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The Economist on the Australian elections

In this weeks edition of The Economist, the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, is attacked for ‘spending’ money by promising to reduce taxation in a targeted way so that people can better afford to send their children to independent schools. We are also told that “professionals and economists” (no names are given) hold that the money would be better spent on increasing the government school budget even more.

So tax reductions are ‘spending money’, as if all money belonged to the government and allowing taxpayers to keep a bit more of their own money is ‘spending’ it, and the solution to the problems of government education is to increase government spending on it even more than it has already been increased.

In recent times I have attacked the Economist for pretending to be pro free market whilst, when one reads it closely, not really being so. Articles like the one on the Australian elections mean I can no longer fairly make this charge. The Economist having now ‘come out’ as an openly leftist publication.

29 comments to The Economist on the Australian elections

  • Andy

    Tax cuts are spending
    War is Peace
    Freedom is slavery
    Ignorance is strength

  • elisabeth b

    I could not agree more about the base dissimulations in that publication. I seem to remember first becoming seriously alarmed in 2001/2. I cancelled my subscription in 2003.

    However in its limited defence, no other European publication (that I am aware of) could write: http://www.economist.com/world/na/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10098973.

  • chip

    Put that magazine out to pasture already. Pathetic.

  • renminbi

    I am happy to have let my subscription expire.

  • renminbi

    I am happy to have let my subscription expire.

  • I’ve also become increasingly disenchanted with the Economist over the past three quarters of a decade.

    What is, however, the alternative? Frankly, despite the creeping lefty (ie. pro-tax) bias that is increasing in scope in the Economist, the combination of economics and politics in one convenient, internationally-focused package is hard to beat. And when I can pick up (roughly) the same publication at any airport in the world – well, I think they’re still on to something.

    Any news organisation is going to have an editorial bias. And every smart reader has to detect bias and draw their own inferences. I’d be an idiot if I read only those publications that kowtow to my own political tastes (libertarian right, per http://www.politicalcompass.org/) – why, I’d be no better than a church-going fanatic if I simply disregarded all that I didn’t agree with…

    So rather than cancelling our subscriptions, perhaps it’s better to recognise the Economist for what it is: an impressive publication detailing the international political economy, with a creeping lefty stance. And let’s recognise that creeping lefty stance for what it is: an increasingly popular opinion. And let’s respond accordingly – by engaging our friends, colleagues and acquaintances (who also probably read the Economist) on the lefty comments and explain to them why they are incorrect. Let’s be sure to write to the editor pointing out the inconsistencies. These activities will not only challenge us to be sharp on our own assumptions, but it will also help spread our political thought beyond our current community.

    As it stands, we’ve become a little too insular, and too often our knee-jerk reaction when confronted with creeping leftism (or creeping authoritarianism) is to retreat into our own community. But cutting off the world isn’t going to help us. And cutting out the Economist is a step in that direction.

    So what do you say? Let’s keep reading that newspaper. Let’s challenge its assumptions and its bias. And let’s see if we can contribute to making it a better publication at the same time we spread alternate views to those who might not have been exposed to them before…

    Seriously, though – my question wasn’t entirely rhetorical. Is there a decent alternative to the Economist? For the time being, I think not, but I’m happy to be corrected on that point. Nonetheless, the Guardian it is not such an alternative. Nor is the New York Times. For my money, the Economist is still a good read…

  • I’ve also become increasingly disenchanted with the Economist over the past three quarters of a decade.

    What is, however, the alternative? Frankly, despite the creeping lefty (ie. pro-tax) bias that is increasing in scope in the Economist, the combination of economics and politics in one convenient, internationally-focused package is hard to beat. And when I can pick up (roughly) the same publication at any airport in the world – well, I think they’re still on to something.

    Any news organisation is going to have an editorial bias. And every smart reader has to detect bias and draw their own inferences. I’d be an idiot if I read only those publications that kowtow to my own political tastes (libertarian right, per http://www.politicalcompass.org/) – why, I’d be no better than a church-going fanatic if I simply disregarded all that I didn’t agree with…

    So rather than cancelling our subscriptions, perhaps it’s better to recognise the Economist for what it is: an impressive publication detailing the international political economy, with a creeping lefty stance. And let’s recognise that creeping lefty stance for what it is: an increasingly popular opinion. And let’s respond accordingly – by engaging our friends, colleagues and acquaintances (who also probably read the Economist) on the lefty comments and explain to them why they are incorrect. Let’s be sure to write to the editor pointing out the inconsistencies. These activities will not only challenge us to be sharp on our own assumptions, but it will also help spread our political thought beyond our current community.

    As it stands, we’ve become a little too insular, and too often our knee-jerk reaction when confronted with creeping leftism (or creeping authoritarianism) is to retreat into our own community. But cutting off the world isn’t going to help us. And cutting out the Economist is a step in that direction.

    So what do you say? Let’s keep reading that newspaper. Let’s challenge its assumptions and its bias. And let’s see if we can contribute to making it a better publication at the same time we spread alternate views to those who might not have been exposed to them before…

    Seriously, though – my question wasn’t entirely rhetorical. Is there a decent alternative to the Economist? For the time being, I think not, but I’m happy to be corrected on that point. Nonetheless, the Guardian it is not such an alternative. Nor is the New York Times. For my money, the Economist is still a good read…

  • Frederick Davies

    I’ve also become increasingly disenchanted with the Economist over the past three quarters of a decade. What is, however, the alternative?

    An opening in the market?

  • guy herbert

    I’m increasingly perplexed by Paul’s vendetta against The Economist, which is the closest to a classically liberal publication we have.

    Paul,

    This post is a case in point. You are attacking the paper for reporting what other people did and said – in a factual, not an editorial, piece – and for using language in a clear, ordinary way. So keen are you to attribute leftish ideas to the publication this actually leads to misreading the paragraph complained of, and using one word, “spending”, out of context in order to cast unfair discredit, like some inverted theatre poster.

    Ignoring the warnings, Mr Howard promised more than A$9 billion ($8 billion) more spending at his launch, on top of pledges costing A$43 billion since the campaign started. The most remarkable one was a tax rebate of up to A$800 for parents, regardless of income, to set against the cost of sending children to private schools, including fees, uniforms and excursions. If this was meant to trump Mr Rudd on an issue (education) he has made his own, it may not have worked. Economists and some school principals criticised the plan as welfare for the middle class; the money would be better spent, they argued, on fixing things in the schools themselves.

    The warnings referred to are warnings (by third parties, not The Economist) about massive public spending by Mr Howard fueling inflation. A policy point to which I’d expect a fiscal conservative to be sympathetic.

    That first sentence of the paragraph clearly distinguishes between promises additional public spending and (“on top of”) other costly pledges. The education tax break is “the most remarkable one” of those pledges. The newspaper may be hinting that it is politically daring, but it is not saying that it is “spending” even in the narrow sense complained of. Of course it is ‘costly’ to a government budget to reduce taxes in any way, just as it is to increase spending. The two things are from an accounting perspective identical.

    As well as misreading, you are also misquoting. The piece does not say “economists and professionals” which would imply a consensus of opinion. It says, “Economists and some school principals…” which makes it clear the criticism is not united, and contains both rational points and possibly argument from interest. Either way The Economist does not endorse what those third parties say, it merely reports it.

  • Elizabeth: thanks for that link, it made my day!

  • lucklucky

    99% of Journalists now came from Journalist schools increasing the groupthinking and cultural monolitism.
    The assimilation of propaganda work as journalism is another mainstream trend “i am journalist to change the world”.
    The Economist have to fish in the sea and the sea have not much brain diversity.

    Journalist Schools are one of the worst things that appeared in West.

  • What Alisa said. Elizabeth’s link really is worth following. An article about the American south that isn’t patronising is rare indeed.

  • Paul Marks

    Guy Herbert:

    I stand by my report of the article, the meaning was plain – the quoting the words from the mouths of other folk was just an example of the cowardly nature of the Economist staff.

    It is the oldest trick in the book to find someone who will say something that one believes oneself – and then say “it was not me that said it Gov”.

    As for quoting exact words – I did not have the publication by the computer, on the grounds that I will not have it the house. I repeat that my accout of the article was totally fair.

    In fact I was too easy on the article because it even claimed that inflationary pressures in Australia were caused by the rise in government spending (oh sorry it quoted the central bank to this effect).

    Firstly inflation is a rise in the money supply, if government borrows more money without there being an increase in the money supply it just means that other people get to borrow less – net inflationary impact zero.

    Secondly there is no government deficit in Australia anyway – in fact there is a budget surplus.

    So the Economist staff in fact know nothing about the very subject (economics) which supposed to know a lot about.

    My problem with the Economist.

    People (such as yourself Mr Herbert) continue to claim that the Economist is not a leftist publication. This is what makes dangerious – people can say “I have read both sides because I have read the Economist” or “Even the Economist admits…..”

    The day that it is accepted for what it is I will never write about it again.

    After all how many posts have written about he Guardian or the Independent?
    ]
    Mr Herbert if you had wished to offer a real defence of the Economist you could have presented some information from the big cover feature this week.

    Now this was on the “threat to the American economy”.

    For all I know this big article may have attacked the high level of taxes and regulations – and the big growth in the money supply due to the absurd policy of the Federal Reserve for years and years.

    I did not read the article – so I do not know that the above is not in it. However, I rather suspect that it is not there.

    However, I did see an article where Democrats were described as less partisan than Republicans because a smaller percentage of Democrats described themselves as “liberals” than Republicans described themsleves as “conservatives”.

    Would you like to defend that “argument” Mr Herbert?

    Or perhaps I have unfairly misquoted (or whatever).

  • Paul Marks

    Almost needless to say it is the Australian Labour Party that wants a big increase in government spending (on education and so on). But to ask for the Economist to tell the truth is to ask for the Moon.

    Alternatives to the Economist:

    I agree that there is a gap in the market here. The Business (fine publication that it is) does not quite do the same job that the Economist did some years ago.

    In the United States – U.S. News and World Report is really a mass market publication (nothing wrong with that – but there is a gap for more difficult news) and, of course, Time and Newsweek have much the same ideology that the Economist does (as well as also being mass market publications).

    Publications like Human Events are very much political journals (again nothing wrong with that – but you are not going to get the world news from such a publication).

    So yes there is a gap in the market.

    But I do not think it will be filled till the Economist is first expossed for what it is.

    Whilst British business people read things like the Economist and the Financial Times (owned by the same organization of course) the opposition to ever bigger government is in peril.

    Still Guy Herbert could now come back and say something like:

    “You know that big feature on the American economy you did not read – it denouced high taxes, regulations and the growth of the money supply”.

    All things are possible.

  • Paul Marks

    Well good news and bad news on the Economist.

    Before going to a meeting on the future of the Town Centre of Kettering I popped into the library to read the main articles in the Economist – to check if there was any case for it on the matter of the cover feature (which I mentioned above that I had not read).

    There were two articles on the American economy – one that was single page, and another that was three pages long.

    The good news is that there was nothing paticularly leftist about the articles.

    The bad news is that the articles were crap.

    According to the articles the problem with the American economy is that lots of consumers have spent lots of money (especially on houses) and got themselves into debt (one harldy needs to read a magazine to be told this).

    But WHY might that be so?

    Nothing from the Economist on that. Perhaps it was “animal spirits” or whatever.

    In fact under Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan there was a massive increase in the money supply – which led to the various debt bubbles.

    So what the Economist wrote was NOT wrong (I admit that), but it was not useful or informative either – it was just a waste of paper and ink.

    To return to the point on Australia:

    What really angered me about the Economist article was that on several matters Australia has followed what is supposed to be the Economist line – but the Economist STILL attacked (although, as Guy pointed out, it attacked in a cowardly backhanded way).

    The defenders of the Economist (not Guy but some) say something like the following:

    “The Economist does not support conservatives (or whatever the nonleft are to be called) because it is against the death penality, and it is in favour of universal health care and gun control”.

    O.K.

    In Australia there is “universal health care”.

    And there is no death penality.

    And there is “gun control” – in fact it was Mr Howard who put it on the statute book in 1996 (much to the rage of evil right wing folk like me).

    And yet the Economist STILL attacked.

    In short it will support the left – whatever the nonleft do on these matters.

    I must admit that Guy shocked me – I thought that he would, in this case, not spring to the defence of the Economist. But there we go.

    If he is offended by me typing “Mr Herbert” rather than Guy in previous comments I apologize.

    I should not have been caught by surprise, but I was.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes I agree with Elizabeth about the article the lady kindly gives a link to.

    Her point is a fair one.

    I do not agree with some of the points Chris makes (although he makes a very good case).

    If I did agree with the full case I would still be writing letters to the B.B.C. about their bias and errors of fact. I have come to think that, once something has been taken over by left, such action is pointless.

    Indeed actually buying the Economist is supporting the forces of ever bigger government (in general, not on everything) and I think that is not sensible.

    However, I have to agree that there is a market for the sort of stuff the Economist produces. We live in a world where vast numbers of people have been to university – and what they have been taught in most universities (indeed taught as the “free market” side of the argument – the “other side” to the hard left stuff they will also have been taught) is the sort of stuff they are going to see in the Economist.

    This is a problem which I have no simple solution for (at least not one that is going to go into effect soon), all one can do is to inform people that this is NOT a free market position.

    Lucklady:

    Yes it is group think, and does smell of Schools of Journalism – I can still remember when there were no “trained journalists” in Britain.

    Sadly these days men like Frank Johnson would only be allowed to clean the toilets in most newspapers and journals.

    In the end all one has is the “power of the purse” – what Ayn Rand called the “sanction of the victim” to refuse to subsidize the left (when possible) by not paying them money.

    Of course the United States businessmen not only buy leftist newspapers (although this is declining – not everything in the world is getting worse) they even give millons of Dollars to univerisities (as gifts) i.e. they subsidize folk who would gladly drink their blood.

    It is possible that there might be a change of times.

    For example, not every billionaire is a leftist. It is POSSIBLE that someone like Steve Forbes might just buy the Economist – sack lots of staff (especially at the higher levels) and restore it to what it once was (this would get round the problem of the people of the people who say “I have always bought the Economist so I will always buy the Economist” and keep its distibution system – in public libraries, supermarkets and so on).

    People like me might still jump up and down shouting “it could be better”, but at least it would be on the right side.

  • Tex

    Howard has expanded government spending and the welfare state more than anyone else in Australian history. You don’t need to be a leftist to point this out.

  • Cynic

    I suspect that many of the woes the Australian Liberals have got themselves into could have been avoided had they stopped Howard running for another term. The man has been in office even longer than our very own Fuhrer Blair was, and even if he has done a fairly competent job (although I disagree with the war policies, the immigrant demagoguing, and various other things, I suppose by modern democratic standards that Howard has been at the very least tolerable), even many of his supporters must be thoroughly sick of him. If they had a new leader I think they would be doing much better, at the worst looking at a narrow defeat. Of course, a new leader would not necessarily have to have meant a new direction. In Britain, what Brown is doing is largely just continuing the rubbish Herr Blair engaged in. Yet right up until he made a colossal ass of himself calling off an early election, it seemed he had managed to charm enough of the boobery to be moving comfortably to another Labour election victory.

    One thing that interested me was how Rudd’s popularity went up after it was revealed he visited strip bars in Manhattan. Although I don’t support Rudd, I have to say the public reaction cheered me a bit. In more puritanical lands, the revelations might have ruined him.

    As for the Economist, I generally enjoy reading it. One has to expect that there will be some, even many times I disagree with its editorials. But it is packed with information and I find it very useful. I have heard that Herbert Spencer was an early sub-editor of the magazine. In a more perfect world, the magazine would be thoroughly Spencerite.

  • Billll

    So, to simplify the argument on education, You get what you pay for: If one puts out 5000 to buy a Yugo, one gets a crappy car, but if one puts out 10,000 for the same Yugo, one will get a much better car, and need not consider buying a Toyota.

    Glad they set me straight on that.

  • ken

    The leftist “journalism school” graduate issue is serious. For example, it’s not hard to spot a Columubia Journo school grad when reading his/her article in the WSJ or worse, Fortune magazine. Their understanding of basic economics and the workings of the free market is simplistic and based on regurgitated leftist slogans and idealism. The problem has worsened over the last few years as these journo grads infiltrate mainstream business publications. The Economist is just one of many (Fortune has actually become unreadable)

  • Paul Marks

    Good points Ken.

    And given who owns Forbes (Steve Forbes I believe) you quite rightly remind me that an owner does not always impress his opinions on his publication.

    “To do so would violate the freedom of the Press” – establishment people might say.

    Actually NOT to do so is to violate the freedom of the press – for it means (as Ken points) out that School of Journalism types have a monopoly.

    A journal owned by George Soros or Warren Buffet is likely to have a very different point of view than one owned by Steve Forbes or Mike Dell. But only if the owners make an effort – if they do not then all newspapers and journals will advance the view of the world of the “liberal” left.

  • Paul Marks

    Tex:

    I think you are mistaken.

    I think that government Welfare State spending in Australia grow as a percentage of the economy (the only measure that matters) by more in the early 1970′s – indeed I would not be astonished if it grow more in the 1970′s, 1980′s and early 1990′s.

    Still I do not have the stats to hand.

    What was Australian government spending (either all of it or “just” the Welfare State) as a percentage of the economy in 1996 compared to now? I rather suspect that it has gone up much more in the United States than in Australia (if it has gone up at all in Australia).

    What if I am mistaken?

    Well the Economist is still playing a dishonest game Tex – because you do not oppose an increase in government spending by supporting a GREATER increase in government spending (i.e. the Labour program).

    “They are not supporting it, they are simply doing a mixture of reporting the facts and quoting informed people” if anyone comes out with that line…. – well I do not agree with such a line (I must not be rude).

    What really depressed me about the Economist article (I wrote the following in another comment but it did not appear – no problem) is the following:

    Defenders of the Economist (not Guy, but others) sometimes say something like this “the Economist is not leftist, it just opposes the nonleft because it is against the death penality, and it is in favour of universal health care and gun control”.

    But Australia does not have the death penality.

    And Australia has “universal health care”.

    As for “gun control” – in 1996 John Howard gave the left what it wanted.

    But even with all the above the Economist STILL attacked.

    In short, whatever the nonleft does or accepts on what is supposed to be important to the Economist it will still support the left.

    Hence me being annoyed.

    Cynic – yes you make a good point “Australia is bored” (to adapt the words from the France of 1848). Eleven years as Prime Minister is a long time (although 1949 to 1966 was a longer time).

  • R. Richard Schweitzer

    My consistent “readership” of the Economist goes back to at least 1962 (and prior) when it used to come over to the U.S. by air on newsprint paper, bound like a magazine.

    In that period, it’s aspects have “Morphed” and “Re-Morphed” a few times. Perhaps it has never achieved a consistent blending of the economic and the political (sociological), to present an integrated “point of view.” But, more importantly, it seems to maintain factual integrity – even to the point of qualifying the reliability of what is being reported.

    What has led me to continue with the Economist is comparing it, its contents, subjects chosen, quality of writing, and factual accuracies overall to what else is available in the U.S., such as U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, the ever adolescent Time, and others equally “Agenda Driven.”

    Its current economic successes (adverts, etc.) do seem to have led to some subordination of the reportorial functions to those of “explaning the meaning” of the news and facts.

    But, on the whole, the Economist with whatever imperfections, continues to stand out as superior amongst the newspapers available in the U.S. markets today.

    R. Richard Schweitzer
    s24rrs@aol.com

  • King Kull

    I’m old enough to remember when the Economist was a classically liberal, almost leaning towards libertarian economics mag. I loved to read it. The memory alone usually keeps me away from their website, since I hate to see it sullied.

    It always astounds me that you can be an economist and a big government leftie. It’s like being an atheist priest in my view.

    There is a huge neglected market in print and TV for a truly right wing, free market slant on the news, finance and business. Fox and Rupert Murdoch are not filling it, and I suspect they are hugely vulnerable if someone fills the void.

  • Paul Marks

    King Kull

    Real free market folk do get on FNC sometimes.

    However, I accept your point that it could be better than it is.

    I suspect that part of the problem is that Mr Murdoch has traditionally financed the expansion of News International by borrowing money – and government backed credit expansion makes that borrowing cheaper (at least for awhile).

    So whilst people do get on Fox shows to denouce government backed credit money expansion they are not the main voices.

    Mr Schweitzer.

    I have often seen factual mistakes in the Economist. Even on simple things like how long the C.S.U. has been in office in Bavaria.

    However, I agree with you to the following extent:

    I think that the Economist staff (or at least some of them) still care if they make errors of fact – this makes the publication different to the ultra crap Newsweek and Time (although, I would argue, their view of the world is much the same).

    Lastly:

    Somehow I confused Fortune magazine and Forbes magazine, above.

    My mental decay clearly continues.

  • Paul Marks

    I have just followed the link put into the post:

    Whilst it says that is “from the print edition” it is not quite the same.

    For example, I do not remember anything about Mr Howard being “one of the most successful Prime Ministers….”

  • James of England

    Mr. Marks,

    Surely a large part of the reason the Economist makes fewer factual errors is that the stories are largely rehashed versions of news stories and editorials in other newspapers, some days (and time for corrections) later. Time and Newsweek both do significant amounts of reporting, which decreases their accuracy. The incredible thing is that the economist is essentially a collection of blog posts, a little news packaged very selectively in each story with a bit of often light hearted and witty humour, and yet it is still wrong on a fairly consistent basis. You’d have thought that with these being large numbers of full time bloggers, being paid to produce a very small number of stories, often with several days between event and submission, or on “the politics over the last few months/ years”, they could get it right.

  • Paul Marks

    James of England

    “Come to think of it” you make a good point about the nature of the Economist.

    I had not thought of it till you explained it – I should have done, but I had not.

    Although I would add that I sometimes get the feeling that the Economist “posts” (which I agree are what the articles are like) are disjointed – as if one of their unamed writers was replaced half way through the post by another of their unnamed writers (the result being a total mess).

    I differ on Newsweek and Time – I used to subscribe to Newsweek as a boy (up till a few years ago I actually had the back copies still in the house), but it just got worse and worse. Not just regards opinion – but on basic facts.

    For example, I suspect that one of the reasons they got rid of Milton Friedman (I did not subscribe back in the glory days when Henry Hazlitt had a column) was that he had a practice of poiting out that some of their “news” stories were wrong.

    For example, that the cuts in tax rates by President Reagan were not the reason for government deficits – as revenue had gone up.

    Or that defence spending under President Reagan was much smaller, as a percentage of the economy, than peacetime defence spending under Ike or J.F.K.

    Still “back to Australia”.

    At least the new Prime Minister (Kevin Rudd) has comedy value.

    His first speech was full of fatuous waffle about “the future” – everyone must work for the future, love the future, even “embrace” the future (and on and on).

    And then he announced a lot of backward looking policies – the soldiers to run away from Iraq (as if it was 2003 and the West could avoid being involved – and missing events over the last year which indicate that we are starting the win the war), sign up to Kyoto (as if it was sometime in the 1990s) and so on.

    And, of course, more money for his friends (and fellow Labour Party members) in the schools and universities (the people who, along with the media, worked so hard to win him the election).

    More money from the taxpayers will mean better education (pass the sick bag).

    Mr Rudd did not actually say “education, education, education” but he might as well have.

    I may write a post on it.

  • Marko

    And here was I thinking that a nuclear state is a security state :(