Are you smart enough to enjoy the Economist?

by Henry Farrell 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”:

Recipe Corner: Bakewell Tart

by Harry on March 14, 2008

A few Thanksgivings ago my wife heard the analytical marxist’s wife and elder daughter quietly bemoaning to one another the absence of “that iced pie that Harry always brings”. No, not mince pie, but the glorious confection presented below. I gather that it is under threat from healthy living — The Independent says that sales of Mr. Kipling’s Bakewell tarts are declining alarmingly. Well, I quite like Mr. Kipling’s Cherry Bakewells, but they are a pale imitation of the easy-to-bake home made version. And in America, no-one seems to have encountered it before, but everyone seems to love it. If you adopt it, you can call this one the crooked timber bakewell tart, if you like. The lemon icing, by the way, was my eldest daughter’s touch — she suggested it when she was 5. Precocious little bugger.

Its simple. Start with a basic flaky pastry crust in a 10 inch pie pan, and bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Smear 6-8 ounces of raspberry jam evenly over the base of the crust (the higher quality the jam the better the outcome, I promise). While the crust is baking, make the cake mixture. Pour the cake mixture over the jam, and try to cover the jam. Bake at 350 for another 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool. Then cover with an icing made from the juice of one lemon and enough powdered sugar to make a thick paste. Alternatively, skip the icing, and serve hot with Bird’s Custard, or cream.

For the cake mixture:

4oz (1 stick) butter
4oz (1/2 cup) sugar (granulated, or bakers)
3 eggs
6 oz (3/4 cup) self-raising flour
several drops of almond essence

To make the cake filling, cream butter and sugar, beat in the eggs, add almond essence (tastes vary — I like to really taste the almond essence but not everyone does), then mix in the flour.

One last thing. Lots of recipes say to use ground almonds instead of flour, or to go half and half. I’ve never found that works, producing a slightly greasy taste in the cake. If anyone can explain what I’m doing wrong….

Standing up for photographers’ rights

by Chris Bertram on March 14, 2008

There’s been a marked increase in the harassment of photographers by the police, quasi-police, security guards and suchlike since 9/11, and the UK is no exception. Photographers have been (illegally) forced to delete pictures by officious police and have been told plain untruths about what the law says on the matter. A recent “anti-terrorism campaign”: even has posters with the legend “Thousands of People Take Photos Every Day. What if One of Them Seems Odd?”, and invites the public to involve the constabulary. Since photography is a hobby that disproportionately attracts slightly nerdy loners, lots of photographers “seem odd”, but they ought to be spared this sort of attention!

Now Austin Mitchell MP, himself a keen photographer (and “a past victim”: of such behaviour), is taking a stand, and has introduced “an early day motion in the House of Commons”:

bq. That this House is concerned to encourage the spread and enjoyment of photography as the most genuine and accessible people’s art; deplores the apparent increase in the number of reported incidents in which the police, police community support officers (PCSOs) or wardens attempt to stop street photography and order the deletion of photographs or the confiscation of cards, cameras or film on various specious ground such as claims that some public buildings are strategic or sensitive, that children and adults can only be photographed with their written permission, that photographs of police and PCSOs are illegal, or that photographs may be used by terrorists; points out that photography in public places and streets is not only enjoyable but perfectly legal; regrets all such efforts to stop, discourage or inhibit amateur photographers taking pictures in public places, many of which are in any case festooned with closed circuit television cameras; and urges the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers to agree on a photography code for the information of officers on the ground, setting out the public’s right to photograph public places thus allowing photographers to enjoy their hobby without officious interference or unjustified suspicion.

Readers in the UK could “email their MPs”: and express their support for Mitchell’s stand, they could also email Mitchell himself. Since it seems to be the trendy thing to do, I’ve also set up “a Facebook group in support”: .


by Kieran Healy on March 14, 2008

Matt Yglesias’s book Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats is nearing publication, providing further evidence that very long subtitles beginning with “How …” or “Why …”, and which explain the main thesis of the book, are now completely entrenched in the U.S. publishing industry. It’s the 21st century equivalent of the 19th century “Being a …” subtitle.

Anyway, the blurbs are up and the best one is from Ezra Klein, who wins the inaugural CT American Blurbonomics: How to Praise your Friends while Surreptitiously Taking the Piss out of your Enemies award. Klein says Heads in the Sand is “A very serious, thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care.”