Are you smart enough to enjoy the Economist?

by Henry on March 14, 2008

Same magazine, different universes. First, Jon Friedman of Marketwatch in a two part story (I’ve stolen the title of this post from Part II).

Although I view Time and Newsweek (not to mention U.S. News & World Report and the Week) as sophisticated and worthwhile in their own right, the Economist is the smartest weekly magazine around. Still, the class brain is seldom also recognized in the school yearbook as the most popular kid in the class. … The Economist may be too sophisticated for its own good. I sure don’t want the magazine to dumb down its content for the U.S. audience. I hope it can resist the temptation. The Economist has the goods, all right, to have lofty growth plans in the U.S. The only problem, though, is that there may not be enough smart people around who will want to read it.

Then Dani Rodrik who is … Dani Rodrik.

Am I the only economist who does not read The Economist? Well maybe the first one to confess to it. … Call it a one-man boycott of ideology that masquerades too often as journalism. … I realized that the more I knew about a subject, the less The Economist was making sense. It’s one thing to be opinionated, another to be misinformed and arrogant at the same time. After one too many articles in this mold, I simply stopped picking up the magazine.

Dani does note in the magazine’s defence that he was recently told to look at an Economist piece which quotes him, and which was in his opinion quite good on the complicated relationship between institutions and economic growth.

Dsquared had some sharp words a while back (I can’t remember where) for people who made the grievous error of confusing an acquaintance with the contents of the Economist with real understanding of what is happening in other countries. There is, even so, an underlying truth in the Friedman piece. The Economist succeeds in part by delivering a particular party line that accords well with the prejudices of many of its readers (Friedman quotes an acquaintance as saying that he loves the ‘unpredictability’ of the Economist which is quite odd; by the time I gave up on it, I could tell nine times out of ten what the magazine was going to say on a topic by looking at what the topic was). But it also serves as a kind of aspirational good. The Economist flatters readers who aren’t quite intelligent enough to realize how shallow it is into thinking that they are more intelligent than they are because they read it. Thus, we get articles like Friedman’s, which are less about the state of the US magazine market than about how Friedman and his friends are smart, unconventional and edgy because they read the appointed magazine for smart, unconventional and edgy people. And if that magazine plays its cards right, it can expand its readership to the smart, unconventional and edgy masses. A nice market niche if you can get it, I suppose.

Update: see also notsneaky’s guide to how to read the Economist.

Update 2: As Kerim Friedman points out in comments, there’s an uncanny similarity between the views of Jon Friedman and those of Glen Schraft.

{ 3 trackbacks }

The Economist « Further thoughts
03.14.08 at 10:37 pm
How to Read the “Economist” at Jacob Christensen
03.16.08 at 10:23 am
One Smart Paper: The Economist « The Errant Æsthete
03.18.08 at 11:05 pm

{ 86 comments }

1

tom s. 03.14.08 at 9:56 pm

The Friedman piece relies very heavily on the Thompson-Fry syndrome. But while I am sure that there are many silly Americans, I have a feeling sufferers of the syndrome would be disappointed with most of the English. I wish we were all as witty as Stephen Fry or as talented as Emma Thompson, but it ain’t so. Thompson and Fry are atypical but their example (and a few others of course) has led to a confusion between establishment, accent, and intelligence.

My bet is that neither Stephen Fry nor Emma Thompson reads the Economist.

2

smaug 03.14.08 at 10:03 pm

Sure it has a capitalist-market, anti-regulatory bent, but you won’t find the range of coverage that it has in any other English-language news weekly that I know of. I avoid most of the leaders unless there is a corresponding piece in the news section. I also appreciate its avoidance of quotes as evidence, a trait that plagues most US newspapers and news weeklies — the “if you can’t quote it, you can’t say it” stupidity. The “Briefings” are interesting and the new “International” section is quite good. Dsquared is right about the “I read the Economist so I understand what’s happening in Botswana” nonsense, but they are more likely to know about it than if they read Time, Newsweek, or even U.S. News.

3

Dr. Drang 03.14.08 at 10:16 pm

Apple has shown that the self-styled smart, unconventional, and edgy market is pretty big. For example, I’m typing this on the iBook I just used to order an iPhone. Of course, I really am smart, unconventional, and edgy…

4

Tom 03.14.08 at 10:28 pm

I read, understand and enjoy both Dsquared’s blog and the Economist. I now feel confused, more than edgy or smart.

5

Bryan 03.14.08 at 10:48 pm

What is the superior alternative, then?

6

will u. 03.14.08 at 10:49 pm

Though it raises my blood pressure, I take advantage of the subscription a previous resident of my apartment forgot to cancel. Yes, a central function of The Economist is to supply pithily written, snootily Anglo justifications for its middlebrow readership’s prejudices. However, I wonder how long it is until the Economist reader can counter with tu quoque: perhaps detesting The Economist is becoming something of an aspirational act itself, for those of us who like to feel superior to the middlebrow banker crowd. (Analogous: the superiority the Linux user feels over the mass market hipsterdom of Apple.)

7

ab 03.14.08 at 10:51 pm

Well, every daily or weekly newspaper/magazine will have these kinds of problems – especially if you try to cover global issues.

So the real yardstick is comparative: Is the Economist better or worse than its competitors. Are its readers smarter or shallower, etc?

My question, then: What weekly newspaper/magazine is better than the Economist, especially if you look for international news?

8

manchild 03.14.08 at 10:57 pm

Sure the economist has a libertarian bent for “gotcha” journalism in its features and editorials, but the rest of the magazine is just short news articles from around the world; what’s wrong with subscribing for that?

It’s a magazine, you don’t have to absorb the world overview as a whole, just the parts of interest to you as a reader.

The whole topic seems like a nonstarter.

9

david 03.14.08 at 11:02 pm

“What is the superior alternative, then?”

It is an imperfect substitute called the Financial Times.

10

Hedley Lamarr 03.14.08 at 11:13 pm

The Economist is conservative, but provides good international news. But those charts…

11

colin roald 03.14.08 at 11:14 pm

Bryan nails one: “What is the superior alternative, then?”

Yeah, I want a magazine with these features:
1) Is a magazine, not a newspaper, so I can carry it around in a bag for several days without destroying it or losing my own sanity unfolding it.
2) Remembers that Africa and India and China exist.
3) Remembers that science exists.
4) Is easily available at newsstands.

If you can point me at something that scores better than the Economist, I’ll be happy to read it.

12

christian h. 03.14.08 at 11:20 pm

I’m another ex-reader of the Economist. I stopped because of their Washington Post-like stand on Hugo Chavez and their refusal to admit they were wrong to support the war in Iraq. In fact, they were incredibly wrong: they knew that the reasons given for the invasion were bullshit, they didn’t believe the “democratization” crap, yet they still supported it – basically on an obstruction charge.

The Financial Times is as much a liberal (European meaning) paper as the Economist, but I agree it’s much better. For example, it takes its liberalism seriously enough to acknowledge that workers, for example, have interests, too. The Economist just sneers.

13

notsneaky 03.14.08 at 11:23 pm

Thanks.

14

Tom T. 03.14.08 at 11:43 pm

“What is the superior alternative, then?”

I suspect that one would read the Economist but then consider oneself the superior alternative.

15

roger 03.14.08 at 11:44 pm

Hey, I thought every aspirational reader read the Nouvelle Obs. Everything you need to know, plus emails of the first, disgruntled wife of Sarkozy.

16

marcel 03.15.08 at 12:10 am

It’s one thing to be opinionated, another to be misinformed and arrogant at the same time.

Aren’t these necessary traits for an economist, self-styled or otherwise?

17

Chris Stiles 03.15.08 at 12:17 am

The James Fallows piece still applies:

http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/1991/10/the_economics_of_the_colonial.php

The attempt to widen their readership since then has just made things worse.

They always took a particular slant on things, but since they went to a colour format and went FOX on us, it’s become harder to pick up the real picture by reading the interalia.

18

Jonathan Dresner 03.15.08 at 12:18 am

There was a brief period in college when I read The Economist, and a brief period when I read The Washington Times. I consider it a part of my education, but there are so many more sources of information now that there really is no excuse for putting up with progaganda.

For a while I thought that I could identify and discount the progaganda bits, but then I realized that the distortions went beyond tone.

19

Chris Stiles 03.15.08 at 12:18 am

Worth quoting from the above:

“Americans imagine that The Economist is better written,” says Time magazine’s Richard Stengel, “because they impute an English accent to what they read.”

20

Bruce Baugh 03.15.08 at 12:19 am

Colin, sometimes the answer is “There is no good alternative.” But avoiding wrong information and bad analysis is as important as getting good information and analysis.

21

tom s. 03.15.08 at 12:28 am

I suspect readership numbers are not just about “getting good information and analysis” as bruce baugh puts it. Maybe subscriptions are about that, but as a semi-regular airport traveller who is over-sensitive to the opinions of others I avoid The Economist in airports for reasons of identity. I guess that makes me snobbier-than-thou.

22

Bruce Baugh 03.15.08 at 12:47 am

Oh, agreed, Tom, but Colin had a question about actually learning things. :)

23

Cian 03.15.08 at 12:51 am

What’s wrong with the WSJ, other than the opinion pages? Also the Christian Science Monitor has excellent foreign coverage.

24

harry b 03.15.08 at 1:02 am

I find the predictability of the economist a huge advantage. You know that they are going to have a pro-market bent on every issue where that is relevant, and can therefore discount that, and just get to the information. What pisses me off is that on the two issue about which I consider myself pretty well informed (public/state education in the US and the UK) their correspondents seem to gather most of their data from the kind of dinner parties.

25

slag 03.15.08 at 1:03 am

This post is quite timely for me. I just started getting second-hand issues of the Economist from a friend. While reading a couple of articles (specifically on technology in US/foreign government) I kept wondering when the actual information would come. It appeared to be mostly opinion. And not very new or incisive opinion at that. It’s always nice to find that I’m not imagining things.

26

david 03.15.08 at 1:05 am

@cian
Though I’d refrain from calling the CS Monitor’s coverage “excellent,” I do think it’s pretty good. “What’s wrong” with both as compared to The Economist is essentially that they’re dailies where The Economist is a weekly. Dailies are great for following along with events, but they’re usually pretty bad at providing perspective, context, and a manageable amount of information.

27

Mrs Tilton 03.15.08 at 1:05 am

Context is everything, innit.

In the grand scheme of things, I enjoy the Ec. Drill down a bit, though, and it chafes my groin in many, many ways. Yet here’s the thing: drill down further, and it comes out to this: I spend a lot of my time in airports/planes, and most of my flights are about an hour in length. Under those constraints Der Spiegel is too fat and Time/Newsweek too frothy.

IOW, one reads the FT but the Ec is still worth an hour a week, as long as one doesn’t take it too seriously. Notsneaky’s guidance is very helpful; No. 8 above all is key, but No. 4 isn’t far behind.

28

McDuff 03.15.08 at 1:09 am

I think it’s a lot easier to get relevant information out of the Economist if you’re on the left than on the right. As Harry B @ 25 says, you know what their stance is at the outset so you can work out approximately what the news story behind the article was.

Of course reading The Economist isn’t a substitute for reading more substantive and in depth reporting on world events. But if it’s used to get a general overview on what’s going on in the world, well, I can think of worse ways to spend a train journey from Manchester to London.

29

idlemind 03.15.08 at 1:28 am

Harry B, perhaps that’s how they sound to anyone with actual depth knowledge in a subject. I gave up on The Economist during the Dot-com era. Like any “serious” observer they were always going on about the inevitable “bubble,” but otherwise vacillated between cynicism and fan-boy fluff. I’m not sure they ever achieved the degree of insight found at the average Silicon Valley cocktail party, but I can see how to those outside that clique without knowledge of the actual technology would mistake it for genuine insight.

30

Total 03.15.08 at 1:30 am

It’s a bit precious for y’all to be sneering about the Economist when Crooked Timber occupies a similar niche on the intertubes.

31

novakant 03.15.08 at 1:39 am

I doubt that there are many readers of the Economist that are so dumb as to lack basic media competency, which comes down to “don’t believe everything you read in the paper” and distinguishing between editorial content and factual reporting. Readers of the Economist are probably smarter than Henry thinks, hey, some of them could even be smarter than Henry.

32

Barry 03.15.08 at 2:10 am

“…and distinguishing between editorial content and factual reporting.”

I believe that the idea is that this doesn’t really exist, in the Economist. In the WSJ, one could always rip out the editorial pages, and assume that the rest of the paper was good reporting.

33

Larry 03.15.08 at 2:12 am

All of the criticisms of The Economist also apply to the US troika of magazines. The quality of the writing in The Economist is far superior. For me, that is game, set and match.

34

nick s 03.15.08 at 2:27 am

Th’Economist will occupy you for a three-hour flight, while Time/Newsweek will have had the juice sucked out of them before you get told to check for the nearest emergency exit. (Or, if you’re taking the train from King’s Cross, it gets you up north, a place th’Economist doesn’t write about much.)

35

bicyclewarriorwith314 03.15.08 at 2:38 am

The thing about the Economist is the quality and reliability of the writing varies greatly. The editorials are mostly a complete waste. The in-depth pieces, especially on Asia and Africa, are great. Other subject areas, including Latin America and the Iraq War, are usually too compromised by ideological slant. The upside, I suppose, is that the ideological bias is so predictable that it’s easy to filter.

What is the superior alternative, then?

I get most of my news online, and I don’t rely on just one source. The Guardian is a favorite, and blogs, like Informed Comment Global Affairs for in-depth stories on Asia.

36

novakant 03.15.08 at 2:46 am

I believe that the idea is that this doesn’t really exist, in the Economist.

Yes, oftentimes the two are intertwined, just like in many magazine articles with a point of view. That’s why readers need media competence, but to most educated people this comes naturally, it’s a very basic skill.

Thus they are able to benefit from an article about the situation in, say, Malawi or wherever, even if they don’t or only in part share the ideological views of the Economist. Unless you want to claim that the Economist actually lies about the facts, there’s not really a problem here.

And it’s the only widely available news resource that regularly features articles on countries you might have a hard time pointing out on a map, so that’s why I value it even though I tend to disagree with them ideologically .

37

SG 03.15.08 at 2:49 am

Mrs Tilton:

Drill down a bit, though, and it chafes my groin in many, many ways.

I would like to point out to you that you are meant to read the economist, not administer it. Unless you’re a North Korean prison guard in the re-education section…?

38

k 03.15.08 at 3:12 am

The other week on a plane to Brussels I saw a guy had with him The Economist, a book by Tim Russert and a book by Tom Brokaw. It made me feel a weird mix of emotions!

39

bicyclewarriorwith314 03.15.08 at 3:19 am

#35:

Unless you want to claim that the Economist actually lies about the facts, there’s not really a problem here.

Not that I’ve seen, but omissions can be as dangerous if you’re not already very well informed about a subject. It’s been long enough since I last read the Economist that I can’t think of any specific examples of omissions. They may have been an issue in coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

And then there’s stuff like this: a comment in an editorial that the Arab world has not produced highly talented or successful people, and that this is a sign of its basic decrepitude (and that editorial piece wasn’t obviously an absurd one, otherwise). After a certain point, trying to figure out which articles are useful, and which ones are off-the-wall nonsense just gets tiring.

40

Lee A. Arnold 03.15.08 at 3:56 am

Henry, The Economist fell right off a cliff when editor Andrew Knight retired in ’86. It was a magazine that had vision and foresight, aspired to the intellectual level of Nature or Science, and every paragraph was packed with quantitative evidence backing its arguments. It was neither liberal nor conservative — it went its own way and frequently anticipated public opinion. It was an inspiring example of careful and provocative thought, and first-rate, charming writing. It was easily the best magazine published in English. I recommend pulling out any of those old issues and having a look. There couldn’t be a better example of how important an editor is. I cancelled my subscription three years later.

41

Matt 03.15.08 at 3:56 am

“I could tell nine times out of ten what the magazine was going to say on a topic by looking at what the topic was”
Funny, I could tell this article would be anti-economist before I read it!

42

Sortition 03.15.08 at 5:35 am

You guys have Friedman all wrong: any article which contains the senctence

Although I view Time and Newsweek (not to mention U.S. News & World Report and the Week) as sophisticated and worthwhile in their own right […],

must be a satire (and a not very subtle one at that).

43

Espen 03.15.08 at 6:52 am

Any magazine that can produce a front page such as this one will have my subscription. It’s from 1994, though…..

44

Kerim Friedman 03.15.08 at 8:09 am

I think The Onion got this right with their point/counterpoint piece from back in 2002. (Be sure to read the counterpoint.)

45

Tim Worstall 03.15.08 at 10:31 am

First day at the LSE, mid-80s. Richard Layard comes on stage.
“If you read the Economist cover to cover each week for the next three years you will gain your degree in economics. Make sure you ignore the editorials though.”
He was right, although clearly, given my own mis-understandings of the subject subsequently, there are probably better ways of really studying the subject.

46

yabonn 03.15.08 at 10:47 am

What pisses me off is that on the two issue about which I consider myself pretty well informed [] their correspondents seem to gather most of their data from the kind of dinner parties.

It’s a rule. If a subject you are familiar with is treated in The Economist, you’ll discover that what The Economist has to say about it is in fact nicely wrapped clichés that support their party line.

Happened to you, me everyone, honk if it happened to you.

47

Buckminster Fusher 03.15.08 at 11:26 am

41-
First thing I thought of when I read the title of this post. Thanks for finding it.

48

Sk 03.15.08 at 1:17 pm

Here in the United States, the New York Times serves the exact same function, particularly amongst academia.

Sk

49

bjk 03.15.08 at 2:26 pm

The problem with the Economist is that Indonesia will always be at a crossroads. You don’t need to read that article 52 times a year.

50

Henry 03.15.08 at 3:38 pm

some of them could even be smarter than Henry.

I’d be startled for all the obvious reasons if there aren’t lots and lots and _lots_ of them who are smarter than me. But what I’m trying to figure out is the basis of their broader market appeal. As Lee Arnold says, they used to be a lot better (much of my education in my early teenage years was gleaned from old copies of the _Economist_ and _New Scientist_ from the 1970s that had somehow accumulated in a house we stayed in in the summer – these likely had a formative impact on me, although what that impact was I couldn’t tell you). And my worry with the ‘discount the ideology and you’ll learn’ argument is that the ideology not only obtrudes in the homilies at the end of the pieces, but in the facts that they choose to emphasize, and the facts that they choose discreetly to ignore (it was an egregious example of this wrt arguments over working conditions in the US that made me decide to drop the subscription).

51

david 03.15.08 at 3:56 pm

“The Economist flatters readers who aren’t quite intelligent enough to realize how shallow it is into thinking that they are more intelligent than they are because they read it. “

I think this describes the New Yorker.

52

Barry 03.15.08 at 4:33 pm

This is a good time to bring up Daniel Davies’ principle:
Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless.

53

Plotinus 03.15.08 at 5:09 pm

As a former Harper’s Magazine intern, I can tell you that Harper’s does a lot of fact-checking on Economist statistics for the Index … and you would be shocked at how often their statistics are false or misleading.

I lost all faith in the Economist.

54

Plotinus 03.15.08 at 5:12 pm

Atrios had a smart comment on the Economist a while back …. something like: if the Economist gets U.S. domestic politics so wrong, why trust it about the rest of the world?

55

novakant 03.15.08 at 5:29 pm

Henry, I’m a reluctant and irregular reader of the Economist for many of the above noted reasons. But while there is an undeniable agenda, myself and I guess most readers don’t take everything they read in the Economist at face value, precisely because the magazine’s ideological stance on certain topics is quite well known and predictable.

And the Economist also does shed light on both countries you never read about elsewhere and on issues that are covered rarely. They also can be relied on being culturally/socially liberal, which sets them apart from their conservative competition, and they do report on stuff such as e.g. prison conditions in the US/UK, which doesn’t play to their allegedly middle-brow corporate readership at all.

For me there isn’t any paper that doesn’t occasionally make me want to throw up. The Guardian, for instance, the paper I read most regularly, also happens to drive me up the wall at least twice a month. It’s similar with Der Spiegel.

As for the appeal of the Economist, apart from the content, I wouldn’t discount practical matters such as the length of the articles and the physical format, which both are appreciated a lot on train/plane journeys.

56

Seye Bassir 03.15.08 at 6:25 pm

I loved the Economist growing up and like Henry it formed a big part of my education. I won’t even read it now most times because it has crossed beyond ideological into embracing rightist political orthodoxy. This all happened in the last 4 years when they decided the American market was extremely important to them. The other thing I detest is the way they ridicule every thing non-Western while everything Western is infallibly virtuous.

57

grackle 03.15.08 at 7:00 pm

Lee Arnold @ #41 has perhaps forgotten that in 1986 the New Yorker was still the best magazine published in English. That did not change for another year or so, until after the forced retirement of William Shawn.

58

terence 03.15.08 at 7:19 pm

“What is the superior alternative, then?”

If you live outside of England and want something weekly and in print (as opposed to pixel) form the Guardian Weekly’s pretty good.

59

~~~~ 03.15.08 at 8:25 pm

“What is the superior alternative, then?”

Le monde diplomatique.

60

will u. 03.15.08 at 9:37 pm

In so many ways There Is No Alternative to The Economist..

61

Uncle Kvetch 03.15.08 at 10:58 pm

The other thing I detest is the way they ridicule every thing non-Western while everything Western is infallibly virtuous.

France isn’t part of the West anymore? When did this happen?

62

freshlysqueezedcynic 03.15.08 at 11:45 pm

For me there isn’t any paper that doesn’t occasionally make me want to throw up. The Guardian, for instance, the paper I read most regularly, also happens to drive me up the wall at least twice a month.

Bingo. The Grauniad is incredibly annoying – whilst I enjoy select pieces from it, I couldn’t digest a whole one.

63

Nabakov 03.16.08 at 12:36 am

I only read The Economist for the captions.

64

mdrennan 03.16.08 at 1:40 am

I just enjoy the little tricks and treats the writers like to get away with, tucked in with the “serious” stuff. My inner Marxist seethes at every article, but I keep reading just for the style and entertainment value.

Plus, they ran my letter, which busted them for an article and accompanying cartoon that depicted Jennifer Granholm as a ditzy blonde with huge boobs being ogled by the Democrat donkey. Pretty game of them. (Though I haven’t entirely forgiven them for running such crap in the first place.)

65

ben wolfson 03.16.08 at 2:34 am

If you read to the end of the counterpoint in the onion article, you will see that Glen Schraft is making fun of Economist readers, and not actually speaking in propria persona for practically any of his counterpoint.

66

Brock 03.16.08 at 2:40 am

Thus, we get articles like Friedman’s, which are less about the state of the US magazine market than about how Friedman and his friends are smart, unconventional and edgy because they read the appointed magazine for smart, unconventional and edgy people.

I don’t read The Economist myself, so I’m not going to defend it, but this post of Henry’s seems less about the magazine itself and more about how Henry and his friends are smarter than people who read it.

67

Soupbone 03.16.08 at 6:17 am

Henry, we don’t think less of you for not reading The Economist.
Now, brush that chip off your shoulder and repeat, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and people like me…”

68

nick s 03.16.08 at 8:10 am

brock: food choices inside the secure area of airports or the confined environment of the train from London to Edinburgh are not to be judged on the same terms as the food choices outside. Thus, The Economist.

It might be oneupmanship, but not all one-ups are alike in kind.

69

harold 03.16.08 at 3:07 pm

While people talk about the pro-market bias, what about the condescending imperial tone to many of their articles. I can’t stand it when a decent article about a change in elections in Papua New Guinea is accompanied by a picture of man doing a tribal dance and a nasty punned caption.

Also, I agree with Rodrik’s sentiment in that I follow Indian politics very closely, and much of their coverage of India tends to be tone deaf to the actual changes: reporting the facts, but getting the angle completely wrong.

It makes me wonder that all the other news from far off corners suffer from similar defects.

70

Steve C 03.16.08 at 3:54 pm

Is The Economist becoming too middlebrow? Appreciated by too many of the wrong people on the train you ride? Intellectual fashion must move on (to utter crap like Monocle, no doubt – which reads like it was crafted specifically for trust fund kids. And Le Monde Diplomatique – please – yeah I really want all my world news filtered through the set that gets all nostalgic for 1968 France).

This is not different from Obama backlash, or backlash to just about anything mainstream. I’m sure there was a time when everyone who is disowning the Economist now was praising Starbucks – around 1999 maybe?

71

bob 03.16.08 at 3:59 pm

64: ditto.

i find it hard to believe that anyone could feel so smug about reading the economist when the prose is so dull and machine made. the prescriptive style guidelines make it far more readable than its competitors, and they also make each issue seem crushingly repetitive.

72

bob 03.16.08 at 4:06 pm

oh, and @55, I think exactly the same thing, just replace US with UK. While I do appreciate the breadth of coverage – and it has no real competition in this respect – my regard for the quality of their analysis plummeted when I began to pay more attention to the UK pieces, . The economist has pretensions to being more than another source of news, but it’s staffed by mediocre hacks no less than any daily paper.

73

Alex Higgins 03.16.08 at 6:51 pm

Number 60 is right, ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’ is far superior to the Economist.

But it’s good to read a variety of different news sources and make judgements about their relative reliability.

74

Walt 03.16.08 at 8:14 pm

Wow, the world is full of neurotic, easily-offended Economist readers.

75

dpoyesac 03.16.08 at 9:07 pm

First, I want to point out that there is a backwards compliment hiding in here somewhere: the Economist is first and foremost a newspaper and is written by journalists, but it is criticized as not quite being as on the ball as professional and academic economists. The Economist might be the smartest newspaper out there, but is still just a newspaper. The fact that it fails against a whole different class of criteria just shows how good it is at its job of analyzing the news.

Second, it is refreshingly open about its biases in a word where everybody is perpetually calling out their ideological opponents for having hidden or subjugated biases. Yeah, they may be predictably open-market, but they never cloak an open-market stance with insincere claims of ideological neutrality. They wear their ideology on their sleeve and will even, on occasion, make attempts to defend it.

Finally, there is a strong moral sense motivating the writers and editors. Their claim isn’t that market liberalization is just the right thing to do — it is the pragmatic thing to do because it will help the poor and the downtrodden in the long run. Many claim to believe this, but will then choose free markets when they happen to conflict with the needs of the poor. When these conflicts do in fact arise (since reality is never as simple and clean as we want in in our academic and theoretical simulations), the Economist editors tend to back the needs of the poor and downtrodden.

76

Martin Bento 03.16.08 at 9:16 pm

oh, by all means, read the thing if you like, or at least pick through it – just don’t pay for it. Here is the US (don’t know bout GB), there are Borders and such all over, most of which carry the thing and have cafes where you can read. Now, a mag like The Nation might argue that you should compensate the creators of the product, a “moral” obligation, if you will. But to The Economist you are a self-interest maximizing machine. Pay them the tribute of agreeing – in lieu of paying them money.

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CrocodileChuck 03.16.08 at 9:19 pm

I read The Economist for twenty years. No longer-its become a superficial, knee jerk cheerleader for the the loony right in the USA. In fact, if it lurches in this direction any further its US ‘correspondents’ will be biting the heads of squirrels (Mike Huckabee’s recipe, anyone?)

CrocodileChuck

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Jacob Christensen 03.16.08 at 10:10 pm

@36: The editorials are mostly a complete waste. This applies to the editorials in most all papers.

Otherwise, I’d agree with dpoyesac: The E is a newspaper, not a research journal or a popular social science journal, and should be considered as such. It is perfectly ok that Rodrik and others feel that some of the substance and details in, say, economic research goes missing in the reporting – fortunately for us, Rodrik is a worthwhile blogger :-)

(In all honesty I should declare that I’ve done some minor work for the Economist Intelligence Unit and even once been quoted by Charlemagne for a very … hmmm … ironic comment about the Swedish social insurance system).

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Kris 03.16.08 at 11:14 pm

A touch harsh, I would say. The one week turnaround does put limitations on the depth of many pieces, but by and large there is plenty to recommend about the paper.

The biases are clear, and as long as you read it with that in mind, there something worthwhile to find within most editions.

As someone who identifies as a social democrat, I feel that many of the problems identified above can be found in all papers, regardless of specific ideological bent.

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DinaStrange 03.17.08 at 12:36 am

I love “the economist” even though some of my friends DO call that magazine opinionated. One thing i must say though.

As much as i adore intelligence in any shape or form, i strongly dislike when that intelligence is used to fuel ones arrogance. Since i don’t know “you?” personally, i can only assume that my feeling of your arrogance is a produce of my own imagination.

Am i right?

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geo 03.17.08 at 2:29 am

#77: When these conflicts do in fact arise (since reality is never as simple and clean as we want in in our academic and theoretical simulations), the Economist editors tend to back the needs of the poor and downtrodden.

This is intriguing. Would you expatiate?

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Phil 03.17.08 at 12:11 pm

I think a larger issue to consider is why intelligent, curious left-of-center readers have nowhere to turn to for weekly, concise, well-organized global political and economic news. (I’m talking about English-language publications here, and specifically as an American.)

Of course, one should read a variety of news sources, and I do, but it should be frankly embarrassing to the supposedly internationalist left (social democratic sense) that they’ve long ceded an important, practical news role to the neoliberal, rightwing-apologist Economist.

As for others suggestions: yes, I read Le Monde Diplomatique from time to time but c’mon that’s monthly. And it’s format isn’t about trying to give one a straightforward overview of political and economic current events.

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Paul M. Cray 03.17.08 at 1:59 pm

A fiend of mine got “The Economist” about right I think: “In the US, it’s read by CEOs; in the UK, it’s read by A-level economics students.”

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Paul M. Cray 03.17.08 at 2:00 pm

Me @ 84: a “friend” as well as “fiend”.

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A 03.17.08 at 2:45 pm

Hating The Economist in this way is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s like saying that high school is useless because of the simplistic way in which it tackles its subjects. The magazine is great, and serves its purpose until you learn enough to move beyond it.

The Dani’s, Henry’s, and D-Squared’s of the world can probably pick out the substantive reasons to criticize and have the wherewithall to do better finding information elsewhere. I wonder how many commenters here are rejecting the mazazine because they disagree with it’s point of view, and smugly go to publications whose biases are even worse (Harper’s, anyone?) because they like the viewpoint better.

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laguardia 03.18.08 at 6:57 am

The simple truth is that no group of journalists can churn out 100+ pages of consistently intelligent writing each week. For a balanced information diet, try subscribing to a good monthly (e.g. Prospect Magazine (the UK one, not The American Prospect), The Atlantic Monthly, or Harper’s if you must) and a daily paper (go pick and choose from the online offerings), and spice it up with the occasional copy of a partisan pamphlet (e.g., The Nation, The Spectator, Le Monde Diplomatique, Mother Jones, Wall Street Journal…)

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