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Good reads: Growth we missed, Berlin's awkward fit, and where kids know best

This week's long-form good reads may change your perspective on the effects of the Great Recession, the importance of geography, and how to measure the quality of a teacher.

By Marshall IngwersonManaging editor / October 26, 2012

Stella Royal, assistant principal of Bloomfield Jr.-Sr. High School, observes a digital communications class as part of the teacher evaluation routine, Wednesday, Oct. 17.

David Snodgress, Herald-Times/AP

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Some five years after the dawn of the Great Recession, the global economic landscape is still sorting itself out. In a casual survey of the world horizon, Foreign Policy magazine takes stock of winners so far. 

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Some samples: The net worth of the average Canadian surpassed that of the average American this past summer. (Think real estate.) Poland – not Germany, not Norway – grew 15.8 percent from 2008 to 2011 while the overall economy of the European Union actually shrank slightly. Turkey has become Europe’s biggest carmaker, and family incomes have tripled over the past decade. (Turkey is mostly not in Europe, but that’s a technicality.) South Korea was the first developed country to emerge from the recession. Its manufacturers from Samsung to Hyundai have been conquering global market share, and government R&D spending, already among the highest in the world, was increased. Sweden used the lessons it famously learned surviving a financial crash in 1992 to ride out the 2008 version with low debt levels and strong government finances, and last year it had the fastest-growing economy in Europe after Estonia. (And hey, Go, Estonia!)

But all of these are mere nations, small potatoes compared with the truly global hegemony of those Golden Arches. McDonald’s stock has risen by a factor of five in the last decade, powering right through the recession, notes author Frederick Kaufman in Foreign Policy.

With 33,500 restaurants in 119 countries, the chain is in the process of opening 700 new outlets in China this year alone. To fashionable Americans, the McDonald’s brand signals an obesity epidemic. But, writes Mr. Kaufman, “[t]he sad truth is that in most of the world, the McDonald’s menu doesn’t scream antibiotic-addled livestock and high-cholesterol death diets; instead it whispers of middle-class aspiration.”

Europe’s detached capital

The Great Recession has been a huge setback to the aspirations of the European Union. Its Mediterranean members are especially stressed. But the city of Berlin is looking like another winner. In 1946, barely a quarter of its buildings were habitable. Now, writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times, it has become “the de facto capital of the European Union.” Brussels is still the headquarters. “But Berlin is increasingly where the decisions are made.”

This means that Germany is where the money is and that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is Europe’s unrivaled power player. Though Germans are now making the financial rules for the EU, Mr. Rachman writes, they tend to be less arrogant than serious-minded, patient, and committed to the European project. 

The problem may be that Berlin is pleasant, prosperous, and feels worlds away from the struggles of Greece and Spain, he explains. “That detachment from the rest of the eurozone – rather than any ‘will to power’ – is why Berlin remains a peculiar capital for Europe.”

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