His ‘Economist’ Problem, And Ours
March 16, 2008
Matthew Yglesias considers the enigma of The Economist, a smartly written, wide-ranging magazine that nevertheless has something a little . . . off . . . about it. Like a carton of milk that’s been in the fridge a little past its sell-by date but still seems okay:
Think of it this way — suppose you had a well-traveled, reasonably witty cousin who voyaged around the world with a good eye for detail and a personality marred by a strange obsession with labor market deregulation and pension privatization (or, as he calls it, “privatisation”). You’d be happy to grab a beer with him every few months when he’s in town and hear the occasional wacky anecdote about monarchists in the Caribbean or African dictators railing against apprentice sorcerers. Sure, the fact that the entire “Europe” section could be replaced most weeks by LIBERALISE YOUR LABOUR MARKETS DAMNIT gets a bit annoying, but still you can make a kind of sport out of it.
There was a time when a copy of The Economist was one of my favorite fashion accessories, but after a few years the hefty annual nut for a subscription just didn’t seem worth the bother. The international coverage was particularly enticing at first, because American prints only cover other countries when (a) we’re blowing them up, or (b) their leaders are saying things that could bring about (a). It’s not that I really really needed to know what was going on in Burkina Faso that week, I was simply charmed and astonished by the idea that a news magazine would have people covering such a place, instead of dutifully getting into line and marching out to the White House with buckets and pails to spread the day’s whitewash.
With the Intertubes it’s no longer necessary to have overseas news read to me with an an extra “u” and an “s” instead of a “z,” and there is that little problem of one-size-fits-all Friedmanite dogma (both the Tom and the Milton variesties) underlying The Economist’s take on the world. Different singer but same song, you know? And when you come right down to it, the singer isn’t performing it all that differently from what we get right here.