It doesn't get any better than that. Well, maybe World Peace would be nice...
But to The Economist such matters were far from mysterious; they were quantifiable, they could be compared and contrasted with other periods in history, tested against theories, and many gallons of ink could be exhausted discussing their causes and consequences. Arguments were constructed, defended, and sustained or vanquished. It was weirdly exciting to read. After trying to wring even basic comprehension out of the starvation rations offered by the newspapers, reading The Economist was a bit of a guilty pleasure. It felt as if some careless adult had accidentally let it slip into my hands, and I held the recipe for a brew of terrible power.
Since then (I was fourteen), I've done a bit of growing up, but sadly it seems that the venerable Economist has been simultaneously diminishing. This is most obvious when the topic of politics comes up -- and it always does. The great sages that write for the weekly can't seem to avoid swallowing both their feet.
For more a century and a half, The Economist has been championing its brand of classical liberalism -- free trade, civil liberties, representative government, and cultural pluralism -- on the theory that these ideas work in concert to bring about the greatest prosperity for all. Broadly speaking, they are right on the money. Where The Economist goes wrong is when they try to ascertain which politicians agree with them, and therefor for which politicians should they cheer. Here, they are but babes in the woods. You see, politicians lie about what they believe, the rascals! After 163 years in continuous publication, The Economist remains innocent to this sad fact.
To me, the rather shocking naiveté of The Economist is most apparent when they cover America. Perhaps they are uniformly naive, and I am merely detecting the divergence from sound thinking where it is most obvious to me. The mistake isn't in their data or their research -- they do a great job there. The mistake happens long before any data has been collected, articles written, or rebuttals penned. It might sound something like this: "My good man, what party supports free trade? Oh, goodness me, of coursre. The conservative party! Who's the conservative party in your little country? Oh, jolly good. We'll write some nice articles about them."
In 1922, that might have made some sense. The conservatively-aligned Republican Party, for example, once stood for free trade, civil liberties, representative government, and cultural pluralism. That was back when they were the party of Lincoln, emancipation, and unfettered trade. It may come as something of a shock, but a few things have changed since 1922. By 1980, the last "liberal" principle the Republican party stood for was free trade. But instead of curtailing the government's meddling in the private sector, Ronald Reagan presided over a huge expansion in government subsidies, in the form of peace-time defense spending, financed with borrowed money. Our current president is cut from the same cloth -- though while Reagan's voodoo economics was a suit that no self-respecting economist would don, George W. Bush is its clippings.
Nevertheless, The Economist earnestly cranks out article after article supporting the Lesser Bush. Why? Because Bush says he's for small government, which is about as close to professed support for free-market capitalism as you're going to get from conservatives nowadays. Oh, sure, he's against all those other important principles for which The Economist stands. When it comes to wiretapping millions of innocent Americans, torturing people, imprisonment without trial, gerrymandering, the injection of religion into law and jurisprudence, massive deficit spending, undermining science, corruption, and blowing hundreds of billions of dollars on subsidies to his personal favorites among industry, George Bush is your man. But he says he's for small government, so The Economist swallows their pride, and frequently their feet, and stands by their man.
This week, for example, their article on immigration appears with the following byline: "George Bush is successfully wooing public opinion to his balanced proposals for managing immigration." If the polls are any indication, George Bush isn't wooing anyone. The reality is that his own party is furious that he isn't planning on the mass deportation of illegal immigrants (as the article goes on to mention), and everyone else seems to be wondering if his immigration plan is the result of a relapse into alcoholism.
To his credit, George Bush is consistent about one thing. When hurricanes destroy American cities, he's more than happy to let "the market" sort things out. When it comes to disaster recovery, George Bush steadfast in his efforts to keep the government out of people's lives.
In conclusion: Dear Economist, I'm very sorry to tell you this, but politicians lie. They even lie to you. I know it's sad. Please don't cry. It's OK. We understand that this comes as a great shock, but try to be strong. We're all here for you.
"For this reason, it has disturbed and saddened me that there appears to be a nasty dust-up between Howard Dean and a number of gay organizations and individuals. Dean's comments on the Christian Broadcasting Network disavowing support for the civil rights of gay Americans are a betrayal of our core values as a party. We are the party for Everyone, and that includes gay folks.
"The Democratic Party has enough trouble defining its message as it is. The one thing is has been clear about is that it stands up for folks who are otherwise very vulnerable.
"If Dean wants a message to give to Christians, how about this: 'The Democratic Party isn't afraid to stand up for the weak, no matter who they are. Christ's compassion encompasses all people, and we endeavor to emulate that.'
"Please, for the sake of our party, make peace with gay activists. For the good of the party, gay activists may need to make themselves somewhat less visible, but this pressure should be applied quietly, respectfully, and in private.
"I am neither gay nor a gay activist, but these folks are part of our movement. It is important for the Democratic Party to embrace gay rights, as long as it is clear that gay people are AMONG the MANY vulnerable groups we protect."
Explain to them that AT&T staked its fortune on the idea that it makes sense to charge more for certain kinds of information, and that it makes sense to charge per-minute. The fruits of this idea are obvious. Despite the fact that AT&T started out with the only nation-wide network of sufficient size and sophistication to act as a (stupendously profitable) modern data carrier, their commitment to the pre-World War I era concept of non-uniform pricing and per-minute billing instead drove them into decline and irrelevance. AT&T was once a powerhouse of American innovation, but its leaders failed to understand the basic economics of their own business. By basic, I mean that applying a small lesson from a high school economics class would have permitted them to save AT&T. They could have just picked up a text on economics, and looked up "network economy" in the index. But they didn't, and as a result, one of America's greatest enterprises crashed and burned, taking tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of capital along with it.
So, now AT&T wants to repeat the great success they've had in the last 20 years, but this time with the entire American information economy.
No thank you.
I couldn't march today, but I wanted to show a bit of solidarity with those who did.