The Economist fails the Turing Test again

by Henry on April 30, 2012

Five years ago I linked to a Bill Emmott column on the impending election of Nicholas Sarkozy thusly:

This unashamed mash note from Bill Emmott, former editor of the Economist presents a class of a triple-distilled tincture of the prevailing globollocks on Sarkozy’s victory in France. You don’t need to read the actual column to get the gist; just the Pavlovian dinner-bell talking points that it strings together.

France … paralyzed by powerful interest groups … political elite … beholden … or … afraid … takes a brave outsider … precisely Sarkozy’s appeal … Reagan or a Thatcher … A “rupture” is what France needs … showing that his country is not doomed to decline … cadres of highly globalized managers … etc … etc

I don’t see the words “tough,” “clear-headed,” or “reform” anywhere, so it isn’t quite the full bob major, but it’s close.

Now, his successor as editor at the Economist plays the same tune again, but even more crudely, deploring Sarkozy’s probable successor.

France desperately needs reform .. .neighbours have been undergoing genuine reforms … deep anti-business attitude … proposing not to reform at all … refusal to countenance structural reform of any sort … resistance to change … hostile to change … Until recently, voters in the euro zone seemed to have accepted the idea of austerity and reform. … would undermine Europe’s willingness to pursue the painful reforms it must eventually embrace.

I’ve no idea what Hollande is going to be like (except that he’s certainly going to be disappointing). But I do know that this is one of the most exquisitely refined examples of globollocks that I’ve ever seen. It’s as beautifully resistant to the intellect as an Andropov era Pravda editorial. A few more years of this and the Economist won’t have to have any human editing at all. Even today, I imagine that someone with middling coding skills could patch together a passable Economist-editorial generator with a few days work. Mix in names of countries and people scraped from the political stories sections of Google News, with frequent exhortations for “Reform,” “toughminded reform,” “market-led reform,” “painful reform,” “change,” “serious change,” “rupture,” and 12-15 sentences worth of automagically generated word-salad content, and you’d be there.

I wonder whether even the writer of this editorial would be able to define ‘reform’ or ‘change’ if he were asked, beyond appealing to some sort of ‘social protection bad, market good’ quasi-autonomic reflex embedded deep in his lizard brain. I also wonder whether the people in there are as cynical about their product as Andropov-era journalists were, or whether they actually believe the pabulum they dish out.

{ 92 comments }

1

Ed 04.30.12 at 2:56 am

I think you go to far with the Turing Test rhetoric, but you are right about the growing tendency for establishment Western publications, many of which were perfectly capable of turning out intelligent copy twenty years ago, to imitate late Soviet Bloc establishment publications. When can we start just ignoring them?

2

The Raven 04.30.12 at 3:20 am

Coming soon: Google Economist.

3

Sandwichman 04.30.12 at 3:24 am

“Even today, I imagine that someone with middling coding skills could patch together a passable Economist-editorial generator with a few days work.”

Very much along those lines, my “Only So Much Work to Go Round” mash up of Economist boilerplate. It begins, “This idea cannot withstand a nanosecond of thought.”

4

John Theibman 04.30.12 at 3:47 am

It’s an easy game to play though.

Pick out a few words and make a generator.

Articles on Iran, Terrorism, Global Warming and a myriad of other subjects would be ripe for it.

You could probably get a paper accepted into a sociology journal that was computer generated if you worked at it enough.

5

Bradley 04.30.12 at 5:02 am

Nice work. The University of Chicago writing program has something similar called “Write your own academic sentence”:

http://writing-program.uchicago.edu/toys/randomsentence/write-sentence.htm

6

Andarte 04.30.12 at 6:57 am

7

mollymooly 04.30.12 at 6:59 am

The ideology in Economist articles often reads as though it was grafted on after the fact; it is easy for the reader to lift it out, throw it away, and read what’s left. In the case of leaders, of course, nothing is left.

8

William Timberman 04.30.12 at 7:42 am

I can’t speak for the Economisti, but at least some of us civilians are just as cynical as the long-suffering Soviets were. After all, many of us now measure time in Friedman Units, and have been overheard remarking upon the kinship between Expansionary Contraction and Ignorance is Strength, or the Responsibility to Protect and War is Peace.

Surely it’s only a matter of time before someone starts doing comparative studies of Stephen Colbert and Krokodil.

9

ciaran 04.30.12 at 7:52 am

The Economists writings on American politics are a particularly dire species of “both sides do it”-ery. I think I actually left a comment on their website about how you could easily design a computer program to spew out such articles, I reckon it’s the future.

10

Neville Morley 04.30.12 at 8:06 am

Applied to serious subjects, it’s depressingly predictable and hence tedious. Rather more fun to think of an Economist editorial on, say, the appointment of the new England manager (actually you could generate that by substituting just a couple of words in your summary of the Hollande editorial), or imagine Pride and Prejudice written in the style of an Economist editorial.

11

Alex 04.30.12 at 9:09 am

Real GDP growth was actually slightly higher in France than in Germany in the 2000s, and the debt/GDP ratio is within one percentage-point.

12

Alex 04.30.12 at 9:10 am

This, of course, supports both the point that the Germans put up with a lot of globollocks in the early 2000s and therefore resent paying into the EU, and also the point that austerity and globollocks now are pointless when they are not harmful.

13

LadyH 04.30.12 at 9:17 am

” imagine Pride and Prejudice written in the style of an Economist editorial.”

…It is is a truth universally acknowledged that a nation state in possession of a sclerotic economy must be in want of a clear-headed reformer…

So far so good!

14

rf 04.30.12 at 9:34 am

I saw the magazine in the shop the other day, with a cover of Hollande declaring The rather dangerous Monsieur Hollande (according to their website, though I’m pretty sure it said The most dangerous man in France/The world) I was hoping I would never know what was contained within those pages.
Now that I do know, that cover seems a little dramatic

15

Neville Morley 04.30.12 at 10:39 am

I was thinking of something more along the lines of “The Bennet household is in desperate need of far-reaching reform, as it faces up to the consequences of nearly two decades of profligacy and maybe-an-heir-will-turn-up short-termism. Its structural over-production of daughters and unrealistic estimations of future prospects, however, driven by a fixation on landed property and a pervasive anti-business and anti-trade snobbery, and the lackadaisical attitude and resistance to change of its leader, suggest that it will continue to be out-performed in the marriage market by more forward-looking neighbours willing to accept conversational austerity as the price of financial security and the condescension of Lady Catherine de Burgh…”

16

Sufferin' Succotash 04.30.12 at 11:24 am

Soviet-era joke: “there’s no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia.”

17

Danila 04.30.12 at 11:26 am

I am always surprised, and a bit disturbed, by the huge difference between the paper edition of The Economist and their blog section. The blogs are also very much to the right, but quite often they do present arguments that force you to think. Who knows, maybe they have divided the work: make the kind of paper that will satisfy your typical reader and use the (free) blogs to maintain a modicum of intellectual authority.

18

Chris Lundvall 04.30.12 at 11:39 am

I used to read the Economist regularly, but now have not resubscribed for the reasons laid out above. It was always a bit right wing but has more recently gone past. Has the Murdoch machine clandestinely taken it over?

19

pandera 04.30.12 at 11:41 am

Bravo Neville – simply brilliant.

20

rf 04.30.12 at 11:53 am

15 Neville Morley
That really is very funny

Their Middle East coverage (and I assume foreign affairs in general) can be quite good. (Although I havent read it for a while) Max Rodenbeck appears to be informed and independent, which are rare qualities in mainstream coverage of the Mid East.
I imagine it’s all John Mickelwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s fault

This column really says it all

http://www.economist.com/node/21553017

As does Francis Liew in comments:

“As with any journalist works, the author of a
Digital Manufacturing writes a superficial article to interest and amuse. It cannot be taken seriously as a scholarly works or even a public commission of inquiry…..Just read it for what it is…a supeficial piece of journalism. After all the Economist is hardly in the same stage as the Lancet or Scientific America.”

21

P O'Neill 04.30.12 at 11:54 am

Name the PM that it is the subject of this Economist lightning bolt from on high:

Yet a more compelling case is that X’s mistake was to start reforming too late, and then to do too little. Nowhere in Europe has economic reform been easy; many places endured pain for years before the benefits in lower unemployment and higher growth came through. [PM's country]‘s love of consensus and its federal system both make changes unusually hard to deliver. Even so, there are now quite a few examples—such as Britain and the Netherlands in the 1980s, or Finland and Sweden in the 1990s—of European countries that have managed the process in spite of the pain.

X = Gerhard Schroeder, who the Economist wanted to make way for the real reformer Mrs Merkel, yet who is now seen as the genius who “reformed” Germany from the left (and perhaps destroyed the Euro in doing so, but that’s another story).

22

Bart 04.30.12 at 12:07 pm

I read my wife’s copy for the book reviews.

23

Glen Tomkins 04.30.12 at 12:53 pm

Unfortunately, there won’t be any perestroika of our crony capitalist system until and unless it fails in so stunning and unambiguous fashion that everyone has to admit its failure. The crony socialism of the late unlamented SU was clearly failing, and only that clear failure allowed Gorbachev to get away with his revolution.

No force visible now, even on the furthest horizon, stands any prospect of moving us out of a perpetual Andropov-equivalent regime. Everybody paying attention knows the system is a failure, but no one able to change things pays them any attention.

That’s the optimisitc scenario — no one in power pays any attention to the reality-based critics of the system. The pessimistic scenario is that the people in power take to persecuting the reality-based folks as handy scapegoats for the progressively worsening failure of the system. That”s a pretty fair summarry of the major difference between a Democratic and Republican US government these days.

Have a nice day, fellow Emmanuel Goldbergs. It looks like it could be centuries of the pretty much the same.

24

Glen Tomkins 04.30.12 at 12:58 pm

Of course I actually wrote Emmanuel Goldstein, but those damn Ministry of Truth spellcheckers must have changed it to Goldberg.

25

Danton 04.30.12 at 1:02 pm

19.,

The Economist got that one right thought. The Hartz IV program took effect to close to the election (Jan 2005, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartz_concept#Hartz_IV) to save Mr Schröder. Had it been implemented sooner maybe he would have been given credit for the large fall in unemployment:
http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=z8o7pt6rd5uqa6_&ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=unemployment_rate&fdim_y=seasonality:sa&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country_group&idim=country:de:fr&idim=country_group:non-eu&ifdim=country_group&tstart=412729200000&tend=1330470000000&hl=en&dl=en&ind=false

26

matt w 04.30.12 at 1:16 pm

I’ve learned what the title of Blues in Bob Minor refers to! (Carillon ringing, apparently.)

27

Henry 04.30.12 at 1:38 pm

It’s the period appropriate use of the term ‘condescension’ that makes Neville’s parody so good.

bq. I am always surprised, and a bit disturbed, by the huge difference between the paper edition of The Economist and their blog section. The blogs are also very much to the right, but quite often they do present arguments that force you to think. Who knows, maybe they have divided the work: make the kind of paper that will satisfy your typical reader and use the (free) blogs to maintain a modicum of intellectual authority.

The bloggers have a little more free rein to say what they think, which is one of the reasons why I wonder whether the smug and suffocating editorial line has been entirely internalized by those who propound it as anonymous scribes for the magazine proper.

bq. Carillon ringing, apparently.

Hence the (not particularly good) play in the original on the sounding of Pavlovian dinner bells. But all I know about carillon ringing, I know from a Dorothy Sayers novel.

28

Neville Morley 04.30.12 at 1:44 pm

If you mean The Nine Tailors, that features a ring of bells used for change ringing rather than a carillon…

29

Carl Weetabix 04.30.12 at 1:49 pm

The odd thing is I’ve been reading about the apparent doom of western society due to liberalism since I was a kid. The answer has been to move progressively to the right, which curiously has coincided with a societal reduced quality of life and increased economic instability.

Coincidence? I think not.

30

bert 04.30.12 at 1:53 pm

The timing of the Hartz measures aside, P O’Neill points out where the Economist’s clock is stopped, and shows exactly what kind of cuckoo’s predictably popped out of the clockface to mark the French elections. It’s a supply side argument, and it’s mainly about labour market reform.

However. They seem to have settled on a straightforwardly critical line about expansionary austerity. And in the case of France, it is actually worth pointing out the different circumstances you face if you’re young or low-paid rather than in a protected job. Put to one side all the arguments about the appropriate macro stance for today’s circumstances, and focus instead on the actual fiscal pressures that all governments are facing, you’ll likely conclude that incremental rises in the retirement age make sense as part of a package of measures in response. Hollande’s campaign commits him to inch in the opposite direction.

Your criticisms of the Economist are fair enough, and fresh evidence to support them appears every week. Micklethwait appears to see the cover as a vehicle for attention-grabbing dickishness of the sort you might associate with Slate. His reign at the American section was a disgrace and his appointment as editor was all-around bad.

Despite all this, my frustration with the Economist is that All Is Not Yet Lost.
Bill Emmott endorsed Kerry ’04 remember.

31

jwr12 04.30.12 at 2:05 pm

In your list of words on auto-play, you forgot “transformational” and “disruptive.” There isn’t any mountain in current policy discussion you can’t bully your way to the top of by claiming to be on the side of “transformational” and “disruptive” changes. That said, whether you have any idea what you’re doing–and whether what you’re arguing for is truly transformational, disruptive, or (best of all) a useful or inevitable thing–is another question. Generally speaking, though, if you can argue for the kind of “transformational” and “disruptive” change that puts more money in the hands of fewer people, you’re on the right track, at least as far as getting to the top.

32

Henry 04.30.12 at 2:34 pm

bq. If you mean The Nine Tailors, that features a ring of bells used for change ringing rather than a carillon…

I’m vague at best on the differences between change ringing and carillons (a bit of Googling suggests that the one is UK and the other is Europe, but neither really spread to the Catholic hinterlands of Ireland that I grew up in) … the book did have a bob major though …

33

marcel 04.30.12 at 2:54 pm

John Theibman concluded with

You could probably get a paper accepted into a sociology journal that was computer generated if you worked at it enough.

This is a bit out of date, but might be a place to start.

34

marcel 04.30.12 at 2:55 pm

Oops. Goofed on my close tag. Sorry, but the link nevertheless works.

35

joel hanes 04.30.12 at 3:01 pm

It’s my impression (reinforced by a little image googling) that carillons have a keyboard apparatus of some sort that provides fairly precise control of a relatively large number of bells, and so can be played by a single person; while in a proper “ring of bells”, as depicted in Nine Tailors, a smaller number of generally-larger bells are mounted in the traditional wheel, each with a rope fall, and in ringing, a person is required for each bell.

36

Henry 04.30.12 at 3:01 pm

bq. I read my wife’s copy for the book reviews.

Perhaps the Economist is becoming more like _Playboy_ than like _Pravda_ …

37

Neville Morley 04.30.12 at 3:06 pm

Completely off topic, but in honour of the fact that my father is both a bell-ringer and a pedant:

Carillon: set of bells played by one person using a keyboard (can also be set up to play automatically), usually in order to produce pretty tunes. Continental Europe.

Ring of Bells: each bell operated by one person pulling a rope, in order to play complex mathematical patterns or changes (known by names like Plain Bob Major and Grandsire Triples). England.

38

FRauncher 04.30.12 at 3:29 pm

The Economist article obviously comes from the pen of their arch conservative Paris Bureau chief, Sophie Pedder. I have seen her several times on TV panels recently, and, can you imagine, she is still citing the austerity of the Cameron government as the example for Europe to follow. Not only are her comments mindlessly reactionary, but she is arrogant in presenting them, at least in her live appearances.

39

Peter Principle 04.30.12 at 3:46 pm

“But I do know that this is one of the most exquisitely refined examples of globollocks that I’ve ever seen. It’s as beautifully resistant to the intellect as an Andropov era Pravda editorial.”

“Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style . . . When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy . . . And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine.”

George Orwell
Politics and the English Language

40

Neville Morley 04.30.12 at 4:14 pm

Reviewing that summary, it is clear that English bell-ringing is in desperate need of far-reaching structural reform. In contrast to the striking technological advances introduced by our continental rivals, it is wedded to outmoded practices simply as a means of resisting the introduction of greater efficiency into its use of labour. Furthermore, it remains stuck in an obsolete anti-market mentality, insisting on the production of complex abstract patterns of limited appeal rather than responding to the widespread demand for proper tunes.

41

Uncle Kvetch 04.30.12 at 4:30 pm

I did an MA in French Studies here in the US in 1987-1988 and ingested a lifetime’s worth of pious pronouncements about “sclerotic” France’s need for “rupture” in the process. And here we are, 25 years on.

Whenever the Economist (or the WSJ or the NYTimes) does this kind of thing, I always wonder how much of it is motivated by bog-standard neoliberal orthodoxy, and how much by good old Anglo-Saxon froggy-bashing. Is the Economist’s tone quite this sniffy and imperious when they write about any other country? Or do they keep it in reserve for when those arrogant, stuck-up Frenchies need to be brought down to size?

Even the anchors on the BBC TV news show (the one for the US market, anyway) can’t seem to resist the half-bemused, half-exasperated “there they go again” attitude.

42

infini 04.30.12 at 4:40 pm

I have seen (read) them lift the entire framing from an article and simply change some examples around. Their credibility is like a sandcastle just barely out of reach of the tide.

43

Rich 04.30.12 at 6:29 pm

You presented a perfect frameowrk for never really reading something you disagree with ever again.

I wonder what would happen if we all assumed our own intellectual and moral superiority over everyone who has the audacity to hold an opinion different from our own. (Actually, I don’t really wonder about this… I’ve been reading the blogosphere for too long to be left with any doubt. We are all idiots these days.)

44

rf 04.30.12 at 6:56 pm

Rich
I’m not sure of your point? All of five years ago I swore I’d never read Michael Totten again, and apart from one or two slips I haven’t. My life has undoubtedly become fuller and my perspective more nuanced on account of that decision.
That doesn’t mean that I completly ignore all batshit crazy neo-conservatives opinion on the Middle East, (that would be entirely removing myself from the conversation), just Michael Totten. Because hes a dunce

45

Charles Hett 04.30.12 at 7:21 pm

Neville, on Carillons – you may want to consider the Wellington Carillon (Wellington, NZ) – somewhere in the middle of your definitions.

46

Archie 04.30.12 at 8:01 pm

The most amazing thing is that this article actually accepts that Hollande’s focus on growth and his apparent will to turn the tide of austerity around are recognised as important in the context of keeping the EZ together, but this is nonetheless trumped by the kind of precedent a sizeable tax increase for 3,000 wealthy people and hiring some teachers would set. The world may fall apart, but none may interfere with my tax rate!

47

Anon. 04.30.12 at 10:21 pm

The fact that you equate rent capture by special interests with “social protection” says it all, doesn’t it?

48

jonathan hopkin 04.30.12 at 11:32 pm

Here’s a nice one from November 2002: ‘France needs more jobs and less state.’ March 2006: ‘The country’s politicians need to level with the French people on the need to embrace change’. Here, in July 2008: ‘Summer in France is usually just a lull between the strikes of spring and those of the autumn rentrée.’

All this from two minutes’ googling of ‘France + Economist’. Maybe someone should develop an app?

49

derrida derider 05.01.12 at 12:08 am

The Economist has belatedly realised that there’s not much commercial future in writing for the liberal (in the UK sense) wing of the Social Democrats. They now try to appeal to the plutocrat wing of the Republican party (as distinct from the religious crazy wing, which it still sometimes mocks). Consequently they’re more focused than they used to be on the horrors of capital taxation rather than the horrors of capital punishment.

It’s been very successful for them – they sell about 4 or 5 times as many subscriptions in the US as the UK. As I’ve said before, nobody ever went broke appealing to the prejudices of rich old men.

50

Serge 05.01.12 at 1:15 am

For a simple, confused young reader (who signed up for a subscription to the Economist after quite liking the blogs) where is one to turn for relatively meaningful and unbiased analysis? It seems that every source should be read critically, but surely you guys must like something. It seems to me that if I didn’t read the Economist, I’d be forced to subsist almost entirely on academic blogs, say.

51

b.mit 05.01.12 at 1:37 am

I’d like to second Serge’s question, above.

52

MPAVictoria 05.01.12 at 2:34 am

“where is one to turn for relatively meaningful and unbiased analysis?”

For meaningful analysis here is good. Additionally I like Lawyers, Guns and Money, Atrios, Digby and Paul Krugman’s blog The Conscience of a Liberal. As for unbiased well I am afraid I don’t think such a thing exists.

53

js. 05.01.12 at 4:54 am

Serge & b.mit:

Not sure what you’re looking for exactly, or where you’re based, but if (as MPAVictoria suggests), you give up the hopeless quest for something “unbiased”, in the US, The Nation e.g. has good left-liberal analysis (it’s a weekly). And I’m US based and read The Guardian for my daily news, so there’s that. For longer pieces, London Review of Books, and sometimes NYRB. Lots else of course, but it depends on your specific interests, stylistic tastes, etc.

54

Carl S. 05.01.12 at 5:15 am

Serge- Try the American Prospect for an alternative point of view from the Economist to WSJ spectrum.

55

Neville Morley 05.01.12 at 7:07 am

@Charles Hett #45: interesting, but in terms of its design and how it’s played that looks like a standard carillon to me. Obviously it’s not in Continental Europe (but the Culture Ministry’s own <a href="http://www.mch.govt.nz/nz-identity-heritage/national-war-memorial/carillon"website trace its origins there).

56

Neville Morley 05.01.12 at 7:08 am

Correct weblink for Wellington Carillon.

57

yabonn 05.01.12 at 8:46 am

Uncle Kvetch at 41 :

It’s an orthodoxy, some froggy bashing and also holidays : a country in which one goes for holidays can’t be serious (what with those always full café terrasses and such).

58

Alex 05.01.12 at 9:56 am

Back in about 2005 I wrote that there is a certain kind of journalist who gets off the Airbus in his Armani suit, checks e-mail on his Nokia E61 (this dates the remark, of course), climbs into his BMW, and drives off to sell his new piece about Doomed Europe to a paper owned by Holtzbrinck or Hachette.

Nothing has changed except the mobile phone.

59

Tim Worstall 05.01.12 at 10:13 am

“For a simple, confused young reader (who signed up for a subscription to the Economist after quite liking the blogs) where is one to turn for relatively meaningful and unbiased analysis? “

Back sometime last century Richard Layard marched onstage to address the new economics undergrads at the LSE. He held up a copy of the Economist and said

“Read this cover to cover every week and you will pass your degree.

You’ll have to ignore the nonsense in the editorials of course.”

Still seems sound enough advice.

60

bert 05.01.12 at 12:14 pm

I think part of what rubs you up the wrong way about the Economist is the loftiness, the High Table tone.
In fact, Gideon Rachman in today’s FT is way worse.
He concentrates on labour market reform, and adds a There Is No Alternative line on austerity. Neither the constraints of the single currency (does he ever talk to Martin Wolf? and if so does he understand him?) nor the continued dysfunction of the banking system are even mentioned.
Henry, I’m sure you don’t need told that Rachman used to write the Charlemagne column.
Older readers (or those who saw the movie ‘An Education’) may also remember Peter Rachman, an abusive slum landlord in the now-gentrified part of west London where today’s Tories cluster.

61

Chris E 05.01.12 at 1:14 pm

“You’ll have to ignore the nonsense in the editorials of course.”

Except that the content that constitutes ‘editorial’ has – over time – expanded to sprawl over most of the magazine.

62

ajay 05.01.12 at 1:15 pm

Older readers (or those who saw the movie ‘An Education’) may also remember Peter Rachman, an abusive slum landlord in the now-gentrified part of west London where today’s Tories cluster.

Who is… Gideon’s father? Brother? Cousin? Any sort of relative? Or just someone with a bad track record and the same surname?

63

bert 05.01.12 at 1:27 pm

The latter.
Gideon Rachman seems quite jolly and would probably be good company. His commentary reads like the summarised table talk of the well-connected. I suspect that’s pretty much how it’s written.
Occasionally, however, he writes something that reminds you of his namesake. ‘Rachmanite’ and ‘rachmanism’ were terms of abuse fifty years ago.

64

ajay 05.01.12 at 1:52 pm

Guilt by association! You should have brought in Mizanur Rahman and Sergei Rachmaninov as well. (“Like his namesake, Gideon Rachman has never written a truly first-rate opera.”)

65

engels 05.01.12 at 2:24 pm

Don’t be so hasty, Ajay. Francesca da Rimini works much better on disc than it does on the stage. I highly recommend the BBC Singers on Chandos.

66

bert 05.01.12 at 2:37 pm

Speaking of Rachmaninoff, news comes through that Paul Ryan has abandoned Ayn Rand and embraced religion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAOhdIiXJ9c

67

HoosierPoli 05.01.12 at 3:40 pm

I canceled my subscription to the economist when I caught them lying…yes, LYING…about the GINI index of the United States. The latest numbers from the CIA put it at .45, somewhere between Cameroon and Bulgaria. The economist reported it as .38 and never ran a correction.

68

Metatone 05.01.12 at 3:44 pm

Seconding certain comments:

- Economist has definitely changed as it has made a play for the US market.
– Editorials are spreading into news reporting more.

Some anecdotes:

- When I was younger I spent some time in India during election season. Reading The Economist and comparing their reporting of local events to what I saw around me cured me of believing that their foreign reporting was reliable.
– Met a young person not that long back working on the Europe desk, essentially the person doing a lot of the groundwork. Straight out of an Ivy League college, never been to Europe before. Their views and knowledge didn’t inspire me with confidence – but I guess they had a good sense of how to write for the main (USA) market.
– The Economist still is a good source of stats and some background on those stats, but now you can often get the stats and more on the internet. The curation function they fulfil regarding economic stats is probably still valuable to Layard’s undergrads, but more than ever you need to be aware that they are chosen with an ideological slant.

69

Metatone 05.01.12 at 3:45 pm

Guess that formatting doesn’t work… oops…

70

chris y 05.01.12 at 3:46 pm

Gideon Rachman seems quite jolly and would probably be good company.

Peter Rachman was probably the life and soul of the party, provided you didn’t rent a room off him.

71

chris y 05.01.12 at 3:53 pm

(The problem with Bradley’s link at 5 is that you generate a sentence such as: The logic of normative value(s) may be parsed as the fantasy of linguistic transparency; then you squint at it; and eventually you half convince yourself it looks plausibly real.

72

bert 05.01.12 at 4:35 pm

Chris, true, but “rachmanite” doesn’t mean “jolly”.
It means “extracts a living by shitting on the vulnerable”.

73

engels 05.01.12 at 6:43 pm

“Read this from cover to cover every week and you will pass your degree…”

What does this tell you about the quality of a LSE degree?

Answer: Nothing that anyone who has encountered Tim Worstall didn’t already know.

74

Alex 05.01.12 at 7:59 pm

yes, note the use of the word “pass”. In the UK, a pass degree is one that didn’t get honours, whether first class, upper second, lower second, or third, or to put it another way, the worst possible performance that would allow you to complete the course rather than flunking out.

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Alex 05.01.12 at 8:02 pm

…which of course suggests that you were sufficiently well-balanced and well-funded not to flunk, but either really astonishingly thick or really astonishingly lazy (although not lazy enough just to be booted off your course for not turning in essays).

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rf 05.01.12 at 8:25 pm

Tim Worstall

You got a nice write up in todays Mark Steyn column

http://www.steynonline.com/4983/middle-class-mick

It appears that unless he’s misquoting you, that LSE degree didnt lead to a particularly sophisticated point of view

“The Internet wallah Tim Worstall thought that Miss Williams had sort of missed her own point with that bit about politics, media, and the third sector: “When the desirable jobs are spending other people’s money, reporting on spending other people’s money and lobbying to spend other people’s money then you know that the society is f***ed.””

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dsquared 05.01.12 at 8:33 pm

I tell this anecdote every time the subject comes up on CT, but it’s true so I will repeat it again. In a career as a stockbroker, I have met:

A Japanese person who reads the Economist every week to find out about the USA and Europe, ignoring the Asian coverage.

An American who reads it to keep up with the overseas news, although of course the US coverage is a bit crazy.

Numerous Europeans who read it because the American coverage is great, but you have to ignore every word they write about Europe.

Personally, I used to read it a very long time ago, while ignoring the awful crap they wrote about Britain and about economics. I stopped, and so, eventually, did everyone else I’ve mentioned above.

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rf 05.01.12 at 8:47 pm

Tim (again)

Let’s all play this game of most worthless career. I take your journalist, NGO worker (I’m not really gonna argue lobbyist) and academic and raise you precious metals consultant, part time blogger and, eh, press secretary for UKIP

I also want to throw in loud-mouthed and under-informed opinion columnist based in New Hampshire and possibly extend that to that certain type of man that thinks paying his secretary is “creating jobs”.

Oh what fun, and how helpful in general.

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Watson Ladd 05.01.12 at 10:17 pm

So would there be a market for a translation and agglomeration of all the stories from the major newspapers of the world, together with necessary background information? It seems that this would outperform the economist, and without having to read 5 languages each week.

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David Irving (no relation) 05.01.12 at 10:59 pm

marcel @ 33, there’s also this, written by a computer scientist from Monash University.

I’ve noticed I’m more amused by it than are my friends with a background in the humanities …

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Mercy 05.02.12 at 12:26 am

@Serge, all my red-team mates are convinced the Financial Times is the honest version of the economist – that they have the same positions but aren’t trying to proselytise for them – and have taken to reading it “so as to find out what the capitalist class are thinking”. Not sure if that’s an accurate assessment but I do find them less infuriating.

On the other hand if you’re looking for a weekly floppy that’ll tell you everything you need to know about everywhere, I suspect an inverse relationship between one’s knowledge of an area and one’s impression of the reporting quality may be built into that enterprise, but Le Monde Diplomatique at least isn’t propping up a dead ideology.

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None 05.02.12 at 12:31 am

Regarding the Economist vs academic blogs … I stopped reading the august magazine, which was founded by John Stuart Mill (*) blah blah blah, around 10 years ago not due to their bias (I was, and probably still am, somewhat similarly biased) or anything of the sort, but because a) their coverage grew almost entirely predictable & b) academic blogs, which were then starting their engines, offered far, far more sophisticated analysis.

More generally, one suspects that magazines of that ilk are far more vulnerable than they seem to be aware of. Things may be different in FIRE, but at every STEM place I’ve been, management relied variously on inhouse, boutique or big consultancy, trade & specialist magazines etc for data & analysis. For instance, no one I know would be dumb enough to rely on the Economists “Babbage” column for tech news when there are industry and firm specific sources provideing detailed, minute coverage. Seems to me that they could be easily substituted for. So the mystery remains – who are their base ?

(*) Yeah, I know, but their fanboiz act like it was.

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ajay 05.02.12 at 9:21 am

So would there be a market for a translation and agglomeration of all the stories from the major newspapers of the world, together with necessary background information? It seems that this would outperform the economist, and without having to read 5 languages each week.

The Guardian Weekly sort of heads in this direction with its inserts from the Washington Post and Le Monde. As does, slightly, the IHT. But I think it’s a question of space: once you’re including the three main stories from (at least) FT, Guardian, Le Monde, Die Zeit, Kathimerini, Pravda, Asahi Shimbun, The Australian, the South China Morning Post, the Straits Times and a dozen others, you’ve got a massive publication.

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Tim Worstall 05.02.12 at 9:42 am

“I canceled my subscription to the economist when I caught them lying…yes, LYING…about the GINI index of the United States. The latest numbers from the CIA put it at .45, somewhere between Cameroon and Bulgaria. The economist reported it as .38 and never ran a correction.”

Running from memory that’s roughly the difference between the gini of market incomes and the gini of post tax post benefits incomes.

And The Economist was using gini of household incomes while the CIA reports of individual.

Although as several have pointed out above a bad class degree from the LSE decades ago doesn’t qualify me to comment upon matters economic.

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Ebenezer Scrooge 05.02.12 at 11:32 am

I dropped the Economist when I realized that their American section was written out of Kazakhstan, as an imaginative sideline by the local fashion reporter. Amazingly good English, given the circumstances.

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Alex 05.02.12 at 11:45 am

Watson: Courrier Internationale is what you’re looking for, but French.

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Jeff 05.02.12 at 11:51 am

I used to read The Wall Street Journal in the eighties “so as to find out what the capitalist class are thinking”, or what they were reading, or at least who’s making money or losing it. They used to do serious journalism on capitalism and its effects (or so I thought). But I finally quit, between the WSJ’s slowly increasing proportion of NYT-like infotainment, consumerism, voyeurism, and Murdoch.

The Economist’s breezy reports on U.S. politics always lacked nuance or realism, so I decided that those on Italy, Ghana or India must be deceptive as well. One year’s subscription was enough. I imagine it looks sophisticated on the coffee table.

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Simon 05.02.12 at 3:20 pm

It’s that way they have of telling you not just what happened, but what should happen, and what will likely happen, that keeps me coming back. I no longer count as young, and I don’t know of anything else that will replace it. Wish I did.

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jrkrideau 05.02.12 at 4:26 pm

@ 16 Sufferin’ Succotash
‘ Soviet-era joke: “there’s no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia.” ‘

I’m not positive but I think it went;
правда не известия и известия не правда
Pravda ne Isvestia e Isvestia ne Pravda
(The Truth is not the News and the News is not the Truth )

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Tim Wilkinson 05.02.12 at 5:28 pm

I used to think the Economist a bit of an insider publication, like the FT or possibly as Jeff suggests, the WSJ in the 80s*, as well as more specialist titles like Jane’s or Stratfor, etc – semi-esoteric stuff for the ruling class that includes the odd semi-open secret and relies on being dull, circumlocutory, expensive and uncool to limit their spread.

I started to suspect that it actually wasn’t (or no longer was) quite so respectful of its readers around 99 or 00. Not yet knowing anything about him, I read something – a feature, not an editorial – that was so obviously just a facile and rather forlorn-sounding attempt to lionise someone called ‘Dubya’ that it looked much more like top-down ideology than any kind of discussion among equals. On checking up on who this character was and of course after observing him in operation, I found that the reality gap was even bigger than it appeared.

Not that it’s quite at the stage of something like the Sun, yet. The Sun basically operates by providing ready-made opinions for people to pick up at lunchtime and repeat to each other down the pub so they can all seem knowledgeable. These opinions have to be delievered as ‘fit memes': simple, cohering with various prejudices including some which it has previously promoted, and generally sounding hard-headed and commonsensical, but basically it’s naked manipulation of opinion†.

I should think the Economist does go well beyond being a forum for genuine info and discussions – the partisan slant is not limited to pre-existing shared perspectives, opinions and interests. I’d guess that the difference from the Sun is that it’s generally much better understood, if inchoately in some cases, by most of its readers how much of it consists of talking points and party lines for them to consume and repeat.

*Even to an extent the Times, a long while ago. The story in run-up to Iraq war, headlined “West Sees Glittering Prizes Ahead in Giant Oilfields” was a bit of an aberration by 2002, though.

† This is perhaps less true now that there is little meaningful political controversy, but was certainly the case in the 80s when Murdoch and Thatcher were hand in glove. I still remember hearing things that sounded bloody odd to me. From other kids, aged maybe 8, at school: ‘Michael Foot is dirty and disgusting and a disgrace because he wore a donkey jacket in front of the Queen’. On the radio: ‘there is a terrible epidemic of tenants from hell who smash up the houses of hapless landlords (houses which for the tenants are home, and the landlords a business, but somehow it’s the landlords who feel violated, and why all these tenants do this is rather unclear), so landlords need more rights’. I later realised these were largely driven by the Sun. See also: union-bashing (not only in print of course, but on the ground, with the help of the Met) and ‘Loony Left’ stories, many made up, others exaggerated or voraciously cherrypicked, about what would now be called PC. Later the same methods gave us ‘Health n Safety’, ‘EU Regulations’ and ‘Human Rights’. Also, ‘Gotcha’ and ‘Up Yer Junta’.

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Andrew F. 05.03.12 at 12:38 am

The article argues that Hollande might be a positive insofar as he moves the EU somewhat away from Germany’s harsh and counterproductive magnitude of austerity, but negative in that he seems to lack the beliefs and commitment to engage in structural reforms that will be difficult in France but which are long-term beneficial. Worse, he might significantly reduce the institutional impetus elsewhere in Europe for such reforms.

It’s an article short on details, but the heart of it is balanced (and, obviously, highly speculative – but then when is prognosticating about the future of Europe not?).

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F 05.04.12 at 9:22 pm

What are you failing when you can’t even be bothered to spell the name of the French president right? It’s Nicolas, not Nicholas.

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