The Press and the Global Economic Freak-Out
And so we come back to this because it just won't go away. Despite a recent
improvement in the performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, there's
still a global economic freak-out
in full swing...and journalists
and newsletter writers (ahem) aren't exactly keeping a balanced perspective
about it. It's time for a little mea culpa
Wrote reader Dennis back in November in response to RCPU's most grievous freak-out:
"I've been more than aware of the economic problems facing this nation
for the last couple of months, as well as the failures in the housing
industry that seem to have precipitated the whole thing.
"However, one thing that I've been seeing lately has me wondering if
we're making things worse by the way in which we describe the situation.
Words like 'cratered,' which you used in your article, seem to be a bit
melodramatic to describe a growth rate of only 10 percent in Dynamics
billings. Billings 'fell off a cliff' is used to describe the same
"I suppose that to add some punch to their columns, writers seek for
the most dramatic phrase to describe the Dow's loss for the day, or the
number of home foreclosures in a month. However, when those phrases pass
through the mind of the average person, I wonder if they don't have a
cumulatively depressing effect. If there's any way to be optimistic in
today's market, it's made harder by continually hearing about cratering and
falling off a cliff.
"What I'm suggesting as a remedy isn't to paint everything as rosy, but
to use less emotionally powerful words to describe, as rationally as
possible, the events of the day, and then to give some context for them. To
refer to the Great Depression as something which could happen only once isn't
enough. We've got to refer to events more recent than the 1929 Crash or the
'30s and try to do it in a less hysterical way."
Dadgummit (as we'd say in Texas), Dennis, your brand of thoughtful,
sensible, rational e-mails is just not welcome around here. Just kidding.
Actually, we really like what you had to say.
While we do think that we're all in for some rough times ahead (and in the
midst of rough times now), we did try to qualify that Dynamics revenues being
off isn't exactly tantamount to the coming of another depression. We were
hoping that our readers would be savvy enough to see how silly it is to
juxtapose the two, and we think that most were. You certainly were.
However, when it comes to mainstream coverage of the economy (and, uh, maybe
some of the coverage here, too), we totally agree with you. There are a lot of
alarmist writers out there who've bought into using scare tactics to get people
to read articles. We've tried to subtly parody that just a bit, but it's
entirely possible that we're being way too subtle. And, outside of attempted
parodies, we've also bought too much into the same tactic ourselves -- it's
just so hard to resist!
Really, the conditions of the early '90s and certainly of the late '70s
(especially the late '70s) were arguably worse than anything we're
seeing now, although the potential for total collapse seems much worse today.
Nevertheless, some, maybe a lot, of the doomsday talk -- which has yet to die
down after it was spurred partly by both presidential candidates during their
campaigns -- is way out of line.
As for Dynamics revenues falling off a cliff, they might have by Microsoft's
standards...but they certainly didn't by the standards of, say, AIG or GM. So,
you make a very good point. We should be more careful about using language like
that, and we will try to be in the future.
How panicked are you about the economy? Get your thoughts on that or
anything else that's on your mind in to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week we'll
release our last batch of RCPUs until the new year, so hurry!
Posted by Lee Pender on 12/10/2008 at 1:22 PM