shiyi18 发表于 2007-1-10 10:39:42



On September 2nd 1843 the first issue of The Economist was published. Next week, to launch our second 150 years, we will carry a special supplement in which eminent outsiders give their thoughts about the world's future. This week, however, we are indulging ourselves - as people do on their birthdays. This article, looking at our first 150 years, is by Ruth Dudley Edwards, whose history of The Economist* was published on September 2nd THE main virtues of today's Economist - reverence for facts and figures, integrity, consistency of principle, rational analysis and absolute clarity -were already visible under the editorship (1843-57) of its founder, James Wilson, a Scottish hat-manufacturer. So too were the main defects: arrogance, priggishness, absence of doubt, frequent failures of imagination and too-clever-by-halfery.

Esteem for facts has been paramount. Wilson loved them passionately, especially if they were expressed in numbers: 'To those who read Statistics,' he wrote in 1843, 'who read the results exhibited by figures, who find what new truths and facts they develop - what old prejudices and errors they dissipate; they are not only instructive, but afford the deepest, and often the most exciting interest.'

If you respect even uncomfortable facts, and cherish truth, you stay honest. Wilson eschewed such lucrative contemporary practices as tipping shares to win advertising. Of the banker, genius and man of letters, Walter Bagehot (editor, 1861-77), an obituarist wrote that under his management, The Economist 'never fell under the shadow of a suspicion. Its censures were often severe, and its warnings to the public could not fail sometimes to damage the repute of insecure investment. But the anger of the irritated investor, or of the disappointed speculator, never took the form of an impeachment of the motives of the critics.' And under the paper's longest-serving editor, a solid Scots journalist, Edward Johnstone (1883-1907), at a time when the financial press was almost uniformly venal, The Economist became a remorseless investigative journal of absolute integrity.

Apart from a slight dalliance with economic planning during the days when Keynesianism rode triumphant, The Economist has also remained true to its founder's underlying faith. Wilson's religion was laisser-faire, his Holy Book Adam Smith's 'The Wealth of Nations' and his Holy Grail free trade. A century and a half later, his paper still argues for less rather than more state control; it believes governments to be more imperfect than markets; and it excoriates protectionism in any shape or form.

The Economist did not, however, even in Wilson's time, maintain the absolute fanaticism of its early days, when it damned any government interference with the natural order. Thus, for example, the paper belligerently opposed Factory Acts ('vexatious, costly, wasteful and absurd') and contemptuously dismissed the great social reformer, Lord Shaftesbury, who 'hunts up objects for legislative benevolence ..with the persevering sagacity of a trapper, and lives in a hallowed round of legislative benevolence, buying the applause of the unthinking by preferred largesses of the public wealth, or the liberties of industry.'

Still, analysing facts in the light of consistent principles and drawing rational conclusions leads almost inevitably to the recommendation of unpalatable medicine. Since laisser-faire is founded on the bedrock of individual responsibility, logically it requires people to pay the price for their own imprudence: almost invariably, The Economist can be relied upon a) to say 'we told you so' and b) to support the harsh options. When the railway boom collapsed in 1848, Wilson announced that 'the present prostration and dejection is but a necessary retribution for the folly, the avarice, the insufferable arrogance, the headlong, desperate, and unprincipled gambling and jobbing, which disgraced nobility and aristocracy, polluted senators and senate houses, contaminated merchants, manufacturers, and traders of all kinds, and threw a chilling blight for a time over honest plod and fair industry.' And when almost 150 years later the Bank of Credit and Commerce International collapsed, The Economist was similarly sanctimonious in opposing any bailing-out of its victims. 'Some of BCCI's customers had chosen the bank quite deliberately: they risked money in order to obtain above-market rates of interest or to hide their assets from tax authorities. Foolish, greedy or badly informed, their decisions have to be their choice, made at their risk.'

Sentiment is the enemy. 'There is no inconsiderable school of talkers and writers now-a-days,' wrote Wilson, 'who seem to forget that reason is given us to sit in judgment over the dictates of our feelings, and that it is not her part to play the advocate in support of every impulse which laudable affections may arouse in us.'

Admirable though such consistency may be, it often appears heartless. The Economist sees the dependency culture under every bed. Although, for instance, Wilson was horrified by death and suffering caused by the Irish famine of 1845-49, his principles required him to advocate non-interference. 'The Economist has suggested no plan', wrote his friend, Lord Clarendon, then president of the Board of Trade. 'You in fact say do nothing, which is exceedingly comfortable for a gentleman writing by his fireside in London, but not at all practicable for a Government having to answer to the humanity and generosity of England for the mortality of Ireland.'

Wilson's rigidity arose from his simple inability to understand that there were people for whom self-reliance was impossible. He expected starving Irish peasants to react to their predicament as would a Scottish man of business. And indeed his successors have frequently demonstrated the same failure of imagination. Along with that has often gone an inability to imagine that politicians can be impervious to reason. 'Herr Hitler is showing encouraging signs of statesmanship,' was a hopeful refrain during the mid-1930s.

hanbin8611 发表于 2007-1-12 18:32:32

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