August 26, 2004

The London Economist Appears Badly in Need of Psychoanalysis

Is the Economist sane? This editorial talks about the Bushies' policies, tells us what it thinks of them--and as I read it I cannot help but start filling out the civil commitment papers.

It starts by telling us what it thinks of the Bushies' domestic policies: The Economist's bigger disagreements with Mr Bush lie beyond the war on terror, in areas where Mr Bush's very aims are questionable or worse. This president, despite impassioned avowals to the contrary, has been no champion of open international markets. He caved in to protectionist pressures and imposed tariffs on steel; he also signed an absurdly bad farm bill. His fiscal policy is nothing to boast about either. Here Mr Bush can plead with some justification that, as with foreign policy, he was ambushed by events: yes, he inherited a Clintonian budget surplus, but he also had to deal with the burst Clintonian bubble. A big swing into deficit was needed, he would argue, to avoid a much worse recession. Up to a point, Mr President. Unfortunately, the Bush deficits are not temporary. They stretch into the distance: the ten-year deficit is projected at $2.7 trillion, even after a lot of dodgy accounting. He cut taxes in the best conservative tradition, but spent vastly more as well. Mr Bush is a conservative who believes in big government.

This failure to curb public spending is all the more alarming because the next president will have to prepare America for the retirement of the huge baby-boomer generation. Four years ago, Mr Bush talked, albeit tentatively, about partly privatising the pensions system; almost nothing has been done. And he has made the fiscal burden of entitlement worse by increasing the prescription-drug benefit in the Medicare system—again without undertaking meaningful reform.

The other problem is social policy. The American conservative movement has always been a marriage between “western” anti-governmentalism and “southern” moralism. Four years ago, Mr Bush made no secret of his own religious beliefs, but he gave the impression he would hold the often intolerant religious right in check. Instead, he has given it a big role in his administration on a host of issues. No doubt Mr Bush's convictions are sincere; but they were not to the fore in 2000 and they are not shared by many of those who supported him then, nor by this newspaper.

It makes the standard criticisms of the Bushies' foreign policy: He did not outright lie about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, but he misled the country about what was known and not known. His administration exaggerated the case for invading Iraq in another way too, by falsely linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda. Elsewhere, his failures have mainly been errors of execution.

He called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but did little to support it. In Iraq, he destroyed a dangerous and odious tyrant, but lamentably failed to prepare for rebuilding the country after fighting what was, whatever Mr Bush says, a war of choice. And, in a conflict where hearts and minds count for so much and where America's reputation has been so badly wounded, the president was unwilling to acknowledge the gravity of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. That calamity warranted the resignation of Mr Rumsfeld. (The fact that a commission this week cleared him of direct responsibility for the torture is beside the point. He was the man in charge.)

From these passages, one would expect a strong Kerry endorsement, right? But that's not what the Economist does: it goes into happy-happy-happy mode: Effective execution is partly a matter of experience. There are signs, including in Iraq, that the Bush administration has learned from its mistakes...

And: [W]e continue to think that Mr Bush has got the big foreign-policy decisions right. He understood the nature of the war that had been declared against America and the western world. He made it clear that it is not a war between civilisations, let alone religions; but he has also served notice to Arab regimes of the need to change. He rightly decided to destroy al-Qaeda's home in Afghanistan—and, yes, on the evidence that presented itself at the time, he rightly decided to invade Iraq.

But the Economist seems to admit that the "big foreign-policy decisions" do not provide a reason to vote for George W. Bush. The execution has been abysmal. And as far as the grand strategy, it is bipartisan: Some Bush-bashing foreign governments seem to hope that Mr Kerry will adopt a different set of priorities. Tellingly, he has stuck pretty close to Mr Bush.

Nevertheless, even the Economist cannot--in the face of the record--nerve itself to actually say that George W. Bush is a good president worth electing in November. The most it can nerve itself to do is to stretch to claim that the balance is uncertain: Tumultuous though it has been, and despite the passions it arouses, Mr Bush's first term should in the end be judged in the same measured way as most previous ones. It is a mixed bag: successes and failures must be set beside each other. And deciding whether Mr Bush deserves a second term calls for more than an appraisal of his own record: the American people will have to judge whether Mr Kerry, another mixture of good and bad, represents a better choice.

But then, in the last three sentences of the editorial, reality breaks through in the form of a backhand admission that four more years like the last four would be most unsatisfactory--that, in short, the Bush presidency has so far been a failure: At his convention in Boston, Mr Kerry made an effort to cast the Democratic Party in a new light. Mr Bush needs to attempt something similar in New York. More of the same just will not do.

The only lesson I draw from the editorial as a whole is that the staff of the Economist needs serious psychoanalysis. They believe that four more years of the same will not do. They acknowledge that throughout the 2000 campaign Bush lied like a rug about what a Bush presidency would be like. And so they demand that, in order to fix things, Bush devote the Republican National Convention to... lying to them again about what a Bush presidency would be like.

I can barely believe such a strong drive to keep living in a fantasyland.

Posted by DeLong at August 26, 2004 02:11 PM | TrackBack

the staff of the Economist needs serious psychoanalysis.

Perhaps a serious class analysis might have more explanatory force here.

Posted by: Kieran Healy at August 26, 2004 02:15 PM

Shorter Economist: "Mr. Bush has failed his first term and must repeat it."

Posted by: Allan Connery at August 26, 2004 02:19 PM

that article probably echos the internal debate of just about every well informed person who is going to vote bush.

And even some who will vote kerry. It isn't conclusive but it is interesting.

Posted by: nick at August 26, 2004 02:19 PM

And don't forget their article about the Swift Boat Veterans for truth. Not a mention about the contradictory statements by the accusers. I don't think this is the Economist of my youth.

Posted by: Piaw Na at August 26, 2004 02:20 PM

Read between the lines. The Economist is saying that, on economics, A Bush administration is bad, but a Kerry administration would be worse. I personally don't know - liberal reputation aside, Kerry seems not to actually hold positions on major free-market issues. But it is clear that he won't DO anything radical, and several programs - Medicare and Social Security foremost amongst them - need radical change, soon, if they are going to avoid crashing and burning. Not that I expect Bush to do anything constructive, but at least we can be facing a fully fresh slate in 2008 rather than these dogs.

Posted by: rvman at August 26, 2004 02:22 PM

Crazy... I think Jon Stewart had a joke a few days ago about how the Bush-Cheney motto should be "Four More Years: Because hey...we're starting to get the hang of this thing." Except that seems to be the actual argument of the Economist.

Posted by: P O'Neill at August 26, 2004 02:23 PM

Not surprising at all when you look at the flaky history in Economist US writers John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge's new book, "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America". When the facts don't suit them, they just twist them in that inimitable Cambridge clever-debater style until they squeeze out an iota of 'logic' that justifies what is really, simply, Thatcher sentimentalism.

Posted by: paulo at August 26, 2004 02:24 PM

This is the Economist. Give them a few weeks, and, just like _every single other time_ they've had doubts about Maximum Leader Genius they'll forget about their doubts, ooh and aah over Victory! In! Iraq!, and wholeheartedly support him again.

The Economist appears to be, for the most part, an excellent magazine, but their coverage of America is so absymally bad that it has to be done by politically connected stringers. When my MOTAS pointed this out to me, I dropped my subscription (I can be lied to _for free_ on the net) on the spot.

Posted by: David Parsons at August 26, 2004 02:27 PM

What's a MOTAS?

All I can come up with is "Mystery of Time and Space", which makes little sense.

Posted by: Matthew Saroff at August 26, 2004 02:32 PM

Shorter ECONOMIST (Part II):
"In four short years, Mr Bush has plummeted America into a massive structural deficit, eroded the separation of chruch and state, and done more to harm America's reputation than any president in recent history. But it's not all bad."

Posted by: Brad Reed at August 26, 2004 02:33 PM

One of Bush's stump-speech talking points is that the election is a choice between candidates, not a recall vote. This obviously diverts attention from his own record.

The Economist - which actually knows something about his record - regurgitates the argument. Nice job, guys.

Posted by: JR at August 26, 2004 02:56 PM

I don't think the Economist is even mildly nuts here. I think they've simply caught onto the inability of the American voter to distinguish PR fantasy from reality. Which Karl Rove figured out years ago.

Posted by: Bean at August 26, 2004 03:20 PM

Prof. DeLong;

Please Send this to The Economist.

Posted by: Liam AShortall at August 26, 2004 03:30 PM

Yeah -- while the Economist is a good paper in many respects, their invincible fealty to Bush is, at best, very disturbing.

Every year under Clinton, the deficit went down, until we were at record surpluses.
Every year under Bush, the deficit has gone up, until we are at record deficit.

Every year under Clinton, poverty went down.
Every year under Bush, poverty has gone up, until now, nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. live in poverty. Shameful.

Hard to know what horse to back.

Posted by: MattB at August 26, 2004 03:31 PM

You just have to have a sense of humor about the Economist when it comes to American politics. I always image that they're going along their sane, normal, technocratic, radically moderate way, and then at the last moment they think, "Shit, are readers and advertisers are right-wing Americans!" and then they tack on some pro-Republican crap at the end. I'm pretty sure they don't believe it themselves.

As far as I can tell, most of their American readers are liberal internationalist computer programmers.

It's really just laughable. Consider how different their standards are for the U.S. versus British politics. They endorsed Blair! Blair is way to the left of Kerry. Hell, the Conservatives are to the left of Democrats. No one in the U.K. would consider scrapping the NHS, but to the Economist, calling for it universal health care in the U.S. would be a crazy scheme.

Despite it all you can't replace it. Where else am I going to read articles such as "Indonesia at a crossroads."

Posted by: c. at August 26, 2004 03:40 PM

They aren't crazy. Rather, having endorsed Bush in 2000, on the grounds--chortle--that he would be a uniter and not a divider, they merely aren't man enough to admit they were wrong.

Posted by: son volt at August 26, 2004 03:41 PM

"Where else am I going to read articles such as 'Indonesia at a crossroads.'"

Heh. Good SIMPSONS ref.

Posted by: Brad Reed at August 26, 2004 03:50 PM


Posted by: weight loss at August 26, 2004 03:56 PM


Posted by: vitamin at August 26, 2004 03:57 PM

Well, this is the Economist, isn't it. I lost all respect for them long ago, and stopped subscribing to the magazine, after seeing how their nostrums completely ruined the economy of Russia.

Posted by: Carbo at August 26, 2004 04:11 PM

It would have been an interesting intellectual exercise for the Economist to at least try to posit some reasons that another four years of the Bush administration would be a significant improvement over the past four years. This administration is by far the worst I've seen in watching American government over the past 45 years. It would be have been amusing to read some attempt by the Economist to explain how this administration could possibly pull itself (and the nation) out of the bog it's maneuvered us into.

Posted by: Mushinronsha at August 26, 2004 04:29 PM

Bear in mind that the Economist actually endorsed John Major against Tony Blair when Blair first won. They are really very smart, but somehow manage to believe in obviously contradictory things in quite an Orwellian way.

Posted by: Tim Bray at August 26, 2004 04:43 PM

Brad DeLong, there must be something better to read. Isn't there? Please!

When I find that my source of news gets the subjects I'm familiar with wrong, David Parsons, I tend to assume that they're wrong on the articles I'm unfamiliar with. If The Economist can't get U.S. news right, why do you assume their coverage of Uzbekistan is so excellent.

Allan Connery, you nailed it.

Posted by: bittern at August 26, 2004 04:49 PM

Economist does it all the time. E.g. it occasionally criticises death penalty -- but never when writing about USA.

What we see is how their solve the following quandary: write inteligently and praise American conservatives. For some reason, both imperatives are hardwired. It is amazing that they manage to sound semi-coherent.

To a degree, Economist writes like journalists in "liberal" Communist countries, where sly criticism was tolerated if wrapped in overall praise for the paramount leaders.

By the way, Economist line on Iraq war is a piece of work by itself. Blair and Bush exagerated and misled, and even lied, but they correctly made a decision based on facts as they presented themselves. Hm, so where these facts or appearances? And is it not part of leadership to tell facts from appearances?

Posted by: piott at August 26, 2004 04:53 PM

My thought is that the Economist cannot endorse the charicature of John Kerry, liberal Democrat, painted by the radical right. They are not in touch with the extreme rightward drift of both parties to a point where the Democratic leadership now holds positions that 25 years ago would have been considered conservative. Kerry was a criminal prosecutor who signed on to Gramm Rudman as a senator and voted for NAFTA. Kerry is liberal on the environment for the US, but his positions are closer to mainstream Europe than the PETA Frankenfoods faction of the European left. A big part of Kerry's problem is that the Bush campaign keeps saying he is someone he is not. Maybe they are angry at Kerry for going after the BCCI banking scandals the same way Kerry attacked American war policy in Vietnam?

Posted by: bakho at August 26, 2004 04:59 PM

No need for a shrink. Get an undergrad psych textbook and you'll find the Economist listed under "cognitive dissonance".

Posted by: ogmb at August 26, 2004 05:24 PM

It should be pointed out though that at least some departments within the Economist still work properly:

Posted by: ogmb at August 26, 2004 05:27 PM

I offer the theory that the Economist, while overall well-populated with bright minds, get major ad funding from U.S. megacorporations. Certainly passes the Occam's Razor test.

Posted by: Dragonchild at August 26, 2004 05:35 PM

Two thoughts

1. Follow the money, Occam's principles at their finest.

2. Fool me once, shame on you Mr. Bush, fool me twice, shame on me....or is it won't get fooled again? Let us hope it is the latter, for all of our sakes, I don't think we can stand another four years.

Posted by: Stentor at August 26, 2004 05:53 PM

The blurb on the swifties really infuriated me -- it repeated all the charges without challenge and then said "guess you shouldn't have run on your war record, old boy."

I've been a subscriber for a long time, but it's really starting to piss me off. I expect better.

Posted by: Buck at August 26, 2004 06:06 PM

The Economist seems to be suffering from multiple personality disorder.

I have yet another theory to offer. The article was probably written by some young, intelligent, and rational journalist on their staff. And then, the Editorial Office took a look at it and rewrote part of it to make it more palatable to a conservative audience. The final result is, of course, completely inconsistent.

The problem is that it's hard to ask your young, intelligent, and rational journalists to produce facts that would recommend George Bush for a second term. And so, all you're left to do is edito-bull-rializing around their draft...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns at August 26, 2004 06:16 PM

"Perhaps a serious class analysis might have more explanatory force here."

Yeah, but that would probably end up with people lined up against the wall and shot. And then imagine the paperwork! The rubber room is a more humane solution in the long run. Or perhaps a zoo would take them.

Posted by: Thersites at August 26, 2004 06:22 PM

Thanks for pointing this out. I was reading Harper's (Sept 2004) and was caught off guard by some references to the Economist's stances on Iraq in an article called, "Baghdad Year Zero (Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia), by Naomi Klein. If you don't know her writing (ie: No Logo), and I didn't, the title of the article pretty much covers where she's going. And if you know Harpers, there's a clear bias. However, in it there were a couple of references to the Economist, which admittedly caught me off guard. She said:

(pg 45 Harpers): "The Economist described Iraq under Bremer as "a capitalist dream," and a flurry of new consulting firms were launched...."

(pg 47 Harpers): "When Paul Bremer shredded Iraq's Baathist constitution and replaced it with what The Economist greeted approvingly as "the wish list of foreign investors," there was one small detail...."

The Economist was never at the top of the list of publications that I thought of as conservatively biased in it's analyses of US policies. But then again, like other readers I usually focused on articles about Cambodia, or Mozambique or Brazil. Shame, it's good flight reading. I'll have to read a few more articles with a more critical eye. Which brings me back to Klein. Her article is clearly biased and so I am cautious of the complete account, for instance her vituperative version of "shock therapy" would send a lot of economists into a spin- even if they agreed that it was more or less a failure of a policy. But it's overall an interesting and provocative article. Unfortunately Harpers is not online, else I would provide a link.

Posted by: Jen at August 26, 2004 06:26 PM

This is not a surprise for anyone who has been reading the economist for the past few years. It got so bad, I cancelled my subscription last year and I read it in the library.

Posted by: cb at August 26, 2004 06:43 PM

The blurb on the swifties really infuriated me -- it repeated all the charges without challenge and then said "guess you shouldn't have run on your war record, old boy."

Posted by: Buck at August 26, 2004 06:06 PM

"...guess you shouldn't have run on your war record, old boy!?!"

This reminds me of a response from a reader on Crooked Timber a while back regarding an altogether different issue. The response, though, is appropriate here, as well.

"...guess you shouldn't have been wearing that mini-skirt and heels, old girl."

I wish I had a subscription, so I could cancel it.

Posted by: oneangryslav at August 26, 2004 07:12 PM

Read this instead of the Economist.

August 25, 2004


During the 80s and 90s, America's current account deficit as a percentage of GDP basically wavered between 2.5% and 3.25%, but recently, the current account deficit has surged to nearly 5% of GDP and is projected to rise to about 6% in the near term. Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf has written some superb commentary regarding America's worsening macroeconomic conditions, and sensibly argued that "the high and rising U.S. current account deficit is one of the most remarkable features of the world economy."

I have never worried that much about the absolute dollar value of the current account deficit -- but when GDP ratios begin changing quickly over short time spans -- I get concerned. Wolf agrees that deciding whether this current account deficit surge matters or not "is of some significance."

An array of structural imbalances in the American economy is making America feel like a richer nation than it is. U.S. savings levels have reached all-time lows. America is exporting the least in memory in comparison to that which it imports. And as Martin Wolf writes, "foreigners are now funding close to three-quarters of net U.S. investment." In commentary that Wolf offered a week ago (on August 18th), he writes "unless trends change, 10 years from now the U.S. will have fiscal debt and external liabilities that are both over 100 per cent of GDP. It will have lost control over its economic fate."

Despite this worrisome data, Japan and China continue to finance America's current account gluttony to keep U.S. consumers intoxicated on their exports. At some point, however, the only way out of America's dysfunctional binge is that it consumes less or exports more; that it buys down debt and external liabilities by working harder without near term rewards because these rewards were enjoyed yesterday and paid for through a mortgage. At minimum, when accounts revert to historical trendlines, American living standards will certainly flounder but more likely fall.

President Bush's Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, N. Gregory Mankiw, is duking out the real state of the economy with President Clinton's former Chair of the same Council, Laura D'Andrea Tyson, who is here in London as Dean of the London Business School. In the International Herald Tribune (and perhaps the New York Times which I haven't seen -- just found it and link is here), Mankiw reports that Tyson has said that this is "the worst economic recovery period in terms off job creation that the nation has experienced since the Great Depression."

There is not only anxiety out there about job and retirement security -- but there is some sense that people are beginning to notice that America is becoming a less rich nation. With oil now hitting $50 a barrel how can Mankiw and his boss, President Bush, think that they can get away with the headline "The U.S. Economy is Strong and Getting Stronger."

What is their definition of a weaker economy? Would they know it if they saw it?

-- Steve Clemons

Posted by: standa at August 26, 2004 07:16 PM

I've more or less stopped reading the United States section because it is either written by Brits gone native, like Sullivan and Blankley have, or Americans libertards. I can get that kind of drivel for free on the Net. The rest is still decent.

Posted by: Tom DC/VA at August 26, 2004 07:16 PM

"I always image that they're going along their sane, normal, technocratic, radically moderate way, and then at the last moment they think, "Shit, [our] readers and advertisers are right-wing Americans!"

Well, this is about right. Pearsons has taken the Economist much more into the US market, with the result that it is more afraid to upset its readers there. When it called on Clinton to resign over Lewinsky, it got a lot of mail along the lines of "Fuck off, Limey" and cancelled subscriptions. Since then it is scared and timid.

Funnily enough, the Financial Times has a similar problem but with Europe. It's setting itself up nicely to be Europe's WSJ, but by doing so it is adopting Euro-corporate ideas quite alien to the London stockbroker or businessman (extraordinary enthusiasm for the EU, not a single Tory op-ed columnist). So it is quite successful overall, and very influential in Brussels, but UK subscriptions are falling like a rock.

Posted by: otto at August 26, 2004 07:22 PM

What Atrios said.

Posted by: RT at August 26, 2004 07:24 PM

An administration should get used to it in 3 months and spend the rest of the 3 years and 9 months actually doing a good job. 4 years to get the hang of it is incompetence.

"Effective execution is partly a matter of experience. There are signs, including in Iraq, that the Bush administration has learned from its mistakes..." 4 years of making mistakes all the time is just plain dumb. An even bigger problem is that I don't think the Bush administration knows that it is making any mistakes.

I like the Economist, but any semi-intelligent person could see that Bush is a disaster.

Posted by: Ian at August 26, 2004 07:30 PM

The Economist had endorsed Bush in the first place and since when would they admit they made a mistake? I find it quite amusing to see how they keep defending such a bad president. My all-time favourite was when they raved about free trade and how good Bush was and the week after that Bush came up with steel tarriffs. Their awkward article about that was priceless.

Posted by: Joerg at August 26, 2004 08:07 PM

The point is that The Economists explains why Bush is a disaster. One has to read it the way a German may listen to Dutch -- after some fairly regular transformation you can understand quite a bit (if you are a German).

They really combine reportage and decent commentary with rather mechanical repetition of certain mantras. One mantra is that 'free trade' is good, another that low taxes are good, and the third is that American Republicans are good. In the same issue they bemoan that Bush did not cut the spending in the same degree he cut the revenue, and observe that Chinese government has to increase taxes considerably to improve its abysmal record in healthcare and environment. Accidentally, their central government collects pretty much the sam share of GNP as Bush does. Moreover, they opine that China should introduce some national healthcare system. After collecting advises The Economist bestows on various less developed countries one can get a decent prescription of USA. At any rate, much better than they direct advise for USA.

Posted by: piotr at August 26, 2004 08:36 PM


"Every year under Bush, poverty has gone up..."

You make that sound like a bad thing.

For me the Economist is emblematic of the Brit-American divide. They write so well. In this country a group with the same politics would have trouble pronouncing nuclear correctly. I guess being inarticulate is not a prerequisite for being wrong.

Posted by: dennisS at August 26, 2004 09:03 PM

Why is it that DeLong cannot accept that today's Economist editorial staff is separated from the WSJ's editorial staff only by an ocean? That there is no difference in right-wing ideology, and a similar disregard for facts?

Posted by: BrianC at August 26, 2004 09:53 PM

Naomi Klein picks at the Economist because the paper devoted an entire cover to portray her as a literate activist looney-bin. I believe it was the issue just prior to Sept. 11th, 2001, titled "Pro Logo". The Economist certainly had a focused attack on Ms. Klein but spent too much time on her and not on the broader issues within the ideology she is associated with.

Posted by: Jas at August 26, 2004 10:24 PM

"I wish I had a subscription, so I could cancel it."

Well I do--for about the last 20 years. . .and I will cancel it. It's that ol' cognitive dissonance problem. . .either I've lost my mind or the Economist editors have.

Posted by: Sylny at August 26, 2004 11:29 PM

I have been reading the Economist for thirty years. I have learnt my English from that newspaper. I remember, as a student in London, the saying was : It can't be true, I read it in the Economist.
The chief advantage of the Economist is its viciousness, for example in comparing Margaret Thacher's mediocre academic performamce to Harold Wilson's academic excellence and ineffective governing. Reading about the petty hates of the Economist (Prince Charles, Harvard, British aristocrats and life peers) is always a great laugh.
But the facts are very often sketchy and the commentary too self-important to be taken seriously. Another London joke on the Economist had Mikhail Gorbatchev wondering on a Thursday what he was going to do next week and asking his assistant to run to the newstand to get a copy of the Economist, so that he could set his agenda accordingly.
As a source of news and commentary, the Economist is not worth its subscription. Think of it as entertainment.

Posted by: George J. Georganas at August 26, 2004 11:51 PM

Sorry guys, but I think you're on crack. The Economist endorsed Bush in 2000, but they seem to me to be as dissillusioned as we are about how its gone. They are right-wing in Britain, which makes them about middle-of-the-road here. I have always respected the Economist's ability to see through bullshit and call it what it is, even if they can't get out of their political mindset. They don't buy into the American media's he-said, she-said view of news. They -- gasp -- make judgments about what happens, who's right, and who's wrong, and, with notable exceptions, usually I appreciate their views, even if I don't always agree with them.

If they don't explicitly endorse Bush this year, that would be a telling loss for Bush, if not a telling positive for Kerry. That is what I predict will happen. Sorry if its not what you guys wanted to hear.

Posted by: Shooter in AZ at August 27, 2004 12:36 AM

It's fairly clear what the editors of The Econimist are saying here: Being President of the United States is just like being in third grade. If you fail at it, you simply must take it over again.

Posted by: le cynique at August 27, 2004 12:58 AM

I cancelled my Economist subscription earlier this year. I can't respect an intellectual magazine that holds George Bush in high esteem. That and their absolute failure to adequately discuss the California energy crisis. "Market failure? I don't see any market failure."

Posted by: Sparks at August 27, 2004 01:31 AM

"and as I read it I cannot help but start filling out the civil commitment papers."

Am I the only one who is reminded of the Soviet Union's horrifying treatment of dissidents? Would Brad treat everybody who disagrees with him in this way, or just those able to do so articulately and effectively?

Posted by: PJ at August 27, 2004 02:27 AM

Ah! The wonder that's the British Press.

FT is basically a trade paper for the City. It's more reliable than the Economist because it has only one focus: money. I'm not surprised, however, that the subscription is falling -- mainly because there're less people in the City now than four years ago.

The Economist -- where do we start on the love/hate affair I have with the Economist? I have to admit I never read its editorials and rarely read the America section.

The strength of the Economist is in areas they have no fixed ideology on. Its Asia coverage is good and accurate, its Finance and Economics is always good fun, the science and arts is informative. Though the conservative "We must protect the Republicans" editors invaded Economic Focus last year by saying Krugman has no professional credibility left -- news to everyone. I nearly cancel my subscription after that.

I'm not that sure the American advertisers has any effect on the Economist, at least this side of the pond. Most adverts in the European edition are from NGOs, European quasi-govt departments and business software companies (Oracle seems to be the leader in this.)

The main problem, I guess, is that the Economist has no bylines but unlike Fox, they don't fire and hire people by ideology. Result: multiple personalities disorder. Which is to be expected since there're different voices (multiple personality) in the Economist.

Imagine what it would be like if NY Times op-ed has no bylines, and Safir and Krugman share the same column.

Posted by: Weco at August 27, 2004 02:28 AM

I have been reading the economist for 10 years, even though I now finally realize how close I am to being a flaming liberal. My last issue is in three weeks. Throughout the years, mainly before the internet, I enjoyed their relatively copious coverage of international affairs. As I am an imigrant (Egyptian by birth) I needed that link to the outside world, to counter the egocentricity of US news coverage (and dare I say, culture). I voted for Clinton twice, and yet did not mind a bit when the Economist admonished Clinton on their cover to "Just go". IMHO the fella made a horrible error of judgment in trying to cover up another error in judgment which I felt was unjustly pried into the public area (oddly enough I don't judge beyond that, lest I be judged ;-). I thing Dubia deserves a resounding "Just go" of his own, but it will be a cold day in hell before such a statement comes from the Economist. Reading their US coverage gives me the distinct impression that it has been sanitized to preclude the news elements that would make such a "Just go" warranted. If they had chosen to cover the facts, and disagree on opinion, I would be a happy reader. Unfortunately, throughout this last year, I couldn't help but stop looking at the economist as my "political bias balancing act" simply because they looked like they hadn't met an american conservative freak show they didn't like, regardless of a whole class facts which they seem selectively to ignore...

Posted by: AT at August 27, 2004 04:05 AM

My vote: like right-wingers everywhere, they just want their tax cuts. Nothing else matters.

Posted by: liberal at August 27, 2004 04:47 AM

"The Economist's bigger disagreements with Mr Bush lie beyond the war on terror, in areas where Mr Bush's very aims are questionable or worse."

Is the writer of this paragraph not the same as the writer of subsequent paragraphs? Is "questionable or worse" really the stuff on which one builds a "can't pick between 'em" argument?

Even in on the war on terror, where the Economist has lesser disagreements with Bush, the argument is so very odd. I'm not the first one to point out that the "heart in the right place" argument is not sufficient. Is there anybody in US public life who doesn't think protecting the nation is a good idea? Is there really a question that anybody in US public life does not want US citizens and interests to be free from the threat of terrorism? Saying so with Texas bluster may appeal to the emotions of some, but that's not the argument the Economist wants to make. It is only the next question and the next question that matter. What is the best broad stance to take in dealing with terrorism? How should resources be deployed once one detemines the broad outlines. In these areas, it is hard to call Bush a roaring success, as the Economist points out. So, if we all agree that protecting the US is the highest priority, and Bush has screwed up the details, as the Economist admits, what's up with "The Economist's bigger disagreements with Mr Bush lie beyond the war on terror"?

Posted by: kharris at August 27, 2004 04:57 AM

After reading The Economist for a few years, I have realized that they go any distance to remain on the side of any one in power - be in government or in business.

I have no access to its older issues but I am pretty sure, they supported division of Bengal, did not appreciate Georger Orwell's visionary qualities, justified American policy in Vietnam, supported Churchill's case to keep India & the rest of the empire and mildly ridiculed Gandhi.

They just don't get it. They are like Pyle- Garham Greene's The Quiet American.

Andrew Sullivan is right when he says "It’s written in the kind of Oxbridge prose that rips felicitously into one ear and out the other"..."a kind of Reader’s Digest for the overclass."

Posted by: Aniruddha G. Kulkarni at August 27, 2004 05:20 AM

The Economost takes pride in being a centrist publication.

Sometimes they make the mistake of believing the middle ground is correct, even though they know that can be a fallacy.

Posted by: Iain Babeu at August 27, 2004 05:37 AM

Isn't wealth creation what the Economist is all about? It seems to me that wealth creation, certainly in my case, has taken a four year leave in the Bush years. So many conservatives would rather be right than rich.

Posted by: Bob H at August 27, 2004 06:21 AM

A. G. Kulkarni's description of the Economist's loyalties sounds like an updated version of "King and Country." Whoever is in power is good. No wonder the Economist has a hard time unloading Bush. He has a fondness for the powerful, too. Thank goodness for the Guardian and KR.

Posted by: kharris at August 27, 2004 07:48 AM

The Economist's view of America has always been a little skewed.

For example, they completely missed the change in American attitudes toward cigarette smoking. At one point, TV producer Stephen Bochco observed that if you put a cigarette in a character's hand, you're saying that he smells bad and doesn't take care of himself. Obviously Bochco, himself a smoker, was commenting on the change in mores, but The Economist didn't get it at all. They attacked him with great vitriol for, as they saw it, attempting to manipulate public attitudes by "putting cigs in the hands of baddies".

Posted by: Larry Kestenbaum at August 27, 2004 07:51 AM

"The Economist's view of America has always been a little skewed."

This must be expected. It is after all a foreign publication.

However . . . I was really shocked when I scanned the first post-911 issue of The Economist. Its analysis of that event and fanatical support of the so-called "war on terror" read like the National Review Online. The Economist was a humane, well grounded "classical liberal" publication when I subscribed to it in the '80s. Something has really changed.

Posted by: No Preference at August 27, 2004 08:04 AM

The Economist has long been orthodox conservative on economic matters--i.e., they never met a privatization scheme they didn't like. Their contortions on the Enron affair were truly spectacular. They wouldn't admit there might even be a question as to whether some industries are better left in government hands, or that they should be very strictly regulated. They're the same way with trade. Even though it's generally admitted that the tiger economies of East Asia owe a great deal to strategic protectionism, they'd never admit that the same might apply to other developing countries now. And taxes? Don't even get me started.

Upshot: the fact that they're saying anything, let alone many things, negative about the Bush admin is really astonishing. Of course, they have to hedge what they're with vanishingly faint praise, but, to a trained ear, this comes off as a broadside against just about everything the Bush administration has done to date.

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I suspect that in this case MOTAS means "Member Of The Appropriate Sex", i.e. Mr. Parson's girlfriend or boyfriend (or wife/husband, etc.), depending on his inclinations and situation.

My thanks to Acronym Finder for their assistance. They rock. (They suggest the time and space one too.)

Posted by: Captain Button at August 27, 2004 08:23 AM

Why I subscribe to The Economist?

(1) Decent and very wide coverage of world affairs. The hell will freeze before Newsweek will have an article about Malawi.

(2) When they are not under the diktat of the party line, they are quite open minded. E.g. in the article about Chinese health care, they described examples of privatization that they did not like. And there was quite a few facts in the article.

(3) When they follow the diktat, one can read their arguments without throwing up. IMHO, one should now the current arguments of the opposite side, but I cannot stomach our domestic right wingers.

(4) Often it is rather amusing how they combine the obedience to the diktat with considerable amount of free thinking. Take the cover story about Blair and Bush, "The misleaders". The headline was cute, the story, even if tendentious, quite damning, and then the obedient conclusions. This is not split personality but a peculiar art form.

(5) Bussiness stories often illustrate how the right wing dogma is wrong. Dogma: concentration of ownership very rarely leads to monopoly power and decreased competition. Bussiness comments: takeover in industry X will improve profits by paring down the excess capacity.

Posted by: piotr at August 27, 2004 10:34 AM

The Economist, as a friend of mine has pointed out, has a terrible problem with admitting it was wrong. Look at how the desparately try to be pro-Iraq war even as they do a yeoman's job of uncovering all the problems there.

They are like a prodigy: amazing in their analysis, awful in their immaturity?

Although ... I have always found them to be more akin to a more conservative version of the BBC. Excellent reporting, but you just cannot trust them fully because of their snobbish "here is the news from our former colonies: you know, if we in Britain still ran the world, things would be a lot better" slant to everything.

Posted by: DAS at August 27, 2004 10:43 AM

Oh yes, one more thing about The Economist. Would you trust a magazine called The Scientist which did not make reference to controlled experiments when making broader recommendations in the sciences? No.

So why should we trust a magazine called The Economist in its economic coverage given how few controlled economic experiments on which it reports?

OTOH - the problem is more general. Physicians have to swear to "first do no harm" before treating patients. Do WTO/IMF economists have to swear to do no harm before treating economically ill countries? Are their prescriptions backed by solid experimental evidence of efficacy and safety? Nope on both counts.

It's about time someone in power spoke this truth. And I hope when they do the SCLM, and the Economist for that matter, has the decency not to brand them a "protectionist" but rather concede the veracity of their point.

Posted by: DAS at August 27, 2004 10:47 AM

Condensing the article to one line, "Mr. Bush is a conservative who believes in big government."
In other words, he's a deficit-and-spend NeoCrat.

Mr. Bush is pimping US, knowing if he lost the 2000 election by a mere 100,000 votes, all he needs to do is grow Federal government by 30%, helping his constituency "to successfully land a high paying and secure government job" and in so doing, creating 11,000,000 excess Fed government employees who owe Bush their vote in 2004.

Tammany Hall 2004! But wait! There's more!!
You need to start thinking inside the Beltway.
Here's just one example:

"Preliminary results of an annual survey of nearly 3,000 employers by Mercer Human Resource Consulting. The 916 employers that have so far responded to the survey said they believe the total cost of health-care benefits per employee will rise an average 9.6% next year, which they plan to pass entirely onto their employees."

Since only major-medical results in a tax write-off, that means health-care *continues* to erode away at after-tax incomes, which puts the lie to the USC report that median incomes are unchanged.

Bush's solution? Con Medicare recipients into joining denial-of-service HMO's, in return for a pittance script against prescriptions, while restricting them to only US pharmaceuticals.

That makes the drug and health companies happy, with a capture user group, bio-pharms can jack prescription prices (see 10% increase above), so they donate big to his re-election campaign, and then even if Bush loses, he cashes his campaign funds, and retires a multi- multi-millionaire on his 30,000 acre estate in Crawford, that the US taxpayers have built the infrastructure up on.

It's a win-win! Condi will be doing backflips!

Pimp the plebs with government jobs for votes.
Pump the corps with tax breaks and new recruits.
Retire in style, with a full pension, full free health benefits, free airplane at your disposal, free vacation junkets thrown at you, speaking engagements, Secret Service protection for life.

America's new royalty....and it only took 225 years for Lord Carlyle and his oily ilk to steal an aristocracy back upon our once Free Republic.

For the rest of us, the workers, what meager savings, pensions or retirement funds we've garner will be worthless by then.

Flat income tax, sales tax, tariffs, fees, GST's leave US nothing unless we expatriate overseas, but by then the US$ will have become worthless outside the US and China, and besides, any US citizen abroad will have a huge cross-hairs on their forehead, thanks to Donald Rumsfeld and the Carlyle Gruppen war-profiteers of BushCo.

Posted by: Sad Tosay at August 27, 2004 12:14 PM

Here's a Economist Scientist parenthetical:

Of friends who've revealed investments to me, two were big pump-and-dump millionaires in the 1990's who have dumped every penny since then trying to catch a falling dagger. Two were huge in employer stock options and pensions, both now worthless, or near so, except for meager wages. And two threw their entire 401K into the dead-cat-bounce, trapped in shares that spiked down over 2/3rds after the sheep were all penned in.

I'm 100% cash since Bush got elected, but still, 6 folks out of 7 have lost *big* since 2000. Of course, random observation, entirely anecdotal.

"Time to shear the sheep!" my old man used to joke. At that time, he was just talking about Wall Street, not Pennsylvania Avenue's I & II.
Carlucci, Baker, Bush I & II, Tenet .. they have all made fortunes in government insider-trading in the same period as our estates were burning.

They'll refer to this era as a Cold Depression, invisible destruction of $11 TRILLION in equity at a time when the media was saying, every day, the economy is improving. The sky is falling.

Posted by: Tante Aime at August 27, 2004 12:34 PM

I've thought for a while that the Economist's Washington correspondent must be completely under the spell of the Bush administration. While the rest of the publication is reporting on events as they occur and opining in a balanced way, Lexington and the U.S. political stories are engaging in bizarre acrobatic maneuvers to justify the latest boner from the Bushies.

It's like listening to a Communist try to justify Stalin sometimes. Orwellian indeed.

Posted by: conrad at August 27, 2004 01:08 PM

it may be delusional, but the Economist has just written the basic template for all the US "moderate" and "liberal" media, from, say, The WoPo, NYtimes, CNN and NBC to use in rationalizing having their noses up Dumbya's ass for the last four years.
Many of these same outlets will be using the same type of tortured arguments in editorializing to give the Shrub four more.

Posted by: Torque at August 27, 2004 01:34 PM

I cancelled my 20+ year subscription to The Economist about 5 years ago because they had editorially become knee jerk ideologues.

I was lured back by a "FREE" copy of the "Pocket World in Figures" which is really quite useful.

I am now reconsidering, particularly since I can access much comparable information online. However, knowing that Lebanon has the highest car ownership per 1000 population and that the US ranks 12th is such a great cocktail party gambit I may be forced to renew.

Posted by: Sam Taylor at August 27, 2004 05:49 PM

About five years ago the Economist seemed to have a mind meld with the Wall Street Journal. They've never been as good since -- even as they've expanded their readership.

Their insane infatuation with Bush is typical.

I've subscribed for about 20 years, but I'm thinking it's time to call it a day. Given the length of my relationship, I plan send them a "Dear Economist" card the day they endorse (as they will) GWB.

Posted by: john Faughnan at August 27, 2004 08:03 PM

I'm more willing to give the Economist the benefit of the doubt. They're certainly willing to criticize Bush: they ran a cover story a few months back, for example ("Better Ways to Attack Bush").

They won't endorse either Bush or Kerry until a few weeks before the election. Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, but I'm expecting them to endorse Kerry.

Posted by: Russil Wvong at August 27, 2004 10:19 PM

Brad, Brad ..

Welcome to the real world of journalism.

The Economist is a free market, pro American publication with a large US business readership (larger than its British readership) and with a strongly pro US publisher.

Virtually *all* Economist articles and editorials are written with the byline: 'and the solution is the greater adoption of the free market'/ 'support of US foreign policy'.

That (and the slightly condescending style) is the work of the sub editors.

What the journalists do is write the text so that the conclusion does not necessarily follow the line of argument.

This is like reading Russian journalists and writers in the days of Soviet censorship. You see some of the same trends in the Wall Street Journal.

This is an extreme example of same, on the editorial page.

A thinking person could read that article and conclude that she should vote for Kerry. Most of the Economist's subscribers (in my case for over 20 years) have already made up their minds to vote for Bush (I don't fit that model).

So why, commercially and given who owns and runs the Economist (the Rothschild investment bank pesnion fund, Pearson Group, the Rothschild Investment Trust (a different branch of the family than the bank)), and who its customers are (American businesspeople), why piss them off?

Posted by: John at August 28, 2004 09:07 AM

As you know, Brad, I am the Deputy Editor of The Economist, but I am posting these comments in a personal capacity. I think it is disappointing that an economist of your calibre--and I have the highest regard for your scholarship--cannot rise to a higher standard of discussion than this. I find it a very depressing comment on the state of American politics.

You find the position we took in this week’s editorial on George Bush so inexplicable that you question our sanity. Is it really so odd? Closer to the election, as we always do, we will say which of the candidates we prefer. This week’s editorial was entirely concerned with an appraisal of the Bush administration. As you say, we found a great deal to criticise. Perhaps in due course we will endorse John Kerry. But we won’t endorse either candidate until nearer the time, and it will be in an editorial that looks at both men side by side, weighing good and bad in each case.

Your position, of course, and that of most of your correspondents, is that Bush is so inexpressibly bad that anybody else at all would be better. I would find that difficult to understand even if Bush were worse than he is. But, as you know, our editorial argued that Bush has got the big things right on foreign policy. The biggest thing of all, in my view, was his determination to confront America’s enemies even if not all of the allies whose support he needed to secure UN backing could be brought round. The accusation that Bush has been recklessly unilateralist, a chief rallying-cry of his opponents, is simply wrong (as the editorial pointed out in a crucial paragraph that you did not include in your extracts). He sought allies throughout for the war in Iraq, and built the biggest coalition he could. France and Germany withheld their support for the war, and undermined the effort to put pressure on Saddam Hussein, at a time when they too knew that the sanctions regime was collapsing and they too believed that Saddam had WMD. In those circumstances, Bush was right to deny them a veto. In similar circumstances, in my view, he would be right to do so again.

When it comes to domestic policy, I expect you and I would agree about many and perhaps most issues. I think the administration’s record there is poor. Our editorial said as much. But if one takes the view that the administration has been mostly right on foreign policy and mostly wrong on domestic policy, that is not a record which automatically disqualifies Bush from a second term, is it? Least of all in a post-9/11 world. And that is really all our editorial said. Right or wrong, what is so “insane”, or even mildly inconsistent, about taking such a position?

Of course, if Kerry’s foreign policy would be the same as Bush’s, then Bush’s domestic errors would count for more. Our editorial did note that Kerry has failed to say very clearly where his foreign policy would be different. But he does make much of the virtues of “multilateralism”. What one needs to know is what Kerry means by this. Would he be as robust in confronting America’s enemies without UN backing and without the support of countries such as France and Germany, if the need arose? (Would you and his other supporters even want him to be?)

At The Economist, we try to keep an open mind. We are still thinking. That is why, for instance, we agreed with Bush about the case for war with Iraq, then later deplored the way intelligence about WMD was presented to the public, and after that called for Donald Rumsfeld to resign, or be dismissed, over the Abu Ghraib affair. No doubt you regard this record as schizophrenic: For you, apparently, the administration is all bad, or else it must be all good. But that is not political analysis, Brad; that is brainless tribalism.

Posted by: Clive Crook at August 28, 2004 01:32 PM

I just wanted to point out to those who say that The Economist has a problem with printing corrections the following item from their issue of November 15, 2001:

*In the issues of December 16th 2000 to November 10th 2001, we may have given the impression that George Bush had been legally and duly elected president of the United States. We now understand that this may have been incorrect, and that the election result is still too close to call. The Economist apologises for any inconvenience.*

(I dropped my subscription to the magazine shortly thereafter....)

Posted by: ralph at August 29, 2004 02:41 AM

Dan Gillmor says “Blogs are on a collision course with big media as it slides steadily toward cheaper and dumber news”.
The Economist however only has scorn for Blogs: “Web logs, known to their users as blogs, are web pages for self-anointed pundits—personal online journals, often updated throughout the day, full of raw, unedited opinions and links to other sites. Most are what one would expect from a new internet medium: nerdy, inane and barely grammatical, and intelligible only to teenage subcultures.” ( Therefore, it is no wonder Mr. Crook is upset with Prof. DeLong’s joining “brainless tribalism”.

However, the magazine must be happy somewhere for DeLong has taken it seriously enough to comment on its political analysis. While the magazine is upset with DeLong’s impudence, their real anger is reserved for a fellow tribal of DeLong: Paul Krugman.

One of the possible reasons for that is: PK has not referred to it in his writing for a very long time, except perhaps something from its last three pages of statistics. The anger is also tinged with little jealousy because:
1. PK can afford not to charge people to read his thoughts
2. PK does not have a baggage since 1843 to carry
3. PK writes better prose
4. Finally, the magazine knows one day it will have to write how PK was the most important thinker of a generation regardless of whether he wins a Nobel Prize or Gorge W. Bush is defeated in 2004.

Few above have asked – if the magazine’s judgment is so clouded on the issues we know, how can we trust them with issues we are not familiar?

I don’t know about Malawi and Kazakstan but I don’t take their most analysis of South Asian affairs seriously. If you want to understand ground realities in South Asia, turn to “Economic and Political weekly” They don’t always write smart and slick prose. They are probably not read by many in the power and money. But they are always closer to the truth.

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