Why I Read the Economist

  • Posted in Essays -
  • March 1, 2017

If you ever have trouble falling asleep at night, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Economist.

The Economist is heavy on the text and light on the pictures, in other words, yawn. As someone who for years got my news from UsWeekly, OK! Magazine and The Daily Show, I balked at the idea of paying almost ten dollars for a periodical of which I understood maybe 20% of the articles and this includes the classified section at the end. (Never mind that I paid three times as much for dozens of tabloid magazines that I would flip through in minutes and promptly discard.) As a law student, I justified these glossy magazines because I needed a sanity break from reading textbooks for hours on end. As a lawyer, the excuse became that I needed a respite from the high-stress of my firm job. I pored over contracts and closing checklists in never-ending 15 minute billable increments. Was it so wrong to temporarily escape to a world where my biggest challenge was to decide “Who wore it better?” or to contemplate whether stars were in fact “Just like us!” because they were spotted feeding a parking meter?     

I would have continued feeding my tabloid addiction had I not encountered a young woman who jolted my reality and forever changed how I viewed the news. In April of 2015, I attended Women in the World, an annual three day summit in which women from around the globe share their stories of struggle, courage and triumph. Of the many incredible women who took the stage, I most vividly remember Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector and human rights activist who escaped from North Korea in 2007. I, and the rest of the packed auditorium, sat in captivated silence mesmerized by her soft voice and quiet strength as she detailed a regime so brutal, so depraved, so obsessed with absolute power that it subjected its people to enforced poverty and censorship to the extreme. What struck me the most was her description of the North Korean people. They were not the docile and defeated followers that I had imagined but rather fierce survivors who were tough and determined. They knew deep down inside that there lay a world beyond the borders of North Korea and, in the case of Yeonmi, were willing to literally crawl across the Gobi desert in an desperate effort to see this world for themselves. And here I was. I literally had the entire world at my fingertips and yet I could not be bothered to turn open the page.     

I will confess that most of the articles in The Economist still go completely over my head and I have yet to read an issue cover to cover. I will also confess that when I have 20 minutes to kill at the airport, I’m still tempted to pick up an UsWeekly and read up on the latest celebrity scandal. But although I may flip through glossy magazines for a quick thrill, I ultimately buy The Economist to read on the flight (I wasn’t kidding when I said it’s a great sleep aid when you’re in a middle seat). In every single issue, I learn something fascinating or read a passage that I find particularly eloquent and I’m proud to say that my rate of comprehension now hovers around an impressive 30% percent.

Long ago I came across the following advice: “You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine”. I was inspired to adopt this mentality in many aspects of my life – from meditating to journaling to exercising. However, it hadn’t occurred to me that I should apply this philosophy to my reading choices as well.

After all, if everyone has the same number of hours in a day, what are truly successful people doing differently?

How are they maximizing their day-to-day routine to improve themselves and change their lives? Perhaps I should read better writing and expose myself to more interesting topics…

I read The Economist because I want to become a better writer and a more engaging speaker, which means that I should probably expose myself to better writing and more interesting topics than which celebrity is divorcing whom. But more importantly, I read The Economist for Yeonmi Park. I read The Economist because I can and I must…because I shouldn’t get to “escape” my world of freedom and choice while individuals like Yeonmi are trying to escape a reality of torture and death.