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The ‘Economist’ fails the final test

I am sometimes told that I should not “bang on” about the Economist journal (much in the way that Mr. Cameron tells everyone that they should not “bang on” about the endless regulations that come from that absurd extra layer of government called the European Union), as it is just another leftist publication like the Guardian, the Independent, the Financial Times (the newspaper for corrupt, politically connected, “business people”) and so on.

However, people continue to defend the Economist so it is worth “banging on” about it.

The Economist stands, at least most of the time and in the case of most nations in the world, for more money for the various ‘pubic services’ and for more regulations (gun control, anti trust – competition policy and so on) as part of its Welfare State ideology and ‘perfect competition’ (i.e. neo-classical excuse for endless government intervention) conception of economics. So its defenders’ claim that it is ‘free market’ is very obviously false.

However, the defenders of the Economist make another claim – that the journal provides coverage of world news that an ordinary newspaper does not.

In a break in a series of Kettering council events I popped out to the town library and had a look at the Economist - I wanted to read its reports on the local elections in Spain and Italy.

There was one line “centre left governments do badly” – no reports on the elections, nothing on what cities and regions were won by who. Even concerning nations in the European Union – the entity that the Economist supports and claims to know so much about.

The Economist fails the final test – it did not even bother have a proper report on either set of elections. It does not provide coverage that ordinary newspapers do not.

49 comments to The ‘Economist’ fails the final test

  • chip

    When I was a lightly travelled university student I liked the Economist for its intelligent international coverage. But as I worked around the world over the years I started to realize that the Economist usually talks a lot of nonsense.

    The business section may still be worth a read, but the sheer awfulness of the political section, which is increasingly marked by silly anti-American blather, forced me to abandon the magazine altogether.

  • the sheer awfulness of the political section, which is increasingly marked by silly anti-American blather, forced me to abandon the magazine altogether.

    Same here. I let my subscription lapse in April.

  • Ava

    What do you all suggest as alternatives to the FT and the Economist? I need to get information somewhere and though I’m not particularly happy with those two…

  • Edward Bosco

    The magazine _was_ excellent several years back; I’d trusted it for good analysis, and it seemed accurate across the ways I could check it.

    Now it’s rubbish, and tedious, and I don’t bother with it. More akin now to ‘Time’ or ‘Newsweek’ than a reliable source of information.

    The various blogs and aggregators like “Samizdata” or “Instapundit” are where I’m getting my info nowadays.

  • Millie Woods

    Nobody’s saying what needs to be said. The Economist’s decline began when a woman became editor. She’s incompetent and she’s done irreparable harm.

  • Paul Marks

    Ava.

    What should read instead of the Economist and the Financial Times?

    Well I am just going to repeat what you have most likely thought of for yourself – concerning journalism with a stress on financial questions.

    The Wall Street Journal (if you are mostly interested in the United States – although its international coverage is good), or “The Business” (if you are mostly interested in the United Kingdom).

    I should have made clear that Economist is owned by the same group that owns the Financial Times (which may be the source of the trouble).

    The F.T. is a very strange newspaper. It has gone from an unholy alliance between various financial services interests and Marxists (the Marxists on the newspaper were fairly open in how there work in relation to “Finance Capital” was all part of their noble effort to destroy our evil society and …….) to a fan club for “New Labour”.

    Of course there are also token free market people on the Financial Times such as Samual Britton – but in S.B.s case his free market beliefs were some how compatible with his support for the European Union (for which his brother worked as a Commissioner) and even exchange rate rigging – the demented E.R.M.

    As for a female editor being the problem on the Economist – I can think of a lot of women who could do a good job.

    It is not a question of whether someone is male or female, it is a question of whether someone has a good knowledge of economics and is a good journalist.

    Sadly the people in charge of the Economists do not have a good knowledge of Economics (they just repeat the interventionist rubbish that is taught at most British universities), and are crap journalists.

  • The FT is printed locally for the North of England, and being in logistics I can generally pick up a free copy for the weekend.

    It is definitely still superior to ‘Metro’, at the same price I mean, but it does definitely seem to be possessed of a certain quality of ‘hysterical defeatism’, stemming from the decision it’s staff have taken to try and believe that life in the UK is in some sense ‘living’ compatibly with life anywhere else.
    They don’t want change, they don’t want to offer criticism, they simply wish to induct more unwitting outsiders into the British-flavoured pavillion of ‘euro-lifestyle’ land.

    They have made their bed and are determined to sleep on it no matter what truths kick them in the arse.

  • Millie Woods

    Paul, I expressed myself badly. I didn’t want to imply that the editor is incompetent because she is female but rather that this particular woman is an incompetent twit. What makes me particularly angry about giving women jobs they are not able to do simply because they are female is that when they mess up it reflects negatively on the rest of us who are in the work force and have to deal with a certain amount of scepticism about our ability to ‘do the job’.

  • John

    I have been a subscriber of The Economist since about 1972. It came via airmail on very light paper — even then it was usually 2 weeks late. It was worth it.

    Now, after all these years, I will let my subscription expire. Its political coverage of America is tententious and often flat wrong. I assume their coverage of Europe is no better.

    Sad.

  • Rob

    I too have marked the arrival of Bush Derangement Syndrome at the Economist, but it has not entirely consumed the cool-aid. I find it refreshing with a British slant and financial angle that is simply not available elsewhere. They are far superior to Time or Newsweek.
    They have campaigned against the weird anti-democratic elite Euro-socialist bureaucrats in Brussels. They cheered when the Euro Constitution crashed and burned. Their cover baldly stated the principal that we should not cut and run from Iraq. Beyond that they write on British politics, which I find somewhat opaque.
    If you want to check a magazine that is off the rails politically, check out Scientific American; owned now by Germans.
    There may be some redeeming features to the Economist still. Or maybe I just cling to the hope.

  • Alex Holt

    I used to subscribe to the economist in the mid-90s then I moved from the US to London. After while living there, I found the coverage of events not my liking. I thought the reporting was not as complete as I would like. So when I came back to the states in 2001 I let me subscription go. But funny enough, I still have full access to their website.

  • Charles

    However, the defenders of the Economist make another claim – that the journal provides coverage of world news that an ordinary newspaper does not.

    I would have said exactly that before the change to multicolor format. Since then, it’s been a slow evolution to just a regular news magazine.

  • Len Small

    I’m an American who worked on Fleet Street in 1963 and have subscribed ever since. There is a change in tone; they even chided the US for not being enthusiastic enough about European football. The sense of humor has been lost as well.
    There is an American woman in charge of Pearson, the overall publisher, but it’s doubtful she influences this new tone. It’s more likely due to a new generation of staffers, bringing with them their teachers’ prejudices.
    A great loss indeed.

  • kayne cassidy

    I received my MBA from Wharton in 1996, and at that time the Economist was virtually required reading. Since then I have periodically picked up the magazine at the newsstand, and hadn’t noticed much difference (not being a regular reader).

    Very recently, I renewed my subscription, and I almost immediately noticed the difference. Many articles contain cheap (and incorrect) anti-American shots that have virtually nothing to do with the subject of the article. It is both annoying and disappointing.

    I thought it was just that I was becoming hyper-sensitive. But I guess that maybe it’s not me, it really is the content.

  • Joe B

    I’ve had a free email subscription since 2001 as well.

    The paper really has developed a bias. I wouldn’t pay for a subscription now.

  • Len Small

    I’m an American who worked on Fleet Street in 1963 and have subscribed ever since. There is a change in tone; they even chided the US for not being enthusiastic enough about European football. The sense of humor has been lost as well.
    There is an American woman in charge of Pearson, the overall publisher, but it’s doubtful she influences this new tone. It’s more likely due to a new generation of staffers, bringing with them their teachers’ prejudices.
    A great loss indeed.

  • ChrisPer

    I remember how thoroughly they reported Michael Bellesiles’ new research proving that America’s love affair with guns was a late fictional invention. Then absolute silence when he was proven a fraud and liar.

  • Jack Lifton

    I subscribed to the Economist for many years beginning in the 1960s. I stopped around 10 years ago when it became anti-American and, frankly, its analyses became politically jejeune.

    I sometimes read free articles on the Internet, but I would never subscribe again. I read the left-leaning FT regularly, and I am a long time subscriber to the print edition, but at least the FT has balance on its editorial pages.

  • Len Small

    I’m an American who worked on Fleet Street in 1963 and have subscribed ever since. There is a change in tone; they even chided the US for not being enthusiastic enough about European football. The sense of humor has been lost as well.
    There is an American woman in charge of Pearson, the overall publisher, but it’s doubtful she influences this new tone. It’s more likely due to a new generation of staffers, bringing with them their teachers’ prejudices.
    A great loss indeed.

  • DSD

    The article on the Spanish local elections was published in the May 24th edition of the Economist
    http://www.economist.com/world/europe/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9233905

    It begins: “Local elections seldom matter. But as Spaniards vote for councils and mayors on May 27th, more than local politics is at stake.”

  • Jim

    I have subscribed for about 10 years. While the magazine’s editorial tone was becoming somewhat more statist and anti-American over time, their bias became unmistakable when Bill Emmott retired as editor in 2006 and was replaced, I think, by John Micklethwait.

  • Brent Michael Krupp

    Add me to the list of long-time subscribers who dropped their subscriptions recently. In my case, I’d been reading it since my undergraduate days in 1991 or so, and I dropped year before last when their lefty anti-US slant became unbearable to me.

    Really sad — it was a great (IMO) read in the early to mid 90s.

  • Jake

    I’m another who has dropped his subscription within the last three years. I used to read it religiously and, although it has always had a bit of a chip on its shoulder about American political power, it was worth ignoring the bias for the rest of the news. But the editors are now in full fledged BDS mode and it is not worth wading through the silliness to get to anything good. It’s sad to see such a great publication go down the tubes.

  • anon

    I live in Singapore, and have to second the comment above about the change in editors. Contrary to an earlier Samizdata post on the issue, I do not think that the Economist was particularly bad under Emmott’s editorship. What is alarming is that the magazine seems to have taken a marked and significant turn for the worse under Micklethwait. For those of us used to a drier, more insightful, less pettily leftwingish Economist, it’s terribly off-putting.

    When even your international readership is peeved, you just might be doing something wrong.

    Start by raising hiring standards. Guardian influxes aren’t advisable.

    Attn: Megan McArdle – kick this upwards.

  • Foobarista

    In this week’s Economist, we’re treated to yet more global warming tedium, with the anti-Americanism that goes with AGW discussions like flies on poop. It’s rare to find an article that discusses the US that doesn’t dwell on something “excessive”, along with one or two zingers to demonstrate the author’s hipness.

    I still like to read it for coverage of parts of the world where I wouldn’t get coverage otherwise, and it’s still basically classical liberal in its economics (most of the time), but its politics and science articles are right out of the leftoid playbook. And a whole lot of stuff is obviously warmed-over wireless copy.

    The sad thing is it’s still better than any other general news magazine, which is a reflection on just how bad they’ve all gotten.

  • ChrisN

    I started reading the Economist as an undergrad majoring in international relations in 1986. I kept reading it while I studied for my PhD in economics. It provided very useful supplementary material for my classes.

    During the late 1990s, it became steadily more anti-American. I also noticed that it was wildly innacurate (but never in doubt) on certain technical subjects with which I was familiar. This led me to start doubting the accuracy of their self-assured pontification on subjects with which I knew very little.

    I stopped reading it about 8 – 10 years ago.

  • Richard Wellman

    I subscribed 7 years ago when it was required for a class in grad school (MBA). They made a minor typo while inputting my subscription. They spelled my first name “Ricahrd”

    Before I even got my first issue, I started getting junk mail addressed to “Ricahrd.” After the first couple of weeks I started throwing it in a separate cardboard box – more than half the mail I was getting had the misspelled name, 6-10 pieces per day. I let the subscription expire at the end of the year, and weighed all the mail – which by then had grown to fill a dozen boxed. 146 lbs.

    The flood of junk mail has slowed, but I still get at least one piece per day.

  • Paul

    I’ve been a subscriber for over 30 years but will also let my subscription lapse at the end of the year. It’s not just the BDS that gets irritating, it’s the childish namecalling. In the lastest issue for example, we have “Toxic Texan”, “scamp”, etc to describe the President of the USA. I appreciate adult opinions on world events but names are just silly. Also in the latest issue, they repeat the lie that the Bush administration pulled the US out of the Kyoto treaty. The US Senate never ratified the treay. In fact, in 1997 the Senate sent the Clinton White House a message by voting 96-0 against even debating the treaty. I really more on the WSJ for my international news now.

  • Paul

    Oops make that “rely”, not “really”.

  • I still subscribe (have done for ten odd years). I find it an excellent aggregator of world news.

    However, the editorial line has changed over the past three years.

    It is no longer uncritically free market. The fact that they are only mildly critical of Gordon Brown – a man who has done more to beef up the State than any Chancellor since the post-War Labour administration is incredible.

    That said, their circulation figures are good – 94% growth over ten years is not to be sneezed at in an era of declining print.

    They have become more Statist as the economy has grown wealthier in line with the ‘centre ground’.

    Profits are sharply up – something us capitalists should admire.

  • squa

    Interesting to find commenters recommending it for world rather than domestic news. I read it religiously from the mid 80s to mid 90s when living in the UK, thought its coverage of UK domestic politics and business was good, and so assumed that its coverage of international affairs must be good as well. Then I moved to Australia and soon found that the Economist’s Australian reporting was almost entirely garbage cut-and-pasted from the loopier bits of the Fairfax press. I stopped reading it soon after.

    Does anyone living outside the UK feel that the Economist reports accurately on their own country?

    Mind you, it’s not so much the bad reporting that annoys me but the bad reporting combined with the patronising “no reasonably person could possibly disagree with us, our views are express-posted from Mount Sinai” style.

  • squawkbox

    Last comment was mine. PIMF

  • josil

    I too have allowed my subscription to lapse. Although the Economist is superior to Newsweek and Time, the latter magazines are useless as a reliable source of news. If you can read between the lines, it’s possible to tease some news out of the Economist…but it’s tiring. Western media is taking on more and more of a Pravda-like approach to journalism. Sadly, unlike Pravda, this brand of reporting is not directed by the government but is self-inflicted.

  • Alex

    I gave up a year ago, I supppose mostly because I didn’t like their increasing anti-Americanism, but also due to a loss of humor and insightfulness.

  • MJL

    This is very sad of course. I mourn the loss of the Economist.

    I remember during the Cold War the Economist was magnificent.

    It spoke with a clear moral voice, with great confidence, in defense of freedom…. economic, social, scientific. There was also great wit and humour in the writing, as well as confidence.

    I guess as the old guys retired, the newer and dumber and more pc crew took over?

    Thank God for the Internet, eh?

    MJL

  • David Fleming

    I am yet another ex-long term reader. When I was working in northern Pakistan in 1980, I arrived with a copy of The Economist that I traded with an American professor there for four copies of Time (nice arbitrage). I started reading The Economist at university in the late 1970s, but what finally turned me off in the past year or so (one more lapsed subscriber) was the realization that I can read better reporting, with good, real-time commentary, on the web, and not have to pay for the sneering, smarter-than-thou tone. I do miss the obituaries, though, they can be fun.

  • anon

    Generally accurate about Singapore – or as accurate as you’d expect a journal without a feel for the country to be. Routinely insightful about relations within the greater ASEAN region. Although the government here has had a beef with them on occasion . . .

  • Da Coyote

    Whilst doing my graduate education in the UK some years ago, the Economist and the New Scientist were at the top of my list. Somehow, mere journalists having no idea of anything economic or mathematic have taken over. Drivel prevails and I also have terminated my subscriptions. The disease is not entirely British, however, Time, Newsweek, and even Scientific American have become products of those who would garner only a C (or worse) in any real college level course. Sad.

  • LLP

    I’m another long-time reader who’s recently given up on them.

  • I have been reading Samizdata for a few years, becoming more familiar with libertarian ideas partly as a result of this.

    I am disappointed to see another round of attacks on The Economist. This is a magazine which I would not expect you to attack.

    It may not follow your party line, or Glenn Reynolds’s, but it is a classically liberal magazine in its own terms.

    These attacks, along with overdone cynicism about politics, only serve to isolate the blog.

    I’m sorry to say this because Samizdata was among the first blogs I followed. I hope that the blog can recover some perspective.

    Best of luck,

    Peter

  • So anyway, I like ‘Popular Science’.
    It is never pompous, always enthusiastic, and usually ‘Extropic’ in attitude.
    And the science is all useful stuff that is leading to technologies.

  • Paul Marks

    The Economist was never “uncritically free market” (at least not after Walter B. took over in the mid 19th century – he supported quite a big role for government).

    But I do not expect a magazine (sorry “newspaper” as it calls itself) to be straight down the line libertarian. What I object to is its reaction to the current situation.

    Government is vast in most Western nations. Total government spending is over a third of the economy everwhere and in some nations is about half of the economy and the rest of civil society is tied up with a vast web of regulations. And the response of the Economists (broadly speaking) is to demand yet more Welfare State spending (along with “market reforms” that are nothing of the kind) and yet more regulations.

    As for its “pro America but…..” stance, that is dishonest. And the “we are in favour of the E.U., but would like to see it reformed in such and such a way” is dishonest as well.

    The Economist supported Mr Cameron for the leadership of the Conservative party – a P.C. joke of a man who has refused to allow the Conservative party to campaign to get ANY power back from the E.U. (so much for “reform”).

    But it is not any particular individual (Mr Cameron or Mr Blair) it is that the Economist buys into the basic establisment (academia and media) line. It is false and it does not care about the truth (either in terms of logical argument or even basic facts).

    As for rising circulation – my guess is that this is mostly institutional buying, not individuals spending their own money. Still I have not researched this matter – it would astonish me if more people are spending their own money on the Economist (but, as the lady said, “it is a funny old world”).

  • In an effort to better manage my regular reading, I dropped my subscription last year. I also noticed that most of their international business stories are covered on a more timely basis in the Wall Street Journal and haven’t really missed it since.

  • American Reader

    As an American reader since the 90s, I can certainly see the shift in tone, which accelerated tremendously after the editorial shift last year. [i]The Economist[/i] always had its biases and obsessions, I don’t object to the fact that a new source is biased, because [i]all[/i] news sources are biased one way or another.

    But the form and nature of the bias at [i]The Economist[/i] is irritating because they are basically absorbing the same cheaply self-absorbed fashionable-Leftist thinking that dominates much of the publishing and academic world. I suspect it’s partly just that the changing personnel reflects changing assumptions about how things work, [i]The Economist[/i] is starting to share the groupthink of the other major news outlets.

    When I read it now, I can usually sense a difference that I suspect is the result of different writers, some write about American politics quite perceptively, some don’t have a clue.

    The writer of the [i]Lexington[/i] column today, for ex, only half grasps American politics, a sharp change from a few years ago.

  • ebt

    Twenty years ago I took the Economist seriously. It seems to have begun to decline in the mid-nineties; at least, I recall seeing some remarkably stupid pieces beginning to appear around then. These days, I can’t bring myself to look at it. It’s a disgrace.

    As a Canadian, of course, I’ve always had reservations about the Economist, which never could cover a Canadian story competently and was often hilariously out to lunch. But there was time when that seemed like an isolated blind spot. Now it’s their style.

  • I subscribed from 1988 to 2001. The Economist and The New Republic were the two magazines I had kept subscribing to through thick and thin. I recommended them to colleagues, students, friends: great writing, thoughtful analysis, fun tone, unusually informative. Then it hit me that sometime in 2000 Americans had come to be portrayed as cowboys and covered in unusually (even for the Economist) patronizing tones. My news and opinion gathering had recently switched to the web, and I just didn’t want to hear it. So I let the Economist lapse, a little regretfully. I was about to give them another try; now I am glad I haven’t.

  • I used to read The Economist every week while I was at University. Back then it was fresh, witty, humorous and highly intelligent. For many years after that it wasb required airplane reading for me with ever diminishing returns. Dull, predictable and boring. Worse, its coverage of Spanish news is so slanted towards socialism to be embarrasing. If all their correspondents are as thoroughly dishonest as the Spanish one I cannot trust their coverage anymore.

    These days I confine myself to read Playboy in planes. At least it’s honest dirt.

  • Gloria

    I have read The Economist for years. They are more libertarian than most magazines, with their concern for drug legalization and such. They were fabulous until the new editor-in-chief took over– and he is a man, I have no idea why two commenters above said the editor is a woman. I thought I didn’t like the previous editor because he supported the invasion of Iraq, so I was glad to see him go, but that was a huge mistake. The new one is as left-wing as they come and pretty soon, The Economist will probably start calling for the “drug war” to be continued and expanded… who knows what’s next, I really must say this new guy is incompetent and they need someone else. I’ve thought for months that I may cancel my subscription in protest…. a few weeks ago they basically said Hillary would win the election and she would be a great president. What? I disagree with the comments above, they have been much more critical of Gordon Brown than the mainstream British press and for months they have tried to put forth other candidates (Jack Straw, David Cameron, etc.) but there just isn’t anyone else willing to step up. They have been very critical of his personality, his dealings with other officials, and his attitude towards Blair. I haven’t noticed that they are anti-American with the exception of the gun issue after Virginia Tech. Saying that Bush is a “toxic Texan” is not being anti-American, folks: that’s telling the truth.

    I have noticed that their domestic coverage of American cities is better than that of American newspapers or magazines. They’ve had some excellent coverage of my hometown St. Louis, which is virtually ignored by major media in the US, and a few weeks ago they had an excellent article on desegregation in the Raleigh, North Carolina school district. I have never seen these topic addressed in local media and I right next to Raleigh. They have good coverage of the US and I’ve never noticed an anti-American attitude. Criticizing Iraq is not anti-American.

    They have annoyed me lately with their mentions of Ron Paul (“fringe candidate”, “he has no chance,” etc.) and I wrote them saying that Ron Paul agrees with their so-called free markets ideas more than anyone else and they needed, at the very least, to not treat him with derision. This week they’ve published an article on hemp farming saying that Ron Paul’s support of it will help him in Iowa, so perhaps things are improving! :)

  • Paul Marks

    The Economist supports “universal”, government backed, health care. Which would turn out not to be “universal” (with X numbers of people either getting poor treatment or dying waiting for treatment).

    As for their support for “market reforms”, this tends to turn out to be like their support for “reform of the European Union”, they supported going along with the latest agreement (even before they knew what was going to be in it) even though they knew it would give MORE power to the E.U.

    They denounce anyone who wants to take powers away from the E.U. (just as they denouce people who support the Second Amendment in the United States).

    There is (as you most likely know) a big difference between real free market people, and “free market” people who are a front fro the credit bubble financial interests. The latter talk about freedom a lot – but tend to support a bigger government in the end.