Thursday, 6 January 2005

And the left reads Mother Jones, why?

The Economist has apparently been getting a lot of criticism from the left in recent years. The following is a letter to the editor from this week's issue on an article from last week:
SIR – According to critical theory, The Economist engages in a narrative designed to persuade its audience of the virtues of capitalism (“Capitalist, sexist pigs” December 18th). A consistent finding of social-psychological research is that people tend to read, watch and listen to things that reinforce their political predispositions. The Economist does just that for its affluent readers as they head out to work, confirming that free markets are more efficient, and, as an added bonus, telling them their profession helps the plight of the world's poor. That way, they believe their profession not only makes themselves better off but is saving the world's downtrodden from famine, disease and even war. That's a feel-good publication.

Dave Townsend
Washington, DC

Why do people on the right, or of the classical liberal persuasion, read The Economist rather than Mother Jones? The same reason that people on the left prefer to read Mother Jones rather than The Economist: it conforms to their world view.

I’m a little amused that Mr. Townsend thinks that people that work for a living aren’t improving the world. I would argue that they are; they’re improving their own little part of it and, in doing so, are adding to the well being of the world.

The article that the letter is about is here, and an excerpt follows:

In a newly fashionable effort to quantify claims about how power is transmitted through words and images, Yana van der Meulen Rodgers and JingYing Zhang, of the College of William & Mary in Virginia, have analysed The Economist’s photographs. Their paper, “A Content Analysis of Sex Bias in International News Magazines”, asks, first, how often are women portrayed compared with men? Second, how often are men and women depicted in a sexual way? For answers, they looked at all the issues of five news magazines, including The Economist, in 2000, and the photographs in The Economist in even-numbered years from 1982 to 2000.

All the magazines studied contained an over-representation of women depicted in sexual ways. But The Economist, apparently, had more frontal nudity in its photographs than all the other magazines combined. When it came to “partial breast exposure”, it was at the top of the league. Particularly curious to the authors was our use of sexual content to illustrate stories on topics such as finance and technology. A photograph of three bikini-clad beauty contestants, used to illustrate a story on financial regulation, with the caption “Pick your regulator”, was both emblematic and problematic.

As for myself, I love The Economist. Since Reason’s demise, under the editorship of Nick Gillespie, The Economist is the most prominent classically liberal magazine in print and a personal favorite of mine. I hope it stays that way.

Update: For a different view of The Economist, look here. I generally agree with Cass, but not this time. The Economist is a British magazine and they can toot their own horn a bit if they want. We do the same. They can similarly be critical of America and I won't be bothered by it up to a point. It's worth noting, on the article she quotes, that they have said many favorable things about the U.S. higher education system in the past and have used it to criticize the British system for relying on too much government funding.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

Re: Reason: “Demise” might be a tad strong (though The Economist is infinitely preferable); however, I do find it interesting that my Reason subscription somehow goes through 2006, even though I’m certain I haven’t renewed it any time recently.



You may well have a point, however this particular article was poorly reasoned, in my opinion.

The whole ‘dynastic’ argument vis-a-vis politics was just plain silly: we’ve always had our political families (as has England) – notably they didn’t bother to mention the Kennedy’s (funny how liberals never do :). Pardon me… your bias is showing. And what about the Roosevelts? Come on! The Adams family anyone? Open a history book, please. I’m about as poorly educated a person as you’ll find for God’s sake and I could’ve done better than that. I was a housewife for 20 years – if I can see the flaws in that transparent, anecdotally-based case, it must be pretty threadbare. I expect better from professional journalists.

And I read that article at 4 am and their numbers weren’t hanging. I wish I’d had time to do some research. I know I blogged this back on Jet Noise and poked holes all over it. It makes me very angry when economists twist the numbers to serve a political agenda – on either side.

The Economist lost me over the WOT, I suppose – they’ve said several things that were indefensible and I guess I’ve never forgiven them. Ironically, I can forgive Reason for some ‘reason’ and still read it on occasion – it’s obvious at least to me where they’re coming from. Or maybe I simply expect less from them.

TE can criticize America, but in this case their criticisms weren’t even consistent and that was the crux of my argument. To say our educational system is too competitive is sheer idiocy – it is far less competitive than theirs and less competitive than it was in the past. That argument is false on its face and they fail to make the case. What’s wrong with our education system is precisely that it’s NO LONGER competitive with that of any other comparable industrialized nation. There were numerous other moronic things in the article, but I’ll stop here. I know I’m ranting :)

It just made me nuts because it didn’t make any sense, not so much because they dared criticise America. Criticise all you want, but try to make sense when you do it!


I’d say The Economist has generally been supportive of the WoT, although I have to say my reading of it has been less consistent as of late (I no longer have a print subscription, though oddly I still have online access to premium articles).

As for the education system, at least in terms of higher ed, to paraphrase Churchill, I’d say the U.S. system is the worst… except for all the others. K-12 is a different beast, some of which NCLB fixes (testing) and some of which is beyond hope barring a radical rethink; for example, I think the only way that public school investment in the South will be increased to decent levels is—paradoxically—by having a universal voucher system with amounts tied to public school per-pupil spending.


Chris, TE was initially very good about the WOT, but they really turned on Bush and Blair around last Christmas and became ankle-biters, and I lost respect for them.

I will admit to (perhaps) being oversensitive on this score. My husband’s a Marine. But many of their criticisms are just plain unjustified – and, worse, wrong. To someone sitting closer to the action, listening to people who are actually over there, they don’t know what the heck they’re talking about. My husband is not anyone important (except to me), but he truly does sit in the same room with the guys who are making the decisions on a lot of this stuff. Yesterday he briefed 6 guys whose names you would all recognize instantly. They all think the stuff they read in the papers is crap. And they’re fed up. And that includes the Economist.

There are legitimate criticisms of how the war has been handled. My God, there always are. But some of the sniping is just beyond the pale.

On education, K-12, my boys went to school in the South. The only way they got a decent education was a combination of parental prodding, my correcting their homework (their teachers certainly could not do it), about 1/2 private school, some home school, and an extremely aggressive reading program. The standards are so low it’s frightening. I think vouchers are great – only way to get around the white drain from the public school system which, sadly, seemed to be the only reason parents ponied up for tuition when we lived in Beaufort SC.

Only time I pulled my boys out of private school and home schooled. That’s not why I put my kids in private school – not the lesson I want them to learn.



They were stronger supporters of the war on terror, including Iraq, in the beginning and considered Saddam a good starting point. They have become a bit disillusioned as things have progressed; they expected it to be done better. Even so, they have never, to my knowledge, suggested that we are evil for having done what we did. Nor are they hoping for our defeat.


Your point on higher ed is well taken. The Economist was looking at our university system as compared to their own and liked that most of the funding is private, when you consider endowments and the income they generate. In Britain almost all of the funding is state funding and it shows. The schools offer limited opportunities and the artificially low tuitions don’t separate the people that want to be there from those that do. Their main compliment for the U.S. is that we have a range of universities that are suitable for teaching a wide range of people. Unfortunately, many of the students aren’t ready for university study, but that’s another issue.


I agree with you there, Robert.

They wrote a few broadsides a while back implying (or saying outright) we’d been misled into war, and that’s what I find hard to forgive. I still think they’ve been too critical, but that’s just my opinion – it’s not like I’m always right or anything :)

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