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February 03, 2004

Facts from The Economist

Dear Friedrich --

Annoying as I often find The Economist, I still marvel at the vividness and precision of its writing -- and at the frankness, earthiness and detail of much of its reporting. A few highlights from recent issues:

  • Dairy cows attract 1000 flies per cow.
  • Dairy cows generate 100 pounds of manure per animal per day.
  • Angola, two years out of a civil war, seems to be one fantastically corrupt country. Its rulers have been accused of having "filched or misspent $4.2 billion in five years ... The missing cash was equivalent to nearly a tenth of GDP each year -- as if an American administration had 'lost' $5 trillion -- and roughly as much as was spent on all social services."
  • Half of Angola's children are malnourished while 20 Angolans are worth $100 million or more.
  • Only 23 of Angola's 168 municipal courts are functioning. The government says it will fix the problem "by 2051."
  • Mexico has an illegal-immigrant problem of its own -- people attempting to migrate north from Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. "Last year, Mexico deported 147,000 illegal immigrants in all, some 20% more than in 2002." Most seem to be trying to make their way to the U.S.

Gives one's art-concerns, art-gripes, and art-preferences a bit of context, don't you find?

Although all the above facts come from subscription-only articles, The Economist's website, which is here, is a generous one, well worth a regular visit.



posted by Michael at February 3, 2004


I agree completely. I only recently discovered the Economist, when my wife signed up for a free trial subscription. She'll sign up for anything that's free--she has almost no interest in politics and even less in economics. Yet after reading the first issue we got, she all but insisted that we subscribe--and not bother to renew the New Yorker when a gift subscription from the previous Christmas ran out. And I agreed with her. I read even the articles about matters I'm not terribly interested in because the writing is so good and to rightly attumed in its voice to whatever interest the story might have were you to give your attention to it. It's amazing--depressing, actually--how rare this has become in any journalism, anywhere. Most journalists sound like professionals (i.e. bureaucrats) and not real people. Or maybe it's just a problem with Amerrican journalism.

I find the smugness of the Economist's liberal (in the classic sense) faith in the market annoying, but although my own views are considerebly to the left of theirs, I do think it would be a good thing if there was a consensus to accept their view as a common starting point: i.e., let the market play itself out freely but feel free to tinker with it where tinkering seems likely to be effective in order to ameliorate its undeniable destructive force, but don't ever try to manage it--because you can't manage the market any more than you can manage the weather. My point, I guess, is that leftists would be more effective (and less annoying and/or absurd) if they accepted this premise, as would free market liberarians if they didn't treat all acts of tinkering as somehow blasphemous and against nature. Lefties would still be a bit too trigger-happy for tinkering, and libertarians a bit too gun shy, but at least everyone would recognize they live in the same world and that their differences are not worth getting nasty over.

Were you surprised to see the Economist ome out for breaking up Microsoft?

Posted by: John Hinchey on February 3, 2004 2:59 PM

"Only 23 of Angola's 168 municipal courts are functioning. The government says it will fix the problem "by 2051.""

Oh my God. There is simply no end to corruption and self dealing in the there?

Posted by: annette on February 3, 2004 4:39 PM

This just does not seem right:

Dairy cows generate 100 pounds of manure per animal per day.

Posted by: ZEKE on February 3, 2004 6:16 PM

Apparently, you haven't visited the cow's farm.
Let me invoke, as an illustration, those TV images of cows in the process of chewing all the time. Even considering their anathomy (swallowed food goes back to the mouth to be chewed again), that would sort of explain the statistic...
But of course, we are talking about well cared for cows, with enough food to process - and not the ones in Angola, f.ex.

Posted by: Tatyana on February 3, 2004 6:43 PM

Having shoveled manure at an 86 cow dairy farm - I can attest that the 100 lbs of manure per day is off. Must be the wrong integer or decimal. Could be per month. I really think it is per year.

Posted by: Dave on February 3, 2004 7:45 PM

It does seems like a lot, doesn't it. But that's what the article, for what it's worth, says. Time to send a letter to the editor of the Economist. Still: a thousand flies -- now that sounds about right.

John -- I'm with you all the way. Bizarre how the argument involves people with completely absurd, or at least impractical, positions squaring off and blasting away. Do you find yourself being annoyed by but enjoying the magazine? There are times when I've had enough. Then there are other times when reading it makes me feel a wee bit smarter than I'd be otherwise. And what's the alternative?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 3, 2004 10:39 PM

Whoa! A little Googling suggests that the Econmist is underestimating the manure each cow generates:

"A 1,400-pound cow producing 70 pounds of milk per day also produces about 160 pounds of manure. "

I found it here.

Wow, that's more than a tenth its body weight. What a life, eh? And talk about roughage ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 3, 2004 10:47 PM

Living surrounded by dairy farms in Southern Wisconsin, it doesnt the figure doesnt really surprise me. Disposal of the manure is a major problem for some of the farmers with bigger herds --state regs only allow so much manure spread per acre on ag land and they have more manure than they can spread. Since it's mainly liquid when it's first, um, extruded, they build waste holding ponds to store it and dry it out a little.
Cows have very inefficient digestive systems. Their manure had a lot of leftover hay and grain undigested in it, which makes it prime feeding for the wild turkey around here. On a clear sunny winter day, I've seen a couple hundred turkeys feasting in a recently manured field.

What I found weird was the juxtapostion of statistics on cow manure and Angola in the same list. ;o)

Posted by: Deb on February 3, 2004 11:06 PM

In Nelson Mandela's autobiography, it said that while he and his fellow protestors were in prison, one of them ordered The Economist and got it because the guards thought it was an economic journal, they didn't realise it was a news mag.

Posted by: Tracy on February 3, 2004 11:50 PM

I don't always agree with the Economist, but it's still my favorite new mag, hands down. Why can't the US press be as lively as this?

I remember Sullivan (or maybe it was Mark Steyn) mooting the idea, about a year ago, that blogs have taken off to a greater extent in the US than the UK because the American press is so turgid - so committed to faux impartiality. (While the observation itself holds, I don't think the conclusion does: Blogs are bigger in the US because the US is more wired and...well...these things tend to happen there first.)

I started writing this comment because US GDP seemed to be overstated in the point about Angola. Now I notice that the baseline is five years, not one. Close reading: evidently not my strong suit.

In the words of former SNL pundit Emily Litella, Never mind.

Posted by: opie on February 4, 2004 8:48 AM


I'm a bit betwixt and between on the Economist. It provides some useful facts, and is more lively than most U.S. journalism, but...a good deal of the liveliness seems to come from an editorial mandate to suggest what should be done about the issues raised in each story within each story, and, frankly, a lot of the recommendations strike me as pretty lightweight. In short, there's room for a public affairs magazine that does what the Economist does, but better: deeper, more profound. Of course, it would have to focus on a much narrower range of topics per issue to deliver the added value. Also, the Economist is hogging what could be a great title for a wholly different magazine: one that examines public affairs showing the insights of, er, economists. Sort of a magazine version of Marginal Revolution.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 4, 2004 11:41 AM

You and "Harper's Index." Sheesh.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on February 4, 2004 12:44 PM

Aw, c'mon Friedrich. With all due respect to Alex, Tyler and economists everywhere, I think that after your magazine gets through the first 150 years of publication, you really ought to get a free pass on dyspeptic complaints about hogging a fine name. I mean, my wife and I hold different passports, but we don't call ourselves the United States.

Posted by: opie on February 5, 2004 5:45 AM

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