Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2003 /9 Tishrei, 5764
Who says we're so depressed?
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | To hear the media prognosticators tell it, we're bummed out. Consumer confidence figures show it, and the latest sentiment statistics confirm it. We're all in a foul mood: overworked and overwrought.
So I'm thinking to myself, uh-oh, there goes the country! After all, regular folks and their spending make up two-thirds of this big, old economy. If they're bumming out, the economy's going to start petering out.
Trouble is, I don't see that. I don't see that at all. If anything, retail sales remain very strong, up nearly one full percentage point in the latest month. What's more, stores from Wal-Mart and Federated to Radio Shack and Pier One are consistently reporting year-over-year sales gains, on average four to five percent higher on a same store basis. That's double the advance so-called experts predicted!
What's going on here? I think I know. We're a nation of liars. But I mean that in the kindest sense. We say we're worried, but that doesn't mean we take our dire views to heart. We might be concerned about our own jobs, but that doesn't mean we've forgotten our own kids.
We're still buying them clothes and toys. We're still taking them out to eat. And we're still treating ourselves to the little things when even the big things get pricey. How else could you explain the double-digit sales gains being recorded by cost-conscious retailers like Best Buy and the Dollar Tree? I'll tell you how . . . common sense. People are cautious, but they're not stupid. And they're certainly not slashing their wrists.
I mean the one thing that amazes me in media coverage of economic news is that they always can find the cloud over the silver lining. It's uncanny! No matter how promising the statistic, they'll pounce on the weak part of the statistic. Take those consumer figures. Yes, some have declined back to levels not seen in months. But they're still 30 percent higher figures than those recorded last year. By my math, that suggests people aren't as rosy as they were in August, but they're a heck of a lot rosier than they were last year.
It would do us well to keep some perspective here. But perish the thought!
The problem is we all tend to put great stock in information that ultimately means diddley for stocks and us. For example, if we're so convinced times will get tougher, why is mall traffic up? Why are car sales still strong? Why are home sales still chugging along?
There's something very out-of-sync with a number that says we're feeling anxious about our jobs, while many people fork over a lot of dough for long-term commitments, like houses, which depend very much on our keeping our jobs. Why doesn't anyone try to connect those dots, and realize there's no way you can?
Could it be that people are saying one thing and doing another? Like I said, if people mean what they say and they're saying they're worried, they certainly wouldn't be pushing retail sales up month-in and month-out. They wouldn't be sending restaurant stocks up, or refinancings up even more. They wouldn't be taking bets things are going to get better if they truly felt things were going to get worse.
No, people in this country appear to be very much betting on this country, and this country's uncanny knack of rebounding when so-called experts assume it is tumbling. All I know is the experts usually get it wrong. They claimed this economy was in the midst of a multi-year recession in 1992, when it wasn't, and said a "foolhardy cut" in taxes wouldn't stimulate the economy 10 years earlier, when it did.
Regular Americans had it right then. And they have it right now.
They're nervous, but for Heaven's sake, they're not unconscious.
They still do things, buy things and look forward to things. Only in the twisted, mind-numbing, illogical world of economics can you take more than seven out of 10 Americans saying they are still upbeat about this country and conclude there are problems for this country.
I think most Americans aren't buying it. But they are buying.
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09/29/03: Thanks, but no thanks