BY Mark Leibovich in the New York Times:
I’ve been telling people I read The Economist since college. Sometimes I actually even do read it, but not as often as I say I do — and not as often as I quote stuff from “London’s influential Economist,” as they call it on NPR. (Which I also listen to, by the way — I am very well-informed!)
Like many people who sometimes travel in high-powered circles, I am a complete fraud. I have no idea how I got here. This is an especially familiar condition in Washington, where I live, and where the impostor syndrome is like our psychological common cold. So a lot of people lie about reading The Economist here. We probably have the highest number of lied-about subscribers. Because it’s important to come off smart and worldly and cognizant that Lagos will overtake Cairo to become Africa’s biggest city in 2013. Also, that 2013 will be the first year since 1987 that will have all digits different from one another. And it could be a really big year for neutrinos.
Reading The Economist also makes you feel smart. Recall the Simpsons episode when Homer is handed a copy of the magazine on an airplane. “Look at me, I’m reading The Economist,” he boasts to Marge. “Did you know that Indonesia at is a crossroads?”
I especially love The Economist at this time of year. Holiday parties abound, which creates a constant need for the kind of fancy-pants knowledge the journal confers. I love the wry, punchy leads and the adorable British spellings (“globalisation”) and the concern the magazine engenders in me over whether the president of Colombia can regain his momentum (that would be Juan Manuel Santos, obviously); or whether we will learn of sufficient progress in the development of a “virtual liver” at much-awaited conferences next year in Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands. Damn, gotta book those plane tickets.
December also marks the arrival of The Economist’s annual look-ahead issue: a confident and sophisticated accumulation of factoids and predictions for 2013 that can make you seem not only smart but also visionary. I make a point of reading The Economist’s “The World in ____” issue every year (well, not really). Cover to cover. And not because the boss is making me read every word of the “The World in 2013” edition, which came out last week, and which I devoured like a big plate of Swiss chard. Or, better yet, like quinoa, because the U.N. says 2013 will be “the International Year of Quinoa,” as I now know.
Here are 17 things I learned.
1. Next year could be ugly. “From a showdown with Iran over its nuclear plans to a catastrophic breakup of the euro zone, it is not hard to think of disasters that could strike the world in 2013.” That is how Daniel Franklin begins his “from the editor” note. Ouch. “With luck, such dangers will turn out to be like the Olympic-pool-size asteroid that will hurtle close to Earth on February 15, 2013: near misses, which might help to concentrate minds.” Speaking for myself, I am now fully concentrating.
2. “Obesity sucks.” The urbane publication declares thus on Page 32, atop a soda-can graphic showing how much fatter the world is becoming. That is one of the great whimsical touches you find in The Economist: a discussion of a spreading global health epidemic summed up so neatly, if crassly. The article itself is svelte, but rich in factoid nutrients:
a) In 2011 the average Mexican guzzled 728 8-oz. servings of Coca-Cola, a higher rate than in any other country.
b) Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.
c) “Japan has set a specific limit to citizens’ waistlines. If workers do not slim down, their employers face fines.” The Economist calls this “overreach,” and who is going to argue with them? The Economist also says governments should consider “a hefty fine on soda,” because “the syrupy stuff is a main driver of obesity.” The syrupy stuff! Tastes like a pander to Michael Bloomberg, in hopes that he might buy the magazine, as has been speculated.
3. Big year coming up for superstitious types. Or, in The Economist-like way they put it: “Beware the globalisation of superstition.” (Why must they terrorise us like that?) There are apparently many people who think about numbers. Not mathematicians per se, or Nate Silver, but numerologists, which the magazine defines as “crackpots who assign mystical significance to certain numbers.” Said crackpots, for instance, would know that 20 and 13 add up to 33, which they “consider a ‘highly charged master number,’ full of meaning.”
4. No doubt, the number 2013 is full of meaning. This largely stems from the “13” in 2013, which is unsettling to people who fear that number, known as “triskaidekaphobiacs.” The Romans and Vikings used to freak out over 13’s. Theories span the map on the origins of triskaidekaphobia. “It was Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, who brought the numbers up to 13 at the Last Supper.” (But, as the magazine points out, couldn’t the same be said of the other diners?) Something else to ponder about 13: “It was the women’s 13 menstrual cycles a year that gave the number a bad name when the solar calendar came to displace the 13-cycle lunar calendar. Or so it is said by credulous expositors.” Next time my editor asks how I know something, I will credit my newest source, “credulous expositors.”
5. The issue includes on Page 36 a nifty calendar of events for 2013, or (come February) the Chinese year of the snake, “associated with grace, intelligence and material gain.” I have marked my calendar with the following:
a) March 20th has been designated by the U.N. as International Happiness Day.
b) The iTunes store turns 10 in April, and everyone should celebrate by downloading “Happy Birthday to You,” the magazine suggests. Cute!
c) World U.F.O. day is in July.
d) Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s new capital, will be home to the 27th Southeast Asian Games – the first time in 44 years that Myanmar has been host. Has it really been 44 years already?
6. “Barack Obama’s first inauguration was festooned with hope and change. His second, alas, will be freighted with inertia and foreboding.” That is one concise, packed and authoritative lead. As one who has spent hours puzzling over how to start stories, I am a sucker for excellent leads. The Economist is a hothouse of them. I wish I had written, for instance, this: “Peering into the crystal ball at Italy’s future in 2013, what you see is a single stark fact wrapped in mists as thick and shifting as those of the Venetian lagoon.” Overdone? Perhaps, but I appreciate the effort, especially compared to so many standard news leads which, as The Economist says about the coming upheaval in Japan, “is likely to be as enticing as last week’s sushi.”
7. Dept. of “Oh, Yeah, I Guess It Is.” This will be a big year in America for momentous anniversaries: the 50th for both Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
8. Breaking: Fidel Castro will die in 2013. Only God knows this for sure. And the Economist. That’s how smart they are.
9. What would a proper reading of The Economist be without at least one exploration of Canada’s improved trade relations with China? And what better way to tell that story than with, what else, pandas? Turn to Page 56: a story headlined “Pandering to China?,” which portrays our endangered friends as a kind of ursine Rorschach test. “When you look at the face of a giant panda bear, what do you see? Zoo visitors, who line up in their millions for the 300 pandas in captivity worldwide, see a cute and cuddly animal. Environmentalists see a clownlike face as a potent symbol in the fight to preserve endangered species. Chinese officials, who have traded on the panda’s cuteness and rarity for centuries, see a useful diplomatic tool. And Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister who engineered a 10-year loan of a pair, starting in 2013, sees confirmation that his government’s China policy is at last showing positive results.” This otherwise sweet story includes this one note of poison. China might not be all that into Canada after all — panda love notwithstanding. “Canadians’ sense of their importance contrasts sharply with one recent assessment by a Canadian Sinologist in Beijing that ‘Canada is a distant speckle in the Chinese consciousness.’ ” Now that is one harsh Canadian Sinologist.
10. The capital of Mongolia is? Ulaanbaatar. Thank you very much.
11. Attention Homer: Indonesia is no longer at a crossroads. On the contrary, The Economist says the emerging behemoth “has a chance to shine” in 2013. It has “almost certainly grown faster than India in 2012 for the first time since the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. And it could well repeat that trick in 2013 (when its population will rise above 250m).”
12. One person who is at a crossroads is Hung Huang, “a publisher of a fashion magazine in Beijing,” and “one of the most popular microbloggers in China.” In brief, Hung can be a bit subversive and undiplomatic in her posts, and she struggles with how far to push. “She has become fearful . . . of the microblog’s power to create a sort of mob justice.” This is all interesting, but – being shallow – I really like the headline: “Hung Verdict.”
13. Australia is doing quite well these days, at least when viewed from afar (and how else to view Australia?). Prime Minister Julia Gillard enjoys a budgetsurplus of $1.9 billion, and “the government has also promised big spending on insurance for disabled people and on free dental treatment.” It goes without saying that this story is accompanied by photo of a kangaroo.
14. A private company in Hunan, China, says that it will finish construction of the world’s tallest building, known as Sky City, in the provincial capital, Changsha. Parenthetically, the writer notes that “given that work on this was not even due to begin until November 2012, some skepticism is in order.”
15. “Israel will not strike Iran in 2013.” O.K., everyone chill.
16. On Page 91, The Economist publishes its annual “where-to-be-born index,” which purports to rank “which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead.” The winner: Switzerland, beating out Australia at No. 2 and Norway at No. 3. The U.S. ties with Germany at No. 16, just behind Belgium.
17. Cities will become “smarter” in 2013 following a sluggish period. “One of the more useful concepts in any effort to understand the evolution of technology markets is the ‘hype cycle.’ ” In the first phase, a new idea brings outsize expectations. A “trough of disillusionment” follows, and then, finally, a “slope of enlightenment,” meaning that the technology finally catches up to its initial hype. “And so it goes with ‘smart cities,’ the idea that information technology and digital data will make cities far more efficient. After much hype in 2010 and growing disappointment in the following two years, 2013 will be the year in which it becomes apparent that cities can indeed become smarter — albeit in different ways than some visionaries imagined.” Just imagine how smart cities could be if they read The Economist.
Culled from The New York Times. For original post go here