This was the year populists made real efforts to challenge the economic consensus that has set the terms of the global economy for decades.
How are they doing?
It's a mixed bag. President Donald Trump's trade war achieved some gains but has yet to deliver the type of change many populists have called for, like a rollback of China's interventionist industrial policies. Britain's plan to leave the European Union has not made it through the country's Parliament. But Italy's populist government this week reached a fiscal deal with the European Union that appears to be a slight win for the country. And some of the populists' economic ideas appear to be gaining ground.
Populists have long contended that the global system of free trade hurt the livelihoods of many American workers. Trump's trade war showed that it was not easy to force big changes in the arrangements that underpin the flow of trillions of dollars of trade.
The Trump administration began by imposing tariffs on countries to force them to agree to his demands. But that confrontational strategy did not press China or the European Union to surrender. Instead, the Trump administration struck truces with China and the EU and got mild concessions from other countries.
On the battlefield of ideas, Trump's trade war has helped increase skepticism about free trade. Congress did not mount much resistance to his trade policy.
— Rome is not burning (yet).
After taking office in June, Italy's populists quickly let the European Union know that they would not stick to the previous government's fiscal targets for next year. Italy's new government said it expected its budget deficit to grow to 2.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2019. That number was too high for the EU, and the tension between Rome and Brussels caused a plunge in Italian government bonds and appeared to weigh on Italy's economy. But this month Italy and the EU agreed on a deficit of 2.04 percent of gross domestic product for 2019. True, the figure is lower than the populists' desired target, but it's significantly larger than the deficit target (0.8 percent of GDP) Italy's previous leaders agreed to.
Populism would face a big defeat if Britain ends up staying in the European Union after it voted to leave in 2016. Prime Minister Theresa May's government forged a departure agreement with the bloc last month, but it appears to lack the votes to get approved by the British Parliament.
Several possible paths lie ahead. Britain could leave the EU without a deal, an outcome some populists might favor. Perhaps more likely, Parliament, fearing an economic crash, would vote for May's deal or a similar deal that ties Britain closer to the bloc. And the probability of a second referendum, in which voters may be asked if they still want to leave, continues to rise.
Of course, that's not how millions of workers who depend on their cars saw it.
Mobility is the story of globalization and its inequities. Mobility means more than trains, planes and automobiles, after all. It also includes social and economic mobility — being too poor to afford a car, being rich enough to transfer money out of the country. These are all inextricably linked. Weeks of protests by the Yellow Vests have made that clear.
Many of these protesters, predominantly white working poor and middle class people who scrape by on their paychecks and pensions, live in what author Christophe Guilluy has called "peripheral France." The term is meant to imply both a state of being and the thousands of small, struggling cities, towns and rural districts beyond the inner-ring suburbs of places like Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon or Lille.
"As small businesses have been dying in these smaller cities and towns, people find themselves forced to seek jobs elsewhere and to shop even for basic goods in malls," said Alexis Spire, a French sociologist. "They need cars to survive, because regional trains and buses have declined or no longer serve them. Once you begin to unpack the Yellow Vest phenomenon, the uprising is a lot about mobility."
Experts have been drawing parallels between the Yellow Vests and the social rifts exposed by Donald Trump's election in the United States and Britain's plan to leave the European Union. But there are also larger trends at work in France, involving the evolution of cities, the effect of cars, and the geography of race and class — trends rooted in the postwar years.
As a handful of big cities thrived with globalization, France's regional governments, saddled with more financial burdens, became caught in a vicious cycle. Capital disappeared along with factories and jobs. Revenues shrank, debts mounted, and infrastructure declined.
Among the hardest-hit services were the regional railways, run by French rail company SNCF, which overwhelmingly invested in high-speed trains that served the big, prospering cities and is now $56 billion in debt. With service atrophying, people need their cars.