw, CBE, has been stationed in Kosovo and Iraq, quite literally, on the frontlines of the changing nature of warfare. From the offices of the British Defence Staff, he spoke with World Policy Journal on the future of war and the danger of cyber attacks, arguing that the normal distinctions between war and peace, civilian and military are blurring.
Having covered almost every major conflict in the last two decades, Chris Hondros, killed earlier this year by hostile fire in Libya, earned not just accolades but the love and respect of his peers. In a career-long project that occupied his attention from Iraq to Afghanistan, Hondros photographed the world from the windows of Humvees, looking out at villagers looking in at us. In a moving introduction to Hondros’s work, author Greg Campbell explains what made his childhood friend both a great photographer and a warm and sensitive human being.
Across the Red Sea from Somalia, another nation is on the brink of a chaos and starvation that may prove to be more lethal and intractable than the Somali famine that has captured the world’s attention. Jennifer Steil, who ran the Yemen Observer for years, reports on Yemen’s looming humanitarian disaster, one largely ignored by the West.
The dancers, musicians, and singers of Pakistan’s Swat Valley were once the most famous in the region, cosmopolitan performers who married royalty, entertained thousands, and performed at lavish events. Now, even as the Swat recovers from Taliban assaults, the once raucous streets of the valley are silent. The dancers of the Swat live in fear of Islamic extremists who retain widespread power and influence. Shaheen Buneri documents these defenseless victims, many of whom have lost their livelihoods and, all too often, their lives.
A former ambassador to the Afghan resistance, Peter Tomsen argues from firsthand experience how the United States blundered in Afghanistan by placing its trust in Pakistan. He argues that the United States needs to shed the illusion of friendship and take a tougher approach to its longtime, increasingly unreliable ally.
For over three decades, the CEO of Ethan Allen, Farooq Kathwari, has been doing business in China, working with Chinese businessmen he developed as partners and not merely as customers. Now he shows how China, with a burgeoning middle class, is no longer simply a nation of low-cost fabricators. Chinese consumers will pay a premium to buy a fashionable brand, and a “Made in America” label can provide just the right cachet.
With the Arab Spring sweeping across the Maghreb, French editor Martine Gozlan takes a look at Morocco where demonstrators rail against the excesses of the elite in this impoverished state. But the beloved King Muhammad VI, she argues, has gamed the system with a new constitutional referendum that cost him little authority but undercut the democracy movement.
In Thailand, Egypt, and elsewhere, the drive toward democracy has not always led to stability. Instead, World Policy Journal editor David A. Andelman argues in his column, imposing a Western form of government more often causes unrest, chaos, and violence. While people may choose a government that suits them, such institutions need to take account history, culture, and social structures if they are to become sustainable and workable. Democracy alone will not solve a nation’s problems or those of the world at large.