The Economist and Me

I have been a subscriber to The Economist for about 5 years now, and when I first started reading it I was impressed by its strong and principled editorial line and well researched articles.  Sadly, although its articles are still well researched, its editorial line in the last two years has gone from strong and principled to piss-weak and confused.

They have handled the Iraq war with about as much competence as the US state department.  Apparently, the decision to support the war split the editorial board right down the middle, and correspondingly upset a large swathe of its readership.  Yet as the Iraq project slipped from conventional war into chaos, the publication has all too obviously been trying desperately to regain some if its former credibility with those readers who opposed the war in the first place.  The problem is, rather than admitting they made a mistake or sticking to their guns, they have flim-flammed in the middle saying the decision to go to war was the right one, but all the problems thereafter are solely the fault of the Bush Adminstration, not the war itself.  This is not an unusual position to hold, but it is a weak one.

There is much to criticise the Bush administration for in its handling of post-war Iraq, but on the other hand much of this criticism is bollocks.  Chastising Bush for failing to predict and respond to every eventuality in Iraq is the stuff of academics and hack journalists.  For instance, we can all look back and say that something should have been done about the looting, but I don’t recall anyone predicting that Iraqi society would seize the opportunity to strip each other of their belongings, and ordering the US army to shoot any civilian it catches carrying a microwave would probably have caused the same critics to wet their pants with outrage.  I would much prefer that The Economist recognises that many of the failures in post-war Iraq could not have been predicted nor prepared for, and also acknowledges that wars are generally messy and things do sometimes go badly wrong.  Supporting the war per se and then criticising every aspect and outcome from an editorial office in London is not something I enjoy paying to read.

All that said, I still like The Economist.  Its writing style and turn of phrase, not to mention many of its articles, still make the subsription fee worth paying.  Take by way of example the concluding paragraph in a recent article on the battle of the sexes:

Modern professional life is dominated by management, which these days sets high store by emotional intelligence, empathy and communication. Wise chaps seeking professional advancement should therefore spend their free time with groups of women, boning up on how to undermine somebody’s confidence while pretending to boost it, and how to turn an entire lunch table against an absent colleague without saying a mean word.

Few mainstream publications, especially ones available worldwide, would express this point in such a way that it would make me laugh as I did when I first read that.  Imagine the dour manner in which some bitter old hag would address the subject in The Guardian.  I doubt I’d make it beyond the first paragraph.  Entertaining as well as informing is a good way of parting me from my cash.

I also enjoyed The Economist’s article on disinformation in the former Soviet Union, where they come across a mysterious outfit by the name of the International Council for Democratic Institutions and State Sovereignty (ICDISS) which released a report promoting independence for Transdniestria, the breakaway region of Moldova which is propped up by Russia:

[The ICDISS] has no address and no telephone number. Although its website, and an entry on a write-it-yourself encyclopedia, Wikipedia, claim that it was founded in 1999, there is no trace of its activities, or of its supposed staff members, in news databases or the internet before January this year. Since then, it seems to be solely involved in promoting Transdniestria. It claims to be based in America, but does not appear to be a charity there.

Its website is registered at a hotel address in Mexico, with a phone that does not answer, and operated from a server in Latvia. And that is positively illuminating compared with the report’s other supposed publisher, the Euro-Atlantic Joint Forum Contact Group, which seems to have no existence other than its logo.

The jovial, mocking tone is probably what I like best about The Economist.  If they manage to regain their editorial integrity at some point, they can be assured of my subscription for a good while yet.

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3 Responses to The Economist and Me

  1. Andy says:

    I get the Economist too although, happily, someone else pays for it (my Mum & Dad, in lieu of them having to think of a different birthday present for me each year).

    I’m too lazy to go through back issues, but my impression of their position on Iraq was that it was mainly about finding a way to back down on saying that invading Iraq was the way to go, withouth actually saying it properly.

    There’s certainly plenty to blame Bush and his administration for, but I wish they’d put some more emphasis on other actors in the country/region. Also, as you say, it would be sensible to admit that war is messy – they seem to be able to say this about other conflicts…

  2. Tim Newman says:

    [M]y impression of their position on Iraq was that it was mainly about finding a way to back down on saying that invading Iraq was the way to go, withouth actually saying it properly.

    That was exactly the impression I got too.

  3. I read the economist occasionally and subscribed to it for a few years, ending the subscription last year.

    Its a great piece of economic journalism. I used to get the hump because of the sometimes lame economics which verged on the worst bits of economics/business journalism in the newspapers – and I must add, the space, attention and headlines devoted to commentary and political analysis which I found annoying as one can get that anywhere in the newspapers. However – I guess they need provocative headlines to sell editions, just like anyone else.

    But having said that, I’ve readjusted my view – as a source of wide journalism and ideas around economics and policy its pretty good, and keeps one in touch with the world. I wouldn’t use it as the sole basis on which to accurately inform my knowledge about economics though. There’s just too many mistakes in some of the pieces. So beware! take it with a pinch of salt – remember its journalism, and the facts often don’t get in the way of a good story.

    I quite like the healthy dose of humour and when they have a pop at various people too.

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