The so-called Panic of 1866 constituted a landmark episode in modern financial history. Differently from other 19th century crises, it was triggered by specifically financial mechanisms, namely the failure of a discount house (Overend, Gurney & Co.) that had speculated heavily on railway stocks after the extension of the limited liability model for financial companies through the 1862 Companies Act. The event occasioned a confidence crisis in the British money market, thus leading to the consolidation, in practice, of the Bank of England’s role as lender of last resort. Contemporary observers realized very clearly the significance of the episode, and many of them strove to make sense of the phenomena they were witnessing. Among the economists who watched very closely as the crisis unfolded were Walter Bagehot, W. S. Jevons, Clément Juglar, and Karl Marx. Bagehot, in particular, was the editor-in-chief for The Economist at the time, and he duly used the periodical as a vehicle for expressing his views on the topic, and trying to sway public opinion in his favor. Although his ideas would appear more systematically in Lombard Street a few years later, it was Bagehot’s contributions to The Economist that provided the background for the debates about the crisis that took place in the British public sphere in the late 1860s. Several of the pamphlets published around that time made explicit mention to the views expressed in the newspaper in order to present their arguments, and Karl Marx kept extensive excerpts from its pages in his notebooks from the period. In this sense, the Panic of 1866 broke new ground also by turning print media into a focal point for public debates about money and finance. The aim of our paper is to explore the role of The Economist as a powerful catalyst in this process.
In 1873, Walter Bagehot published Lombard Street that advised the Bank of England to quell panics by lending freely at a high rate on good collateral. It is generally believed that the Bank of England and other central banks adopted “Bagehot’s golden rule,” thus ensuring financial stability in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Currently, his policy recommendation underlies many critiques of how central banks reacted to the crises of 2007-2009. This paper re-examines the first major threat to British financial stability after the publication of Lombard Street, the Barings Crisis of 1890. Previous financial histories have treated the Barings Crisis of 1890 as a minor or pseudo-crisis, with no threat to the systems of payment and settlement. However, the imminent collapse of Britain’s second largest merchant/investment bank was seen by contemporaries as threatening a general panic. Huge and highly interconnected, it was considered to be a “SIFI,” a systemically important financial institution. New evidence reveals that Baring Brothers & Co. was a deeply insolvent institution. Just as knowledge of its true condition was revealed and a panic was about to ignite, the Bank of England stepped in; but it did not respond as Bagehot recommended. Instead of waiting for the panic to break and then lending as advised, the Bank organized a lifeboat operation, drawing upon a model devised by the Banque de France, which had faced a similar problem in 1889. A financial crisis was avoided with no further impact on the real economy, while the design of the lifeboat and demands on Barings’ partners sought to mitigate the effects of moral hazard from this discretionary intervention. The Economist closely followed this crisis and, in contrast to the praise from most politicians and financiers, criticized this innovative operation, which became a standard form of central bank intervention into the early twentieth century. The response of banks—some published more information, some increased their liquidity, and some converted to limited liability—suggests that short-term financial stability may have improved though longer term gains may have been illusory.
As a key influencer amongst the global political and economic elite, The Economist played an important role in helping frame responses – both inside and outside the media – to the 2008 financial crisis. The proposed paper’s research seeks to locate The Economist’s coverage of the GFC within the broader context of its reactions to various other crises, including those of 1873, 1929, and 1987. In considering similarities and differences between the 2008 crisis and its antecedents, it is intended to offer insights into the author’s wider research aims surrounding the ongoing implications of the GFC. These focus in particular on the relationship between orthodox neoclassical economics and neoliberalism, the resilience of both in the wake of the crisis, and the media’s role in influencing, promulgating and legitimising political-economic frameworks.
An important focus of the study will consider the extent to which The Economist’s editorial responses and recommendations in the chosen case studies contributed to, respectively, influencing public policy, and being adopted as such. It is anticipated this will deliver insights into both the influence of the publication at an agenda-setting level, and contribute to the body of research tracking the changes in its prominence over time.
The underlying premises of such research are important in part because of the rising currency of arguments put forward by the likes of Aeron Davies. These take the view that the media’s role has been impactful, but that this has been achieved through the articulation of a narrative that is oriented towards elite influence, rather than the elucidation of the public. In sum, Davies argues the media’s most important influence has been ideological and cultural, disseminated at the elite rather than public level.
Davis’ account is focused mostly on describing how those with a stake in financialisation seek to push their interests, partially facilitated by the media’s provision of cultural discursive networks. These groups, he contends, have “played a supportive role in developing a number of key discourses in general support of financialisation and neoliberal, free-market economics,” as well as particular narratives justifying irrational or unstable trends in regulation and investment. While the financial press did not create these discourses, he suggests, they did “endlessly circulate them, rarely subjected them to critical scrutiny, and frequently presented them as unquestionable realities,” ensuring that critics became marginalised and policy choices were “limited to those that fit with an ideologically narrow interpretive framework.” A similar claim is made by Paula Chakravartty and Dan Schiller, who suggest that economic journalism was “no mere reflection[,] but a constitutive element of the crisis.” In this context, the position occupied by The Economist thus represents a central focus for the extension of research agendas in this arena.
Covering the burgeoning debates around decimalization and metrication in the 1970s, The Economist wrote that metric measures ‘offer a more rational set of yardsticks’ (28 Nov, 1970) The publication, like the rest of the country, somehow found it difficult to shed its links with tradition even as it firmly supported metrication. Nevertheless, it reported a growing national apathy to change of any sort: ‘it says a lot about the sort of people we are in danger of becoming’ (21 April, 1973).
In the post-war period, the government formulated a metrication program in mid-1960s. Contemporary discourse suggests this was done at the behest of British industry. Following a series of well-publicized surveys, industry associations pressed the government for a firm policy and in the late 1960s they got just that. The tumultuous period of the 1970s saw severe political challenges to metrication, especially from the general public. Although closer ties with Europe proved a catalyst for such challenges, the discourse was also shaped by the fears that this policy was fuelling the inflation following currency decimalization in 1971.
This paper examines the metrication controversy between c1960-80 covered by The Economist. Using literature on frame analysis, it uncovers how publication ‘framed’ its coverage of the developments and discourse on this issue. It examines the extent to which the newspaper situated the controversy within contemporary concerns such as economic decline, accession to the Common Market, rising inflation, and so on. Finally, it draws some comparisons with how the subject was covered in other publications such as Financial Times.
The paper draws some conclusions about the relative salience of various frames informing the discourse on metrication both in the lead up to the policy and following its implementation by successive governments. It evaluates how The Economist presented the effect on various constituents. It highlights the newspaper’s position on Europe, globalization and the government’s handling of crisis and economic change. It stresses the importance of analysing public discourse and reflects on the role of media in shaping it.
On 1st August, 1914, the Economist greeted the outbreak of war as ‘the financial calamity which has suddenly overtaken Europe and the world… (inflicting) a series of blows such as the delicate system of international credit has never before witnessed, or even imagined’. It was written by F. W. Hirst, then editor. Described as ‘distressingly pacifist ,’ he was succeeded in 1916 by Hartley Withers, author of popular investment guides, and a tireless advocate of war savings and thrift. In 1917 in an article appeared in headed ‘Financial Heroism’, Withers described investment in British War Loan as ‘an act of duty’ but also claimed that the 5% interest on the Loan was a rate that would have appeared as ‘an impossibly beautiful dream’ to investors twenty years earlier .
Alongside calls for patriotic investment, Withers published attacks on German war finance, claiming that Germany’s ‘financial straits’ were creating inflation in a ‘flood of paper’ and the population was resisting its ‘violent’ marketing of war loan (Kriegsanleihe) .
The German Reichsbank archive shows that at the same time a massive campaign was conducted in Germany to promote war loan. It used the press, advertising, cinema and public meetings, persuading Germans that the purchase of war loan was both their duty and in their financial interest. The Economist and the German media read and commented on each other’s claims, and observed international reaction to their financial strategies.
Our paper will address how war loan initiatives were reported, how the terms and conditions of the loans were viewed, how different investors were targeted and how propaganda was used in the financial battle between Germany and Britain. It will highlight surprising similarities and differences between the two and consider their implications for an understanding of the investment markets before and after the War.
The Economist has always described itself as a liberal newspaper, founded by James Wilson in the 1840s to propagate the doctrines of political economy and support the Anti-Corn Law League. ‘For the past 170 years’, it declared in June 2013, ‘The Economist has consistently advocated free trade, punctured government bloat and argued for the protection of individual liberties.’ Such a market-oriented conception of liberalism, however, has frequently set the paper apart not only from the policies of the British Liberal Party but also from prevailing trends in liberal political thought.
This paper will argue that The Economist’s significance in modern Britain lies largely in the way it has kept the market liberal tradition alive as a practical political creed. The paper’s defence of competitive capitalism during the middle decades of the twentieth century was perhaps particularly important in this respect, as The Economist of Walter Layton and Geoffrey Crowther formed an important bridge between Gladstonian liberalism and the post-war neoliberal movement. Yet though the paper has sometimes been a source of strength to the Liberal Party, it has also contested its right to provide an authoritative interpretation of what liberalism means, and has aided the Conservative Party’s efforts to lay claim to the liberal inheritance. Contemporary Liberal Democrats therefore have good reason to ask whether it is a false friend or a critical ally.
The Economist tried to respond to a diverse range of economic and political challenges to liberalism during the interwar period from the perspective of its main readership base in the City of London. My paper will detail its ongoing and increasingly tense exchanges with Keynes over how and even if classical political economy could adapt to some of the new and ominous concerns of the period: debt, deficits, effective demand, state intervention and planning, the gold standard and currency fluctuations, mass unemployment, and even that most basic article of nineteenth century liberal faith – free trade.
The significance of these debates extends well beyond the pages of The Economist. Walter Layton, its editor, received his training alongside Keynes under Alfred Marshall at Kings College, Cambridge. The two classmates’ twisting path afterwards can tell us a great deal about the divides that came to beset (upper and lower case) Liberals. Whereas Keynes is often portrayed as a prescient critic of what he called ‘old-fashioned liberalism…the party questions of the nineteenth century…as dead as last week’s mutton’, it was not the daring and celebrated author of the General Theory who captured the dominant tone of progressive interwar liberalism, I will argue, but Layton. The cautious and halting role of the latter as editor of the most respected weekly in the City sheds light on the financial and imperial stakes of interwar economic disputes; and shows just how difficult Keynes found it to win over this powerful section of opinion to his revisionist theories.
Economists and historians have tended to characterise The Economist’s first decade after its foundation in 1843 as one of youthful fervour for classical political economy. Cormac Ó Gráda, has written of the free-trade newspaper’s “dogmatic” support for laissez-faire ideas and has spoken of its “utilitarianism” driven by the ideas of political economists. Other scholars, such as G.R. Searle and Ruth Dudley Edwards, have also emphasised the extent to which James Wilson’s laissez-faire ideas were shaped by classical political economy. Indeed, in the prospectus he wrote for The Economist, he stated that it should carry articles “on the elementary principles of political economy” each week. Few scholars, on the other hand, have attempted to fully discern how much The Economist’s editorial stance and Wilson’s views diverged from orthodox classical economics. For instance, The Economist heavily criticised thinkers such as Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, in addition to the ideas held by the most prominent free-trade activist of the time, Richard Codben. This paper seeks to present a more nuanced understanding of The Economist’s editorial stance in the 1840s, by looking at its coverage of economics as well as events such as the repeal of the Corn Laws, the passing of the Bank Charter Act, the financial crisis of 1847 and the Irish Famine. It will reveal that Wilson and The Economist interpreted laissez-faire economics in a very different way to how contemporary political economists did; one that was influenced more by Edmund Burke than Smith or Ricardo. This new interpretation of laissez-faire economics contributed to, and came to shape, liberalism in the 1840s to an extent that historians have not yet fully recognised.
In the Victorian period, the words “political economy” were on everybody’s lips, in Parliament and in the periodicals. When, at the end of the century, political economists pleaded to change the label of political economy for that of economics, to enhance its scientific status, they only followed a similar change that had already been made by James Wilson, in 1843, when he founded The Economist. The title did not just refer to a journal, but as much to a person. Someone who would like to identify, in the heigh days of political economy, as someone else, an economist. What motivated the liberal Wilson to choose this label? How did he position the journal vis à vis journals such as the Westminster Review, the Edinburgh Review and other relevant journals? I will investigate these questions by looking into this early period, but also by looking into the publication strategy of some who wrote for different outlets, such as John Stuart Mill and John Eliot Cairnes. More in particular, I will look at the differences between John Eliot Cairnes’ notes on the state of Ireland, which John Stuart Mill used for the sixth edition of his Principles of Political Economy, but which he published himself in a series of articles in The Economist. With this (and possibly other case studies that I have to look into), I hope to get more grip on the differences between different publication outlets, and thus on the identity that The Economist aimed to establish (which of course changed itself over time).
“There is a new vision of journalism –call it the auteur school- in which the business shifts from being organized by institutions to being organized around individual journalists with discrete followings. (…) That’s a new notion, the solipsistic brandedness. The old organizational notion in journalism was exactly the opposite. There were never enough readers interested in one subject or one writer so you created a package of many subjects and writers, sharing the attention and rewards” (Wolff, 2014).
With these words Michael Wolff introduced his Guardian column “Media and Modern Life” on the phenomenon of “personal brand journalism”. His article echoed the numerous cases of “star journalists” who have abandoned prestigious media brands where they had made a career -from Ezra Klein (The Washington Post) to Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian)- to start highly personalized journalistic adventures, motivated by the facilities offered by the new digital environment and by the business opportunities arising from fragmented news markets, in which visibility of “personal brands” was growing.
“It is not too much to say that a law prohibiting anonymous writing would involve the confiscation of one-half the newspaper property of Great Britain. It would transfer the ownership from the proprietors to a very few conspicuous writers. (…) In a very short time the only safe newspapers would be those in which the favourite writers were also the sole or ruling proprietors, and every really successful leader maker would set up a paper of his own” (Bagehot, 1863).
This was the thinking of Walter Bagehot, the most famous editor of The Economist, as expressed in “Newspapers as Property”, an article published in the weekly more than one and a half centuries ago. Bagehot commented on the controversy aroused by the politician and activist Richard Cobden, who started a campaign against The Times because the daily had published several articles (anonymous, of course) attacking his person. “Newspapers as Property” warned about the harmful effects of the possibility that in Great Britain -as happened in France in 1850- a widespread and accepted tradition as anonymity of newspaper articles was changed by law .
The temporal distance between these two comments and, by contrast, the common concerns that they show –the tension between the collective journalistic voice and star-system journalism- justify the interest that anonymity, or the personal attribution of journalistic texts, has from a media research perspective. It could seem surprising to again raise this issue in the XXIst century, when in the majority of countries the debate on anonymity was active during the XIXth century, and already resolved in practice in the XXth, with the definitive victory of staff bylines (Barnhurst and Nerone, 2001; Ogan et al., 1975; Schudson, 1978; Tunstall, 1996). But leaving aside this historical evolution of news bylines, the fact is that the question of anonymity has always been relevant for journalism practice. Today, as a result of the opportunities for great visibility provided by new technologies, the concept of anonymity is mainly associated with negative traits, in contrast with the “magic concept” of transparency that prevails around the journalistic profession (Ward, 2015). However, there are dimensions of the original news anonymity, the one practiced in the past by journalism without bylines, which can shed light on some current problems of the news media. And perhaps there is no better example to analyze these dimensions than the British weekly The Economist.
The Economist is nowadays the only major news brand that remains loyal to the strict rule of anonymity with which it was born in 1843 (Dudley Edwards, 1993). As a unique exception, but also as a journalistic model admired and respected around the world, the magazine’s long romance with anonymity, and the reasons why this tradition has been maintained, despite going against the tide, has interesting readings today, both from a professional and a business point of view.
This paper will try to analyze and discuss the practice of anonymity in The Economist from its inception to the present, with the idea to connect its perceived advantages and disadvantages with some current debates on the problems of journalism. In order to do that, this paper will be structured as follows. First, a review will be given of the current academic debates on anonymity and journalism, with the aim to show how the particular case of the British publication fits within these debates. Second, The Economist tradition of anonymity will be analyzed, both historically and from the point of view of the arguments used by its managers and journalists to preserve it. Then, the article will discuss the main advantages and disadvantages of anonymity, in order to identify factors affecting the journalistic and business performance of the magazine. Finally, as a conclusion, some potential implications of the practice of anonymity for quality journalism and brand consistency will be drawn, not only considering the case of the British magazine but from a more general perspective.
Departing from Robert K. Merton’s classical study on the local cosmopolitans who read Time magazine in the 1940s, this paper proposes a comparison between two publications that are addressed to two different kind of cosmopolitan readers: The Atlantic, defined by the quest to keep America on top of the world, and The Economist, the voice of the global business class. Each magazine offers a distinct response to the globalization phenomenon: The Atlantic offers a review of the US military challenges (e.g. containing China in the Pacific Ocean, fighting radical Islamism) and examines how urban America being reshaped by the new ‘creative class’, making suburbs less appropriate for a more sustainable future. The Atlantic reader remains an American concerned about the future of her country in the 21st Century. The Economist is addressed to a new global elite, the constant traveler, whose ‘nation’ is, more than any particular country, ‘the West’. It defends a classical notion of liberalism (openness of markets and respect for individual choices in social issues like gay marriage or the legalization of prostitution). Both The Atlantic and The Economist seem to be faring well in the digital age, which would be good news for those who fear the disappearence of long-form journalism in the Internet era.
Throughout The Economist’s life the periodical has maintained a reputation for strongly advocating free markets and private enterprise. Yet during the nineteenth century heyday of laissez-faire The Economist was one of the most vociferous advocates of nationalisation, first of the telegraph network in 1868 and 1869 and then of the telephone system. Of the private telegraph industry The Economist wrote ‘There is probably no interest in the Kingdom which is so cordially disliked by the press, which when united is stronger than any other interest…’(The Economist 26 April 1868 412). The press was granted very favourable tariffs by the nationalised telegraph industry. Consequently by 1871 the number of words transmitted during the parliamentary session had more than tripled. News transmission was estimated four years later to be losing £20,000 on business of £50,000. Had The Economist been diverted from its principles by a desire to reduce the costs of information, at the expense of the taxpayer and the postal system?
Private telegraph companies would locate offices to steal each others’ business so that they clustered in town centres and left outlying regions unserved. In 1868 the number of messages per office was lower than in most other national systems. This was not an indication that competition was successful in spreading telegraph facilities into outlying regions where demand was less strong, because telegrams sent per head were also low by international standards. Low labour productivity further supports the judgement that the private industry was not behaving in an ideal fashion.
There were economies of scope from linking post offices with the telegraph and from integrating the companies’ networks, as the massive expansion of traffic in the first few years of the new Post Office regime showed. If subsequent manipulations of tariffs and the upwards pressure on wage costs could have been resisted, The Economists’ uncharacteristic stance would have been even more warranted.
On December 9, 2000, The Economist promised “a foretaste of what new developments are threatening – no, guaranteeing – to disrupt the way business is done in the years ahead.” The newspaper’s Technology Quarterly has appeared approximately 60 times since that first issue. Has the reality lived up to the promise?
Technology Quarterly was one part of The Economist’s expanding efforts not only to report and analyze the world but also to promote innovation to tilt the balance in, as the paper proclaimed in 1843, “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” In 2002, The Economist introduced its Innovation Awards and Summit to honor “the creative individuals who dream up new ideas and turn them into reality.”
This paper qualitatively and quantitatively analyzes Technology Quarterly and the Innovation Awards and Summit to track what its editors considered the major technological disrupters at that time and how that coverage has changed. Charting these winners and the topics over time should reveal both the evolution of the innovation ecosystem and the changing sense of what and who were considered important. Evolution is the key concept: The 2002 awards had six categories, the 2013 awards eight (including one merger). Not only did the number of categories increase by half, the added areas were much broader in scope (e.g., Social and Economic Innovation).
Reflecting the innovative process Technology Quarterly covered, I expect to find many failures, broadly defined, as well as successes in the articles. For example, the first issue covered micromachines as well as Bluetooth. Analyzing Technology Quarterly and its spinoff will provide a portrait both of the rapidly changing worlds of innovation in the early 21st century and of one very influential set of scribes.
In December 2013, for the first time in its history, The Economist chose a “country of the year.” According to the jovial article “Earth’s got talent“ (21/12/2013), the winner was Uruguay. Why was this honor bestowed on this small country on the banks of the Rio de la Plata? “The accomplishments that most deserve commendation,” were considered by The Economist to be “path- breaking reforms that do not merely improve a single nation but, if emulated, might benefit the world.” The Economist named two such reforms: gay marriage and cannabis regulation. Both had occurred in Uruguay in 2013.
For The Economist, Uruguay’s legal regulation of cannabis from seed to smoke was a change “obviously sensible.” As Uruguay was the first country in the world to legalize cannabis, it was embarking on a journey in unchartered waters. But The Economist was confident in the success of Uruguay’s experiment: “If others followed suit, and other narcotics were included, the damage such drugs wreak on the world would be drastically reduced.” The paper argues that this article is far from an outlier, rather accurately represents The Economist on drugs.
Counterintuitively for an established and establishment publication, The Economist is one of the greatest journalistic champions of drug policy reform. In general, it agrees with Milton Friedman that drug prohibition is both “immoral” and “counterproductive.” On the eve of its 175th birthday, the paper critically engages with the editorial relationship of The Economist to drugs: What is its stance on drugs? How, when and why did it emerge? Has this positions evolved over time? What does it make of recent drug policy reform initiatives? And, what has been The Economist’s impact on drug policy?
This paper seeks to identify the image of Bulgaria that the Economist magazine presented to its readers in the late 1980s. That was a harsh period for the Bulgarian Communist Party – there was astonishing coldness in Soviet-Bulgarian relations because Todor Zhivkov, the leader of the party, failed to address an adequate response to the Soviet perestroika; at the same time, the emergence modest opposition of dissident organizations predestined the decline of undisputable communist power; besides, troubles with the Turkish population, provoked by the violent change of Turkish names with Bulgarian ones, also contributed to the crisis in the country. Bulgarian experience showed ‘how dark the other half of Europe remains’, wrote the Economist in 1986, and series of articles, photographs and cartoons displayed the unstable and inconsistent Bulgarian political life.
The Economist outlined several topics that concerned the image of Bulgaria.
First important topic was the place of Bulgaria in international relations. The period under examination saw the end of the Cold War and the Economist situated the country within the changing Soviet attitude to its allies, which deeply affected Bulgarian economy and party leadership. At the same time, Bulgaria was presented in the context of East-West relations and its attempt to develop modest economic and cultural exchange with Western states.
Second topic presented the fundament of Bulgarian political system – the one-party rule of the Communist Party and its leader T. Zhivkov who was on the top of state pyramid. However, the influence of the Soviet perestroika was quite palpable and Zhivkov’s power was undermined. The Economist began searching for the Bulgarian Gorbachev and the names of Chudomir Aleksandrov and Ognyan Doynov were mentioned as eventual successors of the leader.
Third topic was the ethnic tension in Bulgaria ‘where names can kill’. That was the title of an article in the Economist that described the forced change of Turkish names and the following protests and clashes between Turks and the security forces in late 1984-early 1985. Using repressive methods the Communist Party implemented the change. May 1989 brought new protests against party’s policy and new international attention in the light of demonstrations, human victims and migration of 330 000 people to Turkey.
Usually, Bulgaria was characterized as the most docile Soviet satellite. This definition underlined the driving forces of events – Moscow worked together with Bulgarian authorities in order to keep the power of the Communist Part, while the population had limited participation. Most popular images that I have examined confirmed this perception. In general, the Economist presented Bulgaria as a country that had great troubles – a dangerous mix of political obedience, economic crisis and ethnic tension.