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September 11, 2007

Foreign Affairs

One of my brilliant colleagues at Crooked Timber offers a bit of sage advice:

If you are a young man or woman of fair-to-middling ability, or even a borderline dullard, but you want to get a reputation as an uncommonly bright and perspicacious thinker, it's really not that hard to do. The secret weapon is this: take an interest in what happens in other countries.

It's really quite unusual to find an important issue on which international comparisons aren't worth knowing about. Even in situations which look purely domestic, you can often get an entirely new perspective on things by looking at your fundamental assumptions in the light of what happens overseas. There are few sights sweeter than the look on someone's face after they've confidently proclaimed something to be impossible, only to be informed that they've been doing things that way in Australia for the last twenty years.

It's also a great way to generate ideas; it's both easier than coming up with something yourself, and more likely to succeed, to plagiarise something that's already worked well in a different time zone. So few people bother to keep up with the international news that one doesn't even need to be an expert in these things; simply reading the relevant pages of your daily newspaper will probably do, whereas reading the superficially more "relevant" domestic or business pages will usually just tell you a load of crap you know already, and tell it wrong.

Or as the first commenter says in reply: "Ah, the old Dutch way of thinking."

Posted by smclemee at September 11, 2007 10:14 AM


He also writes great reviews--yes, plural--of Freakonomics.

Posted by: Shane Taylor at September 11, 2007 10:01 PM

Indeed, Daniel Davies is a national treasure. And his 4-and-counting-part series on Freakonomics may be one of the best pieces of criticism to come yet from the ironoblogsophere.

Posted by: Aaron Swartz at September 14, 2007 1:48 PM