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Empire Loyalists

Maurice Walsh
Liberalism at Large: The World according to The Economist, by Alexander Zevin, Verso, 538 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-1781686249 In a famous passage from The Economic Consequences of the Peace, JM Keynes recalled the serenity of upper middle class life before the outbreak of war in 1914. “The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantities as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages …” The comfortable gentleman of pre-war London “regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable.” Keynes’s contented citizen was almost certainly a reader of The Economist; the world he lived in and his exalted expectations of it were the journal’s idea of an achieved utopia. The detailed knowledge it provided of how his good fortune was attributable to the commercial triumphs of the British empire made him a member of an elect. In 1914 The Economist was read by a few thousand people; today its print circulation is over 900,000 worldwide and when 750,000 online subscribers are taken into account its global readership is over 1.5 million (with almost 60 per cent of these readers in North America). Many more people are aware of being consumers in a globalised world but a still recurring theme of The Economist’s witty, self-referential advertising campaigns is that reading it confers, at the very least, vicarious membership of the circles in the know. “It’s lonely at the top; but at least there’s something to read,” is a slogan that is more than an idle boast. In Keynes’s day the Treasury relied on The Economist in making policy arguments; Mussolini claimed to be an avid reader and Hitler granted the editor an interview in 1933. JFK was given a lifetime subscription to the paper – as it likes to be called ‑ by his father. Henry Kissinger played a cameo in a television ad in 1996 in which a first class airline passenger regrets not having read The Economist when the former secretary of state takes the seat alongside him. Jeremy Corbyn’s…

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