The Corner

The one and only.

The Economist Explains


I’ve been a subscriber to The Economist since the 1970s, but I think we’re going to have to part company. The magazine just keeps getting weirder.

The April 23rd issue had as its theme: “Where did California go wrong?” There was a 1,200-word leading article followed by a 16-page (15-page without the ads), 11,000-word “Special Report.”

So what’s California’s problem? Direct democracy!

Direct democracy in California is … an aberration. It has no safeguards against Madison’s tyranny of the majority. It recognizes no saucer that might cool the passions of the people. Above all, it is not a system intended to contain minority factions. Instead, it encourages special interests to wage war by ballot measure until one lobby prevails and imposes its will on all. Madison and Hamilton would have been horrified.

Among ancillary evils in California’s political system, The Economist finds term limits especially deplorable:

With so little time [i.e. in office: six years in the assembly, eight in the senate] every vote counts as legislators try to repay their debts to the donors who put them in the job and prepare their next career move. They need not worry about a politically convenient vote that has long-term costs because those will be the problem of a different set of legislators.

And of Californians, presumably, if that vote makes the state a worse place to live in. Perhaps the editors of The Economist are assuming that all legislators leave the state when their limited terms are up.

The authors of the Special Report allow that direct democracy can work well:

In Switzerland, whence California imported the idea, the initiative process works well. In some of the other 23 American states that practice some variant, it works better than in others. So the problem is not direct democracy as such …

Well, gee willikers then, what is the problem? Could it have anything to do with the demographic transformation of the state, as so memorably chronicled by Victor Davis Hanson on NRO last December?

Not according to The Economist. Doing a scan of that 11,000-word Special Report in search of Abominable Words, I came up with these counts:  “immigration” — 0, “Mexican” — 0, “illegal” — 0, “undocumented” — 0, “border” — 0, “Spanish” — 0, “Latino” — 0, “Hispanic” — 1 (“half of California’s pupils are Hispanic, and 40 percent of those hardly speak English”), “welfare” — 2 (“many Californians have lost their homes, jobs, health care and welfare services, [Governor Jerry] Brown implied” and “it seemed as though cities would have to close parks and counties would have to deny their residents medical and welfare services [i.e. after the 1978 Proposition 13 vote]“), …

This struck me as very strange. I knew of course that The Economist is open-borders libertarian; but 11,000 words on California’s problems with barely a mention of the Mexifornia Factor? Come on.

Some commenters on the magazine’s website were similarly incredulous. I therefore expected that when the following issue of the magazine arrived, there would be at least one reader letter pointing out the anomaly.

No, not a peep. None of the eleven published letters even mentioned the April 23rd California “Special Report.” How very odd.

That following issue (April 30th) did, though, have a leader (1,200 words again) on “What’s wrong with America’s economy?” and an associated feature article (2,700 words) titled “Decline of the working man: Why ever fewer low-skilled American men have jobs.”

So why do they? Because they aren’t sufficiently academic!

American men have let their schooling slide. Those aged between 25 and 34 are less likely to have a degree that 45 to 54-year-olds.

Hit those books, guys! Not enough of you are going to college! (Contra Charles Murray.)


Poor educational performance also interacts perniciously with America’s habit of imprisoning large numbers of young black men.

There’s no reason to put those guys in jail, you see. It’s not as though they’ve done anything wrong. It’s just a peculiar “habit” the U.S.A. has — an irrational cultural practice, like Chinese foot-binding or the Ghost Dance of the Sioux.

Does The Economist ask the questions that come naturally to a great many of us on seeing a headline about why ever fewer low-skilled American men have jobs, viz.:  Why, this being the case, do we bring in over a million foreigners for settlement every year, four-fifths of them of working age? Why are most of those new immigrants (two-thirds) admitted on family-reunification grounds, without regard to skills or abilities? Why are the numbers constant year by year, regardless of how well or badly the economy is doing?

New Census Bureau data collected in March of this year show that 13.1 million immigrants (legal and illegal) arrived in the previous 10 years, even though there was a net decline of a million jobs during the decade. In contrast, during the 1990s there was a net growth of 21 million jobs and 12.1 million new immigrants arrived. Despite fundamentally different economic conditions, the level of immigration was remarkably similar for both 10-year periods. [CIS Backgrounder, Nov. 2010]

Why not have a moratorium on legal immigration until the unemployment rate falls below five percent? Along with more vigorous efforts to deny illegal immigrants access to the labor market?

Not a peep from The Economist on any of that. Only:  “Better incentives might encourage low-skilled men to return to the labour market. But without better education or training they are likely to be stuck on its bottom rungs …” and “Some favour trade barriers to protect jobs, especially in manufacturing. That would be a mistake …” and “It is a shame that American policymakers have barely considered the problem.”

Yes it is; but in fairness to our policymakers, it isn’t easy for them to consider a problem when one big cause of the problem may not be mentioned in polite society, or in the pages of prestigious economics-oriented news magazines.


Subscribe to National Review

Sign up for free NRO e-mails today: