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.