An answer to a kind responder

After my scathing dismissal of a Fox News commentator’s comment that we’re wishing ourselves into a depression (unstated directly, but it’s the gist of his comments), the person behind the “Name Your Fear” blog put down some interesting comments worth responding to:

Me: “…Well, economists are the stupidest people in the world.”
Responder: “or, economists stick to objective measurable definitions (that hopefully haven’t been messed with, as they’ve been with the inflation numbers), and in this case the conditions for a recession have not been met, so it’s not a recession. it’s just not, not yet anyhow… part of the problem is that you can’t measure a quarter until it’s over, and you have to wait at least 6 months to measure two quarters, so you only know you’ve been in a recession months later. so we may be in a recession right now, and when the numbers are reported in 6 months you can say “I told you so”. but it doesn’t validate your reasoning…”

Fair enough on the economist sticking to objective measurable definitions. However, one would think that they would figure out a way to get past the six-month delay to see what’s going on RIGHT NOW. I don’t know how often the MainStream Media (which is getting dodgier and dodgier by the day; I swear they’re trying to kill off Obama’s chances at a nomination so that Clinton can lose to McCain) catches on to troubles while the talking economist heads tell us “everything is OK.” Go through that enough times, and you learn to doubt the talking heads and look around at what people are talking about.

This is especially galling to me because we’re talking about one of the “new wave of economists” who supposedly go out from the academic/corporate world into the real world. People who hang out with prostitutes and gang-bangers and figure out how value works. I can deal with their extreme laissez-faire world-view or their belief in the innate evil of government, but this basing their thoughts on six-months old information is hardly something I would expect of these guys.

And to be honest, I hope it’s this. I’d very much hate to see them buying into “The Secret/What The #&##@” version of Karma.

Responder: I don’t think anyone would argue that economic growth has slowed, so call it a slowdown, but don’t hijack and redefine the word ‘recession’. it seems that everyone across the political spectrum does this — the right tries to redefine Liberty to mean “Free from Fear” and therefore subject to more restrictions; Hillary tried to redefine Change to mean “same old Clinton politics”… it’s all doublespeak. yes Fox is often guilty of it; but you’re perpetuating it too.

Well, I try to keep things steady. Maybe trying to catch things early might mean I’m renaming things.

There’s also the problem of where I’m at. After all, I’m a lower working class person, one who earns close to the de facto minimum wage (though not close enough to be affected by the rising minimum wage) who consorts with people who are likely to spend months unemployed despite (or because of) their education (and what they studied). Which means I see things that others closer to “the median/middle” would view as noise. I may just be catching the people who would suffer from the random slings, those bits of data (aka facts) that would make Economists impossible to do because they gum up the works.

But to defend myself, I also see certain things. Like Gas tripling in less than seven years. And various dairy products (non-meat items from animals) shooting up in triple digits over a few years. And SUVs being replaced by cars, the appearance of mopeds on the streets, and cars getting older. That’s the stuff even I can’t fake. And when I hear young, shapely natural blondes (the ones whom our society seems overly eager to cocoon to prosperity) bemoaning their fate in the nation’s economy, I know it’s not just me.

Me: “The people on the block can tell when their world is being messed with,”
Responder: if they can tell, why wouldn’t they do something about it? and who, specifically, are these ‘people on the block’ — I’d like to tap their knowledge and foresight to let me know when my world is being messed with, since I’m clearly in the dark.

Knowing stuff is going on and doing something about it is two different things:

  • When you’re stuck with $35,000 owed to two SUVs which you can only get $15,000 from if you’re lucky, you do what you can. Especially when bankruptcy laws won’t allow you to write off your debts.
  • When you’re wildly upside-down with your house, the temptation is to simply walk away. Other temptations include ripping shit up and burning the house down.
  • Higher food and gas prices imply less driving and buying cheaper stuff. Ergo, Goodbye Dominics, hello Aldi. Goodbye road trip, hello in-home vacation.

Thing is, there’s a need for some sort of communal activism, even if it’s just people getting together and educating themselves on what they can do. But with people still buying into the present political/economic system it’s hard to convince people to do anything other than “more of the same, hoping to make it.”

And sometimes, all the foresight in the world isn’t going to help. Try saving money now that inflation is finally beginning to eat into your “must-spend” money. Try getting a college education now that it costs double ten years ago and gives you lower wages than before. Try fleeing when the laws of the world tell you you can only stay put (Remember the Holocaust? millions stuck, waiting to get hauled to the ovens.).

I can save money, but if the guys on top want to make the dollar worth nothing (Zimbabwe, anyone? Maybe 1920’s Germany?) I can save all the greenbacks I want, and all I look is stupid. I try education and there’s no jobs around, the doofus who bought the Labor Union’s card will laugh at my ass all the way to the bank, then laugh at me next time he saw me on the street.

And when all MY actions are limited to the personal and the forces against me are principalities, corporations and armed with weapons and the wherewithal to rearm, who’s to say I CAN act? And multiply that by millions of isolated workers, and you get the issue that’s causing our problems today.

Another rambling post, alas. But hopefully the questions are answered.

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3 thoughts on “An answer to a kind responder

  1. first, I’m glad you think of me as a kind responder — I was concerned I came off as a little snarky. “interesting comments worth responding to” — that’s the nicest thing anybody has ever said about me (online, anyhow).

    as for the immediacy of the economic data — I don’t think getting month-by-month data would benefit the situation. what you would get is more volatility in the numbers and bigger headlines if a particular month was out of wack (positively or negatively), but it might not be representative of the underlying trend. trust me, I’m as real-time as the next guy, but I just don’t think they can pull this data together much faster as they do now (with reasonable accuracy). the economy is still pretty huge.

    realistically, less than half of the talking heads are saying “everything is going to be OK” — at least half of the talking heads are talking doom-and-gloom: recessions, housing and credit crisis, and dollar devaluation. even on Fox. I’m not sure how many of them are economists vs analysts, but the maxim I remember is “economists are always wrong.” it’s almost like their get-out-of-jail-free card. I’m sure that doesn’t make you feel any better 🙂

    as for your other examples, I guess I’d caution everyone not to buy more car or house than they can afford — if the economy is doing well, figure out what you could afford in a recession (assume all your other costs go up by 20%) and use that as the basis for your budget. then if the economy is hot, bank some of the extra 20% and earn some interest, and when the economy cools you won’t be cutting back on milk money. I’m sure that sounds really condescending, but it’s reality.

    anyway, thanks for the exchange. I look forward to more.

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