From Josh Marshal noting what I’ve noticed over the past few weeks – every time some economic report comes out it’s “worse than assumed.”
I’m going to start feeling better, or at least stop feeling worse, when I hear about the release of a major economic indicator that the economic forecasters hadn’t assumed — even after all the gloom and pessimism — would be better than it turned out to be. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not looking for ‘good’ numbers. I expect them all to be bad for some time to come. What continues to surprise me, however, is that even after we’ve gotten to an apparent consensus that we are in for a recession that is much more severe than anything we’ve endured in the post-war era, and even after six months in which each successive month looked worse than the last, that with each new number we’re still surprised that it’s even worse than we’d realized — still worse than the consensus assumptions.
Maybe we need better assumers before we can get out of this mess.
In my socialist teenage youth my fellow travellers’ many lessons included a metaphor about phases of capitalist crisis. We have bus with engine in full working order and roaring. The driver has showed up and is in his seat. The commuters are at the stop waiting to board. The weather is good, the traffic is clear. But nobody is moving, because the tokens were never delivered.
The point was made even more profoundly in the famous British science fiction comedy radio show Life, the Universe, and Everything, where a planet’s economists predicted a major depression. The economists having no solution, the planet’s scientists devised a means for the entire population to be placed in suspended animation until the depression blew over.
The whole idea behind socialism, folly or not, was that we as a species actually do have control of what we do, but pretend we do not. Socialism represented the idea that we could make conscious collective decisions about what we were doing – some models democratic and others quite obviously not. As I’ve said on this blog before, the free marketer notion of individuals acting on their own and the collective will paying homage to the Newtonian machine which will work nearly perfectly so long as we don’t interfere with it is about as utopian and requires just as much faith as the most radical of socialist proposal – among the propositions which “work well on paper.” The planet has the same means of production it had 10 years ago. but we can’t take action to right our course until we wait for cosmic signs in “indicators” upon which our “assumers” seize upon to gauge the success or failure of action or inaction.
To quote Samuel Goldwyn, “we need some new cliches.”