The people who helped shape 2015

Angela Merkel

This was Merkel’s tenth year as chancellor of a united Germany and the “de-facto leader of the European Union”, says Time.

By year’s end she had navigated two “existential crises” – Grexit and the “thunderclap” of the refugee crisis. Critics say that, after ten years, Merkel is tiring; yet the chancellery still “hums with her ideas”.

And behind the scenes, she is “tireless”: at the height of the Greek crisis, she went through the country’s rotten pensions system “line by line” with Alexis Tsipras.

Her decision to allow one million migrants into Germany is arguably the riskiest of her career. But Merkel’s “strong moral leadership” surely “cements her reputation as one of Germany’s great chancellors”.

Anne-Marie Slaughter

Move over Sheryl Sandford, said The Economist when selecting Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family as one of its Books of the Year – describing it as “a rational, well-argued call for arms to make work-life balance a reality”. A “respected foreign-policy expert”, Slaughter, 57, left her high-octane government job to spend more time with her teenage sons and, in 2012, penned an essay for The Atlantic titled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.

She now says being famous for holding that view makes her “want to shoot myself”, says the FT. “She is done talking about balancing work and family as a woman’s issue”, seeing it instead as a “gender-neutral” priority that companies fail to address at their peril.

George Osborne

“Something has changed about George – it’s hard to put your finger on it,” said a Tory MP after the party’s election victory in May. And, indeed, 2015 was the year when Britain’s “revolutionary” chancellor came of age: lighting a bonfire of pension regulations, seeking to unshackle the state from a ruinous tax credits bill, and trashing the buy-to-let business model.

What a contrast, says the FT, from three years ago when Osborne presided over a “comatose economy” and delivered an “omnishambles” Budget. He has now replaced Boris Johnson as favourite to succeed David Cameron as PM – but whether he gets the job still depends on how well he manages the economy in the next few years, says The Sunday Times.

Janet Yellen

“Still waiting for Godot,” wrote one market analyst in September when the US Federal Reserve ducked the historic decision to raise interest rates for the first time in a decade. Now, with the die finally cast, Fed chair Janet Yellen can congratulate herself on achieving a smooth “lift-off”, says The Guardian. The Fed’s “emollient language” was “exactly what traders had been expecting”.

But winning trust has long been Yellen’s forte, and is one reason why she was better placed than Larry Summers, her erstwhile chief rival for the top job at the Fed, to navigate this tricky situation. A New Yorker profile last year concluded: “Yellen is an economist. She has to become a politician.” In 2015, she showed that she is well on her way.

Martin Shkreli

The hedge-funder turned pharma boss became infamous for raising the price of a drug by 5,000% overnight. Dubbed “a poster child for everything that was wrong with American business” – Shkreli, 32, sparked a national debate on drug pricing, says The New Yorker. But although his behaviour was egregious, it wasn’t illegal – in contrast to new FBI accusations that he ran a Ponzi scheme at a former company.

Prosecutors allege that when another of his funds, MSMB, ran into trouble, Shkreli used assets from one of his pharma companies to pay the debts. When he was arrested just before Christmas for securities fraud, the joke in New York was that Shkreli’s attorney had just hiked his hourly fee by 5,000%.

Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Marine Le Pen

Had you suggested a few years ago that any of these four “might become a significant political figure”, you’d have been laughed out of theroom, says TechCrunch. Yet in 2015, all made big gains. “What has happened to politics as we know it?” It seems that “the old party machines are imploding and political entrepreneurs have the wherewithal to take over old parties or to build new ones”, says The Economist.

Trump  has deployed his fortune and fame to become the leading Republican presidential candidate, despite having “no coherent political philosophy” and committing countless gaffes, says Vanity Fair. Corbyn has rallied grass-roots support in defiance of conventional party structures. “Rarely has the leader of a political party looked so estranged from his own MPs,” notes the FT. But given the groundswell of support for him, he may nonetheless prove impossible to topple.

The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville argued that popular revolutions rarely occur during an economic crisis. The danger time is when recovery has set in, but large swathes of the population believe they haven’t benefited. That’s probably the best explanations for the “Alice in Wonderland” politics we’re seeing now, says Tony Blair in The Observer.