“It is one of the most melancholy reflections of the present day, that while wealth and capital have been rapidly increasing, while science and art have been working the most surprising miracles in aid of the human family… the great material interests of the higher and middle classes, and the physical condition of the labouring and industrial classes, are more and more marked by characters of uncertainty and insecurity.”
So what has changed since those words, the very first paragraph of The Economist’s first issue in 1843, were written? The obvious difference now is that wealth and capital aren’t increasing very much just at present. Uncertainty and insecurity, though – yes, we can still do that.
For nearly 170 years, the Economist has chronicled the changing fortunes of the world’s economies and societies. In 1843, the British Empire was top dog. The Economist was reporting from the powerhouse of the world; the Pound Sterling reigned supreme, and British gunboats were freely available to influence the policies of other nations. When things got more complicated, the Economist kept pace with changes in the focus of power – which is a posh way of saying that they sussed out where the action was, and got their writers out there.
The Economist Historical Archive – available online from anywhere for members of Westminster Libraries – has now reached as far forward as 2007. In the last issue of that year, an article began:
“There is certainly a path out of the current banking crisis, but no guarantee that the world economy will find it.”
Things haven’t really settled down very much, have they?