The Economist Fails the Turing Test again

Five years ago I linked to a Bill Emmott column on the impending election of Nicholas Sarkozy as president of France thusly:

This unashamed mash note from Bill Emmott, former editor of the Economist presents a class of a triple-distilled tincture of the prevailing globollocks on Sarkozy’s victory in France. You don’t need to read the actual column to get the gist; just the Pavlovian dinner-bell talking points that it strings together.

France … paralyzed by powerful interest groups … political elite … beholden … or … afraid … takes a brave outsider … precisely Sarkozy’s appeal … Reagan or a Thatcher … A “rupture” is what France needs … showing that his country is not doomed to decline … cadres of highly globalized managers … etc … etc

I don’t see the words “tough,” “clear-headed,” or “reform” anywhere, so it isn’t quite the full bob major, but it’s close.

Now, his successor as editor at the Economist plays the same tune again, but even more crudely, deploring Sarkozy’s probable successor.

France desperately needs reform .. .neighbours have been undergoing genuine reforms … deep anti-business attitude … proposing not to reform at all … refusal to countenance structural reform of any sort … resistance to change … hostile to change … Until recently, voters in the euro zone seemed to have accepted the idea of austerity and reform. … would undermine Europe’s willingness to pursue the painful reforms it must eventually embrace.

I’ve no idea what Hollande is going to be like (except that he’s certainly going to be disappointing). But I do know that this is one of the most exquisitely refined examples of globollocks that I’ve ever seen. It’s as beautifully resistant to the intellect as an Andropov era Pravda editorial. A few more years of this and the Economist won’t have to have any human editing at all. Even today, I imagine that someone with middling coding skills could patch together a passable Economist-editorial generator with a few days work. Mix in names of countries and people scraped from the political stories sections of Google News, with frequent exhortations for “Reform,” “toughminded reform,” “market-led reform,” “painful reform,” “change,” “serious change,” “rupture,” and 12-15 sentences worth of automagically generated word-salad content, and you’d be there.

I wonder whether even the writer of this editorial would be able to define ‘reform’ or ‘change’ if he were asked, beyond appealing to some sort of ‘social protection bad, market good’ quasi-autonomic reflex embedded deep in his lizard brain. I also wonder whether the people in there are as cynical about their product as Andropov-era journalists were, or whether they actually believe the pabulum they dish out.

[Cross-posted at Crooked Timber]

Henry Farrell

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.