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Top Articles of 2010

By Evan O'Neil | January 12, 2011

CREDIT: Derek Kerl (CC).

The most popular articles to run on Policy Innovations in 2010 speak to big themes: the social and political effects of digital communication; the global opportunity of education; clean energy innovation; the urbanization of humanity; challenges to the free market; control over our bodies; the role and responsibility of media; and the right to immigrate for a better life.

Topping the list is "The Evolution of Revolution" by former Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Rita J. King. She critiques Evgeny Morozov's stance that the current fascination with social media is merely naïve cyber-utopianism that can't possibly generate deep social change or revolution. She doesn't disagree so much as think he misses the bigger picture of how digital communication is just one tool at the disposal of would-be reformers and revolutionaries. Iran was the primary battleground for these ideas, while the WikiLeaks controversy also shows how technology is modifying our conceptions of ethical, transparent, and accountable government.

Shilpa Raj, a twelfth-grade student in India, wrote "A Chance to Dream" for us. It is a touching first-person account of how her life was completely changed by the opportunity to study at Shanti Bhavan residential school. Shilpa thus escaped the neglect and poverty so common among female children in rural villages. Many of her fellow students chimed in with their support and admiration in the comment thread.

As international climate diplomacy limped along this year, attention turned to clean energy technology. One of the biggest stories was China's singular dominance of rare earth elements and its ability to control production. These minerals are crucial for the operative components of hybrid cars and wind turbines. Sean Daly explores the politics and economics of this situation in a piece on "Rare Earths Diplomacy."

Also popular in this vein was "The Paradox of Efficiency" by Bjorn Lomborg. Energy efficiency is commonly lauded as low-hanging fruit for reducing emissions, yet there are situations where an increase in efficiency actually incentivizes greater overall resource consumption. So while efficiency clearly delivers value, we have to be selective in how we promote it. Some solutions perhaps reside in the database of the "Global Innovations Commons for Clean Tech." A great many green technologies are already in the public domain, writes David Bollier.

Urbanization was one of the big buzz themes of 2010. Half of humanity now lives in cities, and urban dwellers in developed countries tend to need less energy per capita than their suburban and rural compatriots. The limits of the supposed "green city" are somewhat obvious: Megacities themselves are products of a growing global economy that depends on dirty energy sources and long supply chains. Yet the urban landscape is where we are literally building our future, as countries around the world develop and update their infrastructure. How we design it socially and energetically determines the fate of civilization.

Urbanist Jeb Brugmann gives us some global perspective in "Welcome to the Urban Revolution," showing how migration, economics, and social innovation collide to create vibrant and dynamic communities. "Slums: The Future" by Whitney Eulich profiles two architects who have undertaken social projects in the hillside barrios of Caracas, Venezuela. Both pieces point out that harmonizing with the rhythms of the slum is often preferable to bringing in a bulldozer to construct another bland high-rise.

Also of note in the urban category was our story on Chinese landscape architect Kongjian Yu, "The Art of Survival." This innovator profile led off our More Like This series on Chinese clean energy leaders. Stay tuned in 2011 for more installments.

Devin Stewart's book review of The End of the Free Market by Ian Bremmer also makes our list. He describes how state capitalist countries tend to wield national oil companies, state-owned enterprises, private yet protected "national champions," and sovereign wealth funds to maintain political control. From Bremmer's perspective the prognosis is clear: more open free market systems will better facilitate innovation and long-term growth, but only if they can limit the influence of moral bads such as greed.

Carnegie Council Uehiro Fellow Kei Hiruta looks at the delicate issue of regulating Japanese sex video games in "Rage against Virtual Rape." State censorship, a wound still fresh due to Japan's authoritarian past, could be a case of paving the road to hell with good intentions, the destination being a Foucauldian dystopia where sadist violence shrinks at the cost of the nation's submission to universal surveillance.

Sex trafficking has started to receive its rightful concern in recent years, while another form of human trafficking still languishes in the shadows of the international underworld. Amy Lieberman reveals how "Organ and Human Trafficking Intersect" in her analysis of how international law is evolving on the topic. Poor people in developing countries are targeted for lower cost organs or outright trafficking for the purpose of transplantation. Largely it is a supply and demand problem, with few Westerners registering as organ donors.

Our list rounds out with a collection of articles on Japan. Mark Austin reports on how the Japanese press club system is being pried open by new media technologies, to the benefit of democracy and communication in that country, while "Japan's Media Dinosaurs Struggle to Adapt."

Two papers from our "Right to Move" conference in Tokyo speak to one of the most important issues of our time: immigration and the right to seek a better life and support your family. Florian Coulmas explores the "Ethics of Language Choice in Immigration" as host countries struggle to provide language services for persons who wish to attain residency. Hiroshi Kimizuka, of the Japanese Ministry of Justice but writing in a personal capacity, gives a rare insider's account of the operational ethics of "Immigration Administration Control in Japan," where the system is notoriously strict despite the country's falling population and economic stagnation.

Finally, Bhubhindar Singh asks "Is Japan Tilting toward China?" While it is natural that there would be both friction and increased interaction with a rising China, and American feathers were ruffled by the transition to DPJ leadership, Singh concludes that the "U.S.-Japan relationship is still very strong politically, economically, and, increasingly, in strategic terms as well." A hallmark of good allies is that they will figure out democratic means to iron out differences, such as the controversial Marine Corps air station in Okinawa.

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Read More: Communication, Culture, Democracy, Development, Diplomacy, Economy, Education, Energy, Environment, Innovation, Migration, Sustainability, Technology, China, India, Japan, United States, Asia, Americas, Global

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