Editorial: the big ideas of 2015

December 10, 2014

As we move into the holiday season and around the turn of the year, we offer you our view of the big ideas that will shape 2015. We proved prescient in many of last year’s ones, such as the debate about “secular stagnation,” the “politics of protest,” and the increasing clash between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East (even if “the New Cold War” we described between Iran, Saudi Arabia and their allies has, in Syria, turned hot). This year, drawing on thoughts and predictions by Prospect’s international team of contributors and speakers, we describe the difficulty of practicing democratic politics—but the economic revival and technological vigour that also give cause for optimism.

Recession, recovery and the Scottish referendum have pushed British politics into a period of unusual fluidity. John Harris, political writer at the Guardian, argues that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party “faces problems it doesn’t understand.” Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, and Diane Coyle, a former advisor to the Treasury, look at what’s wrong with economics, including how it’s taught. Those are points picked up by Michael Meacher on our Letters page.

The year will not bring a peaceful world. “What does Putin want?” asks Chrystia Freeland, Canadian politician and distinguished writer on the United States, Russia and Ukraine; she says that he has made numerous miscalculations over Ukraine, but still wants more. Historian Ian Buruma looks at the clashes between China and Japan—which, he feels, the US is needed to help contain.

But containing conflict is one thing; ambitions for helping other countries develop should be scaled back, argues Thomas Dichter, formerly of the World Bank—particularly in the light of how far short of the Millennium Development Goals we will fall by the 2015 target date. They were misconceived, he argues, and the concept of aid and how to help another country develop now needs to change.

Yet as our “big ideas” show, such gloom is balanced by the promises of technological progress; for all the Pollyannaish hopes pinned on technology over the years, new changes are delivering real improvements to people’s lives. Even if Ed Davey, Energy Secretary, pins too many hopes on cheap solar power—and he does—he’s right that the fall in the price makes it no longer a fringe passion. Another promising front is understanding of the brain and of language. “Learning to hear” is an account, which has swept the US but has not yet been published in the United Kingdom, of a mother’s discovery that her son was profoundly deaf—and her investigation into the state of the science of the brain, of hearing and language that then followed.

Back to tradition, though, finally, as Peter Kellner points out, even in what some call Britain’s “post-Christian” culture, we still like Christmas. Or at least, as most of us have one, Christmas trees. Happy New Year!