Sunday, February 08, 2015

Who do I admire most?

After the most recent results of Gallup's traditional "most admired" poll turned up some odd answers (Vladimir Putin??), Tyler Cowen asked his readers to identify their most admired living individuals. Well, there's little I like better than a good hagiography, so here's my list, in no particular order. Note that these are people I admire for what they're doing now. And of course the list is heavily weighted toward people in the media (and people I know); there are people working to take out terrorists, or discovering the technologies for better batteries, or working on cancer cures whom I would admire if I knew their names. With those caveats, here is the list:

1. Elon Musk

An obvious choice. But what other individual has the chance to singlehandedly save the world? Not only would electric cars help bring down oppressive petro-regimes all over the planet, but cheap batteries for cars and houses would be a huge help in the fight against global warming. Musk is the most important individual working to make those technologies happen.

People I admire for similar reasons: Danielle Fong, Lyndon Rive

2. Kathy Matsui

As you all know, women's equality in Japan is a big issue I care about. I'm also of the school that thinks that economic equality is a prerequisite for social equality. No one has done as much to promote the idea of "womenomics" as Kathy Matsui. Many of the changes we are seeing in Japan originated from the ideas of Matsui.

People I admire for similar reasons: Sayaka Osakabe, Akie Abe

3. Elizabeth Warren

I don't agree with Warren on every issue, not by any means. But no other person in the United States has been as tireless and effective about fighting the excesses of the 2000s-era industrial policy. Just pushing through the CFPB would be heroism enough for one lifetime. Warren will probably go down in history as the most important reformer of the current period.

People I admire for similar reasons: Paul Volcker

4. Shinzo Abe

I was once about as big an Abe detractor as you could find, back in 2006 when it seemed like he was undoing everything Junichiro Koizumi had accomplished. But then Abe transformed himself into the super-Koizumi, with some help from his wife and his economic advisers, made a stunning comeback, and is now transforming the Japanese economy and society in ways that will be mostly good.

People I admire for (somewhat) similar reasons: Koichi Hamada, Joko Widodo

5. Steve Chu

The energy crunch is humanity's biggest challenge, and it will take both government and the private sector to beat it. On the private sector Elon Musk is the icon, but in the government sector, Steve Chu is the biggest hero. Chu worked tirelessly to create a sensible energy policy that was diversified and that balanced the need for boldness with the fear of waste.

People I admire for (somewhat) similar reasons: Barack Obama

6. Marc Andreessen

Putting Marc on this list will cause me some embarrassment next time I see him on Twitter, but there's no way I could leave him off. Well of course he did kind of invent the Internet, but remember that this list is about current activities. Nowadays, as a venture capitalist, he's A) funding neat stuff, while B) working to define the culture of Silicon Valley in a positive way. Many other people do (A); few other people of such prominence do (B). Along with his wife, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, he's working to increase women's participation in the IT industry.

People I admire for (somewhat) similar reasons: Bill Gates

7. Jim Pethokoukis

Yes, this is a repeat from the "heroes of blogging" list, but oh well. Transforming one of America's two dominant political ideologies is a tall, tall order. Of all the people in the "reform conservative" movement, the one with the best vision and message is Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute. See here, here, and here for his attempts to grab the tiller of the conservative ship and steer it in a more rational, forward-looking direction.

People I admire for similar reasons: Michael Strain

8. Jon Stewart

There was a moment, sometime in 2005, when it seemed like Jon Stewart was the only sane man in America. American politics was still in a fever from 9/11, and the Iraq War and the second Bush election certainly didn't help. I still feel like the turning point, for some reason, was when Stewart destroyed the moronic show Crossfire on live TV. More importantly, Stewart has worked tirelessly for over a decade to expose the hyper-partisanship of our era for the joke it is.

People I admire for similar reasons: Stephen Colbert, John Oliver

9. Terence Tao

It's one thing to be the smartest human on the planet. It's another thing to be both the smartest human on the planet and a nice, well-adjusted person. We are raised on archetypes of the crazy smart guy - Isaac Newton slurping mercury, Grigori Perelman turning down a million dollars and living off of his mother's pension. Of course, it's not those guys' fault that they are oddballs, but symbolism is important. Tao is a new model of hypergenius -  a well-adjusted guy who shares his work on his blog, collaborates with everyone, and just has fun.

People I admire for (somewhat) similar reasons: Jim Simons

10. My "heroes of blogging": Brad DeLong, Annalee Newitz, Ramez Naam, Devin Stewart, Cory Doctorow, Phil Yu, Richard Florida, Paul Krugman, Barry Ritholtz, Mark Thoma, Miles Kimball, Justin Wolfers, and more!

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. But I'm exhausted now, in any case.


Tyler Cowen posted his own "most admired" list, mostly consisting of everymen/everywomen in various important or dangerous positions. Good point - it's easy to forget the quiet heroism of normal people.


  1. Anonymous3:38 PM

    "In retrospect I should have used WordPress"

    On that note, yeah, I've experimented with many platforms. WordPress is the best. You can still easily switch.

    1. Anonymous2:36 PM

      Don't trust the above comment. It's written by a WordPress crazy.

    2. Anonymous3:01 PM

      Oh. Crazy am I ? I'd be crazy not to use WordPress.

    3. Anonymous3:16 PM

      Nobody wants to hear about your stupid WordPress - Go away !

  2. Anonymous3:56 PM

    Sorry. But I stopped reading Barry Ritholtz's blog. He's just a blowhard.

  3. Interesting post. A lot of questions: What criteria? Most good person, extraordinary ability, a weighting of these, what weights? Only famous people, not mom and dad and grandma and grandpa? And are you making cool, choices, and interesting choices, rather than those most deserving?

    I'll say this for now: Ever since I first read The Two Income Trap and All Your Worth when asked to design an online personal finance course for the University of Arizona, I've had tremendous admiration for Elizabeth Warren. Just an amazing combination of towering intellect, charisma, and a person incredibly devoted and sacrificing to help others her entire life.

    Right off the bat I considered her a female Paul Krugman.

    1. And so, of course, Paul Krugman, for the same reasons.

  4. Have you actually read The Two Income Trap? The whole thing, and not glazing? Not perfect, but a lot of important and good points. Perhaps you're protesting the issue of, is the median family better off, but a huge point is just positional externalities, so much lowering the extra utils from the money of a second income, yet to get that second income can be so exhausting for parents, who already have so much more work raising children for our far more challenging and dangerous world.

    1. My take on the two income trap comes from Vonnegut's short story, "The Foster Portfolio". Being a woman in the work force can be pretty god awful, but the value of having a job, especially in our mercenary society, is more than just the pay packet.

    2. She says she has nothing against women working, in the book, especially since she's worked a super demanding high-end job her whole life, and with a family. She just notes some of the traps and problems, like really destructive positional externalities, that mean government action can massively increase efficiency and welfare.

  5. Simon6:11 PM

    Great to see Tao on the list, who hails from my home town of Adelaide. He shows demonstrates one difference between Australia and USA, our lack of elite universities. He graduated from Flinder's Uni, which isn't even the top university in the city, let alone the country.

    1. Anonymous11:41 AM

      Are you saying that the USA has a lack of elite universities?

      If you are, it's hard to understand how you came to that conclusion.

      There is nothing more elite than MIT, Caltech, Harvard, and Stanford in the world and those are all in the USA. Even Oxford can't hold a candle to the things that go on at Stanford and Harvard. Of the Top 10 universities, 7 are easily in the USA and of the Top 100 probably 60 or 70 are in the USA.

      US universities products many people like Terry Tao and many people that are bigger contributors to science than Terry Tao is.

      The USA has many problems, but a lack of elite universities is definitely not one of them.

    2. Australia punches well over its weight in research and technology. It's a first world country in a unique situation, and the Aussies know it. There may not be a single university known worldwide, but there are a lot of departments and individual researchers with global reputations. (Granted, my personal experience was a visit to the Giant Clam Research Center on Orpheus Island, but I've also read a bit.)

  6. I thought Anderessen was a South Park character...?

  7. Anonymous11:30 PM

    Most of that list seems fine, but John Stewart? You admire the comedian version of Rachel Maddow?

  8. I notice you don't mention recent exploits of Jon Stewart. His most harsh criticisms of the current administration and other Dems are iterations of "you're better than that" or "stop being so nice", I've found him to be quite worthless since 2008.
    It's hard to find a good critic of both elephants and donkeys.

    1. But I should thank you for the rest of the list. You have just led me to open several new tabs on my already cluttered browser!

  9. Anonymous7:49 AM

    Good list. And good they are not all white men.

    I have a feeling that Thomas Piketty and Yanis Varoufakis could potentially lead to the turning a lot of the conventional wisdoms of the last 30 years on their head.

    But it is too early to say.

  10. David J. Littleboy10:11 AM

    I strongly disagree with you about Shinzo Abe. He's the most dangerous thing in this world: a smart conservative in power. And conservative he is. In spades. The LDP's proposed constitution is horrific: the Emperor is head of state. Period. And it goes downhill from there. He talks a good line about "reform", but what he means by reform is more regressive taxation for working stiffs, lower taxes for corporations and the rich. Last year he was promising that the SDF would only operate in the vicinity of Japan, now he's talking about sending them anywhere some Japanese entity is in trouble. With a very loose definitions of entity and trouble. He really wants Japan to be playing soldier with the US. Many, if not most, US wars start out with lies: Tonkin Gulf didn't happen, and we all know about Iraq.

    1. Good analysis. Abe talks a good game, but his deeds don't match his talk when viewed up close.

    2. Anonymous10:53 AM

      I agree there is a cynical neo-liberal agenda behind Abenomics. The Japanese orthodoxy simply has a face that presents something different. Important in Abenomics are structural reforms, which oddly, and very ironically, are market liberalisations that are potently deflationary.

    3. I am strongly in favor of neoliberalism for Japan!

  11. I agree with your number 1: Elon Musk.

    I admire those who suffer for the rest of us as Tyler points out. But it is harder to focus on them because I find it depressing. I'd rather focus on what I can do for the world, and this is why it has become my goal to turn myself into a person that Elon would want to work for him. It will take some time, but I can think of no greater goal for the rest of my professional life than to help his SpaceX company colonize Mars.

    Some of us have to dream big.

  12. Re: Terence Tao. Great pick! I would add, most people at this level are only interested in their peers opinion. Nobody at this level has a blog with a section like which includes advice on the primary school level or expository articles such as or Is energy and output are unparalleled. Timothy Gowers is another mathematician with similar interests in talking to and educating the masses.

  13. Marc Andreessen "kind of invented the internet!?" He didn't even invent the World Wide Web.

    I would appreciate a discussion of your problems with The Two Income Trap. My first exposure to Warren was a lecture she gave on bankruptcy, which I thought extremely good. (It also was a splendid example of good use of Powerpoint), What's wrong.

  14. Musk seems to be the world champion rent seeker. The car needs subsidies,the embedded energy makes the physics doubtful. It's an admirable attempt but using a lot of tax dollars.

  15. This looks like a good enough list. You seem to admire people for good reasons. My own list would be quite different, but this is a list of most admired, not most admirable.

  16. Careless11:58 PM

    Well, damn, Noah, you continually write really stupid things and try to get people to read them. What's up with that? Does it help you get tenure?

  17. Careless12:47 AM

    So, there are a few options

    A) Noah believes in his list. He is an idiot.
    B) Noah is feeding names he thinks his readers want to read. He is a jerk, among other things.
    C) Noah doesn't believe in his list. He's trolling the Left for low volumes of page hits. Jerk and troll on this one.
    d) Noah is trolling the Right. Well, I might believe this if the comments weren't from Noah's typical readers.

  18. Steven Chu had high expectations then caved in on the biofuels issue. Close to enemy of humanity status due to the effect on world side grain prices. Rolling Stone should write the story of Mr Chu goes to Washington, less heroic than Jimmy Stewart. Should have quashed biofuels or resigned.

  19. Anonymous7:30 AM

    Hahahah, Tyler Cowen, hero of the everyman.

  20. Anonymous1:42 AM

    Tesla Motor's real product is not car, but its stock. Yes, buy tesla stock, one day it will have market cap as big as apple. More people will but tesla stock than will ever buy tesla cars