Open Future explainedA letter to readers from the editor
This year The Economist celebrates its 175th anniversary. James Wilson, a hatmaker from Scotland, founded this newspaper in September 1843 to argue against Britain’s Corn Laws, which imposed punitive tariffs on grain. We have advocated free trade, free markets and open societies ever since.
Over the years we have also championed many controversial causes, from privatisation to drug legalisation and same-sex marriage. In doing so, we have always been guided by classical liberal values: a belief in human progress, distrust of powerful interests and respect for individual freedom. This is the liberalism of great 19th-century thinkers such as John Stuart Mill. (Confusingly, in America the term “liberal” has become synonymous with big-state leftism. That is not what we stand for.)
Although the world has changed dramatically since 1843, we believe that the values that guide The Economist are as relevant as ever. Yet, in a period of rising populism and, in many parts of the world, of growing authoritarianism, they face greater resistance today than they have for many years. Amid anger over inequality, immigration and cultural change, basic elements of the liberal credo, from globalisation to free speech, are assailed from right and left.
So we have launched Open Future, an initiative to remake the case for liberal values and policies in the 21st century. We want this exploration of ideas to involve our critics as well as our supporters, and to engage a young audience in particular. We are conducting the conversation across all The Economist’s platforms: in the newspaper, on this site, through podcasts, films and on social media. The initiative will culminate in a global event, the Open Future Festival, held simultaneously in Hong Kong, London and New York on Saturday September 15th.
This site is the hub for the Open Future discussions. Here you will find regular online debates, in which prominent outside contributors take sides on a controversial subject and you, our readers, can vote and comment. (Our first debate this week is on whether universities should ban offensive speakers.) You will find details of an essay contest for young people, with entries due by July 15th. And you will find a rich array of articles on free markets and open societies. Over the coming months we will publish guest contributions as well as new articles from Economist staff. We will celebrate liberalism’s history with a series of briefings on great liberal thinkers. And we will look ahead with a special report on the future of liberalism.
We have organised the conversation around five themes. Open Markets will examine the future of capitalism; Open Ideas will look at free speech; Open Society will discuss the balance between diversity, identity politics and political correctness; Open Borders will focus on immigration and Open Progress will consider whether technology is still a route to human progress.
When James Wilson launched this newspaper in 1843, he said its mission was to “take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” Open Future is the latest iteration of that mission. I encourage you to join the conversation. Please take part in our debates, vote in the polls, enter the essay contest and send us your comments at email@example.com.
Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief
Explore The Economist's Open Future hub