FP Editor Discusses Global Thinkers List
AUDIE CORNISH, host:
We've been exploring the big foreign policy issues for the U.S. at decade's end. Well, today, we're going to hear about some people whose ideas could shape the global future.
Foreign Policy magazine has an annual list of top 100 global thinkers. Blake Hounshell is the managing editor, and we reached him in Doha, Qatar.
Mr. BLAKE HOUNSHELL (Managing Editor, Foreign Policy magazine): Hi, how are you?
CORNISH: So, tell me, what do you look for in a list like this? Because, essentially, you're rewarding people for an intangible, you know, for having big ideas.
Mr. HOUNSHELL: That's exactly right, and I'd be lying if I said that we had some kind of magical scientific formula. It's really about reading what these people have done over the last year, sifting through a lot of news stories and talking to experts who are more connected with different parts of the world than we are, and trying to sort out, you know, what are really the top ideas that animated the year and who are the people behind them.
CORNISH: And I noticed in your introduction, you also talked about this idea of a list that reflects the non-Western world, specifically.
Mr. HOUNSHELL: Yeah, that's right. I mean, I think one of the themes that we saw over the last year was really this notion of the rise of the rest, other parts of the world coming to the fore as the United States has somewhat declined over the course of the financial crisis. And that's why we named, you know, new players who, you know, may not be household names in Topeka but are becoming really important people all over the world.
CORNISH: All right. So take us through some of the list. Give us two people who we might not be so familiar with who made the list this year.
Mr. HOUNSHELL: Well, one guy who's hugely important, he's sitting on $2.65 trillion in international currency reserves is the governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan.
Mr. HOUNSHELL: He's not very well-known by name, but certainly, you know, Bloomberg and Reuters and all these wire services hang on his every word, and every pronouncement that he makes is very closely watched in the markets, and he can really move markets up and down just by the intonation and the sound of his voice.
CORNISH: And this is the equivalent of our Ben Bernanke, I take it?
Mr. HOUNSHELL: Exactly. He's the Ben Bernanke of China.
CORNISH: Anyone else?
Mr. HOUNSHELL: One player who had a really huge impact on world politics this year was the foreign minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu. He came out and tried to solve the Iran nuclear crisis. And that didn't quite work out the way he had hoped, but when we interviewed him, he told us he was still optimistic that a solution can be found.
CORNISH: One of the things I found interesting in that entry, he's number seven on the list, is you describe him as having an ambitious zero-problems-with-neighbors policy, which for any country I think would be difficult but would be especially difficult for Turkey.
Mr. HOUNSHELL: Exactly. You know, he came into power hoping to solve all of the outstanding beefs that Turkey has had with countries like Armenia that's, you know, a history going back to 1915 and World War I and all the violence that happened there.
I don't think he solved all of his problems yet. He's not down to zero. But certainly the ambition is there.
CORNISH: Blake, you also had some very interesting women on your list, and one in particular I'm thinking of is Number 87, the first lady of Qatar.
Mr. HOUNSHELL: That's right. Her name is Sheikha Mozah, and she's the second of three wives of the emir, and she's really taken the lead in promoting education in this tiny Persian Gulf country.
It's sitting on a lot of oil and gas reserves, but they recognize that those resources are going to run out someday, and so they're trying to build social and intellectual capital in a region where it's not been known for that sort of thing.
CORNISH: Now, you didn't just have world leaders on the list. You have CEOs and bloggers. And I notice one theme is, or it appeared to be a theme, were people who were involved in the green movement and in environmentalism. And one person, Number 28, was Shai Agassi. Can you talk about him? I gather he is a prophet for electric cars.
Mr. HOUNSHELL: Shai Agassi is a really fascinating guy. Born in Israel, he lives in Palo Alto, California, now, and he runs a car company called Better Place. And what they're trying to do is build infrastructure in different parts of the world that will support electric cars.
One of the things that's really held back electric cars has been, you know, where do you go? You can't go to the gas station and plug in your car. So he's trying to innovate and find different ways to make the battery, which is really the key technology in an electric car, work much more efficiently.
CORNISH: Thanks so much, Blake.
Mr. HOUNSHELL: Thank you.
CORNISH: Blake Hounshell is the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. We've been ticking through a few of the lesser-known on the magazine's list of top 100 global thinkers for 2010.
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