Welcome to the year of living dangerously. Nobody is suggesting the final months of the 20th century will be easy. For most people they won't. They will require sharp wits and a firm resolve.
In this issue we take a realistic but positive view of the upheavals you can expect in the year ahead, starting with the economy. Professor Douglas McWilliams, one of Britain's most eminent economic forecasters, suggests that the Government's optimism is misplaced (p36). In his view, we face an unpleasant and bumpy landing next year that will hit all of us in some way.
It is not all gloomy, though. As McWilliams points out, even the blackest thunderclouds will contain silver linings. Redundancies and company failures are unlikely to match those of the early '90s and people with mortgages to pay could enjoy the lowest repayment levels for 35 years. Those in the high-tech sector may even find themselves painted as heroes, leading the country towards recovery.
For now, though, the outlook is not very encouraging. When signs of good news do appear in the national newspapers, it is worth looking at them carefully to read between the lines. Anthony Hilton provides a fascinating insight into how the stories that reach the business pages are not always what they seem (p28). Hardly a day goes by without one company or another trying to manipulate the media to achieve its own corporate objectives.
Sometimes this can simply involve the communication of change; on other occasions the aim might be the inflation of a share price or it could even be a plot to remove the chief executive.
Among all this uncertainty, one thing is certain: life this year will be stressful. Those in the business of alleviating stress are likely to have a boom time. Counsellors, stress managers, psychologists and authors will find growing audiences for their various remedies and techniques.
Stress has already been elevated into a national issue. Seldom has one word been held responsible for so much. These days everyone complains that they are under stress or over-stressed or stressed out. People talk as if stress stops them from functioning properly.
When Matthew Gwyther explored the issue, he discovered that instead of being Public Health Enemy Number One, a certain amount of stress is good for you (p22). Without it, nobody would care sufficiently about anything or anyone to meet deadlines and get things done.
The euro, of course, is already upon us. We have talked to people on every side of this issue, from exporters and big corporations to accountants and small businesses, to find out exactly who needs to do what to stay ahead of the game (p50).
In the short term, the single currency is bound to cause headaches, even nervous exhaustion, but its momentum looks unstoppable now. The phase-in has begun.