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Why are The Economist’s writers anonymous? (economist.com)
192 points by vit05 on Apr 2, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments

From an economic viewpoint, this also means that the brand value of the articles remains with the masthead rather than the individual authors. This commodifies the authors and makes then more fungible.

Being The Economist, I am sure they are aware of this.

The Economist has so good quality that I don't think they consider their writers fungible.

The Economist has so good reputation that just being one of the 75 staff journalists creates lasting value for the journalist. Other journals find it important to mention that X.X was previously writing for The Economist.

The Economist is just one of the handful magazines worth of subscribing.

I've never found the quality of articles in The Economist to be particularly good. They're often very broad summaries of a situation lacking any particular depth, combined with a fairly banal analysis that seems to restate the current consensus opinion. The analysis can be pretty wrong, particularly for stories that are less talked about in the West (one where it's harder to simply summarize the current consensus opinion).

The do seem to have a fairly wide breadth. But given a particular topic, I'm likely to learn much more from an in depth article from most mainstream sources than from an article in the economist.

It's funny, I sort of agree with your description, but entirely disagree with your judgement. What you describe is in my view enormously valuable.

For a given article, I often think: Well, that's a pretty accurate description of the situation, the main points of contention, and some opinionated conclusion (maybe with a divergent viewpoint thrown in, but not always).

Sure, it's often some young kids from Oxford's PPE (Philosophy, Politics, Economics) programme writing the articles, but they've learned a bit at school and they have access to the best experts. That's what makes it so valuable in my view. I would not call it "banal", but then, I don't necessarily want great originality in my newspaper either.

And, mind you, the articles are typically just one page. That's a pretty good achievement for one page: get the best expert's condensed opinion on a topic.

As an equivalent, think about any info sec topic, and imagine someone sitting down with tpacek for an hour and then writing a one-page article about it. Even if they have not much clue about the topic, the article might be pretty informative, particularly for one page. Yeah, you can go and read hacker news for months or read Schneier's blog and books and the info sec stuff in depths - but most readers of The Economist don't have the time for that.

Providing a concise, informed overview (and view) on a broad array of important topics is what The Economist is good at.

Lastly, while I rant, they do have longer articles ("Briefings") and thematic clusters of articles ("Specials"), which give deeper insight.

When I want to wet my finger and stick it up and see which way the wind is blowing, I'll read The Economist for that week. If you go into it with that mindset it's less easy to hate on it, but harder to see why it's held up as a pantheon of Journalism.

I agree that they summarize the current consensus opinion. Cancelled my subscription years ago and rarely read a few articles once and a while. I prefer reading articles where the author's conflicts of interest are clearly disclosed.

Not sure what you mean - The Economist is often opinionated, but they lay out their arguments and don't hide their agenda. I find it much more palatable than the "he said, she said" or "opinions diverge on the shape of the earth" type journalism.

I highly doubt they consider their writers interchangeable with writers from the rest of the marketplace. However, if the writers themselves are anonymous, all social capital (reputation, respect, etc.) generated by the article goes to The Economist. This maximizes The Economist's brand while also removing any chance of a writer building up their own brand on the site and then taking some of the reader base with them.

On the other hand, there is no such thing as a free lunch (if there was in this case and this policy was so great for the Economist, why don't all publications whatsoever insist on anonymity?), and all journalists who might work for the Economist are well-aware of this editorial policy; so they have to pay the price either in offering higher salaries to compensate for the lack of brand-building, or accept fewer/worse hires.

It's a curious policy and highly unusual, so I have to wonder if it's a good idea at all. The usual arguments for anonymity online seem to only questionably apply here. There's a lot to be said for people writing under their own names - accountability, for one thing.

Very few other papers are in the same position as the Economist. They have brand that has exceptionally good reputation.

"There’s only two ways I know of to make money: bundling and unbundling." https://hbr.org/2014/06/how-to-succeed-in-business-by-bundli...

We have seen the great unbundling of content. TV stations, cable channels, publishing houses, newspapers were giving way to blogs, you-tube etc..

Recently I start wondering whether the pendulum is swinging back. Netflix, Medium and in particular the recent discussion of distribution networks for ads which provide funding for the long tail.

Not just that, should the author not have the choice as if they wish to remain anonymous, choose a pseudo name, etc. The choice is simply not there.

> The main reason for anonymity, however, is a belief that what is written is more important than who writes it.

Important for whom? The writers? The readers? The advertisers? The company?

The readers could care less. The company probably and maybe the advertisers. It's more or less saying that we speak as one voice rather than many diverse voices. So I guess it also implies very strong editorial control. Which means it's the voice of the owners and its advertisers than voice of a diverse set of writers.

From my understanding, economist is owned by their employees, and a holding company[0]. The holding company has no voting shares and the employees have total editorial freedom.

So it's voice is actually of the writers first and foremost. It's really kinda cool considering that they're one of the most successful print meadow companies in an age when most are struggling.[1]



It is not clear anywhere how much is actually owned by staff. A share owners include families like Rothschild.. B includes Exor which recently bought from Pearson . Both groups control 7&6 board seats respectively..

>Important for whom? The writers? The readers? The advertisers? The company?

>The readers could care less.

On the contrary - many people with entirely valid points have been told to go pound sand because of their "distasteful views" in completely unrelated topics. The readers very much do take note if the writer is Stephen Hawking or Alex Jones. They don't care as much if it is Stephen Hawking writing on personal hair product or Alex Jones doing a history article on chewing gum. "Hawking is probably right and Jones is probably wrong." without even reading what they have to say, based on nothing but who they are.

Anonymity detaches preconceived notions from the article. Instead of instantly dismissing any points - no matter how valid - because of who said them the points can stand or fall on their own merit. Bad arguments are bad arguments - no matter who says them. Likewise for good arguments. But people's personal biases will accept bad arguments from people who often say things they agree with and dismiss good arguments from people who say things they often disagree with.

The choice is in taking the job as a writer for the Economist.

It avoids ad hominem attacks over decent independent research.

Maybe you don't want to read Peter Theil's view of how the tech sector will change in America even if it was a spot on analysis

By the same token, the authors were also aware of this before taking their job with the Economist.

In a weak sense, the authors are commodified no matter what, just as any other worker is. As a proletarian, he must sell his labour-time (by the hour, week, month, year...) on the market to the bourgeoisie, his labour-time being the only thing he can sell, in order to make enough to survive.

The rest of the time when they are not at work, the authors 'recharge' in order to ready for more work and to keep motivation for working. In this way, the worker's entire life during the course of employment 'belongs' to the employer; in fact arguably the time when the worker is most valuable to the employer is when he is maintainig himself, just as the employer must maintain a machine from wear and tear, the worker is able to maintain himself from wear and tear and the employer doesn't have to pay a dime more for it.

I don't think that's true for authors who are not anonymous.

I used to read Matt Levine when he wrote for Dealbreaker. I now read him on Bloomberg and rarely visit Dealbreaker.

It is somewhat ironic to analyse The Economist's labour relations in Marxists terms.

Of course, the worker can choose to put a portion of their income into assets that generate income, and build wealth.

It's good if some workers are fortunate enough to be able to do this while working for wages, though many do not have such an option either by the need to support a family, paying off debt or the wage is not great enough to be able to invest any of it.

One's wealth has little relevance to the theory of worker exploitation, alienation and commodity fetishism. You can be a rich worker but still be exploited in the Marxian sense. You can be poor but still be an exploiter. One's wealth has little to do with the relationship to the means of production, unless that wealth comes in the form of private property upon which wage labour can be employed.

The fact is that "pulling up by the boostraps" is not an option for many people, and if it were it does little to stop systemic poverty, destitution and the need to sell labour-time very cheaply.

What do you propose to fix this system?

This is a comment that seems to pop up quite a lot in discussions of the capitalist status-quo. (Often in a more confrontational manner, unfortunately.) I want to point out that having a solution is not a prerequisite to talking about the problem - if that is what you were implying - that is getting things backwards.

That's certainly true, although it would be helpful to offer some suggestions or somehow try to convince the audience that there might be political alternatives.

If a reader believes that the current system is the best system possible, than these politically-charged complaints sound as futile as politically-charged complaints about being unable to exceed the speed of light.

Abolishing wage labour, which I believe can only be done via putting the means of production and land capital (i.e in totality private property) in control of and ownership of the workers (i.e all the workers) collectively. The creation of direct democracy councils (with delegates subject to instant recall) each with completely voluntary participation. No council rules over any other council. The workers use the collectively owned machinery and resources, and take home the product. Those who do not work get nothing, unless having prior entered into agreement with a council for charity. Workers may form groups in which each person's products are 'pooled'; the distribution of these is decided democratically, for example workers may agree to give 10% of their product, or the whole surplus product to the elderly or infirm. Though this is just an example.

Managerial positions are of course kept (as managers are wage labourers too), the only difference is that there isn't someone at the top to collect surplus labour.

This is otherwise known as anarcho-Communism, or some variant of social anarchism. I am reading into communalism too (Bookchin) and the question of how those in service jobs can own their labour is an interesting one, I'm not aware of the current research on that.

The one thing I like about The Economist is that it in a world in which everything is clearly left or right leaning, The Economist has a diversity of opinions that makes reading it actually interesting. I think the fact that the name of the writes is anonymous helps a lot in that feel that it's a diversity of opinions.

As an economist subscriber, I would say that it does not present a diversity of opinions at all. It presents a unified world view based on libertarianism. I read a nice satire once that pointed out that according to the economist there is no problem that couldn't be solved without lower taxation, more deregulation, and more free trade.

I love the economist, but If you want balance, you'll need to read alternative sources that provide a more (dare I say it) compassionate viewpoint.

Also as an economist subscriber :P, I agree that its not really a diversity of opinions. Its never going to write a pro-brexit article, for example, nor ask for less trade/protectionism.

But I would hesitate to call it a libertarian perspective. Its a very "traditional+behavioural" (I do not have a better word) economics point of view. Its "pro free-trade", and generally socially liberal, and sure, it argues against various taxes, but I believe it called out house price bubbles pre-2008, and I think it would generally be in support of environmental regulation (it is not global warming/environmentally skeptic), some kinds of financial regulation, and probably pro-socialised health care.

Coming from a european persepctive (as in, the economist is a distinctly european/british magazine), its probably a fair bit more skeptical of american capitalism and libertarianism than might otherwise be assumed.

I'd argue the Economist generally doesn't stray too far from the neoclassical synthesis (i.e. what most would generally call 'mainstream' or 'textbook' economics).

Just a small aside: if someone is sceptical that climate change is occurring, logically that should not indicate how they view environmental regulation in general (in cases where they agree some environmental harm is occurring). I realise this might not always be the case in reality. If someone tells you they don't believe climate change is occurring because they oppose environmental regulations, it's a pretty good indication that they're full of it.

I think most people who would say they "don't believe climate change is occurring because they oppose environmental regulations" doesn't actually mean that exactly. They probably mean that they don't trust the scientists who make claims about climate change because they believe that the scientists are politically motivated to push for more environmental regulations.

>But I would hesitate to call it a libertarian perspective

Yeah, there are plenty of examples of The Economist advocating for regulation, the most obvious being gun control in America.

It's fair to say, I think, that the Economist represents the distillation of much globalist/elite thinking.

Possibly a bit ahead of it. I think they were more critical of austerity than the global "elite" consensus (and a bit closer to the actual economists' majority opinion).

Yes, true - not diversity of opinion, they speak "with one voice". But pragmatic and not partisan, say.

This is wrong.


1) You don't know what libertarianism is

2) You don't read the economist very closely

3) You meant liberalism

Given you think that the economist dogmatically believes in less tax, regulation and trade barriers, it seems more likely you don't actually read the newspaper very closely.

Take healthcare in US for instance. The economist consistently favours more government intervention and higher taxation with a single payer health system. Just taking one example from the current Europe editor (I think): http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2013/09/he...

> In fact, government intervention is often necessary in order to bring comprehensibility to a bewildering private landscape.

Sorry, that should have been "neoliberalism", but it is true that the economist is also libertarian to a great extent.

Yes, I do think the economist is dogmatic. If you think it isn't, you probably don't read very widely.

> dogmatic

Disagree. They certainly hold several positions very dear, and you might say axiomatically, but I'd say because they've proven to be fruitful.

And they have changed their mind (sometimes reluctantly) on some issues, such as austerity.

Yeah. The Economist is pretty squarely located in the [British] political centre

I was going to say that it's center right, but Brexit has made me realize that Britain's center is more to the right than I realized.

It's just that the "left" has abandoned its traditional place (supporting the Brexit) and sided with the large neoliberal elites in favor of their preferred bureaucracy that is the EU.

The Economist is largely in support of regulation to fight climate change, attributes some countries' economic woes to their governments being too weak (rather than too strong), supports a social safety net including retraining for workers affected by trade, thinks austerity in parts of Europe has gone too far, etc. They're also frequent critics of central banking policy, from the viewpoint that central banks should take certain actions in certain circumstances. They've written approvingly of QE, for example.

Their viewpoint reminds me of my economics professor. What is good is what leads to the most economic growth, which is a question the science of economics can address. Welfare has a role. Regulation has a role. Monetary policy has a role. Education has a role. Healthcare has a role (people may remain in situations of suboptimal productivity to maintain health coverage). All can be done poorly, but all must be done well to have optimal productivity. Principles like comparative advantage and supply and demand are largely reliable, and should guide policy. The market will get most things right, and for the rest, government should manage the externalities. Government can have good reasons to impede business, but the benefits should be in line with the costs.

It is the Economist, after all. Free trade being a good idea is uncontroversial among academic economists. So yeah, you aren't going to see them in favor of protectionism. You will see them represent a wider diversity of opinions on monetary policy, in accordance with its not being so much of a settled question.

They support a much larger role for the state than the "personal responsibility"-thumping, climate-change-denying Republicans in Congress, and are certainly far left of the you're-not-the-boss-of-me Bitcoin-thumping internet libertarians.

There really ought to be a pithy expression that simultaneously conveys the ideas of 'a breath of fresh air' and 'sanity'.

This is a pretty good summary of how most economists working in the public service tend to view the world too (at least in my experience). It's unfortunate that public discussion of economic issues has become so politicised and disconnected from reality. We seem to have reached the point where many believe the word 'economist' is a synonym for 'libertarian demagogue'. Either that or economists are thought to be 'those guys that trade shares for a living'.

However, it does seem like there's an awful lot of these libertarian 'economists' running around the internet nowadays...

"A breath of fresh sanity"

When in doubt, portmanteau the idiom.

"thinks austerity in parts of Europe has gone too far, etc."

This is significant editorial change of heart. The Economist was a loud, regular voice in favor of austerity policies for many years. That it has written critically of austerity programs in 2016-17 is great, but it's something of a Damascene conversion for the paper.

They changed editor. Micklethwaite stepped down and he was replaced by Zanny Minton Beddoes, who apparently has rather different political views ...

Maybe, though a more charitable interpretation is that more and more evidence came through for more Keynesian view points. There was the discrediting of the R-R paper, there was more and more papers critical of austerity coming out of the IMF of all places, etc.

As Keynes is reputed to have said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

The Economist is not named for the profession, though.

> Free trade being a good idea is uncontroversial among academic economists.

Yes, with the caveat that the theoretical argument in favour of free trade (say, in a Heckscher-Olin 2 countries, 2 goods, 2 factors model) depends on compensation to the losers of trade, i.e. redistribution, transfer payments.

That's what turns it (theoretically) into a Pareto improvement: you go from no trade to free trade, then compensate the losers in both countries, and then still have cloth and wine left to distribute at will.

Also, less naive and more realistic models make it all much more ambiguous and complicated.

At any rate, even the simple Econ 101 model says: free trade is unambiguously good, if you tax the winners and give to the losers... and that second part is often conveniently forgotten by some, because "free markets" and all.

Free trade is unambiguously good in terms of maximization of total utility. Don't the Econ 101 models say something that there might be specific losers, but overall it's still a net win?

If Burger King opens a new restaurant, should McDonald’s be compensated?

I honestly don't understand how anyone that actually reads the economist can agree with the satire "according to the economist there is no problem that couldn't be solved without lower taxation, more deregulation, and more free trade". Lowering taxation in particular doesn't seem to be on the agenda much at all; in fact they've run several pieces arguing for more taxation (the argument being that tax is relatively efficient) instead of alternatives. Similarly, they regularly advocate for (some) regulation too - but that doesn't mean they don't also make the argument that many regulations are ineffective or costly. Even on the topic of free trade, they occasionally point out the risks of uncontrolled trade; although they clearly favor free trade.

Sure; their viewpoint has a focus; you'll get a different story elsewhere. But I don't see this as a kind of adversarial "us" vs. "them" issue: it's not that they're misleading you or even avoiding confronting other sides of the story; it's just that the world is a large place: not all topics can be in scope, even if several viewpoints are valid and partially in conflict with one another.

You present the unified world view a little as if the focus on (e.g.) free trade is a bias that can be misleading; I suggest the alternative metaphor: it's more like the dentist reminding you to brush your teeth. You may not want to hear it, and he's a like a broken record, and it's not going to tell you much about how to cook, but that doesn't mean the dentist is wrong or trying to hide the importance of cooking from you.

If there's a preconceived notion underlying the economist, it seems to be that its worthwhile to think of benefits and costs to society overall, and not just to individuals. Whether that's right or wrong is largely a matter of ethics; I doubt we'll ever know what's "best".

Obviously, no newspaper is perfect; they will misjudge some things, some time. But so will you and I. Do you know of an outfit that appears to be less biased?

Actually, the recent issue about Trump's presidency is actually quite critical of Trump's attempts to repeal environmental regulations. The Economist certainly likes free trade, but it seems to have a better grasp on the problems of externalities than the typical "the market will take care of the pollution problem" libertarian outlook.

Actually, they often ask for more taxation in developing or emerging countries.

I'm a long time subscriber to The Economist. While the authors are very adamant that free markets are the best solution to most problems, I don't think any of them would consider acceptable a system that didn't provide universal health care and free public education as the U.K. does. While some would consider them libertarian, others would call them socialist.

The Economist could certainly live with Singapore's system---which is different from the UK one.

As someone who reads The Economist occasionally, you are mistaken about this diversity of opinions idea, but I think I understand why you are mistaken.

The Economist is very straightforwardly a British/European liberal (not in the American sense of "liberal") publication that is economically and socially liberal and strongly internationalist in its outlook.

It will almost always recommend lower tax burdens, reduced business regulation, reduced trade barriers and membership of the EU, UN and NATO, privatisation of nationalised industries, and reduced moral policing by the state. However, it will admit, reflecting a British political consensus, that government intervention and regulation is invaluable in areas such as health, natural monopolies such as energy and transport, moderate levels of income redistribution through the tax system, social safety nets in the event of economic downturns or disability, or with national or international threats such as climate change were government coordination is indispensable. Sometimes they will admit that the power of the state is the only way to get things done, and so they aren't strictly dogmatic about their pro-market credentials, but if there is a viable path for leaving something alone they will advocate for it.

If you are an American reader this combination of issues may seem to fall across a lot of political boundaries, and so its novelty makes it seem diverse. In fact, this combination is a fairly straightforward centre and centre-right view of policy in the UK and much of Europe.

Edit: Some people seem to be suggesting The Economist is Libertarian. You are mistaken - it is liberal.

In the American political climate, the only people advocating something like traditional liberalism are the libertarians. And libertarianism is, roughly, exaggerated liberalism.

I know personally I identified as a left-libertarian and then realized that classical liberal was a more legible way to express the same positions.

The problem is that a lot of US libertarianism is Koch-brother-financed astroturfing for the right (such as the Institute for Humane Studies, etc.).

So, I'd think that your left-libertarian position is somewhat rare, and most libertarianism is of the right variety.

Classical liberalism is a much better term, in my view. And mind you, Milton Friedman himself advocated for government intervention in many cases (natural monopolies, externalities, maybe even asymmetric information, not sure).

Not really. The Kochs put some money into the tea party (not ideological libertarians) and some small-government think tanks, but the Libertarian Party and most of the people who'd call themselves libertarians aren't really connected

Thanks for saying that. There is this prejudice that they're right leaning, but for fun I've pulled up their US presidential endorsements:

  1988: None
  1992: D - Bill Clinton (vs George Bush)
  1996: R - Bob Dole (vs Bill Clinton)
  2000: R - George W. Bush (vs Al Gore)
  2004: D - John Kerry (vs George W. Bush)
  2008: D - Barack Obama (vs McCain)
  2012: D - Barack Obama (vs Mitt Romney)
  2016: D - Hilary Clinton (vs Donald)
They have fairly progressive opinions on health care, climate, government regulation in general, civil rights, drugs, prostitution, etc.

Yes, market friendly, sure, but well aware of the limitations of markets and the importance of good regulation - you bet.

The Economist is diverse across red and blue lines. That said it does publish from a unified worldview. From my perspective it's libertarian.

Slightly off the topic: having worked with them on an article, I will say they are an extremely rigorous newspaper. They check every fact and sentence to an obsessive degree.

I guess the subscription fee pays for this degree of professionalism. I was impressed enough that I immediately bought a subscription.

I would love to hear more about your experience working with the Economist, please, do share them!

The American author Michael Lewis has criticised the magazine's editorial anonymity, labelling it a means to hide the youth and inexperience of those writing articles. See https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/1991/10/-quot...

More recently Katrine Marçal [1]:

> Most people who manage to get inside the Economist-tower quickly realize why the magazine does not have bylines. The writers all seem to be in their 20s. If the reader knew that the article about the ECB that made him sell his government bonds was written by a newly graduated philosophy student from Oxford who shares a flat in Hackney with four bloggers, he'd choke. The cocksureness of The Economist comes from the debating style taught in the British elite universities, where students are trained to pick any topic and quickly argue one side of it.

[1] http://www.dn.se/nyheter/varlden/katrine-marcal-det-ar-dags-...

The premise being old and experienced authors can't make mistakes.

I don't think that's the premise at all. I think that if you read the voice of the Economist, it puts on an air of long experience and an expert level understanding of whatever topic is being covered. The magazine plays up its very long publishing history, for instance (since 1843!).

But behind that facade is a kid not long out of Eton who probably is working at his very first job.

And there's nothing wrong with that. But the magazine is not upfront about it. In fact it intentionally hides it from its readers.

It's the same game that consulting firms and I-banks play, where they bring in a partner to shake some hands and then all the real work is done behind the scenes by a 25 year old recent graduate with an elite education but no experience, working 80 hours a week and sleeping under his desk.

> And there's nothing wrong with that. But the magazine is not upfront about it. In fact it intentionally hides it from its readers.

I generally agree with your analysis of the Economist's staff, but I wouldn't say they intentionally hide the fact that their writers have little expertise to draw on. It's like an inside joke that anyone who cares to research their editorial practices knows. I still enjoy reading the magazine from time to time, knowing full well that what I am reading about Southeast Asian demographics might have been "researched" by talking to a friend whose girlfriend just returned from a holiday in Cambodia, and just chuckle when I read an impressively argued assertion that I know is superficially true but doesn't mean what the author thinks it does.

If you wanted to put out a news magazine as thick as the Economist and actually have everything in it properly researched and written by knowledgeable experts, it would probably either cost $50/issue or, more likely, go bankrupt. So instead we have a magazine that does its utmost to aspire to that ideal, but is actually written by 23-year-olds sleeping under their desks - as you say - who do write some rather good stuff, but also a lot of total baloney. It's half educational and half entertainment - and the fun is figuring out which half is which.

This isn't uncommon. In law, clerks often write the opinions for judges. In the best case, it's like a mentorship. If you think your favorite opinion or turn of phrase by a Supreme Court Justice came from them, you'd be surprised. Speechwriting for politicians is similar.

That's a good point. I know a couple of political speechwriters, and while they're both very smart, they're not experts on anything besides how to write a good turn of phrase. Sometimes they have access to very good research in crafting their narrative, and sometimes they are just making things up as they go along.

That's a brilliant summary. To that I'd like to add that in addition to the girlfriend returning from the holiday in Cambodia, our young Economist artiste also has access (by virtue of the standing of the newspaper) to the greatest experts in any field.

That, and the model of lots of eager youngsters overseen by a thinning pyramid of progressively more experienced people, as in consulting or investment banking, seems to crank out some pretty good results.

They're not hiding anything and it's not a game. They have a policy that it's the quality of what's written, not the credentials of the writer, that matters. If the quality of the writing is such that the image projected is one of super experienced, highly credentialed writers, while in fact it's written by someone who not, that's surely a good thing?

It depends what you mean by quality. The perceived image of writers doesn't come from what they say, but how they say it along with with the status they start off with (e.g. it's the Economist). Readers don't scrutinize anything that they already agree with, and as far as the linked article is concerned, some don't even qualify as readers.

> I think that if you read the voice of the Economist, it puts on an air of long experience and an expert level understanding

I think it's the content of a text, not its label, that displays understanding and experience. Arguing only experts should be writing for X because it puts on an air of expertise is getting causality backwards: a publication gets its reputation from its work.

The Economist is not doing mathematics or controlled, replicated experiments. Any given reader can't meaningfully check the work of a news organization for its relationship to the truth, except to see whether it aligns with what you already think. If you are not an expert in economics or international relations, who's to say that what you already think is more accurate than what you read in the Economist? Maybe you can check the particular arguments given for minor points, but not for "does this accurately portray the facts on the ground?" or "would a subject matter expert find this claim reasonable?" The latter can be false, for example, when something is plausibly argued and technically correct but missing the point.

Reputation and credentials are important because reading something like this is an act of trust. It matters whether the source is competent and trustworthy. However, I don't think it's a problem for the trust to apply at a publication level rather than an individual author level. Editors are a thing.

If you already know whether or not the Economist is correct about something, what value are you getting from reading it?

Proxy indicators.

The economist writes on topics on which I am an expert. It writes on many topics on which I am not. The topics on which I have expertise I find to generally be (a) reasonably well-written, and (b) incorrect within the recognizable error-margins of "well researched, clearly spoke to a lot of people that knew their shit, didn't see much in the way of terrible mis-comprehensions."

That's better than the vast majority of published material on the topics on which I have expertise. I take that as a proxy indicator of the quality of information in the remainder of the magazine. It's not particularly known as being expert in My Topic, so if they handle that well, the rest is reasonably unlikely to be trash.

It can, of course, be trash, and this doesn't guarantee any particular piece of writing isn't, but on the whole, I think my conclusion is reasonable.

> That's better than the vast majority of published material on the topics on which I have expertise.

Exactly my experience on topics I know - the author probably spoke to several experts, has enough grasp of it that he can meaningfully excerpt and summarise their opinion, doesn't make silly mistakes, and most likely has the stated facts absolutely right.

> The Economist is not doing mathematics or controlled, replicated experiments. Any given reader can't meaningfully check the work of a news organization for its relationship to the truth, except to see whether it aligns with what you already think.

If that were true, it'd be one more reason not to try to give credence to unfalsifiable publications by linking them to experts of various fields, or even editors-who-once-took-a-course-on-T.

But I think it's not true at all. The thought process on most publications like Economist is one most people can follow for its validity, precisely because it's not state-of-the-art mathematics (or even economics). Even though the domain experts can immediately judge its correctness, I think it's important for anyone to be able to at least identify when they're reading something they can't verify as correct, and not take publication X's "word" for it.

> Editors are a thing.

Editors are there to make sure the news piece conforms to certain standards, but that's not the standards of the readers.

> If you already know whether or not the Economist is correct about something, what value are you getting from reading it?

That was nowhere near my point, and I don't see why you base your comment around it. My point is I am (or want to be) able to read a piece and judge it on its own, rather than who wrote it.

No the premise is simply that young writers wouldn't get respect, and who would disagree?

Why does the Economist republish its own articles on a different subdomain with a current dateline?

This one is dated 27 March, but it has a link right at the bottom to the original, from 5 September 2013: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/09/ec...

They occasionally republish historical articles when they think they become relevant to current events. For example I think around the table me of the Brexit vote they published an article from the years Britain voted to join the EU.

In this case the article is more an 'About Us' piece than news or commentary. I've seen it come up several time so I think it my actually be a permanent part of the site.

From what I understand, it isn't really anonymous. People who care, know who the writers for each country are. At one point I knew who covered each country in the middle east, I've since lost interest / forgot, but it was openly discussed in media forums.

Indeed. This has nothing to do with hiding the authors.

There are, traditionally, two sorts of newspaper articles: the quick, half-page max Who/What/When/Where, and the longer pieces based on weeks of reporting, being exclusive etc.

The former are anonymous or have the author's initials only. It's considered an honour to get one of the latter published. Those are also written differently, allowing for more of a personal voice.

As it happens, The Economist has a strong focus on the first kind of article–only the editors get to gave fun when they add the photo captions.

Compare to The New Yorker, or Foreign Affairs, or the Rolling Stone where it just wouldn't make sense to publish articles without names.

Plus they have an online directory of their editorial staff and correspondents.


Because that's how they've done it since 1843. So there.

That was the norm then:

> The debate over the [US] Constitution ... was done almost entirely through pseudonyms. Most writers, on both sides of the question, chose to conceal their names from the public, as was the custom in the late eighteenth century. A free press, one of the most essential principles for the founding generation, was presumed to include a right to anonymity.


Various contemporary views and practices concerning copyright and attribution are fairly recent constructions.

Prior to the introduction of moveable-type printing to Europe, ~1440, and excepting the Classics (Greek and Roman works), authorship and authority were not particularly highly considered. Without the means to cheaply reproduce and sell works, authorship wasn't a key concern. There were ~30,000 volumes (as in books, total, not merely titles) in all of Europe in 1400. By 1500, 20 million, and approaching 1 billion by 1800. Literacy and costs (in wage hours) also changed tremendously, rising (from ~5-10% to 90%+) and falling (from ~$0.5 to $1 million modern equivalent, to perhaps a few dollars for a work) as well.

"Moral rights" of authorship are a French tradition, though I'm not certain of the date of origin. Modern copyright law dates to 1709 and the Statute of Anne.

"I'll write under a pseudonym and you'll see what I can do to him!"

I mean, the Federalist Papers "fifty-one!" sequence would probably have made a better refernce, but they're not too explicit about the pseudonyms there.

The explanation started off with occam's razor: it's tradition. Then morphed into occam's butterknife: some complicated rationalization.

They have no bylines and cite no sources. It's the combination of the two that bothers me. Still I generally find it an entertaining read.

They cite institutional sources on facts all the time. The rest is analysis, for which they are the source.

There's generally one piece per issue on some recent element of economic scholarship. This generally does mention the article in question.

Contrast with, say, The New York Times, which to the best of my knowledge entirely fails in this regard, even when specifically discussing scientific or medical research "a study", and author(s) names are about as much as you can hope for), and I'll nod slightly to The Economist.

I ran across a Los Angeles Times piece a few months back which rather pointedly did reference several sources, with hyperlinks. A practice I applaud highly.

It's a downside for me too. I've caught errors and had no one to report them to.

They run a letters to the editor section every week.

Economist ownership: "The publication belongs to the Economist Group. It is 50% owned by the English branch of the Rothschild family and by the Agnelli family through its holding company Exor. The remaining 50% is held by private investors including the editors and staff" source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Economist


It's not being hidden. The ownership of the Economist Group is is disclosed on its website[0]. And it's on Wikipedia.

It's not "owned" or controlled by the Rothschild family: they own some shares in it, which don't give them control.

> [The Economist Group's] articles of association also state that no individual or company can own or control more than 50% of its total share capital, and that no single shareholder may exercise more than 20% of voting rights exercised at a general meeting of the company.

[0]: http://www.economistgroup.com/results_and_governance/ownersh...

How is it related?

I've always like this aspect of the economist. It also protects individuals from state bodies that disagree with their views.

Good point. Think Thailand with their Lèse-majesté laws, etc.

I respect the no bylines approach. But using initials on the website is a misleading feature, if, like they say, these aren't disambiguated between different authors. If you have four staff members with "J.P.", I'd suggest using JP1, JP2, ...

Google "former Economist writer" or "former writer for The Economist". These people go on to do significant, impactful work in their fields. Writing for The Economist is for a writer what clerking for a judge is for a lawyer.

>Historically, many publications printed articles without bylines or under pseudonyms — a subject worthy of a forthcoming explainer of its own — to give individual writers the freedom to assume different voices and to enable early newspapers to give the impression that their editorial teams were larger than they really were.

Was that the only reason? Wasn't there something about preventing writers from building their credibility and fame then negotiating higher compensation? Is there something about it today?

The greatest disadvantage of this is that sometimes they publish (repeatedly/often times) stories with provably false 'facts'. Since there is no byline, there is no 'single' person to hold responsible or call out for the false reporting.

That's not a bug, it's a feature. The institution takes the blame and bears the good and bad of its reputation. Firing the "bad egg" is never enough on its own, anyway — the existence of a bad egg is proof that the institution itself needs fixing.

Right, there's no individual to scapegoat, so the entire "The Economist" institution puts a portion of their credibility on the line with each article they publish.

The Economist articles often provide opinions. By being anonymous there is also none of the public/social shaming that goes on, like what happens with Peter Thiel.

I get that but there has to be a balance. Both Brian Williams and Judith Miller were in my opinion justifiably held to account for their false reporting and I believe that helped improve the fact-checking in those news organizations. Sometimes reading the Economist, the articles come across as downright condescending

Sorry, are you saying they "repeatedly/often times" publish "false facts"? Can you elaborate?

I'm sure they've made the occasional mistake (though my understanding is their fact checking is exceptional), but "repeatedly/often times"? Really?

The editor.

(Unfortunately, that makes the editor's job that much harder.)

The editor's job should be hard though.

It seems like this practice is more common in the UK than it is in the USA. I noticed back in 2007 that gaming magazines Edge and GamesTM also didn't give author credit (http://popularculturegaming.com/?p=272 ). Some time around 2014 Edge changed their policy and started giving bylines.


A friend who works in banking says that around the office, they call it the e-communist, because of its left-leaning stances.

I will echo one of my favorite comments on this site: "Left of whom, Darth Vader?"

I don't know too much about Star Wars, but is there anything that actually indicates Darth Vader would be politically right-leaning? The empire could very well be authoritarian-left.

Does GP's friend also think that the National Review is too friendly towards the Clintons?

Not really: http://www.economist.com/node/1873493

Leaders tends to lean more conservative than the full reports in the rest of the paper. And it's not entirely hidebound. But the paper certainly knows its biases.

The Economist is basic neoclassical nonsense dressed up as nuance. I wouldn't want my name on it either.

What would you want your name on then?

Your opinion reflects a common prejudice, but I don't think it holds up when you read it occasionally.

I'd be interested in recommendations for an article that isn't rooted in neoclassical thought.

I assume you mean neoclassical economics with its focus on markets, efficiency, utility and profit maximisation, etc., and its assumption of full information.

First, I'd say that The Economist's stance these days incorporates Keynesian thought, and as such might be closer to the neoclassical synthesis, but I'd argue it goes beyond that.

At any rate, below are some articles just from the last week or two that are somewhat more progressive, or touch on aspects that neoclassical economics tended to ignore.

Maybe you'd like to highlight some articles that are off target by being rooted in neoclassical thought?

* TE applauds Sesame Street for introducing a character with autism (https://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2017/04/ok)

* TE criticises proposals for "extreme vetting" at US immigration (http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2017/04/not-so-smart)

* TE writes about slow improvements in mental health care in India (http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21719808-suicide-rate-rem...)

* TE laments Trump's attacks on the UN (http://www.economist.com/news/international/21719467-preside...)

* TE writes about global poverty, and notes that "India and countries like it need proper welfare systems", and "A broadly poverty-free world, but with sad, durable exceptions, is not good enough." (http://www.economist.com/news/international/21719790-going-w...)

* "US proposed budget cuts would be bad for environment" (http://www.economist.com/news/international/21719466-and-sig...)

Some older articles:

* "Happily, despite Mr Schäuble’s macho rhetoric, the pace of tightening in the euro zone is slowing." "the world needs fiscal policy driven not by faith [in austerity], but by reason." (http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21565211-debate-about-...)

* "A decent deal would have put Greece on the path to sustainable growth and taken the prospect of Grexit off the table. Instead, Europe has cooked up the same old recipe of austerity and implausible assumptions." (http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21657806-deal-between-...)

* TE argues against "the war on drugs" (http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21650112-one-war-drugs...)

* TE on information asymmetry, and in favour of fiduciary duty (http://www.economist.com/blogs/buttonwood/2017/02/who-guards...)

Because people who start with economics to provide commentary on social issues need some anonymity to express themselves freely. Economics is the dismal science, and you don't want to have a face associated with the sourpuss who keeps giving everyone these dismal reminders.

Yeah–almost as bad as these sailors who thought they could write a magazine! I have no idea how they can comment on the news happening mostly on land when they're out there in "The Atlantic".

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