Et tu, Economist?


Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.

Related Post Roulette

101 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    There has been a fairly glorious amount of tweet based snarkery aimed at this review.

    The reviewer did forget the possibility that slave owners had been, by 1820, simply bred better with stronger whip hands and a more efficient whipping motion. That would allow them to “encourage and motivate” their …ummm…contractors in a more efficacious manner.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      The #notallslaveowners hashtag was brilliant.

      Goes well with the review of 12 Years a Slave that criticized the movie for not showing us the kinder side of slave owners:

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        A really weird response to the claim “slavery is evil” is to say that some slave owners weren’t so bad. I can never figure out what transmogrified sentence the speaker is actually hearing.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        There is a general response among some white people — and it’s not just conservative white people — to criticism of white racism, past or present, that involves either trying to say that white people in their most racist moments were/are not so bad, or that black people are actually worse. The response to the Ferguson protests, which was extremely common, in which some white person says to someone (usually some black person) that more black people are killed by other black people, so why aren’t people protesting that, is an example of the latter.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Been thinkin about what you wrote Chris. I don’t disagree. What I wonder is whether the types of responses or inclinations amongst white you’re talking about aren’t best accounted for by the concept of white guilt. Something revealed rather than a concept batted about (which also reveals something, ya know?).Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I imagine that’s a big part of it.Report

      • Avatar EB says:

        @stillwater see also the absolute obsession with finding black slave owners, black confederate soldiers, etc. What exactly is it supposed to prove? “If there are any evil black people, there must not be any evil white people” is as close as I can come.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Its supposed to prove that whites are not eviller than blacks. Which is so obviously true that you have to wonder about people who need evidence for it.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I’m saying something stronger than that, tho. I think white guilt has been so sublimated into our culture that folks are hypersensitive to defending white people even when the context of an utterance is purely objective. White guilt runs deep, seems to me. All the folks that reflexively apologize for slavery are revealing their guilt, it seems to me, since the intent of that apologetics (or whatever) is to blur distinctions to diminish what are obvious and morally difficult judgments.Report

      • Avatar EB says:

        “I mean, I definitely support a society that is fundamentally based on racism. I just never thought that people would judge ME by my race”Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Sorry, I just saw your comments. Yes, I agree completely. It’s bizarre, like an effort to downgrade evilness to the moral norm or something. Seems to me folks who think that way reveal – by their expressions and (hopefully not) actions – that they are defending something. Something indefensible. Otherwise why all the mental pyrotechnics and logical convolutions?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        What exactly is it supposed to prove?

        I imagine that the intent is to demonstrate that it was complicated. Sure, there’s right and wrong… but it’s complicated.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Are you being serious here, JB? Snarky?

        I mean, it’s one thing to say that some folks think it’s complicated, but it’s an entirely other thing to say that they’re claim of complicatedness is justified. It’s not.

        What might be complicated is that a judgment that slavery is wrong leads some folks to equate that with a judgment that white people are wrong. And even *that* issue isn’t that complicated.Report

      • Avatar EB says:

        Jaybird, you’ve made Stillwater’s point exactly. In what way does the existence of black slaveowners complicate the evils of slavery? The obvious answer is, it does not in any way complicate the evils of slavery. Does it complicate the ‘view’ that slavery proves white evil? Sure, I suppose. But I don’t feel any great need to respond to the evils of slavery by defending, or even discussing, the morals of white people.Report

      • Avatar EB says:

        In conclusion, Stillwater, JINX!!!Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        If I intended to communicate that I thought that it was complicated, please understand that that was not what I was trying to communicate.

        I was merely trying to answer the question honestly and dispassionately.

        But if you would enjoy giving me a speech about the evils of slavery, I would hate to be a party pooper. Is there a particular response you’d kinda wish someone would give and I’ll give it and then you can rail against it?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Jaybird, I think you always answer honestly and dispassionately. I also think you reach levels of meta that ought to boggle an honest person’s mind. I know you don’t endorse slavery, but the mere presupposition that you could add to this conversation in a constructive way by telling us something all of us already know – quite obviously, given the context of the discussion – is pretty damn irritating.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Oh, I didn’t grasp that the question was rhetorical.

        Have at it.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Jaybird, there’s a smugness to your tone and expression that I find insulting.Report

      • Avatar EB says:

        Did you know that these comments came in response to a first, or “original”, post, by reading which one might be able to glean some context in which to place the responses that followed?Report

      • Avatar EB says:

        Or to rephrase, it is clearly false that everyone agrees on the evilness of slavery, as evidenced by the OP and the examples given in the comments. Some people think that slavery is only evil to the extent that it can’t be pinned on white people. Others think that literally every topic of conversation only has meaning insofar as it allows them to make bs comments about how everyone is just so, how do you say, not jaybird.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Stillwater, try to read them as vaguely without affect.

        EB, believe it or not, I did. I saw answers that dealt with racism, white guilt, and evil. I honestly thought that my answer to the question added something. Now that I see that it does not, I’m more than happy enough to bow out of the conversation.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Stillwater, try to read them as vaguely without affect.

        And there you go again, tryin to “educate” me. Leave it bro.

        Damn liberals and all their ignrins!Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        I’m not sure I understand that comment, but it insofar as I do I agree that Jaybird does like to have if both ways on these types of things. To reverse things somewhat, what he’s basically doing is trying to find a way to disagree with us, even tho he agrees with us. Which is the standardly accepted implmentation of Cleeks Law.

        Make uvit what you will!Report

      • Avatar EB says:

        I know what I’m thinking but can’t find the words! It’s cleeks law combined with a general too-cool-for-school-ness that leads to a purported libertarian standing up to object when people are too vehement in their agreement that slavery is bad.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Some times Jaybird is opaque to me, but this isn’t one of them. Those who bring up black slaveholders are indeed trying to demonstrate that things are more complicated than most people think. Just like people who immediately change the subject to whether secession is legal are. They have to: when you’re confronted with something as morally stark as slavery, muddying the waters is the only rhetorical gambit that’s left.Report

      • This is one of those cases where I actually understood (I think) Jaybird. Like Mike sees it: I see Jaybird’s comment as trying to explain the thought process and goal behind why people bring up black slave owners, not that he was defending those. Now, as a follow up, he might have explained that so as to lessen confusion. But as the song says, I can’t always get what I want.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I agree with Mike, I think it’s pretty clear what Jay was saying.

        Remember when Tom was still around? Any time a discussion of slavery came up, particularly in the context of the Founding, he’d insist that we not judge the Founders with understanding of slavery, but with their understanding of slavery. There are lots of problems with this (there were more than a few people in the 1790s who recognized the evils of slavery), but it’s essentially trying to do the same thing the “black slave owners” and “other Africans sold people to the slave traders”: suggest that the goodness and badness, or at least two whom they get applied and what they mean for today, are not so straightforward. I don’t recall anyone here buying what Tom was selling, but I imagine in more Tom-friendly circles, that sort of thing goes over pretty well, because the implications of then for now are one of their primary concerns. And ironically, part of the reason it goes over so well is because such people see the goodness of certain aspects of our past as crystal clear.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        nah, there are tons more. Lee-veneration is simply one of them — a man can be good, just, honorable — the “best of the south” and still own slaves.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Kim’s on to something (I can’t believe I just said that): Lee is a great example of the way a lot of people, particularly southerners, think about slavery. Lee’s ownership of other human beings is frequently excused by saying that he was a kind master (whether or not this is true is irrelevant). Same with Jefferson: he freed his slaves upon his death, therefore he must have been a pretty good owner of other human beings. Anything to complicate the situation enough to make Lee veneration, or Jefferson veneration, less problematic.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I hate that Jefferson owned slaves. It creates a massive moral ambiguity in a man who otherwise could be something of a intellectual hero.

        But he did, so *gasp* complex thought is required, including acknowledgement of ambiguity.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I agree with Mike, I think it’s pretty clear what Jay was saying.

        I think it’s pretty clear to me too. And if that’s right, my response to Jaybird’s initial comment isn’t based on a confusion!Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        @stillwater – If my reading of what Jaybird was saying is right, then think your response was based on a misreading.

        That is, it reads to me like Jaybird was attributing a point of view to slavery apologists, and you were mistakenly attributing that POV to Jaybird and attacking him for it – which would be right, if he had been saying “X”, not “when slavery apologists say Y, they are working toward arguing X.”Report

      • I hate that Jefferson owned slaves. It creates a massive moral ambiguity in a man who otherwise could be something of a intellectual hero.

        But he did, so *gasp* complex thought is required, including acknowledgement of ambiguity.

        I don’t particularly like Jefferson. (After all, he supported the American Revolution, so-called.) But I do think that deep down, he recognized the contradictions between his beliefs in equality, at least insofar as it is people’s right to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, and his and his “state”‘s support for slavery:

        Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.


      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        This is a really silly issue to spend any more time on, so I’ll be quick. No, I didn’t misunderstand Jaybird nor did I attribute to him a defense of slavery. The context of the discussion was folks complicate a really uncomplicated issue, and my suggested account for this strange psychological phenomenon was the pervasiveness of unacknowledged white guilt. In the course of that issue, Jaybird said that, well, right and wrong aside, some folks think the issue is complicated. To which I responded

        it’s one thing to say that some folks think it’s complicated, but it’s an entirely other thing to say that they’re claim of complicatedness is justified. It’s not.

        What might be complicated is that a judgment that slavery is wrong leads some folks to equate that with a judgment that white people are wrong. And even *that* issue isn’t that complicated.

        I thought that point was clear enough, actually, that I’m surprised we’re still talking about it. But to say it in different words, the discussion presupposed that folks think this stuff is complicated while also suggesting that it really isn’t that complicated at all. Further, saying that some folks think it’s complicated without acknowledging that it in fact isn’t implies that the perceived complicatedness of the issue is justified. But it ain’t.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        So your reading is that Jaybird views the slavery issue as complicated? Or justifiably viewed as so?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Dudes. It’s cool.

        I am currently listening to Death Metal Shoegaze.

        May I suggest that y’all could benefit from some?

      • Avatar veronica d says:

        Wait! Death Metal Shoegaze?

        How can this thing be?

        (I’m seen Goth Shoegaze, but that was less of a stretch.)Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I know! It’s like, “Finally!”, right?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        RAII is like finally.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        deafheaven is more of a black metal/shoe/postrock mishmash. black metal has always sounded pretty shoegazey in some quarters, particularly the lone guitarist in a room being all lonely thing.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Nothing in my comment – this one or any other one – suggests that Jaybird is an apologist for slavery, or an apologist for apologists of slavery. Or an apologist for apologists of racists. Or any other permutation. My comment pretty clearly expresses that he’s missing the point of the discussion when he says that some people think the issue is complicated.

        On another level, my initial point in this thread was that I can’t even begin to imagine the types of meanings people hear given their responses to certain types of sentences. This thread is supporting evidence for that lack of comprehension. I have no idea what meaning you are interpreting my sentences as conveying. Something insidious, no doubt. Which indirectly confirms my broader point.Report

      • Avatar Gyph says:

        @jaybird – sniff. It’s like you don’t even LISTEN to me anymore….

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Yeah, Maribou complains about that too. “I found this awesome song!” “I emailed you that song 4 months ago. You made fun of me. You called me a hipster librarian who was working on shushing people with obscure music.” “Yeah, well, it was on NPR.”Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    John Chait had a great takedown:

    Now what is interesting is that Economists yearned the moniker of the “dismal science” from Thomas Carlyle because he was angry at 19th century economists opposing slavery. John Stuart Mill later wrote against Carlyle’s defense of slavery. So the Economist is really going against their routes.

    I honestly don’t know what they were thinking when they posted this piece of shit review. I am normally not a fan of the word “fail” but pieces like this only get published when everyone’s critical functions are shut down and faculty fails. The Economists own readers are asking them What the Fuck is wrong with you? Has the economist apologized yet?Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    To quote Orwell, “there are somethings so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.” Some issues really are one-sided and there are no if, ands, or buts about them. Slavery is one of them.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Hey, thanks for sharing that sentence Lee. I’m with ya. And Orwell too.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Those things that so many people did are so obviously bad that they could not have not known how bad they are, but they dud them anyway.

      Back pats all around for our superiority.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Man, talk about defensiveness…

      I’ve known intellectuals. Some of my best friends are intellectuals. And I’m here to tell ya that some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals believe them. That doesn’t mean that intellectuals only have bad ideas.

      Is that what you think the sentence means? Why would you think it means that? (Aren’t you an intellectual??)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        That reads as a response to me, but the threading reads as a response to Lee. So I’m responding, but if you weren’t responding to me, then my bad.

        Anyway, it wasn’t the intellectuals line I was resoonding to, but the “one-sided” line. I’m with everyone else here as being anti-slavery, and it seems incontestable to me, too. But slavery’s been common throughout history. And–without defending the review we’re all critiquing–American slavery involved Africans capturing and selling other Africans to Midde Easterners as well as Europeans, and not just a few black Americans owning slaves but also some Native Americans owning African slaves, just as some held other Native Americans as spoils of war slaves.

        The issue is so one-sided, so we must be incomparably morally superior to all these others; white, Middle Eastern, African, Native American, ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Chinese, etc. So, back pats all around. We’re the best generation ever, anywhere.Report

  4. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    The Economist Building is located at 111 West 57th Street in New York.

    It is also home to Steinway Hall and was home to XM’s New York studios back when XM was an independent company. Since their merger with Sirius they have moved down 6th Avenue to the McGraw-Hill Building, located between 48th and 49th Streets in Rockefeller Center.


    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      “The Economist is an English-language weekly newspaper owned by The Economist Newspaper Ltd and edited in offices in London.[2][3][4] Continuous publication began under founder James Wilson in September 1843. For historical reasons The Economist refers to itself as a newspaper, but each print edition appears on small glossy paper like a news magazine, and its YouTube channel is called EconomistMagazine.[5] In 2006, its average weekly circulation was reported to be 1.5 million, about half of which were sold in the United States.[6]

      The publication belongs to The Economist Group, half of which is owned by Pearson PLC via the Financial Times.”

      I believe there is such a thing as a branch office and the New York office probably fits the bill.


      • Avatar Kim says:

        And dollars will get you donuts their coffee is worse than Mad Magazine’s.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

        1) If you are going to be lazy enough to copy-and-paste from Wikipedia, you should at least remove the citation numbers.

        2) You didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. I never said that The Economist wasn’t a London-based publication. All I said was that there was a building in New York called The Economist Building and that they had some pretty cool co-tenants. Those aren’t mutually exclusive.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:


        Have you been to Dunkin’ Donuts lately? Pretty soon, that expression is going to becoming meaningless.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        There’s a stand at the ferry building in SF where the “all-natural” donuts are three bucks each.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I would imagine so, @mike-schilling as donut trees made without Monsanto seeds are increasingly uncommon.Report

  5. Avatar Michael M. says:

    Economist review, short version: “Edward Baptist is no Margaret Mitchell!”Report

  6. Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

    Is slavey evil?
    Opinions vary! Teach the controversy!Report

  7. Avatar James K says:

    It seems to me that the real problem here is that last sentence, it re-contextualises the rest of the review in a deeply troubling way.

    The rest of the review may well be a valid criticism (or not, since I haven’t read the original book). That said, that’s really more of an “Apart from that Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?” observation because that last sentence is really bad.Report

  8. Avatar Damon says:

    This subject is STILL being talked about? SighReport

  9. Avatar Kim says:

    The kindest way to take “but blacks were slaveowners too!” was… “this was a society wide ill, please don’t just blame the whites. Yes, they were most of the problem, but the problem was more systemic than ‘those evildoers!’ would suggest”Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      The fact that there were, at some point, black slaveowners is a very important historical fact. We tend to think that slavery was the result of the racism of the time, and to some extent it was. To a larger extent, however, American racism and white supremacy evolved out of the institution of slavery. Early colonial America was not as race conscious as the America that came out of the American Revolution and into the 19th century, and that was largely because the sociology of American racism has its roots in the economic necessity of racism.

      Don’t know anything about the Baptiste book, but I imagine that is part of his thesis. Invoking the specter of capitalism seems suspect to me, but like I said, I haven’t read the book.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I disagree. The Puritan modesty laws (particularly the ones about not being seen breastfeeding) were instituted to differentiate the whites from savages (modesty during breastfeeding being something unheard of in England at the time).

        The Puritans weren’t big on being slaveholders.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        I didn’t say that all racism came out of slavery. I said that slavery gave birth to a particular form of racism and white supremacy.Report

      • Avatar Gaelen says:


        I’m currently reading the Barberous years, and one of the things that struck me was the self reinforcing relationship between racism and American slavery. Because it wasn’t just that racism grew out the institution of slavery (which it did), but also that the legal institution of slavery was shaped by our racism. Sort of a death spiral of dehumanization.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        We tend to think that slavery was the result of the racism of the time, and to some extent it was. To a larger extent, however, American racism and white supremacy evolved out of the institution of slavery. Early colonial America was not as race conscious as the America that came out of the American Revolution and into the 19th century, and that was largely because the sociology of American racism has its roots in the economic necessity of racism.

        Yeah, and in the hands of nuanced historian, that’s useful information. A lot of our problems with race was *very carefully constructed* as slavery became more and more disliked, and this continued *after* slavery was over at the hands of a hateful South to continue slavery after it had ended.

        We rarely hear about this, even in the context of ‘black people had slaves also’, because while it makes slave-owners look a little ‘better’ (Not much but a little.) it actually makes *moderner white people look worse*. It would be one thing if anti-black racism was just a prejudice we had yet to grow out of, and that’s what people assume, but it’s not true. At all.

        And explaining it was a cultivated belief created *in this country within documented history* for first the express purpose of extending slavery and then for the purpose of keeping black people in slavery-in-all-but-name is information that should make it into schools.

        …in fact, it might be useful to make the point that basically *all* systematic racism that has ever existed, anywhere in history, has been created for a specific purpose. It is very easy to grow up with the assumption that societies have always been suspicious of other-skinned people…how true that is is debatable, but that’s something that goes away almost immediately if it exist. It’s not like white people first ran across black people 20,000 years ago(1) and have been suspicious *ever since*, just recently learning better. That is not, in any way at all, the origin of racism. And, while we’re at it, it’s not the origin of sexism, either.

        Long-term, systematic bigotry never, ever, has innocent origins. (When two groups of people are first introduced to each other you might get some mostly-innocent *assumptions* about other people, but those will be quickly sorted out.)

        Of course, it’s doubtful that the writer of this review knew any of this.

        1) Or whenever, I’m not a pre-historian.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        50 years till the money runs out. Then it will be interesting.Report

  10. Avatar Kolohe says:

    The Economist apologizes for the fault in the reviews. The review article has been sackedReport

  11. Avatar Mo says:

    No one is happier about the Economist’s policy of not having author byline than the person who wrote that.Report

  12. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


    Question: Did you read the book, or were you just ranting on general principle?

    If you did read the book, what did you think of it (I haven’t’, never heard of it before today)?Report

  13. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    The issue, so far as I see it, is that not only is the review end with a really horrible sentence that gives awful context to the entire piece (and that in itself is pretty awful) but that the rest of it, the critics and the like don’t actually present a real informed argument, but rather half-assed assertions backed by a desire to defend the economic rationales of slavery (or at least the slave-owners). It’s editorializing, it’s not criticism. It’s based on the prejudices of the author rather than an informed, objective argument against the conclusions drawn by the author.

    This is Newsweek level shit. The Economist is supposed to be better than that. (And I imagine the Financial Times is laughing with glee)Report

    • @nob-akimoto

      This is Newsweek level shit.

      Heh, not too long ago (maybe 1 or 2 years ago?), I donated to PBS during a pledge drive, and one of the inducements to donate was a complimentary year’s subscription to Newsweek. I thought, “cool! now I can have a weekly rundown of the news right in my mail box.” When I actually read it, it was basically what you said it was. Either the magazine went downhill sometime, or it was always that bad. (I had never been a regular reader of it before.)

      In the middle of my year’s subscription, Newsweek announced it was no longer sending paper copies and was switching to an all-online format. In almost any other case, that decision would have mildly annoyed me (because I was promised a year’s subscription). But I was actually relieved not to have that garbage showing up at my mail box any longer.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I donated to PBS during a pledge drive, and one of the inducements to donate was a complimentary year’s subscription to Newsweek.

        If you gave a bit more, they cut it down to six months.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        If you give a lot more, they don’t bother to send it at all, and broadcast a show in your name instead. #appalledbyPBSadvertising.Report