Print Story The Economist Magazine
By Alan Crowe (Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 07:52:14 AM EST) cyncicism, economics, disillusion (all tags)

When I was young, 15 or 17, I made several attempts to read the Economist Magazine in the school library. It was nihilist, left-wing agit-prop. My self-image was as a reasonable center-right person and I was put off, not least because the magazines cynicism seemed so similar to the teenage angst that I was actively rejecting.

That would be be around 1976. Now that I am nearly fifty I know that the Economist magazine is a right wing part of the establishment. The sophisticated reader can discern subtle nuances, separating pro-market from pro-business, separating those for whom "free markets" is a cloak and those for whom it is a creed. Nevertheless one is left to wonder: how did my young self get it so wrong?

Detailed justification of my teenage views inside, based on September 12th-18th 2009 print edition of the Economist.

Lets kick off with "Face value|Iliad's warrior" on page 81. The piece is about the French entrepreneur Xavier Niel, who is attempting to win a mobile phone licence for his company Iliad.

... after years of deliberation and fierce opposition form the big three - Orange, Vivendi,... and Bouygues Telecom,... the government invited bids for a fourth mobile licence ...
The article depicts current arrangements as a cosy cartel and reports the estimates of Nicolas Didio of Exane BNP Paribus, a stockbroking firm, that Iliad could eventually lift its operating profit by 50% while cutting profits at Orange by 10%, at SFR by 17% and at Bouygues Telecom by 23%. An eyebrow is raised at the failure of Martin Bouygues to use his friendship with President Nicolas Sarkozy to block the fourth licence.

My fifteen year old self was able to read the subtext. Big businessmen are a bunch of blood sucking parasites whose corrupt political cronies help them pick the pockets of the public. Yeah, right.

On the facing page, "Dogan v Erdogan" reports "Turkey's biggest media group gets a colossal tax fine." Are the blood sucking parasites of big business getting their comeuppance? No. Dogan has pissed off Turkey's prime minister and Turkey's tax laws are notoriously complex. "They can be used as a spear of a shield."

All angsty teenagers know why we have laws against cannabis and pornography. Ayn Rand/William Burroughs have told us. You cannot govern innocent men. You must have plenty of laws so that every-one is guilty of something. The Economist runs with this narrative and one imagines Sir Humphrey advising "But minister, if the tax code were simple enough that people could comply with it, you would not be able to threaten your opponents with a tax audit."

At least the briefing on India's water crisis will be about meteorology, not an opportunity for sneering at the wise rule of our elders and betters.

But, the world over, without expensive maintenance to prevent siltation in reservoirs and leakage form canals, grand dams and irrigation schemes tend to be as inefficient as they are environmentally destructive. And India's corrupt, under funded and overmanned state irrigation departments - Uttar Pradesh's, for example employs over 100,000 people - often provide no maintenance at all.

1975-1977 was the tail end of Heath/Wilson corporatism in the UK. 16 year old Alan would have no difficulty in picking up the sharp dig at the soft left and their nationalised industries. Looking at a 2009 edition of the Economist and assuming nothing has changed since 1975, you can see why alan1975 thought that the magazine was nihilist, left-wing agit-prop.

I don't where I'm going with this diary. Homosexual law reform in the UK was in 1967. My father disapproved. Alan1975 thought that homosexual law reform was about sex. When he grew up he would have opinions of his own about whether buggery was evil or fun.

Alan2009, corrupted by his subscription to the Economist, takes the Malaysian view. When the political opposition is asking awkward questions about whether nepotism is rendering industrial policy ineffective, you need a spear and a shield. A spear to stab you opponent. A shield to protect your relative's loot from prying eyes. The prohibition of homosexuality is a combined shield/spear so good they used it twice. The prohibition of homosexuality is not about sex, it is about who gets the windfall profits from tariffs on car imports. That is not quite right. I realise that Cynicism is dangerously naive and that some people actually care what others do in the privacy of their bedroom.

Perhaps this diary is an instance of the adage that growing old is not the piling up of wisdom but the losing of illusions, though I hope that I've been discarding illusions to make room for wisdom. Please make wise comments; Tullock knows, there is plenty of room for them.

< Attn: Italian Infidels! | swine >
The Economist Magazine | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden)
As long as you keep getting wiser as you get older by BadDoggie (4.00 / 2) #1 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 10:45:56 AM EST
You should be OK. I, too, remember some years ago my epiphany wrt The Economist. Before 1997 or so I saw it from a post-Keynsian neo-classical economist's viewpoint which it tended to reflect. Except, if you looked carefully, it didn't. And every time I dared look deeper and further back I saw just how wrong that publication has always been. About everything save for perhaps the Big Mac Index.

When they supported first Bush, then Bush's war I cancelled my subscription.

My opinions about that magazine were about the wrongest things I ever thought. While I'd like to believe I'm just that fucking smart that my opinions and thoughts have stood the test of many years, I expect I've just been very lucky when it came to which giants' shoulders I was able to stand on.


OMG WE'RE FUCKED! -- duxup ?

Drug prohibition by marvin (2.00 / 0) #5 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 01:19:02 PM EST
Perhaps they got one more thing right in your view.

[ Parent ]
Only recently. by BadDoggie (2.00 / 0) #9 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 01:40:53 PM EST
Remember that the Economist were supply-siders long after the sheer stupidity of the idea was proven and the academic discrediting of the Chicago School had taken place. They was for it before they was agin' it. They're now against all sorts of prohibitions including smoking which goes against the smart view they had years ago about the health care costs and the fucking European dependence on tobacco taxes which is so great that it's in almost every EU government's interest to work against the interests of its citizens.


OMG WE'RE FUCKED! -- duxup ?

[ Parent ]
Recently === 1989 in your world then?? by marvin (2.00 / 0) #11 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 01:47:09 PM EST
The bottom of the article linked to an 1989 endorsement of a similar drug policy: "Prohibition cruelly compounds the problems it was meant to solve. So end it. Legalise, control, discourage: those are the weapons for Mr Bennett's war."

I read the Economist like I do any other rag - aware of the inherent bias of a publication written by humans. That said, there are not many magazines which offer comparable depth and breadth of reporting in such a concise package with comparable quality.

[ Parent ]
Less than half my lifetime ago, so yes. by BadDoggie (4.00 / 2) #12 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 02:21:45 PM EST
Whatever side The Economist takes I'm likely to lean toward the opposite. They offer depth and breadth but skew every article in the direction of WRONGVILLE. The only time they're right is when they quietly change their mind in the face of byond-overwhelming evidence and then stay pretty quiet on the subject. Two years ago they still thought the war in Iraq was just fucking peachy and wasted a few pages enumerating this opinion. They supported every single fucking Bush43 policy save for the "War on Drugs" which they simply didn't bother writing much about because they were behaving like the good little neocon bitches they are.

Why are you defending these cunts who have been so spectacularly wrong about practically every opinion they've ever uttered, right from their earliest days? They supported both slavery and eugenics, proudly defending and lauding their rôles and that of their then-owners and editors in both. To this day they admit to being an "advocacy journal". They are wrong. The Economist is always wrong until it's (finally) right. And even then it gets as much as it can wrong.


OMG WE'RE FUCKED! -- duxup ?

[ Parent ]
it's a comprehensive review.. by infinitera (4.00 / 0) #13 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 02:28:45 PM EST
Of all things relevant to technocrats, and perceived through that social lens. Technocrats are amoral, and averse to change until their new lens has gone through its grinding and polishing process.

[…] a professional layabout. Which I aspire to be, but am not yet. — CheeseburgerBrown

[ Parent ]
They are not amoral. They are WRONG. by BadDoggie (4.00 / 2) #14 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 03:06:14 PM EST
An amoral opinion about slavery would take everything into account. The Economist did not, staunchly supporting the practice well beyond emancipation in both the UK and the US. Except that a truly honest, economics-based evaluation of slavery shows it to be incredibly inefficient when compared to a free labour market unless you only look at the absolute wealth of the 1/100,000 or 1% of those who profited. From Marginal Cost to Net Social Benefit to a wildly expanded PPF ("Guns & Butter" curve) to a simple supply & demand curve, slavery fails from every legitimate economic standpoint but was just the bees' knees according to The Economist.


OMG WE'RE FUCKED! -- duxup ?

[ Parent ]
the lens affects the facts considered and the.. by infinitera (4.00 / 1) #16 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 03:22:35 PM EST
Evaluation methods used.

You can't expect them to be "objective".

"a truly honest, economics-based evaluation" assumes a lot more about technocrats than can be reasonably expected.

[…] a professional layabout. Which I aspire to be, but am not yet. — CheeseburgerBrown

[ Parent ]
To be fair by motty (4.00 / 2) #18 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 11:10:24 PM EST
The thing about The Economist is that it does provide employment for many of those Balliol PPE graduates who failed to make it into the Cabinet. It's seen by some as practically a sort of alumni magazine, and taken as about as seriously.

In that sense it's a public service, really.

I amd itn ecaptiaghle of drinking sthis d dar - Dr T

[ Parent ]
Hyperbole detected by marvin (2.00 / 0) #15 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 03:15:12 PM EST
I don't get that worked up over people who write for money, and who target a specific audience and mindset. I quite like the Economist, and find many aspects of their publication to be a refreshing change from the poorly researched, inadequately edited, and woefully inadequate crap that passes for journalism in Canada.

Plus, I find the many errors and easterner Ontario-centric attitudes in their articles on Canada to be particularly amusing, even though they annoy me.

Since you clearly know of something better than the Economist that does not share any of the flaws that you enumerate, please post a link as I would be interested in checking it out. Failing that, I continue to check multiple news sources (and wholly believe none of them), and the Economist will remain in that mix.

[ Parent ]
Turkish tax law by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #2 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 10:55:12 AM EST
I garbled the quote. It should read: They can be used as a spear or a shield.

The Economist on your phone by Vulch (2.00 / 0) #3 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 11:24:06 AM EST
Can be found here

Disclaimer: I wrote the framework, a former colleague did the content. There's a later version of the framework which hasn't been rolled out, that one's about 5 years old.

It will appear in a phone-like skin on a desktop browser, fiddle the browser user agent string or use this link to see it without.

For "balance" The Spectator and, hmmm, that's about it on the free services. I could mention The New Statesman but that's subs only.

The Economist by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #4 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 11:52:38 AM EST
I started subscribing last winter. It's a newsweekly with lots of international news, and lots of economic news. I remember when Newsweek and Time had lots of international news.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

Sir, by LinDze (2.00 / 0) #6 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 01:23:00 PM EST
I do believe The Economist has always been a news paper and not a news magazine.

-Lin Dze
Arbeit Macht Frei
Secondly, Im not sure I get your point by LinDze (2.00 / 0) #7 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 01:27:21 PM EST
about the India bit.

I dont see how you can take umbrage with the first sentence of the quote. So I assume you find fault with the second?

-Lin Dze
Arbeit Macht Frei

Wait, maybe I missed the whole concept by LinDze (2.00 / 0) #8 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 01:29:15 PM EST
The comments are about the stories as seen through the lens of previous views?

-Lin Dze
Arbeit Macht Frei
[ Parent ]
The concept is under development by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #19 Thu Sep 17, 2009 at 06:53:33 AM EST
As best I can remember Alan1976 was optimistic about human nature and the status quo. "The Great and the Good" was not, for him, an ironic phrase: he thought we were ruled by clever men with good intentions.

So business leaders were respectable men whose knighthoods for services to industry were fairly earned. Law served morality. Nationalised industries were on the brink of working well.

The Economist seemed to sneer at all this. Business leaders tried to gain monopolies in the hope of ripping off the public. Complex laws were a spear and a shield but these weapons were in the hands of mercenaries and used to fight for immoral causes. Nationalised industries were sinecures used to build voting blocks.

With his optimism about human nature Alan1976 saw communism as worthy of consideration. The Economist's depiction of the British system (a hybrid soft-left capitialism) seemed to him to portray an egregiously dysfunctional system, so bad that one might happily chose anything else, even Marxism, without having to worry that one was jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Alan1976 didn't buy this. The Economist contained no positive advocacy of the merits of communism and no explanation of how it would actually work, so the drip, drip, drip, of capitalism sucks, capitalism sucks, capitalism sucks,... struck me, back then, as a bogus way of avocating change.

I think I had misunderstood where the Economist was coming from. Without jumping to a judgment as to its accuracy, I think the Economist has a very bleak view of human nature, or at least how human nature plays out in politics on the large scale. In particular the Economist world view is that communism always ruins agriculture to the extent that people end up eating their own children. Thus they feel free to attack capitalism as fiercely as they wish, without thinking that this is implicit advocacy of communism. Indeed I think they see themselves as part of capitalism's maintenance crew, pointing out rot here and rust there, with the goal of getting it mended, the better to keep capitalism running and avoid the catastrophe of communism.

Alan2009 thinks that the Economist is following the money and telling him the stories behind the news. On the other hand it doesn't strike me as being anything like the whole story and my intutition is that an eventual Hari Seldon style psychohistory will be more about psychology and less about money.

[ Parent ]
Ah yes, I could see that. by LinDze (2.00 / 0) #20 Fri Sep 18, 2009 at 12:38:11 AM EST
The criticism is less attacking the system than sharply pointing out areas that need improvement.

Telling the stories behind the news is exactly why I read it. Of course there are shades of bias, but no other newspaper (that I know of) provides anything close to their coverage and depth.

-Lin Dze
Arbeit Macht Frei

[ Parent ]
I had an idea once for real-life trolling by Herring (4.00 / 2) #10 Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 01:43:03 PM EST
A bunch of us standing outside a tube station wearing pin-striped suits saying "Buy the Economist. Help the capitalist bastards help themselves." Never went through with it though.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

The Economist Magazine | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden)