The Economist strikes again: “Vote for me, dimwit.”


I was introduced to The Economist in late 1980’s while working for a Louisville company that abstracted news articles for a then-embryonic (and today obsolete) CD-ROM reader’s guide.

Seldom has a weekly issue been missed since. Following is a succinct description of The Economist, as culled from Wikipedia:

The Economist is a weekly news and international affairs publication owned by “The Economist Newspaper Ltd” and edited in London. It has been in continuous publication since James Wilson established it in September 1843. As of 2006, its average circulation topped one million copies a week, about half of which are sold in North America. Consequently it is often seen as a transatlantic (as opposed to solely British) news source.

According to its contents page, the aim of The Economist is “to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”

Subjects covered include international news, economics, politics, business, finance, science, technology and the arts. The publication is targeted at the high-end “prestige” segment of the market and counts among its audience influential business and government decision-makers.

It takes a strongly argued editorial stance on many issues, especially its support for free trade and fiscal conservatism; it can thus be considered as a magazine which practices advocacy journalism.

Although The Economist calls itself a newspaper and refers to its staff as correspondents, it is printed in magazine form on glossy paper, like a newsmagazine.

Having dispensed with proper introductions, we now proceed to a recent “Lexington” commentary in The Economist. It is the perfect segue to the fall election cycle.

Lexington: Vote for me, dimwit, from The Economist print edition (June 14, 2007):

ANYONE who follows an election campaign too closely will sometimes get the feeling that politicians think voters are idiots. A new book says they are. Or rather, Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, makes the slightly politer claim that voters systematically favour irrational policies. In a democracy, rational politicians give them what they (irrationally) want. In “The Myth of the Rational Voter”, Mr. Caplan explains why this happens, why it matters and what we can do about it …

… he identifies four biases that prompt voters systematically to demand policies that make them worse off. First, people do not understand how the pursuit of private profits often yields public benefits: they have an anti-market bias. Second, they underestimate the benefits of interactions with foreigners: they have an anti-foreign bias. Third, they equate prosperity with employment rather than production: Mr. Caplan calls this the “make-work bias”. Finally, they tend to think economic conditions are worse than they are, a bias towards pessimism.

“Unworthy, timid ignorance?”

“Voters systematically favour irrational policies?”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that The Economist was speaking of New Albany politics. Does Erika, our charming mock prof, read The Economist … or The Trognonomist? I’m “voting” for the latter.

At any rate, please consider reading “Vote for me, dimwit” in its entirety, and discuss if you please. I’m going to work for a while.