The Clueless Economist

Its South Asia bureau is plumbing the depths

The Economist is easily the second best magazine out there. You read it because it is intelligent and opinionated. You may not always agree with its opinions, but it usually gives you good arguments why it says what it does.

So when it fails to stand up to its usual standards, you must stand up and smack down the offending article. Like the one on the Hyderabad blasts in this week’s edition. If the title—“Mad and Hyderabad”—is baffling, the subtitle—“Nameless, ruthless, pointless”—gets only the first two adjectives right. For despite The Economist’s cluelessness, the nameless ruthlessness is anything but pointless.

It is a strange terrorist who prefers to remain anonymous. Yet this seems to be the signature of the bombers who, every few months for the past few years, have exploded crude bombs in India’s cities. [The Economist]

Not even the most deluded terrorist would believe that bomb blasts in Indian cities will, by themselves, achieve political objectives. Identifying themselves and claiming responsibility would be useful if they wanted to awe the government into negotiations or to attract followers. But if what the terrorists really wanted to do was to let the blasts trigger off an wider outbreak of communal riots, then anonymity is exactly what they would seek. For anonymity would create doubts, with each side believing that the other is responsible. What would happen to those conspiracy theories if, say, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami sent a videotape to CNN-IBN claiming responsibility for the attacks? It does not take too much thinking to conclude that for their campaign to be successful, they have to remain anonymous. (The anonymous correspondents of The Economist, of all people, must be familiar with the idea.)

Perhaps it is because the correspondent missed the plot that s/he was forced to do the “reminds investors that India is a violent place” routine. Really? How did the markets behave? Page 82 of the same issue lists market data. It shows that the BSE index gained 5.2% during the same week. Not only that, the BSE index was the top gainer that week. If anything, investors probably have gotten used to the apathetic Indian resilience to such attacks.

But it is the last paragraph that should make you wonder how empty the first floor is.

It is not known what role India’s 150m Muslims, who include 40% of Hyderabad’s population, play in the violence. Probably a supporting one at most. But that could change. India’s Muslims have long suffered politically inspired communal violence and casual discrimination. Were they ever to become seriously riled, India would have a problem indeed. [The Economist]

It’s surprising how many things The Economist’s correspondent doesn’t know and yet goes on to make rather bold conclusions. Despite the near certainty of local Muslims being involved in the blasts, to extend this and suggest that India’s or even Hyderabad’s Muslims “probably” played a “supporting role” is absurd.

And what does one make of the dark suggestions that ‘seriously riled’ Muslims will cause trouble for India. Nothing, except that The Economist would do well to tighten the substance abuse and recruitment policy for its correspondents.

Related Post: When its bureau chief charged Indians with misinformed scepticism about Pakistan.

15 thoughts on “The Clueless Economist

  1. Nitin,

    The economist’s standards, when it comes to India, have always been dodgy.
    On the front of data as well as opinions.

    The Economist is hardly clueless — this is not an ignorant utterance but the result of a deeply held dislike and rank prejudice against India and Indians.

    Hell, I’ll say it — against Hindus in particular.
    See this recent article, for example.

    The First Floor, as you call it, is hardly empty — its quite full of bile!

  2. Nitin:

    This is the traditional bias of the western media for whom terrorism didn’t exist prior to 9/11. And even now, their world view remains limited to Iraq and Afghanistan and if it is not Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, it isn’t the ‘real stuff’.

    Their analysis reflects their biases and like all opinionated people, they are entitled to their reflections – albeit this one is off a warped mirror. I am still not discounting their intelligence but the education seems amiss. I fully endorse your view – ‘Mistakes are acceptable but ignorance is not’.

    Thanks for contesting their half-baked surmisals.

  3. Pragmatic,

    I suppose the problem is that the Western media, by and large, toes the establishment line. (See this link to see the danger of doing that).

    The Economist, I would say, has its own mind. But their coverage of India has fallen in the last one year or so. We can expect it to oppose the nuclear deal, or offer a different macroeconomic reading, but that’s done with good reason. We can disagree, as The Acorn has several times, while acknowledging that the Economist has reasonable grounds for saying what it does. But this one was atrocious!

  4. Nitin,

    The Economist, has lost its lustre among serious economists, after it became a mere mouthpiece of the neo-conservative politicians. It’s opinions, especially in the political sphere, are increasingly baseless, and more often than not reflect other stodgy, pompous, and clueless right-wingers on both sides of the Atlantic. This is often what happens when economists dabble in politicas, as what happened when LTCM (Long-Term Capital Management) started to formulate its hedging strategies based on Yeltsin’s political risks, instead of Russia’s economic risks.

    As AG points out, it’s tilt against India has an even longer record. I don’t see any reason why India should give two hoots about its writings; the investors don’t, as you’ve noted. The last two sentences in the article are, however, extremely inflammatory, and make me wonder if they were quotes from a Friday meeting in a London mosque! Do you have any clue as to the correspondent who wrote the piece?

    Having said that, I agree with your assessment of the consequences of, say, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami sending “a videotape to CNN-IBN claiming responsibility for the attacks”, but for a different reason. The game is multi-plied. One could argue that not claiming responsibility would actually stalemate the reactions from both the Hindus and Muslims – paralysis from analysis – and not lead to widespread communal riots. If some Muslims were to claim responsibility, it would almost certainly evoke a reaction from the Hindus, and that wouldn’t bode well for most Indian Muslims. As you point out, it’s better for the terrorists, too, who may wish to remain anonymous until their organization(s) has consolidated its support among the locals and reached a critical mass. In Kashmir, they may believe that they have accomplished this, and hence the claims and counter-claims for responsibility for their actions in the valley. A different logic for the same act [of not claiming responsibility] may warrant a different counter-terrorism strategy.

  5. Rational Fool,

    Much that you can say when you can remain anonymous eh! London does this to you, I guess.

    You have a plausible explanation for the anonymity. But I’d say it’s unlikely. Because if you are a jihadi outfit, you want to rouse the silent masses to battle. And you’d do that by provoking an all out religious war. If they were to announce their identity then the worst that would happen are localised riots; but it would compel the state itself to come down hard on the outfits, there being no justification for inaction.

    The only way they’ll get their ‘religious war’ is by creating fear, uncertainty and doubt. The government will do nothing serious, for fear of offending vote banks; self-styled activists will offer various fig leafs; politicians of all stripes will make things worse by pointing fingers at all and sundry and so on.

    Hence Akshardham, Varanasi, Diwali/Id, Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and Hyderabad. These are the places with strong religious connotations. These guys need a good communal riot to make CDs and distribute it for propaganda value.

  6. I have been a reader of this blasted magazine for more than 17 years
    and I strongly disagree with Nitin’s first paragraph. It does not give
    good arguments. It is Pompous, Opinionated, Pretentious and Overrated.

    It is a POPO magazine.

  7. There seems to be a whole bunch of people who call The Economist total garbage but continue to read it, an attitude I fail to understand. The credit you give to the magazine is rightly due, and so is your your standing up and smacking down what is obviously a poorly researched article.

  8. When the read the article on Saturday, I was thinking Economist is being Economist again. For some reason it loses its brain when it comes to India. I think they just compensate for any negative portrayal of Islamic nations by beating up on non-Islamic Asian nation (there is no other nation that is better suited when it comes to Islamic issues). I’m sure it would have written such a report on UK terror bombing if Britain’s police responded the way Manmohan’s government is after repeated terror attacks. No mention of the incompetency of anti-terror policy in the story – its not a story.

    Economist already defined a cause and effect for terror – casual discrimination will continue and terror bombs will compensate (and victims are to be blamed for the state of affairs). If there are riots it has something to fall back on – its own explanation.

    Most read Economist because it is the only English magazine that summaries stories from all the over the world. But each fall into the same trap of coverage that we see on India (for example, read about the Chinese Military buildup from three weeks ago – apparently it’s nothing to be worried about, its still a rag tag army!). Opinion carries an inherent bias. And unless we read Economist with a little bit of salt, the rest of world will have a coloured (painted by the magazine) look.

  9. Sorry for the rather frivolous comment but I assume the best magazine is Pragati… 😀

    (since you mentioned the second best is Economist)

  10. Economist etc have always fantasized about communal violence in India between Hindus and Muslims. They do not let any opportunity to, even remotely, link everything to the ‘tension’. For them, this ‘tension’ is the source of everything wrong about India’s march to development and in particular, Hindu militants and fundamentalists have exacerbated the tension.

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