Former Economist Editor Lambasts Bagehot Columnist


Guido has been chronicling the decline of The Economist and in particular the once revered Bagehot column for some time. This week’s copy has a letter to the editor from a former editor-in-chief of The Economist, Andrew Knight and Charles Moore, the biographer of Margaret Thatcher. It is a a corker on the subject of a recent Bagehot column on “Thatcher Undecomposed”. They are not impressed…

The full letter is worth reading, it tears apart the contradictions, oversights and mistakes in the column. The conclusion alone is pretty damning:

What one looks for in Bagehot’s newspaper is analysis, rather than generalising replete with attitude. Leaving aside his protracted expression of dismay over Brexit and Euroscepticism (the “flames” of which Thatcher wickedly “fanned” with her Bruges speech), Bagehot’s overall conclusion is an odd (in your pages) mercantilist sally. His Little-Britain lunge is that Thatcher’s free-marketry has left Britain “the Wimbledon of global capitalism, more successful at hosting world-class players than producing them”.

Thatcherites should celebrate that metaphor. Wimbledon: a great global tournament in the heart of British suburbia creating lots of jobs; lots of national prestige; lots of exciting visitors to the grass courts; lots of competition. Lots, in short, of the levelling out, the subsidy-less prosperity, the excitement, enjoyment and fun of the very sort she (and the original Walter Bagehot) would have relished.

That today’s Bagehot can be accused of mercantilism shows how far The Economist has strayed from and is betraying the free trade cause it was founded to further.

Somehow this letter to the editor only appears online and not in the print edition. Fancy that…

The full letter is reproduced below:

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The Economist: Celebrates 175 Years – with Steve Bannon

The Economist is celebrating it’s 175th year of publication with a paen to liberalism in the form of an essay. It is a bit of navel gazing combined with dollops of self-justification. Editor Zanny Minton Beddoes admits in her essay that The Economist has become the in-house journal of the liberal elite, what Steve Bannon calls “the party of Davos”. No institution is immune to intellectual fashions, the newspaper has in Guido’s lifetime championed Keynesianism, then neo-liberalism, and now the ‘Washington Consensus’. It has of late become overly preoccupied with climate change and whatever else concerns the faddish Davos crowd. The irony of The Economist, which was founded in 1843 to champion free trade, free markets and limited government, being on the wrong side of the argument on Brexit, in thrall to the EU and the thousands of tariffs that protectionist bloc enforces, is striking. Never mind the ambitions of those in Brussels for a pan-European super-state rigidly regulated from the Black Sea to the Atlantic.

On immigration Zanny admits for liberals “it is not too wide of the mark to caricature their views on migration as more influenced by the ease of employing a cleaner than by a fear of losing out.” Not a single democracy has escaped pain from uncontrolled mass migration, no politician can ignore the votes of those who have to compete with newcomers, the so-called “deplorables” in America and working-class Brexit voters in Britain. Almost all Western democracies have tired of fast migration. On this Zanny recognises reluctantly that “in the short run, liberals risk undermining the cause of free movement if they push beyond the bounds of pragmatism.” She proposes reform of the rules for refugees, despite accepting that in reality most immigration is driven by economics.

How adrift the current editor of The Economist is from the founding principles can be seen with her support for Universal Basic Income – putting everyone on the dole, disincentivising work. She cites a modest proposal for America to introduce a “UBI of $10,000 a year” which she admits “would require a tax take of at least 33% of GDP”, to be paid for by more disincentivising wealth taxes. So much for limited government.

One could go on, Steve Bannon did at their recent shindig. Judge for yourself how Zanny fared:

Happy birthday to The Economist…

8 Jobs Osborne

Job number eight for George: he will be advising Exor, which owns Juventus football club and has stakes in Ferrari and Fiat. Even more of interest is has a 43% stake in The Economist magazine. Those jobs in full:

  1. Washington Speakers Bureau after-dinner speaker
  2. Adviser to Blackrock
  3. Chairman of Northern Powerhouse Partnership
  4. Fellow at McCain Institute
  5. Editor of the Evening Standard
  6. Economics professor, Manchester University
  7. Visiting fellow at Stanford University
  8. Adviser to Exor

But what job does he really want?

Cliffe Quits ‘The Radicals’ After 12 Hours

12 hours after setting up The Radicals, the Economist’s Jeremy Cliffe has hilariously quit the party:

It is also clear from the — entirely unanticipated — scale of this unplanned experiment that taking this forward would not be compatible with my job as Berlin Bureau Chief for The Economist. But I do not want this remarkable network to go to waste. So having spoken to a number of supporters this morning I am arranging to hand it over to a committee in Britain that might, if it opts to do so, advance the Radicals to a next stage. Details of the committee will follow soon.

The shortest lived political movement in history?

Economist Journalist Sets Up New Pro-EU Party

You know how it is, it’s 10pm, you’re a self-important Economist journalist sitting on Twitter, and you decide to set up a new political party to stop Brexit. Berlin correspondent Jeremy Cliffe, a former intern to Chuka Umunna, says he has the plan to make Britain the world’s largest economy within 18 months: reverse Brexit, join the Euro, join the EU army and make Ken Clarke the next European Commission president. Other key manifesto pledges are to share Trident with Germany, raise inheritance tax and move Britain’s capital from London to Manchester. Don’t laugh, he’s actually serious… 

He says he’s humbled and reckons he has thousands of votes in the bag already:

He’s gone full Chappers. You never go full Chappers.

Brexit and The Economist’s Lack of Intelligence Unit

It is now pretty much established consensus that humbled pollsters are having great difficulty calling votes. The pundits – particularly those at the FT and The Economist – are still ever so keen to sound authoritative on Brexit when it is their house editorial line, rather than the objective study of all factors, that is so clearly what determines their analyses. The Economist has a research and analysis division which claims to be a world leader in global business intelligence – the grandly named Economist Intelligence Unit or the “EIU”. As well as offering subscribers research updates it also does consultancy for corporations who want to know what is going on in the world. The EIU says “our knowledge of economics, politics and socio-demographics is second to none. If you need to see into the future, we can help.” Using “bespoke modelling and scenario analysis” the EIU “can provide country, industry or market scenarios based on expert judgement, modelling” so, “if you need to understand how a country or industry will respond to an event… we can model that too.”  Corporations pay good money for the research and expect it to be reality-based rather than just journalists’ wishful thinking…

Guido has got hold of the EIU report for Britain dated June 28, 2016, five days after the referendum result. On politics it forecast:

  • Our baseline forecast is that Boris Johnson—the former mayor of London and one of the leaders of the “leave” campaign—will succeed David Cameron as the Conservative Party leader and prime minister… Theresa May won.
  • This process will commence with the triggering of Article 50 of the EU treaties to begin the exit process; we expect this to happen by the end of 2016. It was triggered in March 2017.
  • The Labour Party is mired in an acrimonious leadership crisis. We expect that the party’s hard-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will be ousted, and/or that there will be a formal split. Jezza’s not going anywhere. Labour isn’t splitting.
  • They also predict a second referendum will lead to a “jump in support for UKIP.” That remains to be seen.

On the economy EIU forecast:

  • They expected a contraction of 1% in 2017 (compared with 1.8% growth previously) as a slump in domestic demand pulls the economy into recession. UK GDP is on course to grow 1.9% in 2017. No contraction. No recession.
  • They forecast the number of those in work to fall by hundreds of thousands. More people are in work than ever…
  • They gloomily forecast a rapid deterioration in the fiscal position, falling tax revenues, increasing unemployment. None of which happened…
  • They predicted the US Federal Reserve would have to hold interest rates. The Fed raised rates.
  • The EIU predicted anxiety-driven declines in world stock markets, “When an event promises to strip 6% of GDP from the fifth-biggest economy in the world, it is harder for the rest of the global economy to grow as quickly.” Brexit “will ensure that the global economy continues to underperform its potential for at least another two years”World stock markets have rallied strongly post-Brexit.

The EIU predicted that by next year unemployment will rise by 380,000 and GDP will fall by 6% compared to the pre-June 23 baseline. The authors of these EIU reports are what the brilliant Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “IYIs”, “Intellectual Yet Idiot” academic no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalist-insiders. That class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy League, Oxford-Cambridge education who enjoy telling us what to do. Academico-bureaucrats who are self-described members of the “intelligentsia” who can’t find a coconut on Coconut Island. A year after the Brexit vote the Economist Intelligence Unit has proven that it doesn’t know the right end of a stick.

Economist Endorses LibDems in Epic Brexit Whinge

The Economist prides itself it being “not read by millions” and true to form they have endorsed the party on 7% in the polls. Their backing for the LibDems is a hugely enjoyable Brexit whinge:

“No party passes with flying colours. But the closest is the Liberal Democrats. Brexit is the main task of the next government and they want membership of the single market and free movement. (Their second referendum would probably come to nothing, as most voters are reconciled to leaving the EU.) They are more honest than the Tories about the need to raise taxes for public services; and more sensible than Labour… against a backward-looking Labour Party and an inward-looking Tory party about to compound its historic mistake over Brexit, they get our vote.

Backing the open, free-market centre is not just directed towards this election. We know that this year the Lib Dems are going nowhere. But the whirlwind unleashed by Brexit is unpredictable. Labour has been on the brink of breaking up since Mr Corbyn took over. If Mrs May polls badly or messes up Brexit, the Tories may split, too. Many moderate Conservative and Labour MPs could join a new liberal centre party—just as parts of the left and right have recently in France. So consider a vote for the Lib Dems as a down-payment for the future. Our hope is that they become one element of a party of the radical centre, essential for a thriving, prosperous Britain.”

The FT managed to stay reality-based, the Economist not so much. Bit sad what they have become, really.

Corbyn’s Economist Jibe Backfires

After yesterday’s Economist front page attacking Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn saw an open goal:

Provoking this response from the Economist’s Britain editor:

That went well.

Compare and Contrast: Economist on Cameron and May

On the left, The Economist on Dave a few months after he became PM, mocked up with a mohican with the headline “Radical Britain: the West’s most daring government”. On the right, The Economist on “Theresa Maybe” this week: “Britain’s indecisive premier”. The Economist might be Remainer whinge-fest at the moment but the new Number 10 has failed to kill this narrative in its first few months…

Economist’s Peerless Fact Checking

economist lords

The Economist are excitedly promoting their shock revelation that some peers have done bad things, with a mugshots of five criminal “current members of the House of Lords“.

Just one problem.

Charles Nall-Cain, the Third Baron Brocket is not a member of the House of Lords, he’s an excluded hereditary peer. Economical with subbing stories…

Economist Backs Tory-Led Coalition

“Mr Miliband believes that living standards are squeezed because markets are rigged—and that the government can step in to fix them. He would freeze prices while “reviewing” energy markets, clamp down on the most flexible “zero-hour” labour contracts and limit rent rises. Along with this suspicion of private markets is an aversion to competition in the public sector, leading to proposals for, say, a cap on profit margins when private companies contract to provide services for the NHS.

Mr Miliband is fond of comparing his progressivism to that of Teddy Roosevelt, America’s trustbusting president. But the comparison is false. Rather than using the state to boost competition, Mr Miliband wants a heavier state hand in markets—which betrays an ill-founded faith in the ingenuity and wisdom of government. Even a brief, limited intervention can cast a lasting pall over investment and enterprise—witness the 75% income-tax rate of France’s president, François Hollande. The danger is all the greater because a Labour government looks fated to depend on the SNP, which leans strongly to the left.

On May 7th voters must weigh the certainty of economic damage under Labour against the possibility of a costly EU exit under the Tories. With Labour, the likely partnership with the SNP increases the risk. For the Tories, a coalition with the Lib Dems would reduce it. On that calculus, the best hope for Britain is with a continuation of a Conservative-led coalition. That’s why our vote is for Mr Cameron.”

Paving the way for the FT?

New Bagehot, New Danger

JEREMY-CLIFFE-BAGEHOT

Guido fears the sad decline of The Economist will continue under the new editor – the new Bagehot columnist is Jeremy Cliffe, currently the UK politics correspondent. Undeniably a bright boy, he is after all a former Harvard Fellow, graduating from Oxford where he studied modern languages specialising in the Marxist literature of Spain and Germany. A spell in Brussels interning for the Party of European Socialists led to him working for Chuka Umunna and briefly on the “David Miliband for Leader” campaign. Guido reported some controversy a couple of years ago when it was suggested that Andrew Rawnsley was plagiarising Cliffe’s writing – something Rawnsley angrily denied. Last week Cliffe wrote that the Conservative Party was “a party simply not grown-up enough to deserve/win a majority.” We shall see in a few weeks if this is a great insight or just the hope of Chuka’s former intern….

economist

Jeremy Cliffe will, as is traditional, get to sign off his column as Bagehot. The real Walter Bagehot of course studied mathematics and moral philosophy, called to the Bar aged 26 he chose instead to work in banking and shipping. He then founded the National Review before becoming editor of The Economist for 17 years. During which time he famously wrote “The English Constitution” and “Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market” from which we derive the “Bagehot Dictum”. A dictum which two centuries later still guided central bankers to provide liquidity to solvent banks in the 2008 credit crisis. Bagehot’s accomplishments were enviable.

To be fair to Jeremy he tweets a lot and presents occasional BBC Radio 4 documentaries, the latest of which suggested we should take Russell Brand seriously. No further questions m’lud.

Economist Needs New Free Trade Friendly Editor

economist-editor

John Micklethwait is leaving the Economist for Bloomberg. Generally perceived to have succeeded in meeting the digital challenge under his editorship, the highly profitable publication throws off cash by playing on the insecurities of the business class in the same way that Cosmopolitan plays on the insecurities of women. The magazine prides itself on being for homme sérieux. In a dumbed down globalised world it remains the premier business magazine. 

economist

Business affairs editor Zanny Minton Beddoes, US editor Robert Guest and foreign editor Ed Carr are said to be frontrunners for the top job, MediaGuido has no idea as to their respective merits. In the 80s the newspaper – it styles itself thus despite being a magazine – was on the cutting edge of the Thatcher-Reagan revolution. Which was as it should be for a publication founded to support free markets and repeal the corn laws.

Nowadays it is editorially in thrall to the fashionable guilty billionaire class that throngs to Davos, adding to global warming with all the hot air they release. This international elite wants to conserve the stable managed form of globalisation that has served them more profitably than a dynamic free trading world order would. Hardly surprising given that Micklethwait has been intimately involved with the organisation of the Bilderberg conferences for years. One example of how the magazine has politically lost its way, it endorsed Obama in ’08 and again in ’12 despite Mitt Romney being of their ilk and right on Russia being the primary geo-political foe. Obama ran on an explicitly anti-free trade ticket.

The next editor should perhaps come from outside, someone enthusiastic for more free trade rather than blocs of managed trade arrangements. The Economist is, like sister-paper the FT, weak on the deficiencies of the EU. An editor with a more realistic view of the EU could help change the mindset of the business class towards a more realistic appraisal of the EU. That would be true to the free trade roots of the Economist’s founding…

Rawnsley's Rehashed 'Research' Rumbled

Catching up with Andrew Rawnsley’s “award winning” column yesterday, Guido could not help think he had read the same points being made, with all the same examples and the same anecdotes, somewhere before. Rawnsley tackles the great North/South divide debate with a remarkable similarity to Jeremy Cliffe, the Economist’s UK politics correspondent, who wrote extensively on the issue in April.[…] Read the rest

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Economist Say No

20130322-084434.jpg Another day, another publication says no to Hacked Off. The Economist’s leader calls the Royal Charter “A Rotten Deal”. They are bang on the money:

“Society has a choice. If it values freedom from intrusion more than freedom of expression, it needs state regulation.

[…] Read the rest

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