Friday, April 16, 2010

The Economist and authorship

The Economist is a good paper. It arrives once a week at my address and informs me about the world in ways that other sources of news do not. Best of all, since my roommate is the one with the subscription, I don't have to pay for it. Along with Harper's, it provides me with my morning reading material, a great way to start the day. The news section of the paper is organized geographically, each section of the paper focusing on a particular region of the world with special emphasis on more important parts (i.e. The US and Britain). But I won't be focusing on that in this post.

The Economist fashions itself to be the most reliable English language publication in existence, and this is evidenced by the tone of the articles: a little bit of objective reporting mixed with a hint of evidence and a generous amount of pontificating (the failure of newspapers is that they don't give enough advice). Anyone who doesn't believe everything he or she reads in the Economist is clearly A) stupid or B) a communist. But there is something else quite distinct about the Economist that differentiates it from other news publications. Seemingly in contradiction to the ubiquitous tone of partial objectivity is the obvious lack of by-lines. Clearly the articles are not all written by the same person (this would be physically impossible given the amount of text that is written every week) and so we may attribute this constancy of message to a super-vigilant editorial board. It is a commendable feat, no doubt.

But what are the effects of this innocuous omission? Eliminating authorial presence throughout the magazine (there isn't even an editor's column) is a grasp for objectivity that creates the whole bundle of glossy paper and staples as one document of solid, late-capitalist, Wall Street apologist, "market-interference" admonishing speech. It allows the articles to compress themselves into one message giving us the feeling that we are reading one long document. It also points toward the one organizing factor that we can look to: the title.

The Economist is not a magazine finally, but an imaginary person. He (letters published under the section called "Letters" always begin with "SIR-" clearly, despite there being no one to write to, he is clearly a man.), the Economist, is the voice of Economics. But not the economics that you learn about in Freakonomics, the economics of everyday choices, but the more important one that has to do with the way countries rule over their citizen/subjects, the way world markets efficiently respond to everyone's needs, and the criteria under which Germany may or may not come to the aid of Greece in an unprecedented European currency crisis. One man has something to say about all of these things, and, as we have already stated, his message is pretty constant and powerful.

The effect, ultimately, of this omission is to hide the fact that economics is NOT an exact science, nor is it a univocal one. There are many voices in this world that profess to know some things about the way the world works that are not published in this magazine. I guess my next goal will be to find some. Here's one: help me find some more!

1 comment:

  1. I have often puzzled over the lack of author credits within the Economist. To me it lessens the credibility of their (his) work. It is a wonderful and thought provoking publication. But it is also filled every week with writing which could very well be originating from and paid for by the very industry leaders which it supports.