Friday, November 02, 2012

Real Economists Don't Read "The Economist"

I thought when The Economist first endorsed Barack Obama back in 2008 they were merely caught up in the hype.  That human emotion had overrun The Economist's brain department and they had a "moment of weakness."  I understood it, but I did not accept it.  If the publication I relied upon to provide me insights was now endorsing a socialist, for whatever reason, prompting the question "how could I trust its research and its analysis?"  The answer is I couldn't.

I promptly cancelled what was then an 11 year subscription.

Since then I wondered if The Economist had "seen the error of its ways" as the POTUS failed spectacularly to do the one thing he was put in charge of, which also happened to be the forte of The Economist:

Spur economic growth.

I figured with such a dismal track record and soaring deficits most sane, logical and intellectually honest publications would NOT endorse him come 2012, ESPECIALLY THOSE THAT FOCUS ON ECONOMICS.  And given that I believe The Economist was still a reputable publication suffering only a lapse in judgement AND was a publication that focused on ECONOMICS it was a guarantee they would come out for Romney.

They didn't.

Once again The Economist is endorsing Barack Obama proving it was not just a magazine that had a bad case of the OT's (Obama Tingles) back in 2008, but that the magazine itself had fundamentally and purposely changed.   It confirmed to me something I suspected a while ago - that it had abandoned any attempts at being a serious publication about economics and instead had sold its soul for increased readership.  And it did this in a very Paul Krugman like way.

Knowing its difficult to peddle things like "the truth" and the cold hard realities of life and economics, in order to increase its subscribership The Economist instead started peddling something that's a much easier sell - socialism.  And not only a much easier sell, a sell that would pander to less intelligent people opening up much larger markets than that narrow niche of educated, intellectually honest fuddy duddies who comprised their original customer base.  They immediately captured the NPR, elitist, faux intelligentsia market.  They were now in contention to get egotistical college students to subscribe who weren't intelligent, but could fake intelligence by carrying a copy of The Economist around.  And I bet they were even hoping to get the average, everyday blue collar liberal to buy their magazine.

But in the end, "let me be clear" as to what has happened to The Economist.  The Economist went from (in my opinion) the single best publication the world had ever seen to another leftist rag solely to increase its profits.  It, like Paul Krugman, doesn't really believe the stuff its spews out, but it doesn't care, that's where the money is.  So I believe to reflect this change The Economist should re-title itself to something more accurate:

"The Whore."


Joe P. said...

I call processes like this "ratchets", because they only go in one direction. My theory (for The Economist) goes like this:

A publication may well start out high-minded and well-targeted towards the specialized needs of a small professional group. Over time, it's easy to see how dumbing it down and decreasing the price could lead to a wider subscriber base, leading to higher advertising revenue (which in turn leads to additional pressure from advertisers, content-wise). However, it's much harder to imagine a successful strategy to increase the value and specialization of the content, increase subscriber fees, get rid of the customers on the margins, and reduce dependency on advertising. It tends to lead to less revenue, the value of stronger content for a more specialized audience is harder to analyze and measure than the value of a wider subscriber base, and part of the value is external in providing real specialists a forum for communication.

I've noticed the same basic explanation applying in many situations: When a metric tells you to go one way and experience tells you to go the other, people side with the metric, because it's easier to argue from. I don't know if it's correct in this case, but it's something to consider.

Anonymous said...

Their business and finance section is still decent. The rest of the magazine has long been largely unreadable. I cancelled my subscription when, already frustrated by their insistence on including one pro-immigration screed in each issue, I was confronted by an issue with 3 pro-immigration diatribes (all of which lacked any statistical or other empirical support - just ideological propaganda).

Captain Capitalism said...


So in theory all magazines will become "People" with just different titles, correct?


YouSoWould said...

The main stream media has time and again demonstrated its complete lack of journalistic integrity if it believes it can win extra readers by printing unsubstantiated hyperbole.

Just look at the whole global warming (non)issue as a prime example.

Podsnap said...

The Economist lost me on education. I have been reading it for about 20 years - and have regarded it as the best source of truth out there. I didn't always agree with it but I respected it as being close to reality.

They did a number of articles on the American tertiary education system lauding it as being easily the best in the world. Again and again. I took this at face value (I am Australian). I started reading a lot of law scam type blogs about 6-7 years ago and I read other blogs from there. I realised what a disaster the American system was and what a joke the Economists blinkered view was. I then started looking more critically at their other loves - Europe, globalisation etc.

The Economist has woken up and recently done a few more balanced articles on the US college system. Too late.

I despise the Economist now. The hard on they have for Obama is just another reason to laugh at them.

sth_txs said...

I gave up on establishment rags like Time, Newsweek, and such years ago.

Sure, they may have decent article on a non political topic, but the political aspects are garbage.

You will never hear from an Austrian or libertarian in these establishment rags.

Joe P. said...

@Captain: Well, I don't think they can go quite that far, but they can all become Subject X For Dummies, and as long as there's competitive room in that space, why would they "mess it up" by getting serious again?

But, hell, it's a theory, there to be taken apart, tinkered with, and reconstructed into something that matches reality as closely as possible.

Roberto Severino said...

I'm ashamed of myself. I was reading The Economist and their website like crazy earlier this year back in January and February, not knowing that they were really trying to sell socialism to gain readership. Forbes sounds like a much better economic publication to me. To my knowledge, they haven't endorsed Obama at all.

In fact, I can't even believe that even supported the left wing and the Democratic Party at all growing up. I hope I never go back to that phase in my life and support people that want to keep minorities enslaved like peasants through these entitlement programs. The fight for economic freedom and truth is on.

Steffen said...

Joe, I suppose your "ratchet" theory also explains cable specialty channels such as MTV, Cartoon Network, and SyFy leaving behind the programming that built their audience. Good point.

I remember hearing a law someone coined stating that all organizations which are not explicitly right wing become left wing over time. That seems to be the case with the Economist as well.

Anonymous said...

I hear you.

I used to read them too, and was impressed by them. I might not always agree with them, but I thought their articles & editorials were at least well researched and thought out, and that they had what I considered a valid argument.

Then I started noticing I was almost always disagreeing with them, and I thought that the substance was getting thinner, and soon after I started seeing articles that while technically still well written and researched were completely dismissive or ignoring of the other side of the argument. Hence useless or polemic in nature - NOT why I purchased them.

( One that jumped to mind was a series of articles on gun control in the US and Great Britain. It was all correctly done, yet completely missed/mistated or ignored the "less control" side. Then immigration. Then...)

It got too much.

Bye! bye!

Pat Sullivan said...

I agree with all the points mentioned. Funny, I also have several friends, that no longer subscribe to the Economist. I guess I am not the only former reader.
This sounds a lot like a older restaurant, slowly fading away. At first they made fantastic food, and the place was always packed. Now the food tastes like a TV dinner, and most of the tables are empty.
Too bad, it used to be such a good read.

sth_txs said...

Forbes is suspect to me as well, but I prefer them or Barrons. I don't trust these two 100% either but probably least bad of the worst.

I have noted that Forbes has had some decent articles over the last couple years about gold as money.

Roberto Severino said...

This article from Forbes proves my point. The Economist has sold themselves out completely. I have taken that website off my bookmark list as it has lost all credibility in my book. Obamacare is a 'qualified achievement' even after 4 out of 9 supreme court justices voted it as unconstitutional. Utter garbage.

Forbes: One Man, One Computer, 10 Million Students: How Khan Academy Is Reinventing Education

I rest my case.

randian said...

They should give it a less misleading name: The New Economist. I'm sure the readers here understand what I mean.

Pirran said...

This was a matter of particular sadness for me (having been a subscriber off and on since I was 16). It's now, essentially, a magazine for social democrats and intellectual frauds.

I date it to when John Micklethwait took over as Editor and hired full-on eco activists to edit the environment section. This neatly coincided with climate change really starting to dominate the debate of the great and the good (evidence notwithstanding). The Economist AND The BBC supporting it seemed to be the cherry on the cake.

A steady slide into enviro-activism and subtle center-left government control has been the theme ever since.

Now there's no MSM news analysis worth reading. Extraordinarily depressing.

Podsnap said...

Randian - how about the Globalist ?

kurt9 said...

The Economist was really good in the 80's and early 90's. Its decline began in '95 when Bill Emmott became the chief editor. Emmott is long gone (he left around '05 or so), but he started the damage that continues to this day.

The Economist really went off the rails around '01-'02, when they endorsed both the invasion of Iraq as well as the, now discredited, global warming theory. Both of these endorsements did it for me. I stopped reading the economist about 10 years ago and have never looked at it again.