Crying in our beer

I may have solved a mystery.

For the last several years Americans have told pollsters our economy is sunk in recession. It has not been. But huge numbers believed it was. In 2001 one poll found 76 percent “felt” the economy was in recession.

These days the poll takers report over half of us believe the economy is in recession. One poll claimed 61 percent.

Our economy is not in a recession. It may soon be. But not for now.

The mystery is - or was - why so many people believed it was.

At first I blamed the bleak reports in mainstream media. You know the drill: “The economy added X million new jobs last year, the government reported today. However, economists believe darker clouds are gathering...” Reporters have predicted twenty of the last three recessions. And all that.

Next I attributed the gloom and doom to the political season. Nobody who is out of office is ever going to praise the economy. A campaign speech ain’t a speech unless it weeps that millions of kiddies go to bed starving. And millions of our jobs scoot overseas. “When I am President, there will be no more...”



And all that. “All that” being candidate’s commercials edged in black with music from a dirge of an opera.

For a time I considered that perhaps too many of us are wusses. We are only comfy when we worry, worry, worry over the economy. That would solve the mystery. Ask a jelly bowl of wusses anything and they will come up with bleak answers.

Finally I solved this mysterious disconnect between what the economy is doing, and what people believe it is doing.

Imagine if you have never had a cold. You are now 47 years old and you have never even had sniffles. Never owned a hanky.

Imagine if you have never seen snow. Never seen a picture of it. Don’t know it exists.

Today you wake with a runny nose. “I think I hab a code,” you mutter. Then you peer out the window and see a foot of white stuff. You call 9-1-1.

About 70 percent of our people have never experienced a cold in our economy. About 70 percent of us have not worked through a recession.

True!

When most Americans talk about recessions - to pollsters, for example - they don’t know what they are talking about. At least not from their own experiences. And few of them know what they talk about from their reading. To wit: Most economists define a recession as two consecutive quarters in which our GDP shrinks. I bet not one in twenty of us knows that definition.

Most of us never got into serious work until our early twenties. And in our twenties recessions barely registered with us. Our minds were flooded with hormones, besotted with mating.

But let’s say we DID take notice of the rest of the country when we were 22. And now we are 48. Ain’t been no true recessions in all those years.

Our last real recession ended in 1982. In the early 90’s we had one full quarter when GDP shrank. Not a recession.

Thus, the mystery is solved. We don’t know what we’re talking about.

And more is the pity. For if our media was less gloomy, and if it hired journalists who read some history and economics, the story might be different.

More of us might appreciate that our economy has been expanding, almost without rest, for 26 years. And we would know this has never happened before. Why we would be offering those pollsters bubbly. Instead of crying in our beer.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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