Editors’ highlights 2019

The editors of ourEconomy reflect on their favourite articles of the year.

Aaron headshot.jpg
Laura Basu Laurie Macfarlane Aaron White
23 December 2019, 12.29pm
Image: Paul Sableman, CC BY 2.0

Laurie Macfarlane, lead editor

Since launching in March, we have published nearly 200 articles and essays from contributors all over the world. From incisive commentary on the failures of our economic system, to thought provoking essays on what should replace it, we have sought to put people, planet and power at the centre of the debate about our economic future.

One of our most popular pieces this year – and perhaps the most controversial – was the ‘The Degrowth Delusion’ by Leigh Phillips. The question of whether it’s possible to live sustainably on our planet without ditching our addiction to economic growth is one of the most contentious debates in economics today. In his essay Phillips argues that “degrowth is not necessary to solve ecological challenges and is a distraction from them; is unjust, impoverishing and austerian; and would bring progress to an end.”

This provoked a fierce response among our readers, and we were overwhelmed with requests to publish responses. In the end we published three: one from Ian Christie, Ben Gallant and Simon Mair; another from Joël Foramitti, Marula Tsagkari and Christos Zografos; and a final one from Andrea Grainger. Readers can make up their own mind about who is right.

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Another of our most popular articles this year was ‘Impoverished economics? Unpacking the economics Nobel Prize’ by Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven, which critically assesses the work that was awarded the 2019 economics Nobel Prize. Harvold Kvangraven exposes the limitations of so-called Randomized Control Trials (RCTs), and asks: ‘When the world is facing large systemic crises, why is the economics profession celebrating small technical fixes?’

This year also saw the warning lights for the global economy start to flash red. Financial markets were spooked by slowdowns in Germany and China, as well as the inversion of the ‘yield curve’ in the US and the UK. In light of these signs we launched a new series, ‘Preparing for the next crisis’, which invited contributors to debate and discuss how policymakers should respond to the next crisis in a way that lays the foundations for a fairer and more sustainable economy. Christine Berry’s essay on what progressives can learn from Margaret Thatcher’s economic battle plan is a must read, as is Ben Wray’s essay outlining a strategy for de-financialising the economy.

The year ended with the UK general election, where voters were faced with the starkest choice in a generation. As I wrote at the time: “Britain stands at a crossroads. On one side is Boris Johnson’s tried and tested disaster capitalism, on the other is Jeremy Corbyn’s as-of-yet untested green socialism.”

In the end the British electorate opted for the former, but throughout the campaign we published a series of essays and articles exploring what was at stake. The highlight for me was Mathew Lawrence and Alfie Stirling’s essay ‘What cost the Earth?’, which we published to coincide with the UK’s first ever televised climate debate. In the essay, the authors explain why the price of inaction on the climate crisis is far higher than the cost of transformative action, and set out a bold agenda for a UK Green New Deal.

Laura Basu, Europe editor

A personal highlight for me has been the ‘Decolonising the economy’ series. We launched the series to raise awareness of how the deep structures of the global economy have led to profound inequality, and highlight initiatives that aim to transform those structures and create a new internationalism.

To pick out just a few themes, Intan Suwandi and John Smith show how globalised supply chains mean that transnational corporations based in the global north make profits at the expense of exploited workers in the global south. Tanya Rawal-Jindia and Maarten Hietland examine the damage done by tax avoiding multinationals. Asad Rehman, Sebastian Ordoñez Muñoz and TJ Chuah look into the dangers of ‘green colonialism’, where the greening of global north economies is based on yet more extraction in the global south. And Julia Schöneberg and the authors of the new bookPluriverse: a post-development dictionary’ critique the narrative of development at a fundamental level, arguing that it is a form of neocolonialism, and urge us to embrace ‘post-development’ instead.

The series focuses on solutions too. Milan Babic and Farwa Sial debate the role the state can play in ‘reclaiming the commons’. Ahilan Kadirgamar and Niyanthini Kadirgamar show how women’s groups and the cooperative movement are leading the way out of the debt trap created by microfinance in Sri Lanka. And Sahan Savas Karatasli argues that, in the revolutionary moment the world now finds itself in, the global left needs both a horizontal ‘movement of movements’ and a World Party to be a serious player.

Another series that I’m proud to have been part of is ‘Advancing gender-just economies’, with our four partners: ActionAid, FemNet, Fight Inequity Alliance and Womankind Worldwide. Our authors show how unfair tax systems, privatisation, automation, corporate abuse and precarious work are all gendered, as is the destruction to the environment caused by our economic system.

Around the world, feminist groups have been fighting tirelessly to defend human rights and create economies that work for all genders. Many of them have been present at major gatherings this year, including the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank, to demand that a feminist perspective be included in high-level economic decisions that affect us all. They have also been working on the ground, organising among many other things a people’s budget in Zambia and a women’s global strike for a feminist future of work. Their work shows us that the economy is a feminist issue, and their fight to create feminist futures everywhere is an inspiration.

Aaron White, North America editor

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, when trade unions, activists and leftist organizations from all over the world disrupted the 1999 World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference. I found Michael Galant’s essay, ‘The Battle of Seattle: 20 years later, it's time for a revival’, an inspiring read. It calls on activists to “rekindle the flame” of the protests with a new internationalist agenda to fight the intersecting crises of inequality, climate change, and rising authoritarianism. As Galant writes: “20 years ago, the streets of Seattle echoed with a chant that would become the defining motto of the movement: ‘Another world is possible!’ It still is – if we’re willing to fight for it.”

This year also saw the climate crisis rise up the political agenda. But just as Greta Thunberg was being named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, the world’s wealthiest nations were blocking measures to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the COP25 gathering in Madrid. This is just the latest iteration of what is becoming a common trend: inspiring youth-led climate action being met with dangerous levels of political ineptitude. As I wrote back in October, this means that “the fight for climate justice will not be won inside the halls of power – it must be fought for on the streets”.

Perhaps no one has done more to raise awareness of the climate crisis than Naomi Klein. A personal highlight for me was my exclusive interview with Klein, where we spoke about the urgency of our current moment: from the climate strikes, a global Green New Deal, the rise of eco-fascism and the need to reinvigorate a collective imagination to sustain and inspire the movement required to save our future.

Finally, this year we launched our podcast series, ‘ourVoices’. In the first episode I explore the rise of surveillance capitalism, and how big companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google are amassing vast profits through mediating our everyday lives. From large scale public data funds to municipally driven projects, I also investigate how data could be owned and governed differently to benefit the collective, not the private few.

Stay tuned for future episodes next year that will explore different aspects of our economic system.

Happy holidays from everyone at ourEconomy!

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