The Economist editorial stance

The Economist editorial stance

The Economist was first published in September 1843 by James Wilson to "take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress." This phrase is quoted on its contents page. It has taken editorial stances on many issues over the years.

According to former editor Bill Emmott "The Economist's philosophy has always been liberal, not conservative"[1]

The publication's own self-documented history states this about its editorial stance:

What, besides free trade and free markets, does The Economist believe in? "It is to the Radicals that The Economist still likes to think of itself as belonging. The extreme centre is the paper's historical position." That is as true today as when former Economist editor Geoffrey Crowther said it in 1955. The Economist considers itself the enemy of privilege, pomposity and predictability. It has backed conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It has supported the Americans in Vietnam. But it has also endorsed Harold Wilson and Bill Clinton, and espoused a variety of liberal causes: opposing capital punishment from its earliest days, while favouring penal reform and decolonisation, as well as—more recently—gun control and gay marriage.

The Economist, [2]


The Great Famine

The magazine opposed the provision of aid to the Irish during the Great Famine. The Economist argued for laissez-faire policies, in which self-sufficiency, anti-protectionism and free trade, not food aid, were in the opinion of the magazine the key to helping the Irish live through the famine which killed approximately one million people.[3][4]

19th century social reforms

In the 19th century the editorial stance of The Economist drifted away from supporting laissez-faire policies. In January 1883, for example, one editorial noted that:[5]

[…] it required very little observation of current politics to see that the principle of laissez-faire is no longer in the ascendant.

—"The New Radicalism", The Economist, 1883-01-20[5]

In September 1883, another editorial noted that[5]

When once it has been conceded that the functions of the State are not to be strictly limited to those simpler duties […] it is wonderful how soon and how rapidly the number of the outlets in which it is thought that State aid may be advantageously applied becomes increased and multiplied.

—"State Aid", The Economist, 1883-09-29[5]

This change in editorial stance reflected a similar change in British politics itself, which had set aside the notion of laissez-faire as a practical philosophy some 50 years beforehand.[5]

The UK's entry into the Common Market

The editorial stance of The Economist on the UK's entry into the Common Market, like the stance of the New Statesman, gradually developed over time. Although it consistently took the position of a cooperative approach to Europe rather than an integrative approach, its initial opposition to European institutions gradually changed to acceptance over time. Once this change occurred, the magazine supported a decentralized and cooperative model for European institutions, and democratic accountability. [6]

In part, the Economist's own editorial stance was a simple reflection of attitudes within the UK in general, and of its two major political parties through the middle to late 20th century (Conservative and Labour), resisting the surrender of sovereignty to a supranational institution for as long as possible, and attempting to preserve the UK's self-image of a world power.[6]

Initially, in the years immediately after World War II, contributors to the magazine dismissed and rejected proposals for European institutions such as the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Defence Community, the European Economic Community, and European Atomic Energy Community.1 Up to the late 1950s, the magazine was pro-American.[6]

However, in the period from 1957 to the 1980s, the magazine's editorial opinion articles gradually came to accept the idea of the UK as a member in the various European communities. Medrano divides this period, and the transition of the magazine's editorial stance, into three periods, which he labels "Denial", "Grudging Acceptance", and "Embrace". The New Statesman went through all three of these phases as well, although unlike the Economist, the New Statesman had not completed the third phase at the point of the UK's entry into the Common Market in the 1970s. The Economist had, and was supportive of UK membership during the initial negotiations for entry in the 1960s.[6]

However, the magazine, whilst supportive of entry, did not conceal its continued editorial dislike of European institutions and pro-American stance. It optimistically predicted that the UK's entry would be able to rectify what it saw as a drift away from the United States by Europe. This is exemplified by one July 1962 editorial:[6]

Doubtless some people in Paris, and some elsewhere on the Continent, at present see Britain as an American Trojan horse. In a sense it is, and quite rightly […]

—"Europe or Atlantis?", The Economist, 1962-07-14[6]

The veto of the UK's entry, by Charles de Gaulle, in 1963 provoked an outraged response from the Economist, which in its editorials predicted the unravelling of European institutions. It also recommended an idea that it had supported in earlier years, that of an Atlantic Community, both economic and military.[6]

Soon after the veto, the Economist's stance on the status of the UK as a dominant world power began to change. One milestone in this is an editorial published in May 1963:[6]

The six and a half years of the attempt to come to terms with the European common market, since the free trade area was proposed in 1956, are the Great Divide of modern British history. For the time being, the attempt has failed; and British opinion is still far from wholly won over to the idea that the European communities qualify as a "good thing". But the effort alone has dealt a mortal blow to the Festival of Britain spirit, the happy pursuit of parochial self-esteem that still dulled the country's awareness of facts in the nineteen-fifties. In the great debate on the common market, the British had seen through some of their own shibboleths; this is something.

The grandest victim of the common market's cold douche has been the illusion that Britain was still a world power, an illusion fostered by a heroic war record and by a touching faith in the welfare state—so half-hearted, so incomplete—as a model for others to emulate, much as British parliamentary institutions were taken as models for the nineteenth century.

—"Breaking out from the Past", The Economist, 1963-05-18[6]

In subsequent years, the Economist continued to support the idea of UK membership in the common market, and began to suggest that it was an economic necessity. It published weekly evaluations of the cost of both entry and of the European institutions, argued that membership of the EC was not incompatible with the Commonwealth of Nations, and discussed industrial and technological advantages that could be obtained as a result of membership. One change, however, was that it no longer pursued the idea of radically transforming the Community from within once the UK was a member, but rather suggested that the UK accept the Community as it already was.[6]

Its reaction to de Gaulle's second veto of UK membership, in 1967, thus differed from its reaction in 1964. Rather than responding with anger and outrage as it had done before, its reaction was introspective and resigned. The magazine no longer argued defiantly on the basis of the UK as a world power, but rather portrayed the UK as too small to stand alone, and thus encouraged resolve and perseverance with entry negotiations. This is exemplified by one October 1967 article:[6]

The British have father to go, less on specific issues of policy than in attitudes. For most of this century it has been natural for Englishmen to think of themselves as part of the English-speaking world, of which the United States has become the visible leader. Only now are they beginning in any number to think of themselves as Europeans as well.

—"And Now", The Economist, 1967-10-14[6]

The magazine took to minimalising the economic importance of the Commonwealth in its editorials, calling into question the interpretation of statistical data by those who had an emotional investment in the self-image of the UK as one-time head of an Empire:

Why is this sort of clamor set up whenever any new hope of entering the EEC dawns? The truth is that there are some people in Britain who are bitterly opposed to union with Europe on emotional grounds, or on the grounds of what they call the "bureaucratic monster" at Brussels and in that it interferes with Britons' independence to run their own affairs. Such people are to be found in the economics profession, politics, and the civil service; and this quite clearly does affect their sense of statistical balance.

—"Oh Moo", The Economist, 1969-07-12[6]

It pointed to the civil service as one of the ways in which parliamentary sovereignty, something that the opponents of entry argued would be eroded by membership, had already been eroded. Whilst it no longer advocated radical transformation from within, it observed that the UK would have a significant voice within the EC, by virtue of its size. Medrano equates the magazine's change in editorial stance, immediately before and after the UK's final success in gaining membership, to a "religious conversion". It made economic arguments for membership, on the grounds of growing globalization of markets, political arguments based upon the idea of holding the government of West Germany (which was, at the time, the SPD with its then policy of Ostpolitik) in check, and emotional arguments that played on the British antipathy towards the French by presenting its own federalist view of European communities as an anti-French alternative to the French government's proposals of intergovernmental union.[6]

Anglo-American relations

Whilst, as observed, The Economist's editorial stance was pro-American when it came to postwar international alliances, it was not always so. One particular editorial, that was at the head of a nadir in Anglo-American relations in World War II, was "Noble Negatives".[7] It was published in the 1944-12-30 edition of the magazine2, and is believed to be the work of Owen Fleming.[7][8] The so-called "noble negatives" were two cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy: non-intervention with the object of non-involvement.[7]

"Noble Negatives" appeared at the height of mutual criticisms between the UK and the U.S., and provoked wide discussion and comment in the newsmedia of both.[9] It was ostensibly a reply to the "outburst of criticism and abuse" that the U.S. had directed against the UK in previous weeks[10] (that had been, in part, triggered by the Carlo Sforza affair).[8] Its outspoken views on both U.S. foreign policy and sectors of U.S. public opinion were widely quoted, and in the view of Thomson, Meyer, and Briggs, writing in 1945, did much to "clear the air" between the two allies.[9]

The editorial made several remarks. It questioned whether the price that the UK had paid for collaboration with the U.S. during the war was not "too high for what we are likely to get".[11] It characterized U.S. public opinion of the UK as "Britain is stealing a march on the poor repressed American exporter, Britain has no intention of fighting the Japanese, [and] Britain is not really fighting in Europe. […] Britain is imperialist, reactionary, selfish, exclusive, restrictive.".[8]

It reflected on this attitude by noting that "All is painfully familiar, the only novelty in the recent epidemic is the evidence that [the] American government itself—or at least part of it—is more anxious to provide ammunition for the miscontents than to correct their wild misstatements.". The editorial called for a change in U.K. policy towards the U.S., saying "Let an end be put to the policy of apeasement which, at Mr Churchill's personal bidding, has been followed with all the humiliations and abasements.", and concluded by saying that:[8]

Hypocrisy is a common Anglo-Saxon failing—indeed, a failing of the rich and comfortable, all over the world […] the British have many times have made themselves cordially disliked by it. But that does not exempt them from feeling resentment when they are the objects of other people's hypocrisy.

—"Noble Negatives", The Economist, 1944-12-30[8]

The result was a media sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. The Daily Telegraph had a headline article "British Frankness Has Good Effect in U.S.". The Daily Herald headlined with "So the British Have Dared to Hit Back". Other headline articles were "Anglo-American Back Chat" (in the New York Herald Tribune) "Cross Talk" (in the Daily Mail), and "U.S. Comment on British Touchiness" (in the Manchester Guardian).[8]

The Foreign Office agreed with the editorial, although secret reports from British security services in New York warned that in fact there was worse to come, with support for isolationism and nationalism growing in the U.S., a crumbling of pro-British factions, and an increase in anti-British views in official U.S. government circles. Both President Roosevelt and the Secretary of State Stettinius were besieged by U.S. press calling for an official reaction to the editorial.[8]

Stettinius himself wrote that "Unfortunately, other British papers had followed the Economist's lead. Even the London Times [had] demanded that America 'put its cards on the table'.". His view on the editorial, which he expressed in a memorandum to Roosevelt, was that "the British were undergoing a strain in adjusting to a secondary rôle after having always accepted a leading one".[8]

Cold fusion

In 1989, the Economist editorialized that the cold fusion "affair" was "exactly what science should be about."[12] Science journalist Michael Brooks wrote:

It seems almost laughably naive in light of what followed, but the Economist was right: the research is what science is about, and has led us somewhere.
—Michael Brooks[12]

The Bosnian War

The Economist summarily dismissed Brendan Simms' book, Unfinest Hour, on the Bosnian War for having no more than "the force of an inkpot thrown from a schooldesk" and for its criticism of government ministers for their "flaws of logic [and] failures of clairvoyance". Simms himself observed in response that The Economist's own attempts at clairvoyance had "backfired spectacularly". He pointed to the magazine's editorials through July 1991 and 1992, which predicted that European Community foreign policy would deal with the situation well and that there would not be all-out war in Bosnia.[13]

Simms characterizes The Economist as being "a longstanding opponent of military intervention" in Bosnia, pointing to its editorials of July 1995, when the 1995 NATO bombing campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina was underway, and to Bill Emmott's own letter to the publication, which rejected "intervention in this three-cornered civil war, a war which all along has risked escalation into a far wider conflict with even ghastlier consequences", as evidence of this.[13]

Simms observed that the magazine's editorial stance changed at the end of September 1995, describing it as "finally conced[ing] what it had denied for so long".[13]

Drug Liberalization

The Economist has long[14] argued for the legalisation of drugs, calling it the "least bad solution" in a 2009 issue.[15]

Global warming

The Economist supports government action on global warming, declaring its view in a December editorial before the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference that the risk of catastrophic climate change and its effect on the economy outweighs the economic consequences of insuring against global warming now.[16] It also stated its preference of setting a carbon price through tax, rather than through a cap-and-trade system as a means of cutting emissions, and was generally scathing of government subsidies.

War in Afghanistan

The Economist supports the ISAF/NATO operation in Afghanistan, and called on Barack Obama to fight the war "with conviction". It supported his escalation of the American presence there in late 2009, on the basis of security interests and that a withdrawal "would amount to a terrible betrayal of the Afghan people, some of whose troubles are the result of Western intervention".[17]

Invasion of Iraq

The Economist supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq,[18] but was unhappy in how it was handled.[19]


Like many newspapers, The Economist occasionally uses its pages to endorse candidates in upcoming major elections. In the past it has endorsed parties and candidates from across the political spectrum, including:

For British general elections

The Economist has endorsed a party at British general election since 1955, having remained neutral in the few before that, on the grounds that "A journal that is jealous of its reputation for independence would, in any event, be foolish to compromise it by openly taking sides in a general election."[20]

  • 1955: Conservative Party, led by Sir Anthony Eden, "[I]n the election of 1955 an elector who tries to reach his conclusion by reason based on observation has no choice. He may not like voting Tory. But there is nothing else he can do." [21]
  • 1959: Conservative Party, led by Harold Macmillan, "The Tories deserve a vote, if not of confidence, then of hope."[22]
  • 1964: Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson, "It does seem to The Economist that, on the nicest balance, the riskier choice of Labour - and Mr Wilson - will be the better choice for voters to make on Thursday."[23]
  • 1966: Conservative Party, led by Edward Heath, "On their record in the past decade, as in the past weel, on the central issues of British policy the choice must be for Mr Heath."[24]
  • 1970: Conservative Party, led by Edward Heath, "But the Conservatives provide the better hope on at least three grounds: restoring some incentives to risk-taking, not destroying savings through Mr Crossman's pension scheme, and making some overdue advance towards trade union reform."[25]
  • February 1974: Conservative Party, led by Edward Heath, "If they want the resolution that they will win through one day ... then there is no alternative to Mr Heath."[26]
  • October 1974: Conservative Party, led by Edward Heath, "[A]lthough a good Liberal contribution would be essential to the formation, and the success, of any coalition, it is the Conservatives who will provide the strongest and toughest opposition to a majority Labour government next week." While expressing a preference for the Conservatives, they also hoped for the "reinforcement of the sensible centre wherever it can be managed: that includes social democratic Labour men, who may yet have a decisive part to play, as much as it includes Conservatives who would rely on unemployment as their main policy"[27]
  • 1979: Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, "We are not confident that it will be proved, but we would like to see it tried. The Economist votes for Mrs Thatcher being given her chance." This year they recognized the risk of Margaret Thatcher, and supported the Liberal Party, led by David Steel, as "the choice for the timid" [28]
  • 1983: Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, "We believe Mrs Thatcher and her colleagues should be given a second chance to deliver them, with the fewest possible Labour (as distinct from alliance) MPs elected against her."[29]
  • 1987: Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, "The Tories may not succeed; the Thatcher revolution may stall, unfinished. But to end its chances now would be folly, grand scale"[30]
  • 1992: Conservative Party, led by John Major, "Mr Ashdown's best long-term hope for a Liberal revival lies in overturning the past 92 years, so that the Labour Party and the Liberals rejoin each other. For that to happen, Labour must lose this election, and the bigger its loss the better. And that, given the depressing state of British politics, is the best reason for wanting the Conservatives to win next week."[31]
  • 1997: Conservative Party, led by John Major, “Labour doesn't deserve it” [32]
  • 2001: Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, “Vote conservative” [33]
  • 2005: Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, “There is no alternative (alas)” [34]
  • 2010: Conservative Party, led by David Cameron: "in this British election the overwhelming necessity of reforming the public sector stands out. It is not just that the budget deficit is a terrifying 11.6% of GDP, a figure that makes tax rises and spending cuts inevitable. Government now accounts for over half the economy, rising to 70% in Northern Ireland. For Britain to thrive, this liberty-destroying Leviathan has to be tackled. The Conservatives, for all their shortcomings, are keenest to do that; and that is the main reason why we would cast our vote for them."[35]

For United States presidential elections

  • 1980: Ronald Reagan, Republican Party, "That, perhaps, is the most pressing reason why so many of America's friends want, unusually in a presidential election, to see a change at the top, even one laden with risk. We agree with them."[36]
  • 1984: No endorsement[37]
  • 1988: No endorsement, "Oh dear!"[38]
  • 1992: Bill Clinton, Democratic Party, "Despite the risks, the possibilities are worth pursuing. Our choice falls on him."[39]
  • 1996: Bob Dole, Republican Party, "We choose him on the assumption that the real Bob Dole is the one who spent three decades on Capitol Hill, not this year's dubious character; that he would be more prudent than his economic plan implies. That is an awkward basis for an endorsement. But the choice is a lousy one."[40]
  • 2000: George W. Bush, Republican Party, after John McCain was defeated in the Republican primaries. At the time, the newspaper hoped George W. Bush could transcend partisanship, but now the newspaper describes him as the "partisan-in-chief."[41]
  • 2004: John Kerry, Democratic Party, “The incompetent George W. Bush or the incoherent John Kerry[42]
  • 2008: Barack Obama, Democratic Party, "He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent. Whether he can fulfil his immense potential remains to be seen. But Mr Obama deserves the presidency."[43]


Some of these might not be considered official endorsements, but seem to obviously express The Economist's view on the matter.


  • ^1 For example, in its 1950-05-20 edition, the magazine remarked that the Schuman Plan would "stand or fall" depending from its effects on the links between Europe and the U.S., and warned that Adenauer and others were aiming to organize Western Europe on "neutralist" lines, that would not ally it with the U.S. against the Soviet Union.[56]
  • ^2 It was re-printed in the 1945-01-08 issue of the Daily Telegraph.[9]


  1. ^ Bill Emmot (2000-12-08). "Time for a referendum on the monarchy". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media).,2763,408484,00.html. 
  2. ^ "About us". Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  3. ^ Williams, Leslie; Williams, W.H.A. (2003). Daniel O'Connell, the British Press, and the Irish Famine. Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. pp. 101, 152–153. ISBN 0754605531. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  4. ^ Ó Gráda, Cormac (1995). "Introduction". The great Irish famine. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1. ISBN 0521557879. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Robert F. Haggard (2001). "Conservative, Liberal, and the Radical Responses to the Social Question". The persistence of Victorian liberalism: the politics of social reform in Britain, 1870–1900. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 117–118. ISBN 0313313059. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Juan Díez Medrano (2003). "Journalists and European Integration". Framing Europe: attitudes to European integration in Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Princeton University Press. pp. 128 et seq.. ISBN 0691116113. 
  7. ^ a b c Jacques Nobecourt (1967). Hitler's Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge. New York: Schocken Books. pp. 92. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Lanxin Xiang (1995). Recasting the Imperial Far East. East Gate. pp. 6–8. ISBN 1562344608. 
  9. ^ a b c David Thomson, E. Meyer, Asa Briggs (2003). Patterns of Peacemaking. Routledge. pp. 354. ISBN 0415175518. 
  10. ^ Frank Moore Colby (1945). The New international year book, 1944. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. pp. 261. 
  11. ^ Herbert George Nicholas, Isaiah Berlin (1981). Washington Despatches, 1941–1945: Weekly Political Reports from the British Embassy. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. pp. 494. ISBN 0297779206. 
  12. ^ a b Michael Brooks, "13 Things That Don't Make Sense" (ISBN 978-1-60751-666-8), p. 67 (New York:Doubleday, 2008), citing J. (Jerrold) K. Footlick, "Truth and Consequences: how colleges and universities meet public crises" (ISBN 9780897749701), p. 51 (Phoenix:Oryx Press, 1997).
  13. ^ a b c Brendan Simms (2004). "The End of the "Official Doctrine": The New Consensus on Britain and Bosnia". In Neil Winn. Neo-medievalism and Civil Wars. Routledge. pp. 58–60. ISBN 0714656682. 
  14. ^ "Hooked on just saying no". Retrieved 2010-5-26. 
  15. ^ "How to stop the drug wars", The Economist (2009-3-5) (The Economist Newspaper Limited)
  16. ^ "The Copenhagen Summit", The Economist Volume 393 Number 8660 (2009-12-5) (The Economist Newspaper Limited)
  17. ^ "Obama's war", The Economist Volume 393 Number 8653 (2009-10-17) (The Economist Newspaper Limited)
  18. ^ "The case for war—revisited", The Economist(2003-7-17) (The Economist Newspaper Limited)
  19. ^ "Mugged by reality". The Economist. 2007-03-22. Retrieved 9 April 2007. 
  20. ^ The Economist, 4 February 1950, p. 243
  21. ^ The Economist, 21 May 1955, p. 645
  22. ^ The Economist, 3 October 1959, p. 19
  23. ^ The Economist, 10 October 1964, p. 115
  24. ^ The Economist, 26 March, 1966, p. 1205
  25. ^ The Economist, 6 June 1970, p. 11
  26. ^ The Economist, 23 February 1974
  27. ^ The Economist, 5 October 1979, p. 14, 15
  28. ^ The Economist, 28 April 1979, pp. 15, 17
  29. ^ The Economist, 4 June 1983, p. 12
  30. ^ The Economist, 6 June 1987, p. 14
  31. ^ The Economist, 4 April 1992, p. 16
  32. ^ Labour doesn’t deserve it |
  33. ^ Britain’s election | Vote conservative |
  34. ^ Our British election endorsement | There is no alternative (alas) |
  35. ^ The Economist, 1 May 2010: Who should govern Britain?
  36. ^ US presidential endorsements |
  37. ^ US presidential endorsements |
  38. ^ US presidential endorsements |
  39. ^ US presidential endorsements |
  40. ^ US presidential endorsements |
  41. ^ [1]
  42. ^ America's next president | The incompetent or the incoherent? |
  43. ^ [2]
  44. ^ New York city's election | Goodbye, Rudy Tuesday |
  45. ^ The German election | Time for a change |
  46. ^ California's recall election | Has it come to this? |
  47. ^ London mayoral election | A capital choice |
  48. ^ Australia | John Howard reconsidered |
  49. ^ Canada | Those daring Canadians |
  50. ^ Italy's election | Basta, Berlusconi |
  51. ^ America's mid-term elections | The vultures gather |
  52. ^ The French presidential election | France's chance |
  53. ^ Turkey's election | Of mullahs and majors |
  54. ^ Italy's election | A Leopard, spots unchanged |
  55. ^ Canada's credit-crunch election |
  56. ^ George Wilkes and Dominic Wring (1998). "The British Press and Integration". In David Baker and David Seawright. Britain for and against Europe. Oxford University Press. pp. 187–188. ISBN 0198280785. 

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