Message from the Editor

Fresh Approaches to Familiar Problems

One nation needs new energy supplies but does not know which ones warrant the biggest investments. Another nation is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma behind a veil. A third nation juggles a banking crisis, a housing crisis, and a health care crisis all at once. These problems are familiar, but the approaches discussed here for addressing them are anything but.

In our cover story about managing Israel’s electricity demand, the proposed diversification of energy strategies toward a greater reliance on efficiency, natural gas, and renewable energy is nothing unusual. But what sets this story apart is the rejection of any pretense of predicting the future. Instead, as explained by Steven Popper, nations and regions can plot resilient energy strategies by planning for that which cannot be planned — that is, by scanning the range of potential future outcomes associated with different assumptions about key variables that are intrinsically unpredictable. Public officials can then spot the strategies that offer the highest overall probabilities of success.

In our story about the Iranian leadership, David Thaler and Alireza Nader look behind the veil of public pronouncements emanating from Tehran and find that factional competition and informal political maneuvering trump the country’s formal policymaking processes, as seen in its Middle East policy, its nuclear program, and its very constitutional framework. Only by becoming familiar with Iran’s web of influential personalities, networks, and institutions operating behind the scenes can Western negotiators hope to initiate a meaningful dialogue with those on stage.

Our story about the economic recession in the United States assesses one important response to the crisis thus far: family support. In addition, the story proposes two responses that have yet to gain much traction: switching to credit unions (as alternatives to commercial banks) and combining the forces of housing and health advisers to counsel homeowners who face not just financial but also physical and mental devastation. In all three cases, Susann Rohwedder, Jinkook Lee, and Craig Pollack remind us of the value of pooling our assets in hard times.

—John Godges