First issue of The Economist, published on 2 September 1843
It is not only The Economist's name that people find baffling. Here are some other common questions.
First, why does it call itself a newspaper?
Even when The Economist incorporated the Bankers' Gazette and Railway Monitor from 1845 to 1932, it also described itself as "a political, literary and general newspaper".
It still does so because, in addition to offering analysis and opinion, it tries in each issue to cover the main events—business and political—of the week. It goes to press on Thursdays and, printed simultaneously in six countries, is available in most of the world's main cities the following day or soon after.
Readers everywhere get the same editorial matter. The advertisements differ. The running order of the sections, and sometimes the cover, also differ. But the words are the same, except that each week readers in Britain get a few extra pages devoted to British news.
Why is it anonymous?
Many hands write The Economist, but it speaks with a collective voice. Leaders are discussed, often disputed, each week in meetings that are open to all members of the editorial staff. Journalists often co-operate on articles. And some articles are heavily edited. The main reason for anonymity, however, is a belief that what is written is more important than who writes it. As Geoffrey Crowther, editor from 1938 to 1956, put it, anonymity keeps the editor "not the master but the servant of something far greater than himself. You can call that ancestor-worship if you wish, but it gives to the paper an astonishing momentum of thought and principle."
Who owns The Economist?
Since 1928, half the shares have been owned by the Financial Times, a subsidiary of Pearson, the other half by a group of independent shareholders, including many members of the staff. The editor's independence is guaranteed by the existence of a board of trustees, which formally appoints him and without whose permission he cannot be removed.
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 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.
Lastly, The Economist believes in plain language. Walter Bagehot, our most famous 19th-century editor, tried "to be conversational, to put things in the most direct and picturesque manner, as people would talk to each other in common speech, to remember and use expressive colloquialisms". That remains the style of the paper today.