When I was still a school girl, I started to read the Economist. My geography teacher had a commerce degree but my school didn’t offer economics as a subject. She encouraged me to take final year economics by correspondence and she would hand me her weekly copy of the Economist after she had read it.
In those days, it was a real delight to read that magazine. Filled with excellently written pieces on a wide range of subjects and covering all parts of the world, the Economist played an important role in pushing me towards becoming an economist.
With nary a byline, my favourites were the feature pieces, the Bagehot column, the section on science and technology and the book reviews. The clarity of expression was exceptional throughout the magazine.
For many years, I continued to read the magazine, often working at places where subscriptions were taken out at a department level and the copies would circulate around interested staff members. (Who can forget that stapled page of the names of recipients who would then sign and send on to the next eager reader?) It has always been expensive to subscribe individually.
I’m not quite sure when the Economist – described as World News, Politics, Economics, Business – first began to go downhill. It may have been as early as the 1990s, but certainly by the turn of the century it was on a steep downward section of the quality mountain.
The thing is the editor-in-chief had discovered globalisation – at least, the type feted by the Davos/World Economic Forum crowd. The role of governments was to deliver open markets (even if they were rigged) and open borders. The intended readers of the magazine became ‘everywhere people’, with ‘somewhere people’ treated with derision.
The Economist was quick to take up the green cause. Week after week, readers were told of the impending environmental disasters should the world fail to restrict the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, emphasis was placed on the commercial benefits that could be secured by investing in the green economy while the virtues of carbon taxes, preferably worldwide, were highly commended.
By this stage, Davos Man had also become a deep shade of green.
Where one might have expected a degree of scepticism and analysis attached to the new green hysteria, the Economist became one of its chief purveyors. But where was the insight that a great deal of this forced investment was extremely inefficient, with the dollar benefits accruing to the latest version of crony capitalists?
In 2019, an entire issue was devoted to the climate. We were told that we were ‘losing the war against climate change’.President Xi of China appeared on the cover of another issue, with the heading: ‘the man who must change China [to save the climate]’.
But fear not, a recent cover contained the message: ‘America’s better future: no carbon and no blackouts.’ Coming after the disastrous blackouts in Texas during the recent winter and the intermittent blackouts occurring now in California, that is a big call.
Brexit – OK, anti-Brexit – has been another pet topic for the magazine. Its previous measured tone on matters European was no more. The Economist tried to fight the will of the British people to be free of the shackles of the European Union. ‘This deal must never be done’ was its motto.
Just think of the impact on the British economy. London’s financial hub would be decimated; living standards would slump; and pharmaceutical and other necessary goods would no longer be available.
Every ludicrous estimate of the negative effects of Brexit on the economy, ranging from those produced by the Bank of England, HM Treasury and the self-interested consultancy firms, was given massive prominence. The Economist had turned into a propaganda rag.
When the fight was lost, the character of the coverage was apparent from headings such as ‘Facing up to Brexit’ and ‘Doing Brexit the hard way’. At a broader level, the magazine mourned the decline in globalisation, including inventing a new term, ‘slowbolisation’, which appeared on one cover.
The unrelenting campaign against Brexit partly coincided with the Trump presidency in the US. Needless to say, the Economist was bitterly opposed to every Trump initiative, setting the scene for a publishing blitzkrieg.
In fact, the editors actually fessed up to this offensive by declaring in 2017 that ‘in total, we have published 22 Trump-inspired covers since he announced his presidential candidacy in June 2015 (12 pre-inauguration, and ten since he took office).
No doubt Mr Trump will provide us with many more opportunities for unsettling cover images over the next three years—at the very least’.
(The term ‘unsettling’ is quite misleading; the actual description should be deeply offensive, including one mockup of President Trump sitting in a bathtub spitting dummies.)
Unsurprisingly, another cover read: ‘The one year old Trump presidency; is it really this bad?’. According to the captured staff at the Economist, the answer was: yes, yes, yes. At the time of the last US election, the cover predictably read: ‘Why it has to be Joe Biden’.
Then along came the Covid pandemic. Issue after issue was devoted to the topic. At one stage, the magazine described masks as ‘cloths of gold’ worth $US56 each on the basis that mandatory mask-wearing could obviate government imposed restrictions such as lockdowns and social distancing. This assessment had nothing to do with the efficacy of masks.
Sensing perhaps that readers were tiring of the incessant Covid fearmongering, in recent issues, the Economist has been trying to change its tune. It has acknowledged the risk that media companies face in the near future of an ‘attention recession’.
It has actually put out some very useful comparative figures showing excess death rates over the past eighteen months for a large number of countries. These figures are not contaminated by inaccuracies of reporting in relation to cause of death.
What they show is that, apart from some countries in South America mainly, most countries have not experienced excess death rates – or have done so for a month or so. In fact, many countries have experienced negative excess death rates – below what would have been expected.
But let’s face it, its’s far too late for the Economist to change; at least we have The Speccie.
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