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KAO: 'The Economist' is corporate propaganda

Column: Left on Red

In 2017, The Economist gave away free meatless burgers in a bright red truck. 

You could even get a special subscription deal to the newspaper (it is not a “magazine”): 12 weeks for $12 — for cash-strapped college students, doubtless. Tempted by free food, but also the allure of The Economist, long lines formed. The brand of The Economist is three things: sharp, connected and above all, British. With its patrician air — the articles do not carry bylines, a holdover practice from the 19th century — the paper enjoys a formidable reputation. But from its founding, The Economist has been a vehicle for the capitalist elite.

In “Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist,” Alexander Zevin has written an excellent intellectual history of the publication. Zevin focuses his analysis on the relationship between The Economist and the ideology of liberalism, and what he demonstrates is the incestuous relationship the Economist has always had with the ruling class of the U.K., and subsequently the U.S. The Economist was established in 1843 to lobby against the protectionist Corn Laws, a cause championed by free-trading British liberals. 

Even at this early stage, the paper found space in its pages to cheer on the Second Opium War, complain about the movement for a shorter working day and denounce relief efforts for the victims of the Irish Potato Famine. Given its tendency for punching down, it is no wonder the Economist counted among its subscribers some of the most powerful members of British society. 

Though its circulation was not great, its influence was. In the 1940s, an editor bragged that Franklin D. Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, Manuel Azaña, Heinrich Brüning and Adolf Hitler’s finance minister had all been subscribers. Though its subscribership has increased to 1.6 million today, The Economist still retains its elite audience — as of 2009, the median household income of its readers was $166,626. 

No less a figure than Karl Marx identified The Economist as the organ of the “aristocracy of finance.” The Economist is a proud exponent of “classical liberalism,” prescribing laissez-faire capitalism as a universal remedy. In service to this ideology, The Economist has consistently defended the prerogatives of the owning class to do as it pleases with its capital and praised governments which facilitate this goal. 

The paper was an ardent member of the cult of Margaret Thatcher, praising, among other things, her assault on the working class and the deregulation of the financial markets. During the 2008 financial crisis, The Economist hollered for the publicly subsidized bailout of the big banks, with no strings attached. The cruel fiscal austerity of former British Prime Minister David Cameron, ultimately responsible for 120,000 deaths, was greeted with enthusiasm from the paper. Behind the mask of refined Britishness, The Economist wears a cold sneer for those not in the 1%. 

The Economist has also been a tireless promoter of imperialism. Since 1843, the Economist has maintained an implacable hostility toward any who would challenge the hegemony of the West. Naturally, the paper was opposed to any measure of autonomy in Ireland, or for that matter, any of Britain’s colonies, and supported the crushing of any protests or rebellions that cropped up in the empire. 

During the Cold War, The Economist’s tendency toward reflexive pro-imperialism came to the fore. Having transferred its attention to the new American superpower, the paper could not find a CIA-sponsored coup it disliked. Committing a flagrant breach of journalistic ethics, The Economist ran a foreign policy bulletin through which the CIA would launder its talking points. 

As a stenographer of propaganda, The Economist played a significant role in the lead-up to the 1973 coup d’état in Chile, with its correspondent Robert Moss filing dispatch after critical dispatch against Left-wing President Salvador Allende. After the coup that resulted in Allende’s death, “Moss danced down the corridors of The Economist chanting ‘My enemy is dead!’,” Zevin wrote. The Economist lost no time in endorsing coup leader Augusto Pinochet, whose murders of political opponents were conveniently ignored by Moss and his editors. 

Though Chile was the most egregious example of the paper’s apologetics for U.S.-supported coups, it was not atypical. In Guatemala, Nicaragua or any other country in the Global South that crossed the U.S., The Economist always espoused the American line. So much does The Economist esteem the U.S. security state that it supported the Iraq War in 2003 and the Saudi-backed war in Yemen, wars that have resulted in thousands of deaths and untold human suffering.  

One Twitter user memorably called the Economist “Highlights for Finance Bros,” a fitting indictment of a bien-pensant, right-thinking or orthodox, publication whose specialty is bootlicking. Just last week, the Bolivian army forced President Evo Morales to resign — a coup, if there ever was one.

In a move that should be familiar by now, it was stated that “the armed forces spoke up for democracy and the constitution,” according to The Economist

Samuel Kao is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in history. His column "Left on Red" runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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