Adam B. Summers is a policy analyst with the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this magazine. In "Failed States" (page 24), he and the foundation's director of government affairs, Mike Flynn, write about the profligacy of the states that are now begging Washington for bailouts. Summers, 32, lives in California, where budget crisis is a way of life. "But if the state had just held its spending to the increase in population and cost of living," he notes, "it'd actually be sitting on a $15 billion surplus instead of a $42 billion deficit."
Tim Harford writes the Undercover Economist column for the Financial Times. His latest book, The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World (Random House), explains how "the mostly unlikely people in the most unlikely circumstances turn out to be carrying out cost-benefit analysis in their heads." In his review of Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations (Princeton), Harford digs into the question of why some countries are rich and others poor (page 51). Authors Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel don't offer overarching conclusions, and Harford likes that. "We need to try a lot of things and test out what's working," he says. "We need to grope our ways to successful solutions. I don't believe in grand plans."
Contributing Editor Gregory Benford, a physicist, reviews the anarchist economist David Friedman's Future Imperfect (Cambridge) on page 55. In the 1970s, both Benford and Friedman found themselves teaching at the University of California at Irvine. Benford is still there today; Friedman isn't. "The economists here were mostly a bunch of moldy Keynesians, so he left," says Benford. "Our loss." Benford, 68, is best known for his science fiction, which he calls "just a hobby." He is also founder of the biotech firm Genescient. "Being an actual on-the-hoof libertarian in the campus setting, I adopt protective coloration," he says, but his entrepreneurial work reveals his "true colors."