Top thinkers of the world

Top thinkers of the world

May 5, 2014

It is indeed a matter of great pride for Bengal that a Bengali has been voted the world’s top thinker. The contest was carried out by the monthly British general interest magazine, Prospect. The magazine publishes a list of top thinkers every year. The magazine selects a group of eminent people from all over the world, who are then voted for online.

Voters came to the Prospect website in large numbers through Twitter and Facebook, and from many countries around the world. With nearly 7,000 votes cast, the results of Prospect magazine’s World Thinkers 2014 poll are in. There are six Indians in the list, including four with a Bengali connection. Hearteningly, a Bengali, eminent economist Amartya Sen was voted to the top spot among the list of 50 thinkers. Another person with a Bengali connection, Arundhati Roy (her father was a Bengali) came third. Economist, Kaushik Basu was also voted into the top 10 of the list, at number 6. In all there were three Bengalis (stretching a little) in the top 10. Outside the top 10, there was another Bengali, economist Partha Dasgupta at number 22.

Two aspects of the 2014 list need to be noted for their significance. The first is the presence in the top 10 of five thinkers – Amartya Sen, Raghuram Rajan, Arundhati Roy, Mao Yushi and Kaushik Basu – whose work focuses in different ways on the challenges of economic development. Except Roy, all the others are internationally well-known and well-respected economists. The second significant aspect is the presence of two women – Arundhati Roy and Mary Beard – in the top 10. Last year there were none.

Last year's winner, Richard Dawkins failed to make it to the list this year.

Who are the world's top thinkers?

Every year, Prospect assembles an international list of leading thinkers to identify those engaging most originally and profoundly with the central questions of the world today, and to provoke debate about the role of intellectuals in public life.

The magazine started it in 2004 only for the top 100 British public intellectuals. The list was extended to the rest of the world in 2005.

At no. 1: Amartya Sen

The Indian economist and philosopher turned 80 last year, but remains an intellectual force. The global impact of his latest book, An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions is highlighted by his triumph in this year’s vote (last year he was seventh). Currently a professor at Harvard, he won the Nobel Prize in Economics 1998 for his work in welfare economics. He has been awarded over 100 honorary degrees and is known in India as the ‘Mother Theresa of economics’. The author of Prospect’s first cover story in 1995, Sen continues to write influential essays, and has dedicated his life to combating poverty with analysis rather than activism.

Amartya Sen

At no. 3: Arundhati Roy

One of India’s most famous authors – and fiercest critics – Arundhati Roy won the Man Booker Prize in 1997 with her debut novel, The God of Small Things. Since then, she has focused on non-fiction writing and radical political activism, covering subjects such as climate change, gender equality, the perils of free-market development in India and poverty. Her latest work, Capitalism: A Ghost Story, examines the dark side of democracy in contemporary India, arguing that globalised capitalism has intensified the wealth divide, racism and environmental degradation. “This new election is going to be [about] who the corporates choose,” Roy says, “[about] who is not going to blink about deploying the Indian army against the poorest people in this country, and pushing them out to give over those lands, those rivers, those mountains, to the major mining corporations.”

Arundhati Roy

At no. 6: Kaushik Basu

Kaushik Basu is currently serving as the Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at the World Bank. A respected academic, he has published widely on development economics, game theory and welfare economics. His most significant work, Beyond the Invisible Hand: Groundwork for a New Economics, argues that by ignoring the role of culture and custom, traditional economics promotes the view that the current system is the only viable option. “The free market proposition is a powerful intellectual achievement and one of great aesthetic appeal,” Basu writes. “But its rampant misuse has had huge implications for the world – in particular, in the way we craft policy, think about globalisation, and dismiss dissent.”

Kaushik Basu

At no. 22: Partha Dasgupta

Sir Partha Sarathi Dasgupta is the Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, and Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. He was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, then moved to India, and is the son of the noted economist AK Dasgupta. Dasgupta is one of the most distinguished economists of our times. Prof Dasgupta's writings comprise one of the definitive guides to understanding issues of welfare, development and environment. Dasgupta's oeuvre speaks of compassion, sharp observation, and above all analytical brilliance. In his hands, economic theory fulfills its true promise, explaining why some people are destitute in a world of plenty, why natural resources that should be husbanded are plundered, why fertility remains stubbornly high in places that cannot sustain a high population, and much, much more. His theories also tell us how policy can right these wrongs.

Partha Dasgupta

It is indeed a great feeling to find three people with a Bengali connection among the top six thinkers of the world, with another following close behind. The fact is more significant because the people were voted for by people rather than chosen by a select panel. So the list truly reflects the influence these people have had on the world in recent times.

World Thinkers 2014 - the full list

1. Amartya Sen, economist

2. Raghuram Rajan, economist

3. Arundhati Roy, writer/activist

4. Mao Yushi, economist

5. Pope Francis, religious leader

6. Kaushik Basu, economist

7. Mary Beard, professor

8. Peter Higgs, scientist

9. Ha-Joon Chang, economist

10. Daniel Kahneman, economist

11. Elon Musk, businessman

12. Jürgen Habermas, philosopher

13. Naomi Klein, writer/activist

14. Slavoj Žižek, philosopher

15. Nick Bostrom, philosopher

15. Thant Myint-U, historian

17. Daniel Dennett, philosopher

18. Rae Langton, philosopher

19. Elizabeth Anderson, philosopher

20. Martha Nussbaum, philosopher

21. Judith Butler, gender theorist

22. Partha Dasgupta, economist

23. Janet Yellen, economist

24. Christine Lagarde, economist

25. Derek Parfit, philosopher

26. Thomas Nagel, philosopher

27. Thomas Piketty, economist

28. Perry Anderson, historian

29. Kishore Mahubani, academic/diplomat

30. Robert Unger, philosopher

31. David Graeber, anthropologist/activist

32. Wendy Carlin, economist

33. Fabiola Gianotti, physicist

34. Patricia Churchland, philosopher

35. Esther Duflo, economist

36. Saskia Sassen, sociologist

37. Anne-Marie Slaughter, political scientist

38. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, economist

39. Pascal Lamy, economist

40. Sherry Turkle, technology theorist

41. Lawrence Summers, economist

42. Samantha Power, diplomat/writer

43. Rebecca Solnit, writer/activist

44. Jennifer Doudna, biochemist

45. Jaron Lanier, technology theorist

45. Marilynne Robinson, novelist/essayist

47. Janet Radcliffe-Richards, philosopher

48. E Brynjolfsson & A McAfee, economists

49. Robert Gordon, economist

50. Emmanuel Saez, economist

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Comments (2)
Sunando Reply
May 05, 2014
Good to see so many Bengalis in the list. After all, in India, Bengalis have always been considered the intellectual sort.
Amarendra Reply
May 05, 2014
Great to see Amartya Sen at the top. Congrats Mr Sen!
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