Prospect Magazine Names Top 10 Thinkers in the World

Written by on March 29, 2015 in Activism, Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living with 1 Comment
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prospect magazine top 10 thinkers

Source: Prospect Magazine

With nearly 3,000 votes cast, the results of Prospect’s world thinkers 2015 poll are now in. Voters came to the Prospect website in large numbers through Twitter and Facebook, and from many countries around the world.

The top 10 of last year’s poll was dominated by thinkers—including the winner, economist and philosopher Amartya Sen—whose work focused on the social, political and environmental challenges posed by economic growth in the developing world. However, Sen and others, notably the economists Raghuram Rajan and Kaushik Basu, are absent from this year’s list, which rewards impact over the past 12 months. In their place in the top 10 are thinkers who are wrestling, in different ways, with the dysfunctions of what some persist in calling the “developed world.”


2014 was Thomas Piketty’s year—as of January 2015, his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century had sold a remarkable 1.5m copies worldwide in several languages—and this is reflected in the French economist’s position at the top of our list. The past year has also been one in which anxieties about the economic, social and political costs of inequality have moved up the political agenda.

Several of the other thinkers in the top 10—particularly Yanis Varoufakis, Naomi Klein, Paul Krugman and Russell Brand (whose inclusion on the original list of 50 attracted considerable media coverage, some of it even favourable)—share similar concerns. It is striking, too, that they are all, broadly speaking, on the political left. One economist who has spoken out against Piketty and in defence of the “1 per cent,” the American Greg Mankiw, came near the bottom of the poll.

As was the case last year, there are two women in the top 10, Klein and Arundhati Roy (in 2013, there were none). And the presence of Hilary Mantel, Rebecca Solnit and Mona Eltahawy in the top 20 suggests that feminist critique of various kinds is experiencing a resurgence.


Many thanks to all those who voted. Do let us know what you make of the results on Twitter @Prospect_UK or in the comments.

The Top Ten

1. Thomas Piketty — Economist, France

Thomas PikketyIt’s hard to think of a work of economics—certainly not one published in the past 30 years—that has had as extraordinary an impact outside the guild of professional economists as Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Its thesis is that capitalist economies have a natural tendency to incubate highly unequal distributions of income and wealth.

The book struck a nerve, but has also met with strong criticism. The Financial Times accused Piketty of serious statistical errors that undermined his conclusions. (Piketty responded at length to the FT, saying he did not find its rather technical objections “particularly constructive,” though he did allow that his historical data series could and should be improved upon in the future.) Other commentators have found his definition of capital problematic in concentrating on physical assets rather than household wealth and his somewhat utopian recommendations for a global wealth tax unconvincing.

2. Yanis Varoufakis – Economist, Greece/Australia

yanis varoufakisSyriza’s victory in January’s Greek general election was in no small part due to the efforts of Yanis Varoufakis, now installed as Finance Minister. Varoufakis, who holds a PhD in game theory from the University of Essex, and calls himself an “accidental economist,” first set out an alterntive to German-imposed austerity in 2010. The restructuring of Greece’s debt that Varoufakis has been trying to sell to other eurozone leaders has its origins in those proposals. Whether Varoufakis succeeds in persuading Angela Merkel of its merits remains to be seen. The portents, however, are not auspicious—some European leaders are said to be tiring of Varoufakis’s habit of saying one thing in negotiations in Brussels and another to audiences at home.

3. Naomi Klein – Journalist & Campaigner, Canada

naomi klein Since 1999’s No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, which became a kind of set text for the anti-globalisation movement, Klein has been leading the charge against the excesses of consumer capitalism. The New Yorker described her as “the most visible and influential figure on the American left,” though her books are read around the world.

Last year’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate saw her move on to the environmental damage that she argues corporations have inflicted on the world. The book won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust prize for non-fiction. However, reaction to it has not been uniformly favourable, with some critics finding Klein’s prescriptions for dealing with climate change worryingly vague. Noting her calls for a carbon tax, the New York Review of Books observed that this “hardly seems to challenge the basic logic of capitalism.”

4. Russell Brand – Comedian, Actor & Activist, United Kingdom

russell brand thinkerBrand is the spiritual leader of Britain’s disaffected anti-capitalist youth. In October he published Revolution, a manifesto for the radical redistribution of wealth and power. Dismissed by his opponents as a clownish opportunist, he is nevertheless the most charismatic figure on Britain’s
populist left. Brand’s inclusion on Prospect’s list did not meet with universal approval—the Guardian, for instance, said that his “presence looks designed to be provocative.” But other commentators came to his—and our—defence, with one suggesting that many of the criticisms levelled at Brand simply remind us that the “incessant demand for criticism to be ‘constructive’ is another way of defending the status quo.”

5. Paul Krugman – Economist, United States

paul krugman thinkerA Nobel laureate and Princeton professor, Krugman continues to shape international economic debate, primarily through his New York Times column and accompanying blog.

Krugman has attacked supporters of austerity for keeping economies—and their people—in unnecessary pain. And he is still at it—in a recent blog post, he wrote witheringly of “people who are supposedly ‘close to the markets’ and whose vast experience and intuition grant them insights denied to nerdy economists with their little models.”

He has also endorsed the aims of the new Syriza government in Greece, arguing that the Greek request for some relaxation of the requirement that it run large primary surpluses is entirely reasonable. “I can’t think,” he wrote in February, “what basis Germany can use to reject this proposal out of hand… The point for now is that Syriza is making sense.”

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  1. sflavieenrose@yahoo.com' LaVie S. says:

    Seriously, where’s the real list?

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