Twenty years on from MoneyWeek's first issue, how much have things changed?

Spanning one disputed American election to another, MoneyWeek is 20 years old this week. Editor-in-chief Merryn Somerset Webb looks at what's changed, and what may be in store for the next 20 years.

Al Gore and George W Bush
Gore versus Bush: we’re getting déjà vu
(Image credit: © DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)

MoneyWeek was launched 20 years ago this week. It’s been quite a ride. Our first month was dominated by the disputed election in the US. Everyone expected Al Gore to beat George Bush. He didn’t – but that was only clear after a nasty row over vote counts in Florida and a month of legal battles (Gore sued). Since then we’ve covered the second part of the dotcom crash (at one point in 2000 the Nasdaq looked like it was stabilising – it wasn’t); the entry of China into the World Trade Organisation and the wave of globalisation and disinflation that followed; the ongoing collapse in bond yields; the arrival of negative interest rates; the new green revolution; the stunning rise of Silicon Valley; and everything remotely money-related along the way. This issue of the magazine (written during the week of another tight and likely-to-be-disputed US election) has a go at thinking about what we might be covering over the next 20.

Some of our writers have clear long-term thematic worries. Jonathan Compton quite rightly notes that demographics, water shortages and the obesity epidemic will provide unpleasant headwinds and that with so many tensions in Central and East Asia, it is impossible to imagine “20 years of peaceful coexistence”). The roll back of globalisation is also a major worry. The number to watch? The ratio of new tariff barriers imposed to those removed. Over the last five years it has been 3:1. If you believe that free trade makes us all richer, that should worry you. Bill is worried too. The West, and the US in particular, he says, are following a familiar (and awful) formula. “Wreck the economy with wars, controls, excess spending and pernicious incentives, and then try and shore up what is left with printing money.” It always works – to ruin those who use it.

However, read this week’s issue (subscribe here if you don't already) and it is not misery that will leap out at you from the work of MoneyWeek staff – who have covered a long list of crises in the last 20 years. It is optimism. We have plenty of investment ideas. There are family-owned firms for those looking for long-term resilience (and listen to our podcast for more). There is bitcoin and gold for those worried about inflation; commodities for those who think a new commodity supercycle is on the way (those of us who were around for the last one think just that); a few good suggestions around longevity and agrarian revolution from Jim Mellon; and a comprehensive list of investment trusts for those who want to leave the details to a professional.

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But beyond the fact that whatever the environment there is always something to invest in, our optimism is based on our conviction in the long-term success of democratic capitalism and the triumphs of human ingenuity it encourages. With that in mind, we think there is an excellent chance that most of you reading this today will live to at least 100 in decent health and in a pollution-free environment, will soon be taking your first holiday in space, will have nipped to Tokyo for lunch at least once (with no quarantine!) and, most excitingly of all, from my point of view at least, will have been able to buy the kind of car that parallel parks for you. We also have your own forecasts for 2040. Here’s to the next 20 years.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.