The Economist (magazine)

It’s been a while in the making, but yesterday, I broke down and subscribed to the weekly magazine The Economist. In a sense, this is a big step for me, because I’ve not ever subscribed to newspapers or news magazines before. Truthfully, I’ve not ever had to, because I’ve always digested news in a piecemeal manner, picking up whatever print material I happen to find wherever I go. Newspapers have been much more readily available, but I will also read magazines periodically. (By the way, I rarely watch television, except for occasional episodes of 60 Minutes or BBC World News.)

Whether I’m at the airport on my bimonthly trips to Boston, the coffee shop just a few doors away from my residence in San Francisco, the sandwich shop near work, on public transportation, or at the dentist’s office, I’m always reading whatever happens to be lying around near me: San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time, BusinessWeek, etc.

Throughout the current turmoil gripping the financial markets in September and October 2008, I’ve been more aggressive in my appetite for news. And the piecemeal approach hasn’t cut it. I’ve been hitting the online web sites of the previously-mentioned magazines and newspapers. In the process of all the reading I have done, both online and offline, I’ve come to realize something fundamentally lacking in the media I read. They have not satisfied my fundamental need for understanding the intricate details of why things are the way they are, in today’s economy. My undergraduate degree is in Business Administration, so I have a fairly good knack for understanding business, finance, and economics. However, these publications do not provide nearly enough detail to satisfy my needs. I have specific questions, and so, I want specific answers.

Being a Unix systems administrator, I’m naturally inclined to look inside of things to understand how they work. That is fairly easy in systems administration, because I can look at the source code of shell scripts and C programs. I can look at the state of memory, disk, network, and CPU on a heavily-loaded system. However, doing the same for understanding the economy’s intricacies seams less accessible to me. I’m not looking to become a professor of Economics at Harvard University, but I would like to understand things better. (Wouldn’t it be totally cool if there was such a thing as dtrace for the economy?)

With that in mind, I decided I wanted to subscribe to a magazine or newspaper that would help me in my quest for deeper understanding. My mind turned instantly to The Economist, a weekly news magazine that I had read a couple times in the past. And during the past several years, some of my Google searches have yielded really good articles I found on their website at http://www.economist.com/. However, I had some concerns about media bias, and specifically about which way The Economist leans.

Suffice to say, I’ve always identified myself as a liberal. I grew up in Massachusetts, and I’ve lived nearly a decade in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, in recent years, I’ve begun to notice that my beliefs and political leanings have shifted somewhat. I don’t exactly know how to characterize them today, but I recognize they are shifting. Though I still consider myself a liberal, I have started to take on more fiscally conservative ideas.

In spite of my political leanings, I have always considered myself a fair and balanced person, and as such, I would like the same of any newspaper or magazine I plan to subscribe to. I realize that human beings are biased by nature, but I still would like to seek out a publication that can be considered fair and balanced. Or at least, one that presents me with some divergent viewpoints, not just those from a predominantly liberal or conservative perspective.

I’ve previously read about liberal leanings and conservative leanings of various publications, but I never stopped to think much about them. I suppose I’ve digested my news from enough sources that I probably managed to achieve a balanced perspective on most topics anyway. But still, now that I was planning to start a subscription, I needed to do a little home work.

Online, I found some research articles regarding media bias, and I read numerous opinions people had about various publications. I was happy to read predominantly favorable and satisfactory reviews about The Economist from various sources. It seems that both conservatives and liberals will find issue with the magazine at times, but overall, it is very well-respected. And that is comforting to me. At a subscription cost of $119 (USD) annually, it isn’t cheap, but I believe it will be well worth it. The fact that it covers such a broad range of topics is also important. On the About page at economist.com, you can read more about the publication’s history and philosophy. What I read there was also encouraging. The paper describes itself as “classical liberalism,” and according to this Wikipedia page, it sounds like those ideas might be inline with my own. I look forward to my first issue.