Despite its erudite appearance, the Economist is a pit of closet anti-intellectualism and victim blaming.
Originally published at The Leveller, July 6th 2016
Consider your average Internet moron, the noble knuckle dragger who proudly thinks that any solution more complex than “lock them all up” or “deport the lot of em” is either an establishment coup, or gay. He likes to post comments on the Mail Online under a name like DEFENDER OF BRITAIN, even though his location is listed as Benidorm. He is a fine specimen of the ancient and dependable tradition of primordial Sturmabteilung idiocy, and he can be relied upon to keep his fuckwit credentials where you can see them.
On the other hand we have The Economist reader. He is not the most stupid person on the Internet, but he is the most disappointingly stupid. He sees a headline that asks “why aren’t millennials buying diamonds?” and doesn’t join in the ensuing laughter. He wants everyone to be serious. The article is, he thinks, a neat explainer for the problems of the diamond industry, highlighting that 18–30 year olds aren’t in the market for the precious stone because, well, they’re just prissy about conflict diamonds and ethical consumption and other namby pamby rubbish.
Unlike your common or garden online idiot, the Economist reader floats in the same lowly pool of cognitive sewage as his Express-reading compatriot, but he is convinced that his stunted intellect sneers down at the world from a vantage point of ineffable erudition. Ever since that first time he picked up that glossy red copy of the famed weekly, he’s been better than you. He is elevated, enlightened, and with his rationalism he will inherit the Earth. He never notices that he continues to swirl in the same dark pipes of flowing shit as Murdoch’s zombie horde.
The Economist is a deceptive pit of closet anti-intellectualism. Their brand is excellent, cleverly designed to fool business school wannabes into thinking that they are philosophers without ever having to over-exercise their tiny minds. They use their Facebook page not just to link to their articles but to post what are basically stylish memes, usually a quote by a famous thinker, writer, or politician, with the Economist brand underpinning it all. Show your friends how erudite you are by sharing a quote by Marcus Aurelius! You don’t have to bother reading Aurelius’s actual oeuvre — you are an entrepreneur after all, so you’re probably too important to have time for that.
The brand of the Economist exudes an air of assumed intelligence that makes its readers insufferable precisely because they have no idea that they are never truly challenged. “Why aren’t millennials buying diamonds?” it crows, and the moronic readership pompously thinks the words “why indeed” without bothering to approach the actual question. And so they can continue to hate the poor, feeling as if they’ve just armed themselves with new information to support their rational views, totally oblivious to the way their cognition merely adds another layer of rust to their already profound bigotry.
They’re part of the comfortably ageing set whose tedious yapping likes to remind millennials that we don’t know how lucky we are, with our smartphones and our easy access to quinoa and our Twitters and our Clintons and our skyrocketing cancer rates and our unaffordable housing and our mounting debts. Why aren’t we buying diamonds? It can’t possibly be because the financialisation of everyday life has liquidated anyone who doesn’t already own property in order to make it easier to chain them to debt peonage for the rest of their lives, so it must be because we’re fashion conscious whiners. Here, have a graph, you clever thing, you.
The quality of their writing is turgid with patrician language to convey its authority, but with a weirdly short sentence structure designed to bore itself as smoothly as possible into the cranium of a halfwit. The strutting claim to economics as a science is so absurdly over-pronounced they might as well wear a lab coat, and yet the level of real ontological inquiry is roughly equivalent to a geography textbook for 8 year olds. But it isn’t simply this vapidity, this karaoke performance of semi-scholastic public discourse, that makes the Economist such a dreadful black hole of critical thinking. It’s the cretinously bland regime it helps to maintain.
In the pastel crayon fantasy land that the Economist maniacally depicts as real life, the continued wealth of developed nations is the result of masculine derring-do, of a sense of fair play, and of good fiscal technocracy. They constantly hint with thuggish subtlety that capitalism’s ascendancy in the world outside Europe was not caused by 500 years of brutally bureaucratised free market fascism unleashed on races conveniently perceived to be inferior, so much as the inexorable machinations of nature itself. On the matter of economically essential reproductive labour being forced on women for those centuries without any real monetary compensation, their silence is deafening. Adam Smith’s musings about mutual self interest as the source of all wealth obscured his utter dependence on his mother, whose eternal toiling in the background was wageless; the Economist is unflinchingly loyal to this man-child tradition.
The magazine’s unreconstructed notion of capitalism-as-nature is usually injected stealthily, not trumpeted outright. How, for instance, do they explain men’s rights activism? They depict these men suffering together “in a dark, testosterone-filled corner of the Internet” — quietly horrifying because in the Economist’s make believe human jungle, rape is not a learned oppression to be fought but a biological impulse to be repressed. How do they explain black South African students tearing down public statues of the imperialist ‘heroes’ who reinforced the racialised inequality that still hobbles the developing world? They sniff that “the art-burners might usefully have spent more time in the library studying South African history”, the ungrateful wretches. When pain is caused by nature and not by politics, the victim is the one at fault. Unrelated: have you ever heard of the hut tax?
This is what makes the core of the Economist’s project no more intelligent or decent than some god awful Murdoch tabloid: it’s not there to encourage critical engagement with the world but to comfort readers into despising the oppressed. It’s dressed up nicely as a broadly liberal publication and will make boringly mathematical arguments in favour of gay marriage and against racism. But its centre of gravity will always be classical liberalism, whose proclaimed essence of objectivity and reason makes it necessarily a vessel for the obliquely authoritarian concepts of positivism.
The Economist insists with quiet psychopathy on the soulless supremacy of homo economicus as the singular model of human nature, and will contort through obsessive banality into somehow confirming it. In 2012 the welfare fraudster Mick Philpott murdered his six children in an arson attack on his own home, with some part of his logic appearing to be that it might have led to him being able to get a bigger council house. The Daily Mail ran the front page headline “vile product of Welfare UK” and argued, with extraordinarily dishonest and acrobatic reasoning, that it was precisely and mainly economic self interest encouraged by the structure of the welfare state which led to Philpott’s killing spree. The Economist argued against this scurrilous interpretation of the event, but only on the grounds that Philpott wouldn’t have made much money from it — not that Philpott is clinically insane, or that if it were human nature to murder our own children for profit it would happen a hell of a lot more during recessions. They attacked the specific argument about the specific case, but the deeply harmful and intellectually feeble core logic behind such an argument was left intact.
A vessel is by definition only a container and not the contents itself, and the Economist, having no real compulsion beyond being the rational toilet that holds the diarrhoea of capitalist instabilities, can become blocked thanks to its own inadequate mechanisms. Worse, it never thinks to reach for the plunger. What can be done to expel the rancid ideological farts caused by financial crises when all notions are equally valid for trade in the marketplace of ideas? They don’t support colonialism, but they don’t challenge the obvious inequalities of its legacy either. They don’t support feudalism, but the inheritance of private property is sacred. They don’t support fascism, but blaming the victims of liberal capitalism creates the kind of crippling self loathing that fascism claims it can resolve.
Ultimately the Economist’s intellectual gravity can be measured quite simply by the extent to which they love the bogus ‘anthropologist’ Steven Pinker. Somehow they have become convinced that Pinker is worth the oxygen he steals, despite no serious social scientist wanting to go near the man with a barge pole, purely on the grounds that he speaks to their utter lack of historicity and thinks that the current world system, at best in a state of severe disrepair, will last forever. The magazine slavers over Pinker’s vapid arguments about ‘human nature’ as an irrepressibly boring Bentham-inspired robot precisely because it comforts the stupid into believing that there is no need for them to lift a finger in the face of Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, the declining rate of return on capital investment in the West, global cimate change, or Bono. They can be politically lazy because Rome will last a thousand years. “If everyone just wants iPods,” Pinker told the Economist in 2011, “we would probably be better off than if they wanted class revolution.” If everyone just wants iPods, we might not have MPs murdered in the streets by apartheid-obsessed neo Nazis.
On the other hand, perhaps it makes a neat pyramidic order for the Economist to worship a fancy-sounding fraud and think that it makes them smart. It must make them feel closer to their readers.