|Owner||The Economist Group|
|Political alignment||Economic liberalism
|Circulation||1,574,803 (print); 100,000 (paid digital subscribers).|
The Economist is an English-language weekly news and international affairs publication owned by The Economist Newspaper Ltd. and edited in offices in London. Continuous publication began under founder James Wilson in September 1843. For historical reasons The Economist refers to itself as a newspaper, but each print edition appears on small glossy paper like a news magazine, and its YouTube channel is called EconomistMagazine. In 2006, its average weekly circulation was reported to be 1.5 million, about half of which were sold in the United States.
The publication belongs to The Economist Group, half of which is owned by Pearson PLC via Financial Times. A group of independent shareholders, including many members of the staff and the Rothschild banking family of England, owns the rest. A board of trustees formally appoints the editor, who cannot be removed without its permission.
The Economist claims that it "is not a chronicle of economics." Rather, it aims "to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress." It takes an editorial stance which is supportive of free trade, globalisation, free immigration and a few socially liberal causes (such as supporting legal recognition for gay marriage). It targets highly educated readers and claims an audience containing many influential executives and policy-makers.
About two thirds of the 75 staff journalists are based in London, although The Economist has a global emphasis and scope.
The publication has been widely acclaimed by experts, businesspeople, and world leaders alike, although it has also faced some criticism and controversy.
On the contents page of each newsmagazine, The Economist's mission statement is written in italics. It states that The Economist was 'First published in September 1843 to take part in "a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress".'
The Economist was founded by the Scottish businessman and banker James Wilson in 1843, to advance the repeal of the Corn Laws, a system of import tariffs. A prospectus for the "newspaper," from 5 August 1843 enumerated thirteen areas of coverage that its editors wanted the newspaper to focus on:
- Original leading articles, in which free-trade principles will be most rigidly applied to all the important questions of the day.
- Articles relating to some practical, commercial, agricultural, or foreign topic of passing interest, such as foreign treaties.
- An article on the elementary principles of political economy, applied to practical experience, covering the laws related to prices, wages, rent, exchange, revenue and taxes.
- Parliamentary reports, with particular focus on commerce, agriculture and free trade.
- Reports and accounts of popular movements advocating free trade.
- General news from the Court of St. James's, the Metropolis, the Provinces, Scotland, and Ireland.
- Commercial topics such as changes in fiscal regulations, the state and prospects of the markets, imports and exports, foreign news, the state of the manufacturing districts, notices of important new mechanical improvements, shipping news, the money market, and the progress of railways and public companies.
- Agricultural topics, including the application of geology and chemistry; notices of new and improved implements, state of crops, markets, prices, foreign markets and prices converted into English money; from time to time, in some detail, the plans pursued in Belgium, Switzerland, and other well-cultivated countries.
- Colonial and foreign topics, including trade, produce, political and fiscal changes, and other matters, including exposés on the evils of restriction and protection, and the advantages of free intercourse and trade.
- Law reports, confined chiefly to areas important to commerce, manufacturing, and agriculture.
- Books, confined chiefly, but not so exclusively, to commerce, manufacturing, and agriculture, and including all treatises on political economy, finance, or taxation.
- A commercial gazette, with prices and statistics of the week.
- Correspondence and inquiries from the newsmagazine's readers.
It has long been respected as "one of the most competent and subtle Western periodicals on public affairs."
In January 2012, The Economist launched a new weekly section devoted exclusively to China, the first new country section since the introduction of a section about the United States in 1942.
The editors of The Economist have been:
- James Wilson 1843–1857 (Herbert Spencer was sub-editor from 1848 to 1853)
- Richard Holt Hutton 1857–1861
- Walter Bagehot, 1861–1877
- Daniel Conner Lathbury, 1877–1881
- Inglis Palgrave, 1877–1883
- Edward Johnstone, 1883–1907
- Francis Wrigley Hirst, 1907–1916
- Hartley Withers, 1916–1921
- Sir Walter Layton, 1922–1938
- Geoffrey Crowther, 1938–1956
- Donald Tyerman, 1956–1965
- Sir Alastair Burnet, 1965–1974
- Andrew Knight, 1974–1986
- Rupert Pennant-Rea, 1986–1993
- Bill Emmott, 1993–2006
- John Micklethwait, 2006–present
When the newsmagazine was founded, the term "economism" denoted what would today be termed "economic liberalism". The Economist generally supports free trade, globalisation, and free immigration. It has been described as neo-liberal although occasionally accepting the propositions of Keynesian economics where deemed more "reasonable". The news magazine favours a carbon tax to fight global warming. According to former editor Bill Emmott, "the Economist's philosophy has always been liberal, not conservative." Individual contributors take diverse views. The Economist favours the support, via central banks, of banks and other important corporations. This principle can (in a much more limited form) be traced back to Walter Bagehot, the third editor of The Economist, who argued that the Bank of England should support major banks that got into difficulties. Karl Marx deemed The Economist the "European organ" of "the aristocracy of finance."
The paper has also supported liberal causes on social issues such as recognition of gay marriages, legalisation of drugs, criticizes the U.S. tax model in a recent issue, and seems to support some government regulation on health issues, such as smoking in public, as well as bans on spanking children. The Economist consistently favours guest worker programs, parental choice of school, and amnesties and once published an "obituary" of God. The Economist also has a long record of supporting gun control.
The Economist has endorsed both the Labour Party (in 2005) and the Conservative Party (in 2010) at general election time in Britain, and both Republican and Democratic candidates in the United States. Economist.com puts its stance this way:
What, besides free trade and free markets, does The Economist believe in? "It is to the Radicals that The Economist still likes to think of itself as belonging. The extreme centre is the paper's historical position." That is as true today as when former Economist editor Geoffrey Crowther said it in 1955. The Economist considers itself the enemy of privilege, pomposity and predictability. It has backed conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. In foreign affairs it once, under Emmott's editorship declared itself openly "Americanophile", and it long supported the Americans in Vietnam, as it supported the later wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in their time it also endorsed Harold Wilson and Bill Clinton, and it has long espoused a variety of liberal causes: opposing capital punishment from its earliest days, while favouring penal reform and decolonisation, as well as—more recently—gun control and gay marriage.
The Economist frequently accuses figures and countries of corruption or dishonesty. In recent years, for example, it criticised former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz; Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's Prime Minister (who dubbed it The Ecommunist); Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the late president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Robert Mugabe, the head of government in Zimbabwe; and, recently, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of Argentina. The Economist also called for Bill Clinton's impeachment and later for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation after the emergence of the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse. Though The Economist initially gave vigorous support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, it later called the operation "bungled from the start" and criticised the "almost criminal negligence" of the Bush Administration's handling of the war, while maintaining, as of April 2008, that pulling out in the short term would be irresponsible. In the 2004 U.S. election, the editors "reluctantly" backed John Kerry. In the 2008 U.S. election the newsmagazine endorsed Barack Obama, while using the election eve issue's front cover to promote his candidacy. In the 2012 U.S. election, Barack Obama was again endorsed: the editorial said that they preferred Obama on the economy, foreign policy and health care, but criticised him for running a negative campaign against Romney and for a "poor appreciation of commerce".
Tone and voice
Though it has many individual columns, by tradition and current practice the magazine ensures a uniform voice—aided by the anonymity of writers—throughout its pages, as if most articles were written by a single author, which may be perceived to display dry, understated wit, and precise use of language.
The paper's treatment of economics presumes a working familiarity with fundamental concepts of classical economics. For instance, it does not explain terms like invisible hand, macroeconomics, or demand curve, and may take just six or seven words to explain the theory of comparative advantage. Articles involving economics do not presume any formal training on the part of the reader and aim to be accessible to the educated layman. The newsmagazine usually does not translate short French quotes or phrases. It does describe the business or nature of even well-known entities, writing, for example, "Goldman Sachs, an investment bank."
Many articles include some witticism; image captions are often humorous puns and the letters section usually concludes with an odd or light-hearted letter. These efforts at humour have sometimes had a mixed reception. For example, the cover of 20 September 2003 issue, headlined by a story on the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancún, featured a cactus giving the middle finger. Readers sent both positive and negative letters in response.
Articles often take a definite editorial stance and almost never carry a byline. Not even the name of the editor (since 2006, John Micklethwait) is printed in the issue. It is a long-standing tradition that an editor's only signed article during his tenure is written on the occasion of his departure from the position. The author of a piece is named in certain circumstances: when notable persons are invited to contribute opinion pieces; when journalists of The Economist compile special reports (previously known as surveys); for the Year in Review special edition; and to highlight a potential conflict of interest over a book review. The names of The Economist editors and correspondents can be located on the media directory pages of the website. Online blog pieces are signed with the initials of the writer and authors of print stories are allowed to note their authorship from their personal web sites.
The editors say this is necessary because "collective voice and personality matter more than the identities of individual journalists" and reflects "a collaborative effort." In most articles authors refer to themselves as "your correspondent" or "this reviewer". The writers of the titled opinion columns tend to refer to themselves by the title (hence, a sentence in the "Lexington" column might read "Lexington was informed...").
American author Michael Lewis has criticized the magazine's editorial anonymity, labeling it a means to hide the youth and inexperience of those writing articles. "The magazine is written by young people pretending to be old people...If American readers got a look at the pimply complexions of their economic gurus, they would cancel their subscriptions in droves" quipped Lewis in 1991.
John Ralston Saul describes The Economist as a "magazine which hides the names of the journalists who write its articles in order to create the illusion that they dispense disinterested truth rather than opinion. This sales technique, reminiscent of pre-Reformation Catholicism, is not surprising in a publication named after the social science most given to wild guesses and imaginary facts presented in the guise of inevitability and exactitude. That it is the Bible of the corporate executive indicates to what extent received wisdom is the daily bread of a managerial civilization."
Each of The Economist' issue's official date range is from Saturday to the following Friday. In the UK print copies are dispatched late Thursday, for Friday delivery to retail outlets and subscribers. Elsewhere, retail outlets and subscribers receive their copies on Friday or Saturday, depending on their location. The Economist posts each week's new content online at approximately 2100 Thursday evening UK time, ahead of the official publication date.
In 1877, the newspaper's circulation was 3,700. In 1920, it had risen to 6,000. Circulation increased rapidly after 1945, reaching 100,000 by 1970.
Circulation is audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). From around 30,000 in 1960 it has risen to near 1 million by 2000 and by 2012 to about 1.5 million. Sales inside North America were in 2007 around 54 percent of the total, with sales in the UK making up 14 percent of the total and continental Europe 19 percent. The Economist claims sales, both by subscription and at newsagents, in over 200 countries. Of its American readers, two out of three make more than $100,000 a year.
The Economist once boasted about its limited circulation. In the early 1990s it used the slogan "The Economist – not read by millions of people." "Never in the history of journalism has so much been read for so long by so few," wrote Geoffrey Crowther, a former editor.
The Economist Newspaper Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Economist Group. The publications of the group include the CFO brand family as well as the annual The World in..., the lifestyle bi-monthly Intelligent Life, European Voice, and Roll Call. Sir Evelyn Robert de Rothschild was Chairman of the company from 1972 to 1989.
The Economist frequently receives letters from senior businesspeople, politicians and spokespeople for government departments, non-governmental organisations and lobbies, but well written or witty responses from anyone are considered, and controversial issues frequently produce a torrent of letters. For example, the survey of corporate social responsibility, published January 2005, produced largely critical letters from Oxfam, the World Food Programme, United Nations Global Compact, the Chairman of BT Group, an ex-Director of Shell and the UK Institute of Directors.
Many of the letters published are critical of its stance or commentary. After The Economist ran a critique of Amnesty International and human rights in general in its issue dated 24 March 2007, its letters page ran a vibrant reply from Amnesty, as well as several other letters in support of the organisation, including one from the head of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Rebuttals from officials within regimes such as the Singapore government are routinely printed, to comply with local right-of-reply laws without compromising editorial independence. It is extremely rare for any comment by The Economist to appear alongside any published letter. Letters published in the newsmagazine are typically between 150 and 200 words long (and begin with the ritual salutation "Sir"). Previous to a change in procedure, all responses to on-line articles were usually published in "The Inbox". Comments can now be made directly under each article.
The Economist's primary focus is world news, politics and business, but it also runs regular sections on science and technology as well as books and the arts. Approximately every two weeks, the publication include a in-depth report (previously called surveys) on a given topic. The five main categories are Countries and Regions, Business, Finance and Economics, Science and Technology, and Other. Every three months, it publishes a technology report called Technology Quarterly or TQ, a special section focusing on recent trends and developments in science and technology.
Since July 2007, there has also been a complete audio edition of the news-magazine available 9pm London time on Thursdays. The audio version of The Economist is produced by the production company Talking Issues. The company records the full text of the news-magazine in mp3 format, including the extra pages in the UK edition. The weekly 130 MB download is free for subscribers and available for a fee for non-subscribers.
The publication's writers adopt a tight style that seeks to include the maximum amount of information in a limited space. Atlantic Monthly publisher David G. Bradley described the formula as "a consistent world view expressed, consistently, in tight and engaging prose."
There is a section of economic statistics. Tables such as employment statistics are published each week and there are special statistical features too. It is unique among British weeklies in providing authoritative coverage of official statistics and its rankings of international statistics have been decisive. In addition, The Economist is known for its Big Mac Index, which it first published in 1986, which uses the price of the hamburger in different countries as an informal measure of the purchasing power of currencies.
The publication runs several opinion columns whose names reflect their topic:
- Analects (China) — named after The Analects, a collection of Confucian sayings, this column was established in February 2012.
- Bagehot (Britain) — named for Walter Bagehot (pron.: ), nineteenth-century British constitutional expert and early editor of The Economist. From July 2010 until June 2012  it was written by David Rennie.
- Charlemagne (Europe) — named for Charlemagne, Emperor of the Frankish Empire. It is written by Anton La Guardia.
- Lexington (United States) — named for Lexington, Massachusetts, the site of the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. From June 2010 until May 2012 it was written by Peter David, until his death in a car accident.
- Buttonwood (Finance) — named for the buttonwood tree where early Wall Street traders gathered. Until September 2006 this was available only as an on-line column, but it is now included in the print edition. It is written by Philip Coggan.
- Banyan (Asia) — named for the banyan tree, this column was established in April 2009 and focuses on various issues across the Asian continent, and is written by Dominic Ziegler.
- Baobab (Africa & Middle East) — named for the baobab tree, this column was established in July 2010 and focuses on various issues across the African continent.
- Babbage (Technology) — named for the inventor Charles Babbage, this column was established in March 2010 and focuses on various technology related issues.
- Prospero (Books and arts) — named after the character from William Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, this column reviews books and focuses on arts-related issues.
- Game Theory (Sport) — named after the science of predicting outcomes in a certain situation this column focuses on "sports major and minor" and "the politics, economics, science and statistics of the games we play and watch."
- Schumpeter (Business) — named for the economist Joseph Schumpeter, this column was established on September 2009 and is written by Adrian Wooldridge.
Other regular features include:
- Face Value about prominent people in the business world
- Free Exchange a general economics column, frequently based on academic research, replaced the column Economics Focus on January 2012
- An obituary
- sections on science and the arts
The newsmagazine goes to press on Thursdays, between 6 and 7pm GMT, and is available on newsstands in many countries the next day. It is printed at seven sites around the world. Known on their website as 'This week's print edition', it is available online, albeit with only the first 5 viewed articles being free (and available to subscribers only between mid-October 2009 – 2010).
The Economist also produces the annual The World in [Year] publication. It also sponsors a writing award.
In the late eighties, the Economist hired AMV BBDO, one of London's large advertising agencies. AMV was charged with broadening the newsmagazine's appeal beyond financial industry workers. To do this, AMV phased out advertisements based on the Economist's contents, and introduced feel-good advertising. These new ads made the Economist's advertisers feel that they were targeting a high-end market, made readers feel part of a special club, and made potential readers feel that they were missing out. Today, the 'White out of Red' advertising campaign is legendary. Almost every ad consists of a witticism written in white on a plain red background, usually with 'The Economist' in the bottom right-hand corner. For example: "I never read The Economist." Management trainee, Aged 42.
The Economist sponsors the yearly "The Economist Innovation Awards", in the categories of bioscience, computing and communications, energy and the environment, social and economic innovation, business-process innovation, consumer products and a special "no boundaries" category. The awards have been held since 2002. Nominations are held between 2 and 30 April. The award ceremony is then hosted on 15 November. Choices are based off the following factors:
- How much revenue their innovation has made their company or its economic impact on a specific good cause or society in general
- The effect their work has had on the marketplace (or if it's created a whole new marketplace altogether)
- The impact their innovation has had on a new type of science or technology
Sections of The Economist criticising authoritarian regimes are frequently removed from the magazine by the authorities in those countries. The Economist regularly has difficulties with the ruling party of Singapore (the People's Action Party), which had successfully sued it, in a Singaporean court, for libel.
The Economist, like many other publications, is subjected to censorship in India whenever it depicts a map of Kashmir. The maps are stamped by Indian Customs officials as being "neither correct, nor authentic". Issues are sometimes delayed, but not stopped or seized.
On 15 June 2006 Iran banned the sale of The Economist when it published a map labelling the Persian Gulf simply as "Gulf"—a choice that derives its political significance from the Persian Gulf naming dispute.
In a separate incident, Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe went further and imprisoned The Economist's correspondent there, Andrew Meldrum. The government charged him with violating a statute on "publishing untruth" for writing that a woman was decapitated by Mugabe supporters. The decapitation claim was retracted and allegedly fabricated by the woman's husband. The correspondent was later acquitted, only to receive a deportation order.
Criticism and controversy
In 1991, James Fallows argued in The Washington Post that The Economist suffers from British class snobbery, pretentiousness, and simplistic argumentation, and "unwholesomely purveys smarty-pants English attitudes on our [US] shores". He also accused it of an editorial line often contradicted by the news stories.
In 1999, Andrew Sullivan complained in the New Republic that it uses "marketing genius" to make up for deficiencies in analysis and original reporting, resulting in "a kind of Reader's Digest" for America's corporate elite. While Sullivan did acknowledge that the magazine's claim about the dotcom bursting would probably be accurate in the long run, the bubble would not burst in the US market until 2001. Sullivan also pointed out that the magazine greatly exaggerated the danger the US economy was in after the Dow Jones fell to 7,400 during the 1998 Labor Day weekend and noted that the magazine's claim that the US economy was at a high risk of entering a recession was far from clear. He also said that The Economist is editorially constrained because so many scribes graduated from the same college at Oxford University, Magdalen College, which he described as "a somewhat ineffective system for correcting internal flaws in a global magazine." The Guardian wrote that "its writers rarely see a political or economic problem that cannot be solved by the trusted three-card trick of privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation."
In 2012, The Economist was accused — denied by the weekly — that it had hacked into the computer of Bangladesh Supreme Court Justice, Mohammed Nizamul Huq, leading to his resignation as the chairman of the International Crimes Tribunal.
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- Official website
- The Economist Group website providing group information and links to all group publications such as CFO, Roll Call and European Voice
- ebusinessforum Part of the Economist Intelligence Unit, with free articles from The Economist
- Preliminary number and prospectus, 5 Aug 1843
- Capital, currency, and banking; a series of articles published in The Economist – By James Wilson (Published 1847)
- The Economist's Innovation Awards
- The Economist Conferences in Latin America