The Economist

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Lobster: Integrity Initiative Working to Privatise NHS

Remember the Integrity Initiative? That was the subsidiary of the Institute for Statecraft that was found to be a private enterprise propaganda outfit working with the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. It was set up after former New Labour PM Gordon Brown read a piece about the IRD’s activities during the Cold War and thought it was a good idea. IRD was the branch of the British secret services that was supposed to counter Soviet propaganda. It did this, but also branched out into smearing Labour MPs like the late Tony Benn as Communist agents and IRA sympathizers. The Integrity Initiative was caught doing the same, spreading lies about Jeremy Corbyn and a host of European politicos, officials and senior military staff because it and its network of hacks decided they were too close to Putin.

Robin Ramsay has more to say about the II in his ‘View from the Bridge’ column in the recent edition of Lobster, issue 80. He makes the point that superficially the II would be acceptable if all it did was counter Russian propaganda. He argues that few on the left seem to accept that the country really is a kleptocracy that murders its opponents at home and abroad, and reminds his readers that one of the watchwords of the old left was ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’. This is right, but history and the career of the II itself has shown to date that British counterpropaganda goes well beyond this into operations that seriously compromise democratic politics at home, and frequently overthrow it abroad. Like the coup where British intelligence worked with the CIA to overthrow Iran’s last democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq.

But II isn’t just working to smear decent, respectable left-wing politicos like Corbyn. It’s now attacking one of the fundamental modern British institutions: the NHS. Among the hacks recruited by the II is the American journo, Anne Applebaum, who has written for the Economist and the Spectator, amongst other rags. But the II also includes a subgroup on NHS reform, which has nothing to do with Russian propaganda. Ramsay instead argues that its purpose is instead to counter opponents of NHS reform. In other words, it’s been set up to promote NHS privatisation. Which means it has a neoliberal agenda.

See his section ‘Ah yes, the USA as moral leader’ at

Click to access lob80-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

Given the extreme right-wing politics of British counterpropaganda operations, this is almost certainly right.

Which means that at least part of the British secret state is lying to us to support the Tories’ and New Labour privatisation of the NHS.

 

Book Review: Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist by Alexander Zevin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/06/2020 - 7:00pm in

In Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist, Alexander Zevin traces the 177-year history of the Economist newspaper, positioning the Economist not only as a lens for understanding reinterpretations of liberalism across different eras, but also as an active participant in influencing policy and public debate. This is a rigorous and meticulously researched … Continued

BLM Protests – Brillo Retweets Far Right Conspiracy Theorist

Remember when Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil had Alex Jones on his programme years ago? This resulted in farce when Neil asked the right-wing, Libertarian Jones about guns and the high rate of shootings in America. I think it came in the wake of yet another crazed gunman going into a school, shopping mall, church, synagogue or mosque or somewhere and shooting innocents. The right to bear arms is sacrosanct to Republicans and Libertarians, and so Jones responded with a long rant about how Americans will never give their firearms up and that there’d be another 1776 if anyone like Britain tried. He then started screaming nonsense, including ‘metal shark!’ at one point. The camera pulled away from Jones to show Brillo making the ‘nutter’ sign behind his head.

It’s a debatable but fair question whether Jones is mad. He’s promoted some immensely stupid theories, like the Democrat Party operating a paedophile ring out of a Boston pizza parlour, that Obama was the Antichrist, Hillary Clinton a Satanist cyborg, and that the world is being run by ‘the Globalists’ intent on enslaving humanity and turning us all into dehumanised cyborgs to serve demons or malevolent aliens. He is most notorious for ranting about how ‘they’ were putting chemicals in the water ‘to turn the frickin’ frogs gay’. He’s been widely ridiculed for that, but as Blissex, one of the great commenters on this blog reminded me on another post about Jones, he does have a point. Frogs and other amphibians are suffering from industrial pollutants that mimic female hormones and so cause reproductive abnormalities in males. Jones pushes all manner of outlandish theories, but some people have said that off-air he’s calm and rational, and his bizarre antics on camera may just be to garner viewers.

Whatever the real state of Jones’ mind, Brillo is now no longer in a position to sneer at Jones for pushing whacky and dangerous conspiracy theories. Because now he’s done it himself. Yesterday Zelo Street reported that Neil had taken exception to criticism of his comments on a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Colorado, and retweeted the bonkers comments by Spectator USA contributor Andy Ngo. Nadine Batchelor-Hunt had responded to his approving comments about the demonstration in Colorado by telling him that as a White guy, he shouldn’t be telling Black people how to protest. This is essentially the same point some Black Civil rights leaders in America in the 1960s told their White supporters when they said they should ‘be in their own space’. The result was the formation of a radical, White, working-class identity movement, which was crucially anti-racist as some of the White poor turned to their own situation and demanded change. I can’t see Brillo, former editor of the Sunday Times, the Economist and head of the Spectator board, wanting to see that develop. He replied “Looks like most of the folks protesting are white. I’m not telling anybody what they should do; just approving of a particular form of protest. Why make an issue of my colour. I don’t take kindly to what people tell me I should or should not do”.

Zelo Street commented that this was a remark from his privileged perspective. I think however, that Neil has the right to make whatever comment he likes about the protest. It might seem condescending, but people have the right to their own opinions whatever colour they are. But then the great newsman went overboard, and retweeted this from the Speccie’s sister paper.

“‘We are witnessing glimmers of the full insurrection the far-left has been working toward for decades. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was merely a pre-text for radicals to push their ambitious insurgency,’ writes [Andy Ngo]”.

Ngo is a member of the American far right, despite being Asian. He wrote a farcical piece about Islam in Britain, ‘A Visit to Islamic Britain’ for Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, and has hosted the infamous Carl Benjamin, the man who broke UKIP, on his podcast. Zelo Street commented that it was shameful for the Speccie to give Ngo a platform, and even more so for Brillo to retweet him. They also wondered if BBC News and Current Affairs would take a dim view of being linked with Ngo through Neil. And this is apart from some of the deeply unpleasant characters who write for the British Spectator, like the anti-Semitic supporter of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, Taki.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/brillo-boosts-far-right.html

The American far right is riddled with bizarre conspiracy theories. When Obama was ensconced in the Oval Office there were any number of loons proclaiming that he was an anti-White racist who would immediately launch a genocide of Whites. Or that he was closet Muslim, who would impose the Shariah. Or a Nazi, Communist or militant atheist. Jones ranted that Obama would become absolute dictator by declaring a state of emergency, suspending the rule of law and forcing Americans into FEMA camps. It didn’t happen. There are also loony conspiracy theories going around the American and British right about ‘cultural Marxists’ trying to create a new Communist dictatorship through destroying traditional, Christian morality and replacing it with multiculturalism and gay and trans rights. It’s a garbled misreading of Gramsci’s theories of hegemony, and ultimately has its roots in the Nazis’ denunciation of ‘cultural Bolshevism’.

But I’ve got a feeling that the Spectator USA always was a haven for demented conspiracy theories. Way back in the 1990s a magazine with a very similar name, The American Spectator, and a group of Sunday Times journos, got it into their heads that Bill Clinton was at the heart of a vast criminal conspiracy. They believed that Slick Willy was importing drugs from Latin America through a secret airbase in Arizona. Anyone who crossed or otherwise displeased him was then executed by his gangsters. This theory was partly based on the real fact that about 19 of his aides had died, but investigations had shown that their demise had absolutely nothing to do with Clinton. The conspiracy theories were even later denounced and ridiculed by a former believer, one of the ‘Clinton Crazies’. Adam Curtis has discussed this bizarre affair in one of his excellent documentaries.

It looks to me that The American Spectator was a previous incarnation of The Spectator USA, and that, despite the Clinton Crazies having come and gone, there still is a paranoid mentality out there. And Brillo, as former editor of the Sunday Times, and head of the Spectator’s board, shares it.

You don’t have to invoke non-existent conspiracies to explain the protests and riots in America. They come from endemic racism, poverty and lack of opportunity, quite apart from the casual killing of Black Americans by the police. This has been simmering away for several years. Now it’s exploded again. What is needed is calm, rationality and justice.

What we don’t need is more stupid, inflammatory rhetoric by Trump, Ngo or Brillo.

Book Review: Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist by Alexander Zevin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/05/2020 - 9:00pm in

In Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist, Alexander Zevin traces the 177-year history of the Economist newspaper, positioning the Economist not only as a lens for understanding reinterpretations of liberalism across different eras, but also as an active participant in influencing policy and public debate. This is a rigorous and meticulously researched study of the Economist’s history and the contingencies that shaped liberalism over the long term, writes Jenny McArthur.

Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist. Alexander Zevin. Verso. 2019.

The theories and ideologies that form our political identities must be continuously reinterpreted in order to stay intact. This work of maintaining ideologies is given more attention than usual in Alexander Zevin’s Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist, which examines the history of liberalism through the 177-year history of the Economist newspaper. After rising to prominence with the Anti-Corn Law League in 1843, the Economist established itself as a weekly news outlet covering politics and business, combining intellectual thought-leadership with market reporting and statistics. This book shows how the newspaper balanced the self-appointed mandate of upholding liberalism against the practical demands of weekly print journalism, competitive media markets and different editors’ inclinations.

Liberalism binds together specific economic and political ideals, including free trade, low taxes and private property, accompanied by the rule of law, civil equality, free press and responsible government. Liberalism gained political traction in nineteenth-century Britain with the dispute over the Corn Laws: trade barriers that protected the interests of feudal landowners at the expense of manufacturers. Indeed, the Economist first emerged as a pamphlet for the Anti-Corn Law League, the movement that successfully campaigned for the Corn Laws’ abolition in 1846. Since then, liberalism has faced challenges to adapt to wider political and economic shifts: namely, democratic expansion, the rise and fall of empire and the growing power of global finance.

Liberalism at Large scrutinises the Economist’s reinterpretation of liberalism across successive wars, financial crises, geopolitical shifts and globalisation, alongside changes in the newspaper’s editors, ownership and expansion of the business into new markets. Given the newspaper’s close government ties and political influence in the UK and abroad, this history features the Economist not only as a lens for understanding liberalism, but also as an active participant in shaping policies and public debate.

Liberalism at Large emphasises how the newspaper’s editors shaped the publication as well as how they influenced economic policy and financial regulation. During the ‘zenith of Victorian liberalism’ (79), editor Walter Bagehot (1861-77) broadened its political coverage to include comparative analyses of the merits of different political systems. Bagehot also made direct contributions to policy, with new rules for central banking to accommodate globalised financial markets and the Treasury Bill, the financial security that is now the standard for government borrowing.

Stack of Economist issues, with the front issue reading 'The World Economy's Strange New Rules'

Editorial direction also established economic justifications for foreign policy and global power shifts. As the British Empire expanded rapidly towards the end of the nineteenth century, editor Edward Johnstone (1883-1907) set out a clear economic rationale for colonisation and the empire’s stability. As Zevin writes:

the reproduction of national as well as international wealth was inconceivable for the paper under Johnstone outside the imperial framework, and the invasions, pacifications, occupations and annexations necessary to construct, preserve, and extend it […] Empire structured the world economy and made it safe for capital, even outside the zones under its direct control (129).

The newspaper’s wilful ignorance of the struggles of colonised populations shows a myopic interpretation of the liberal ‘right to be left alone’. While this view was consistent with most political and business elites of that time, it points to a wider ambivalence toward violence and foreign intervention as justifiable in the wider mission of economic success.

Liberalism at Large shows the conflicting views of war and violence that have played out over the Economist’s lifetime. It tended to favour military action by the US and the UK; an outgoing foreign affairs editor suggested in 1988 that the newspaper ‘never saw a war it didn’t like’ (396). However, there were major exceptions, such as editor Francis Hirst’s opposition to World War One as ‘a crime against economic sense, fatal to the flow of trade and credit that was both the greatest monument to British power and its one true security’ (225). This position and the dissent it stirred in the following years led to Hirst’s dismissal, after he created too much opposition from within the British establishment. By World War Two, editor Geoffrey Crowther saw the onset of war ‘less as a sin against liberalism than a chance to revive liberalism as an instrument of policy after two frustrating decades of inaction and decline’ (225), re-establishing the newspaper’s support of military action, and in turn, Britain and its empire.

In the contemporary period, globalised finance posed the largest challenge for the newspaper, following the arc of neoliberalism and globalisation, the financial crisis and an unexpected resurgence of populism. The Economist initially underestimated the power of finance in earlier years as financial markets, technologies and regulation underwent profound change and internationalisation. Finance was treated first as a minor detail for broader economic change, as the newspaper minimised the role of crises triggered by sovereign debt and dotcom stocks as ‘relatively small bumps on the road to globalised capitalism’ (345). However, in 2008, this all changed with the financial crisis and its threat to the global economy. Finance become the most important factor:

As Lehman sent shockwaves through world markets, the Economist – hurricanes, cliffs, ruins, free-falling globes on the cover – suddenly declared it “time to put dogma and politics to one side and concentrate on pragmatic answer”. There was no such thing as laissez-faire in a foxhole, for “when global finance stops only governments can start it again”, clearing banks of bad assets, guaranteeing their liabilities, dowsing them in liquidity (360).

In the decade following the financial crisis, the Economist acted as an ‘automatic stabilizer’ (361) for liberal ideology, dismissing those calling for a rethink of neoliberalism and demanding state bailouts and subsequent austerity budgets. However, in 2016 the populist turn challenged the assumption that Western powers would stay faithful to economic doctrine as the inequalities experienced after the crisis strained democratic systems. The UK Brexit referendum and the subsequent election of US President Donald Trump shook the newspaper’s foundational beliefs, triggering ‘a moment of identity crisis for the paper. ‘‘The Economist believes in free trade capitalism, sure, but it also believes in America. What to do when both are stumbling?’’’ (378). However, if populism was driving the Economist to an identity crisis, the radical economic and financial measures implemented to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months have given the newspaper renewed traction and urgent purpose in raising questions over freedom and government intervention.

In studying a single newspaper and its ideological commitments, there is a temptation to construct history as a catalogue of errors and poor judgements. The Economist, like many other media outlets, misjudged elections, systemic financial risks, referendum results and wars. Zevin holds the Economist to account on these misjudgements, but goes further to unpack how this was underpinned by tensions between liberal ideology and a changing world. Over the long term, liberalism made concessions to allow social safety nets to support stable democracy. It also advocated for government intervention in financial markets, on the basis of maintaining financial stability, although the consequences of such interventions for wealth inequality went far beyond the initial premise of shoring up markets. Empire was broadly supported, and even after decolonisation, the continued primacy of imperial powers was justified as necessary for maintaining economic stability.

In particular, this history shows the Economist’s imperative to stay on side with the political and economic elites who buy the newspaper from week to week, initially in Britain and later in America. In this way, the newspaper’s loyalties are not only to liberalism but to the interests of these elites, and it becomes difficult when they are at odds with each other. Where it missed legitimate opportunities for critique and erred on the side of empire, war and entrenched power structures, we can draw lessons on the media’s role and limitations in maintaining such ideologies. Stronger engagement by Levin with the wider, shifting media environment and the limits of a publication like the Economist would have extended this reflection further.

Overall, Liberalism at Large provides a rigorous study of the Economist’s history and the contingencies that shaped liberalism over the long term. The book is meticulously researched and shows the value of using media as a lens to understand ideologies, incorporating the politics of ideas, business models, technologies and political imperatives that shape their interpretation and narratives.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Stack of Economist issues (DonSpencer1 CC BY SA 4.0).