Summary of 2014: !Redrum
I use the first two columns of the year to summarize the past year’s economic agenda and share my predictions for the new year. The first one is much easier, as I have more than 100 of my columns to guide me.
I started 2014 by discussing whether the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would pay for the graft scandal in the local elections. I argued it would not, citing research that showed voters do not punish corruption in countries where graft is already prevalent – as long as the economy is doing well. I was unfortunately proven right three months later.
The year’s main economic event was the mini-crisis at the end of January. Even without the graft scandal, Turkey would have been one of the countries most hurt by the negative global sentiment. It did not help that the Central Bank had recently (and prematurely) lowered interest rates. The Bank had to hike rates significantly at an emergency meeting at the end of January. I believe the same scenario will play out again this year.
In fact, Turkey’s short-term vulnerabilities were a recurring theme of my columns, especially when bullish sentiment ruled supreme. But I did not ignore the long-run: I argued that Turkey’s growth model had run out of steam, and that the country would get stuck in a middle-income trap without structural reforms, which was confirmed by the IMF shortly afterwards. I also discussed why the government’s new reform program was not credible – if nothing else, because religion was more important than reform for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Of course, Erdoğan became a permanent fixture of my columns. I once explained why you don’t mess with the Erdoğan, but I did not follow my own advice: I took on his interest rate fetish as well as his stabs at the Central Bank and bureaucrats. I wrote about his attitude toward gender equality – and why Turkey was no country for happy women. I discussed the factual errors on the Turkish economy in his balcony speech following his presidential election victory. I argued that Turkey had more important educational issues than Ottoman.
I traveled a lot in 2014. In South Africa, I saw potholes larger than the potbelly of Egemen Bağış, one of the ministers implicated in the graft scandal, and learned that South African thieves had more honor than Turkish ones. I reported from London in August, where I was to watch my beloved Black Eagles against the Gunners, that long-term investors were having cold feet on Turkey – which has finally entered columnists’ radar. In China, I saw a ticking time bomb, which could as well explode this year.
But at the end of the day, my most popular columns by far were the ones about the murders in Turkey: Berkin Elvan, the boy who was shot in the head with a gas canister after leaving home to buy bread during the Gezi protests; Esther Giovanna Parker, my friend and editor who was stabbed to death by her husband; and the miners who were killed in Soma. These were the only three columns I cried while writing during my six-year stint at the Daily News.
Maybe, you could sense the pain I felt as I typed, but you were also wise: As Albert Camus wrote in American Journals, “One way to know a country is to know how people die there.” Please continue to #RememberBerkin, #RememberEsther and #RememberSoma in 2015.