The Buzz

Economic Pipe Dreams

“Take a vacation!” “Buy more yachts!” “Hire everyone!”

No, these responses aren’t the fodder of impulsive, giggling adolescents when asked how to solve the myriad issues of our global economy. They are reactions from thirteen esteemed thinkers and intellectuals in Foreign Policy’s January/February 2012 special feature “13 Out-of-the-Tinderbox Ways to Save the Economy.”

The allusion to quick, “out-of-the-box” solutions shouldn’t have permitted suggestions so theoretical and unrealistic that they can never be applied. Tinderboxes fell out of use when matches were invented because they were unwieldy and impractical. This feature’s ideas are equally useless when one gets down to the real work necessary to “firestart” the global economic system. They range from tangential (Daniel Dennett’s three-month-long vacation for everyone), to unrealistic (James Galbraith’s nearly doubling minimum wage), to the unthinkable (Paul Kedrosky’s mass default).

All of these minds are accomplished. The central problem of this symposium lies in what must have been an overly-simplistic prompt: The global economy is a fragile, complex system. Please craft an unusual, decidedly unwonky solution in 1,500 words or less.

When the responses aren’t absurdly large in scope or esoteric, they almost admit their own infeasibility. For example, after arguing for governments in Europe and the United States to guarantee employment for young people as a three-to-five-year-long emergency measure, Diane Coyle admits, “Of course, it would be better for the private sector to create enough jobs instead, and in the end it will have to: Structural government deficits clearly need to be eliminated.”

This special feature from Foreign Policy was framed in such a way that creating a realistic idea to improve the global economy was not only discouraged but perhaps not entirely possible. It is thus flawed, a weightless, overly romantic attempt at economic analysis, special only in that it is not an entirely boring read.