Le Rouge Et Le Noir

The Cowboy had the opportunity to speak with the Managing Editor of  The Economist this week; he even had his picture taken with him.  You can see the photograph of us at the end of this post.

On the heels of the rather gloomy cover leader in last week’s issue, it was an interesting time to talk with the head honcho of one of the Cowboy’s oldest and dearest friends.  Like one of his “leaders”, this leader was quite candid and opinionated, with his comments closely matching the “newspaper’s” editorial line.

From the leader (the written one, not the managing one):

“But, welcome as it is, optimism contains two traps, one obvious, the other more subtle. The obvious trap is that confidence proves misplaced—that the glimmers of hope are misinterpreted as the beginnings of a strong recovery when all they really show is that the rate of decline is slowing. The subtler trap, particularly for politicians, is that confidence and better news create ruinous complacency. Optimism is one thing, but hubris that the world economy is returning to normal could hinder recovery and block policies to protect against a further plunge into the depths.”

And later:

“Between 1929 and 1932, the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared by more than 20% four times, only to fall back below its previous lows. Today’s crisis has seen five separate rallies in which share prices rose more than 10% only to subside again.”

This is much in line with some of the Cowboy’s postings in recent weeks.  Here’s the one about wolves and bears (with video!) and here’s the one about balance sheet recessions (with nipping and tucking!).

Now, back to that near and dear friend…

Classical Liberal Trash

The Cowboy first heard about The Economist as a student in the early 1980s.  A friend would occasionally read it in the library.  The Cowboy did not discover the newspaper himself until the summer of 1987, while working in Switzerland.  He was hooked.  In those days, there was a strange international brotherhood of Economist readers.  Circulation was much smaller than today.  Those that read it, really read it.  You would see it, opened and folded in half, in someone’s back pocket or perhaps being read by someone standing on a train.  Wherever you were in the world, if you saw a reader you knew you had encountered a fellow soul.

There were some unwritten rules to the Secret Brotherhood of Economist Hipsters.  First and foremost, you read it front to back.  Every article.  No skimming.  Second, you tried very hard to get through the whole thing every week, and usually you succeeded.  Third, you kept it turned to your current page and probably folded in half – this was not for show.  Fourth, it went everywhere with you.  You never knew when you might have a couple of minutes to get through another article.  Fifth, though you might read other newspapers or periodicals, The Economist was your main squeeze.  Sixth, you traveled the world, always looking out for fellow members of the Brotherhood.

Sadly, the Brotherhood disappeared as circulation and globalization increased.  And when an organization of like-minded souls succumbs to entropy, its members lose a part of their identity.

The Cowboy isn’t sure if The Economist is as good now as it was then.  Sometimes he thinks it may not be as clever or as funny.  The Economist now has more readers in the U.S. than anywhere else, perhaps making it more focused on America than it used to be.  It’s hard to say whether The Economist has changed or whether the Cowboy’s saddle is just a bit more worn than it was oh-so-many years ago.  Either way, although the Cowboy reads from many sources, let there be no doubt:  The Economist still has a special place in his heart.

In person, John Micklethwait (the Managing Editor) was smart, quick-witted and unassuming.  He was what one would hope from the head of The Economist.  In fact, the Cowboy could not help thinking for a moment:  “Wouldn’t I like to be that chap!”

When you meet an intellectual soulmate, be it someone of youth or experience, high rank or low, you get a glimpse of your own identity.  For what determines a soulmate (intellectual or romantic) more than admiration of that person?  And admiration, like love, is as much about the self as it is the other.  Admiration reveals one’s values, and even one’s shortcomings.  You admire those traits that you value, and by relation, those that you try to develop in yourself or wish you had.

Since we’ve made that segue to identity, who is the Cowboy?  He promised a photograph at the end of this posting.  Is that photograph worth a thousand (or more) words?

In addition to being an homage to the trademark colors of the newspaper in question and a nod to the balance sheet recession in which we find ourselves, the title of this post also refers to Marie Henri Beyle, who explores these questions of identity, ideals, values, dreams and origins in his famous novel.  The Cowboy might even see some of  Sorel in himself, though hopefully with a bit more substance and a future that entails keeping his head when all those around him are losing theirs.

Who is the Cowboy?  If Micklethwait and The Economist are intellectual soulmates and Sorel a chromatically and thematically related hero, has the Cowboy learned any more about himself?  Perhaps.  In the end though, the Cowboy is just a man of humble origins making his way down the trail while trying to keep his herd of ideas and actions moving in a concerted direction.  How about you, dear Reader?  Who are you?

As for meeting Micklethwait, pleasure though it may have been, there was something of seeing behind the curtain of the Wizard of Oz.  At times it is best to maintain the mystery rather than to see that an icon is just someone writing at their desk.

Hmmm…  On second thought, maybe the Cowboy won’t be posting that photograph with Micklethwait.  Better to remain mysterious.

Published in: on May 1, 2009 at 21:00  Comments Off on Le Rouge Et Le Noir  
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