The newspaper was first published in September 1843 by James Wilson, to take part in "a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress." This phrase is quoted on the newpaper's title page. The Economist is often, mistakenly, referred to as a magazine because it comes in a magazine form factor. However, the Economist considers itself a newspaper because "in addition to offering analysis and opinion, it tries in each issue to cover the main events - business and political - of the week."
The Economist focuses on world politics and business, although they also have regular sections on science and technology, as well as books and arts. In addition to the news articles, every other week the newspaper includes a more in-depth survey of a region or a field of business. Articles are generally written without an attributed byline, meaning no specific person is listed as the author. The names of the editors and authors are listed only on the inside front cover. When works written by contributors to the newspaper are reviewed, though, the connection is made explicit.
The newspaper articles generally take both an economically and socially liberal (or libertarian) position, in the sense it disfavours government interference in either social or economic activity, though views taken by individual contributors are quite diverse. The one uniting feature almost all articles in the magazine have in common is the concluding witticism. Some have joked that as long as the writers can deliver that, their political or other opinions do not matter. The Economist has a trademark "tight writing" style, famous for putting a maximum amount of information into a minimum of column inches.
ABC circulation for the newspaper is approximately 880,000 (July-December 2002 figures) with just less than half the readership based in North America, approximately 20% in continental Europe, 15% in the UK and 10% in Asia. The newspaper consciously adopts an internationalist approach and notes that over 80% of its readership is from outside the UK, its country of publication. The current editor (as at April 2003), Bill Emmott, assumed his role in 1993.
The Economist Newspaper Limited is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Economist Group. One half of The Economist Group is owned by private shareholders, and the other half by Financial Times, a subsidiary of The Pearson Group. In 2002, the Economist Group turnover was £227m in 2002 resulting in an operating profit of £15m (down from £21m in 2001 and £32m in 1998, the decrease attributed to a sharp decline in advertising). Income streams are split roughly 50-50 between advertising and other areas, such as subscriptions.
The Economist is also famous for The Big Mac Index, which uses the price of a Big Mac hamburger sold by McDonald's in different countries as an informal measure of purchasing power parity between two currencies. It has turned out to be a whimsical but surprisingly accurate index for comparison.