This is a time for looking back over a memorable year and for speculating about the future. But, if Robert Skidelsky is right, what comes next is not just a new year—it is the start of a new era. The pendulum, he argues, is now swinging strongly away from free markets and the smaller state, as it swung towards them at the end of the 1970s. So far, so conventional, and such trends are already evident in British politics: the increase in tax rates for high earners, the decision not to go ahead with Post Office closures, and so on. But Skidelsky also argues that ideas which until quite recently belonged on the fringes of politics—the idea, for example, that globalisation has done little to increase wellbeing in rich countries—will now have many more mainstream advocates. Speculation about what will happen next to the global economy ranges from just a few fiddles to the financial system to a full-scale return to the third quarter of the 20th century (with trade still free-ish but finance renationalised) or, worse, the protectionist and violent second quarter of that century. And what about values? Will we see a shift back towards favouring experience and judgement over computer projections? The ideas of loyalty and commitment, especially in economic hard times, will surely enjoy a renaissance. And this could, again, be the hour of the liberal nation-state. The crash has blown away the excesses of post-nationalism in finance and in citizenship itself—it matters again which set of taxpayers stand behind your savings account if your bank fails, and it matters that borders are properly controlled. The trick in all this is how to depose “Davos man” without destroying the good things about globalisation. An orderly rebalancing of the global economy requires higher wages for Chinese workers, which in turn would reduce the temptation to export jobs and make it easier to recalibrate the balance between labour and capital in the west.
For a lighter take on global politics, we have an interview with the world’s most famous pop star, Paul McCartney, proving that it was not just John Lennon who had a political head. In our customary “overrated and underrated” review of the year, we make our own small contribution towards telling truth to power by encouraging our writers to be rude about each other and everybody else too. And lastly, everyone loves a Christmas poll, so we have one of those for you, on the most important global public intellectual of 2008—you don’t even have to vote because we have already chosen the winner. This is one egghead you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with. Please step forward, General Petraeus.