Special Report

Who Won the Great Recession?

In November 1929, days after a stock market crash in New York sent shock waves through the global financial system, the Economist optimistically assured its British readers, "The material prosperity of the United States is too firmly based, in our opinion, for a revival in industrial activity -- even if we have to face an immediate recession of some magnitude -- to be long delayed." That caveat was the first known use of the "r" word to describe a temporary slowdown of industrial activity -- and not the last time it would feel hopelessly inadequate to describe the event taking place. In the United States, that "recession of some magnitude" would plunge the country into economic distress for a decade, obliterate the livelihoods of millions of Americans, and eventually lead to the creation of the modern American welfare state. Its effects abroad would be even more profound: the rise of fascism, another catastrophic world war, the fundamental reordering of global politics. The optimists were a little more reserved this time around. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the U.S. recession technically began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, though it certainly doesn't feel over for the more than 8 percent of American workers who are still unemployed. But of course, the "Great Recession" has long since gone beyond its technical definition to become a shorthand for the era -- one in which millions around the world are out of work and long-dominant institutions and ideas may never recover their credibility.

The downturn has demonstrated the dangers of unregulated financial speculation, upended governments from Reykjavik to Cairo, and may yet prove the undoing of one of the late 20th century's most audacious undertakings -- the political and economic integration of Europe after centuries of war and mistrust. Still, the creative destruction unleashed by the crisis has had its upside too. For all the losers who have suffered over the last four years -- the presidents and CEOs who have fallen from power, the workers searching for work -- others are emerging from the crisis stronger than ever before. So from food trucks to Tinseltown moguls, climate skeptics to declinist pundits, here's our look at some of the biggest winners from this period of distress and dislocation. McDonald's franchises and makeup counters, online education and the superrich who got us into this mess in the first place, might not seem like obvious beneficiaries of the crash, but at a time when the future still seems dangerously uncertain, these are the closest things out there to sure bets.

  • McDonald’s

    By Frederick Kaufman

  • These 7 Countries
    By Joshua E. Keating

  • Hollywood

    By Stephen Galloway

  • Capitalism

    By Slavoj Zizek

  • Nouriel Roubini

    Nouriel Roubini
    By Daniel Altman

  • Climate Deniers

    Climate Deniers
    By Kate Sheppard

  • Higher Ed

    Higher Ed
    By Ben Wildavsky

  • Extremists

    By J.M. Berger

  • Declinist Pundits

    Declinist Pundits
    By Joseph S. Nye

  • Cheapskates, Pessimists & Food Trucks

    Cheapskates, Pessimists & Food Trucks
    By Tyler Cowen

  • Unlivable Cities

    The Ultra-Rich
    By Michael Lind


Special Report

Cities Issue

Our special issue dedicated to the cities of the future has its eye squarely toward China, because the cities of the future are increasingly going to be speaking Mandarin -- even more than you realize. It's no longer news that China has embarked on the largest mass urbanization in history, a monumental migration from country to city that will leave China with nearly a billion urbanites by 2025 and an astonishing 221 cities with populations over 1 million. But this isn't just about size: It's about global heft. And that's where the scale of China's transformation into a world leader is truly astonishing. In an exclusive index for FP, the McKinsey Global Institute has run the numbers to produce what we're calling The 75 Most Dynamic Cities of 2025 -- an extraordinary 29 of which are in China. Some are already global powers, from top-ranked Shanghai to manufacturing dynamo Shenzhen; others, from Fuzhou to Xiamen, were little more than provincial backwaters in the 20th century but look to be household names in the 21st, powering the global economy not just through their sheer size but also through their urban innovation and pulsing drive. Europe, meanwhile, will manage only three cities on the list by 2025; the United States finishes second to China -- a very distant second -- with 13. Still think that debate about Western decline is overblown?

  • The Most Dynamic Cities 2025

    The Most Dynamic Cities of 2025

  • 'Twitter Is My City': An Exclusive Interview with Ai Weiwei

  • The East is Rising

    The East Is Rising: 29 Chinese Cities Powering Global Growth

  • Weapons of Mass Urban Destruction

    Weapons of Mass Urban Destruction
    By Peter Calthorpe

  • Cities of the Future: Made in China

    7 Chinese Innovations That Will Change the Way We Live
    By Dustin Roasa

  • Once Upon a Time in Shanghai

    The Rise and Fall and Rise of New Shanghai
    By Daniel Brook

  • Beijing Forever

    Beijing Forever: The Capital Where Change Is the Only Constant
    By Michael Meyer

  • Postcards From the Future

    Postcards from the Future

  • Mr. Happy

    Mr. Happy: Is this Communist Party Boss About to Make the Big Time?
    By Geoff Dyer

  • Building a Better China

    Building a Better China
    By Richard Dobbs and Jaana Remes

  • China's Debt Bomb

    China's Debt Bomb
    By Jonathan Kaiman

  • Unlivable Cities

    Unlivable Cities
    By Isaac Stone Fish

  • Once Upon a Time in Shanghai

    Once Upon a Time in Shanghai

  • Life in a Big Box

    Life in a Big Box
    By Matthew Niederhauser

  • Life in a Big Box

    The Souls of Chinese Cities
    By Christina Larson