Don’t know much about history

Random thoughts about our economy.

First is that we will have to come up with a new word for a sluggish economy. Or a new word for recession.

We need one or the other because too many people abuse the word “recession.” Too many tell me or us we are in a recession. Or have been in a recession.

I tell as many as I can that we are not in one. And have not been in one.

 “But Tom, you haven’t talked to ...” “You’d call it a recession if you were in our boots.”

What they mean is they don’t like this sluggish period. But they don’t know what to call it. Meanwhile, lots of writers and tv talkers describe the period as a recession. They either want to scare us, or they don’t know any better.

They refuse to accept that “recession” has traditionally been defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth in our economy. (We have not have one yet.)



“Yeah, but look at gas and food prices! Look at the housing figures! Look at the businesses going under. If this ain’t a recession, I don’t know what is.”

Well, maybe those last five words put a finger on the problem. People who don’t know what a recession is want to use the term loosely. I hope they are not working in medicine. “Hey, that’s a stroke. Gotta be. Well, no, I am not sure what defines a stroke. But he’s dragging a bit on the left side, so, must be one.”

So we need a new word to keep folks happy. Or gloomy. I nominate “sluggishism.” We are in a sluggishism. You have my permission to run with it.

Next thought is actually a question. There is a lot of talk these days about our problems. You know the drill: weak dollar, peak oil, warming, slow economy, oil prices, robbery at gas pumps, lousy new jobs figures, ugly housing stats.

Lots of folks seem to be building careers of delivering this gloomy news. Not enough folks are offering ideas for overcoming the problems. For making things better. Or those who do offer solutions don’t get air time or ink or podcast space, or whatever.

I think of two households, side by side. In one, folks take the Jimmy Carter approach to problems. They batten down the hatches. They conserve. Turn the thermostat down. Sell one car. Drive only once a week shopping. Cut back on luxuries like butter. Switch to cheap wine.

The other household gets better paying jobs. Or does some work on the side.

One household tries to overcome the problems. The other tries to live with them.

Expand this to big problems.

You can put all your energy into conserving energy. Or you can focus on producing more. Or on producing it more efficiently.

You can cut your taxes and spur investment to fire up your economy. Or you can raise taxes and encourage more folks to get on the dole.

Last thought is about how we ignore history. History has the solutions to our problems because there ain’t much new. Truman said something like the only thing new is the history we haven’t read.

We should be looking at history these days when we fret about the economy. Because we have had high energy prices before. We have had inflation before. We have had a sluggish economy before. And we resolved those problems.

Instead of reminding ourselves how we did so, we thrash around old ideas that flopped. Such as raising taxes in the teeth of a slowdown. Such as treating big oil as lepers.

Some days I wonder why “Don’t know much about history” isn’t our national anthem.

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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