How The Economist Is The Worst Propaganda

Government propaganda in 1898 and as privatized today

The West has privatized propaganda, like everything else. Economist covers, which I’ll cover here, would be laughed at if a government produced them. However, because the ruling class produces them instead of a ruling party, they hide in plain sight. And yet just look at them.

Economist cover from 2019, US government propaganda from 1943

How are these different things? It’s not like The Economist even shies away from the dehumanization of entire peoples. Here’s their idea of light summer reading, portraying Arabs as ticking time bombs.

As Ghada AlMuhanna said. “Millions of Arabs wear shemaghs and iqals as part of their cultural identity. This cover fuels the narrative that anyone that wears these garments are ticking time bombs — that they’re terrorists waiting to explode.” From Russians to Chinese to Muslims, whoever the enemy du jour is are demonized en masse, a classic propaganda trope.

Even in terms of visual style, Economist covers openly look like propaganda, they overtly copy the same design tropes. This is supposedly ironic, but jokes on you. We generally define propaganda as coming from governments, but this misses the point of who actually rules the West now.

Liberal Democracy™ is simply the branding stamped on the most rank oligarchy. The truth is that elections are just public bribery festivals, the people are kept distracted by cultural circuses, and real economic power remains in the hands of a few elites. In this way, The Economist is simply privatized propaganda for a privatized state.

It is, in short, exactly what it looks like. As George Orwell said in 1984, “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” I invite you to just look at The Economist here. It sure looks and sounds like propaganda. Maybe it is what it is.

What Is Propaganda?

Before we get to examples, what is propaganda? Propaganda is often used as a catchword for ‘things I don’t like’. I certainly don’t like The Economist, but let’s try to define it more tightly here. The Google/Oxford definition is:

Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.

The latter is uncontroversially what The Economist does. As they wrote in 2018:

We were created 175 years ago to campaign for liberalism — not the leftish “progressivism” of American university campuses or the rightish “ultraliberalism” conjured up by the French commentariat, but a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.

This is most decidedly a political cause and a point of view. A roundly elitist one too. As Alexander Zevin wrote in his history of the magazine, “James Wilson [was] adamant that his journal would aim for the ‘landed and monied’ and be ‘nothing but pure principles. The paper had what one of its later writers saw as an enlightening candour in addressing its readers: you opened it, he observed, to ‘hear the bourgeoisie talking to itself, and it could talk quite frankly’.” Lenin put it more directly when he called it a journal which speaks for British millionaires.”

This isn’t an insult. It’s true. As Adam Tooze writes in his review of Zevin’s book, ‘If Pravda was once read in the west as the mouthpiece of “actually existing socialism,” Zevin examines the Economist as the house organ of “actually existing liberalism.”’

If you look at the bottom of every page on The Economist website, they state their bias quite openly if dickishly. The footer says:

The Economist Footer: Published since September 1843 to take part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.

According to The Economist, everyone else is stupid and we are smart and they are obstructing our progress. The quintessential liberal view. Who is ‘us’? Well, look at The Economist staff. The paper is literally guided by the ‘invisible hand’, running without bylines.

Describing the Editor-In-Chief, Zevin said, “In 176 years, just seventeen have filled the position: all but one a man, and for the last hundred years almost exclusively graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. At least one staffer has called the striking lack of diversity in this ‘common room’ an asset, making it easier to maintain a stable, collective voice.”

What is the voice of this paper? As Zevin relates, “How do you write like the Economist?’, a nervous new recruit, trying to compose his first leader for it, once asked. Simple, a senior editor replied. Pretend you are God.” God is obviously a white man that went to Oxbridge. That’s the omniscient narrator.

The Economist has always represented the political views and biases of the white men that ruled the world most brutally. From the British Empire to the American Empire, it’s all been an undifferentiated White Empire to people like me. Their secular religion is liberalism and The Economist is their screed.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. If you read on you’ll just see.

Why Is Propaganda Bad?

Propaganda, by Edward Bernays

By a broader definition, propaganda isn’t necessarily bad at all. Quoting another version of the Oxford English Dictionary, Edward Bernays said, “Prior to the war, the word’s derogatory use was far less common than its neutral denotation. Here, for example, is the calm (and accurate) definition given in the Oxford English Dictionary: “Any association, systematic scheme, or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or practice.”

What made propaganda bad (or at least dangerous) was its use in war. It became a weapon for quite actively killing people and rousing them to kill, and it was massively effective. Industrialized information production went hand in hand with industrialized tank and bomb production, it was all part of the modern capitalization of war.

Propaganda, by Edward Bernays

The most prominent example is “this 1918 propaganda poster [by] artist Harry R. Hopps, depicts Germany as an enraged gorilla stepping foot on an American shore as Europe lays in ruin in the distance.”

this 1918 propaganda poster artist by Harry R. Hopps depicts Germany as an enraged gorilla stepping foot on an American shore as Europe lays in ruin in the distance
‘Mad Brute’, 1918. Via the Library Of Congress

WWI, far from being ‘Great’, was stupid as shit. Millions of young men gladly went to an absolutely wretched fate, propaganda cheering and deceiving them all the way. This more than anything gave propaganda a bad name, but like any number of industrial sins, it stayed.

It’s not that propaganda is necessarily bad. It’s just that in the hands of powerful elites, it’s usually used that way. To kill, rob, and oppress people. A weapon by another name.

How Is The Economist (Bad) Propaganda?