ourEconomy editors’ highlights 2020

Our editors reflect on their favourite articles of the year.

30 December 2020, 9.39pm
Image: Paul Sableman, CC BY 2.0

Laurie Macfarlane, lead editor

Thanks to the coronavirus, 2020 will likely go down in history as the year we all tried to forget. What started as a public health emergency soon turned into the greatest economic crisis in living memory. While some predicted the pandemic would be a “great leveller” between the world’s haves and have-nots, in practice it has been those who can afford it least who have suffered the most. The virus itself may not discriminate, but the economic model we live under does.

At ourEconomy, we’ve tried hard to track how the pandemic has been exacerbating inequalities – from following the coronavirus money trail and examining the impact of government support packages, to identifying the law firms that are helping corporations cash in on COVID. We have also sought to explore what COVID-19 has taught us about the shortcomings of our economic system, and promote intelligent debate about how governments around the world should respond.

Early on in the pandemic, ‘key workers’ such as nurses, teachers, food and warehouse workers began to be celebrated as national heroes. But as Victoria Noble highlighted in our ‘Forgotten key workers’ series, in practice these workers are often low-paid and subject to discrimination and exploitation at work. If COVID-19 has taught us anything about our economic system, it is that the link between social value and financial reward is fundamentally broken. As Iain Gough explored in his thought provoking long-read, the pandemic has exposed major flaws in the way that mainstream economics teaches who creates value in society. If we are to ‘build back better’ from COVID-19, we must reassess conventional assumptions about who gets what and why.

But the topic that attracted the most intense debate at ourEconomy this year was not COVID-19, but an even greater threat: environmental breakdown.

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In recent years the idea that the accelerating climate and ecological destruction has made societal collapse inevitable, and that efforts should instead focus on adapting to this collapse, has been gaining traction in the climate movement (often under the banner of ‘Deep Adaptation’). In their searing critique of this view, ‘The faulty science, doomism, and flawed conclusions of Deep Adaptation’, Thomas Nicholas, Galen Hall, Colleen Schmidt argued that this way of thinking is “not only wrong – it also undermines the cause of the climate movement.” This provoked a fierce response from those who are sympathetic to the Deep Adaptation perspective, and we were overwhelmed with requests to publish responses. In the end we published three: one from Jem Bendell; another from Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens, Gauthier Chapelle and Daniel Rodary; and a final piece from the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. Readers can make up their own minds about who is right.

A final personal highlight was my own essay, ‘A spectre is haunting the West – the spectre of authoritarian capitalism’. The rise of China as an emerging superpower, and the decline of the hegemonic power of the US, is likely to be one of the defining stories of the 21st century. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this process, and in the essay I sought to grapple with some of the dynamics underpinning this epochal shift, and explore what it means for those of us who want to see a fairer and more sustainable future.

With a new US President set to enter the White House in January, and the Chinese government set to publish its long awaited 2021-2025 five-year plan, 2021 will see this great geopolitical struggle move into a new – and potentially more unpredictable – phase.

Aaron White, North America editor

It’s astonishing to think back on all that has transpired over the past twelve months in the United States: a pandemic that has taken over 300,000 lives, the largest social movement in its history in the form of Black Lives Matter, and a tumultuous and seemingly never-ending election cycle.

Many of my highlights come from the conversations I’ve had with activists, policymakers, and academics pushing forward an economic agenda fit to handle the crises of the 21st century.

You can hear many of these interviews in our documentary podcast series that take a deep dive into the history of the movements and policies driving the US election such as the military industrial-complex, the movement for a Green New Deal, the housing crisis, and the fight for universal healthcare.

With Joe Biden set to be sworn in early in 2021, these episodes explore where many of the lines of contestation will be drawn between the old established guard and a new crop of leaders intent on pushing a progressive policy program.

In May the police murder of George Floyd sparked an uprising on a scale never seen before, and in response we published a range of pieces featuring perspectives from the ground in Los Angeles, New York, and Louisville.

We also explored how our economic system can be recalibrated to promote racial and economic equality. One of my favorite articles of the year was co-authored by Dr. Ron Daniels and Reverend Ronald Gavlin, who set out the case for creating an economy “in which repair is a natural and reflexive impulse embedded in its operating system”.

We also lost many intellectual giants this year, as well as outspoken activists for social justice across the world. Among them was Michael Brooks – the renowned journalist, intellectual, and political satirist.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael in his Brooklyn apartment. Our conversation explored the future of the US foreign policy, and how we can build global solidarity to tackle the most pressing issues of our time. He tragically passed away this summer, and his voice will be greatly missed.

We also lost David Graeber, an anthropologist who has been a major inspiration on my work, and many of us at ourEconomy. You can read an obituary published at openDemocracy here.

As we move into a new year, it's important to keep the legacy of those we have lost alive. In doing so, we can be inspired to create a better future.

Laura Basu, Europe editor

As the European Union’s flagship Green Deal creaked into gear this year, we launched our ‘Spotlight on the European Green Deal’ series to make sure it faces the public scrutiny it so desperately needs.

The Green Deal aims to transform Europe into the first climate neutral economic bloc by 2050, and is connected to most areas of EU policy. But while it promises much, our series has exposed how it has become highly vulnerable to corporate capture.

From watering down rules on pesticides and palm oil and buying into the ‘hydrogen hype’ that sees billions invested in fossil fuel infrastructure, to exposing the extent of corporate lobbying and revolving doors, it’s clear that how the Green Deal progresses will be something to watch closely in 2021.

While the European Green Deal coverage – vital as it is – might not make for very cheering holiday reading, one of the most inspiring phenomena of this year has been the explosion of the global Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the brutal police killing of George Floyd in the US.

This led me on my own journey, to dig into the deep structures of racism in our podcast episode ‘Is capitalism racist?’ Featuring interviews with Vijay Prashad, Gargi Bhattacharyya, Charles Mills and Dalia Gebrial, we explored fresh ideas for how to transition to a new political economy based on repair, healing and justice.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, we wanted ourEconomy to be a place where people could explore how this devastating crisis could also be viewed as an opportunity to ‘hit pause’ and ‘build back better’. For me, some of the most exciting contributions were able to link the pandemic to the wider environmental and social crisis our world faces, and to imagine futures that are completely different from the lives our societies presently offer us.

Bringing together work by Indigenous scholars from across the Americas, an excellent piece by the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective suggested that by having the courage to surrender our current mode of living, can we begin to open ourselves to new possibilities. Another piece by Miloon and Ashish Kothari concluded that “if there is one lesson all of us should have learnt during the Covid-19 crisis, it is about how to separate the ‘essential’ from the ‘non-essential’ – and from here, we can start rebuilding our societies around the essentials.”

Meanwhile, a thought provoking essay by The Pluriverse Collective described how a “grassroots revolution” is in train that “speaks to a vision of autonomous bio-cultural regions, defined by tangible social and ecological relationships, and making tangible the argument that mutual aid and local ecosystem protection are more effective for dealing with crises and even pandemics than centralized statist measures”.

Let’s hope we can learn the lessons that 2020 has tried to teach us, and be wiser in 2021.

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