Sunday, 16 August 2015

What I read each week

When people ask me the source of my broad general knowledge around economic and political issues, I reply that it comes from a third of a century of reading The Economist. I started when as an information officer at the Confederation of British Industry in the early 1980s; each week it would land on my desk and I'd flick through with - at that time - little more than a passing interest. Over the years, I found The Economist's style and argumentation more to my liking, as my political views matured. Since moving to Poland in 1997, it has become for me essential reading, a magazine I buy each week (indeed the only one I buy each week). Unlike many executives whose subscription copies lie in unopened piles, my Economist gets a thorough read over the course of the week, and over time that general knowledge builds up.

Last month, rumours began to fly around that following its sale of the Financial Times, its owner, Pearson, would be selling its stake in The Economist. When it transpired that the FT was being bought by a Japanese publisher, there was a general shrugging of shoulders, Rolls-Royce Motors and Bentley are owned by the Germans, Jaguar and Land-Rover by the Indians, so the transfer of ownership of the FT to Nikkei did not provoke much comment. But  it would be worrying were The Economist, said to be the UK's most powerful foreign-policy tool (yes, far more powerful than the BBC), slip into the hands of a rich and vain owner, determined to have such influence for himself.

But the worry was unfounded - Pearson owned a non-controlling 50% stake in the title, the rest was in the hands of - yes, four very rich and powerful families - the Agnellis, Rothschilds, Cadburys and Schroders, with the Agnellis' holding company Exor owning 43.3% of the Economist Group. Now, those families, in particular the Agnellis, have taken over the Pearson stake. And the fact that the editor of The Economist has been an ex-officio member of the Bilderberg Group, gives added ammunition for those who believe that the world is run by a small, secretive and self-selected coterie peddling its own sinister agenda. [To look at what can happen when a respected title gets into the wrong hands, read this.]

The Economist's influence is sorely needed in a troubled world. Though it is seen as a liberal (economically and socially) title, promoting deregulation and privatisation, it is far more nuanced than critics usually admit. Sustainability is also a core value, at its heart the sense that ever-increasing inequality cannot be good for the economy. The Economist realises also that modern free-market democracies function as well as their regulators let them. The role of the state is not questioned - just how efficiently the state functions. Corruption and rent-seeking are corrosive and at their heart stifle human innovation and hold back the individual's ability to make the most of their potential. Editorially, The Economist takes a more balanced approach than simple free-market fundamentalism.

Year on year, The Economists continues to extend its sales, its reach and thus its influence. Read by 5.6 million people around the world (mostly still the paper version, but with increasing digital readership), the title is a hit with policymakers around the world. From the Audit Bureau of Circulation:
The [Economist's] net audience totals per region are as follows:
  • North America: 3,389,433
  • United Kingdom: 501,343
  • Continental Europe: 648,959
  • Middle East and Africa: 94,411
  • Asia Pacific: 546,546
  • Latin America: 94,590
Its writing style is clear - but not for dummies. Elegant prose, often with a humorous touch, makes reading The Economist a pleasure. It also makes for the best material on which to polish your English. Most Economist journalists are Oxbridge graduates; if non-native speakers can learn to write like The Economist writes, glittering careers in multinational corporations await. Incidentally, the authors write anonymously. Standardising (not standardizing) on UK-English (labour, lift) rather than US-English (labor, elevator), The Economist does make one stylistic concession to its North American readership - dates are given as August 16th, 2015, and not the usual 16 August 2015 found in most British newspapers.

[Slightly off topic, but while talking about The Economist's circulation, I can report that sometime this morning, this blog had its millionth page-view since Google started counting in May 2010]

New features surprise and delight. The World If... and Science Brief have just appeared. Smartphone users wake up to the daily Espresso short news analysis clips. And online, there's many articles that don't make it into the print edition.

I buy the Economist at the newsstand wherever I am when it becomes available. This may be Warsaw, it may be London (as indeed this week). I travel a fair bit, which is why I've been reticent to subscribe and benefit from the lower issue price. There's nothing worse than walking past a brand-new copy at an airport newsstand on a Friday, passing on the purchase because you know it will be in your post-box the next Monday (or Tuesday). However, having a smartphone now gives me access to the content the moment it's uploaded (Thursday evening). So I have just now, for the first time, bought myself an annual subscription for paper version with full digital access for €226.

Incidentally, Pearson has divested itself of the two jewels in its crown - the FT and its half-stake in The Economist - to focus exclusively on its education business. Education business is like the brewing business. It can be done better, with greater passion, by people nearer the end-user. I do not foresee a happy future for Pearson.

This time last year:
Defending Poland, contributing to NATO

This time three years ago:
Balloon over Warsaw

This time five years ago:
Happiness, Polish-style

This time six years ago:
And watch the river flow...


Bob said...

I agree wholeheartedly with you about The Economist. Just think how much America would be, for example, if it was managed by he folks at The Economist!

student SGH said...

The Economist... A class of its own. I got familiar with the weekly back in times when "Student SGH" was not only my nickname; it was in late 2006. I am immensely grateful to my English teachers for making us read one of two articles each week - reading brought to us the unrepeatable style and rich vocabulary plus generally it broadened mind.

A pity my regular reading finished along with the end of my studies. These days I read articles from time and time and still appreciate what I hold most dear in thinking about economics - common sense and eye for nuances that matter.

The only week I have read week in week out is Polityka, not that focused on economy and politics as The Economist, but in terms of its liberal standpoint, the closest Polish equivalent of it. Both weeklies have seen better and worse days, yet they still deserve a read, at least because nothing else offers a reasonable alternative.

Michael Dembinski said...

Ah! I forgot to mention the appearance (online) of AT LAST Brussels is being covered by journalists who can write snappy articles rather than just copy-pasting tedious press releases. Brussels Playbook, and the newsletters on Energy, Healthcare and IT are all necessary reading for anyone with an interest in what's going on at the heart of the EU.