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Friday, August 28, 2009

The Recovery of One

Referencing my comments in an earlier post about the period of mixed signals we now seem to be entering, one potential concern is that, in this age of the 24-hour news cycle, we may be over-reporting on the indicators.

Just as over-monitoring a stock portfolio can pose the danger of losing out on long-term returns by overtrading based on inevitable short-term fluctuations, excessive real-time news coverage of every tiny bit of released economic data could inflict further damage on public sentiment and, in turn, the economy.

For example, if we are in fact bottoming out or starting to move toward recovery, over reporting negative short-term indicators could needlessly prolong collective pessimism and keep consumer expenditures depressed. It could also drive businesses to maintain a defensive posture on their cashflow longer than they need to.

But the coverage is what it is--for reasons that are largely economic. It’s simple supply and demand. Editorial decisions to supply economic news as the main topical thrust are simply responses to what the audience is demanding. And currently, the public remains very hungry for economic news.

People are consuming economic news on a scale unprecedented in recent history. It‘s basic psychology. People seek out economic news because the feeling of being informed gives them a sense of having some level of control over the situation.

The danger, however, is the element of illusion in this sense of control. Without the big-picture context that a seasoned professional in a field like economics or finance might have, a general news consumer absorbing short-term stories may have the illusion of knowing far more than he or she actually knows. This, too, can drive ill-advised decisions.

Yet the 24-hour cycle self-perpetuates. Especially after the incessant bombardment with bad news, week after week, in the early part of the year, the public is so starved for any little morsel of good news that they’re ready to latch onto the smallest little bite. And when they bite, their raised hopes can then be disproportionately dashed by the next nip of bad news.

This is particularly true among those who are out of work, underemployed, facing strained family budgets or trying to keep struggling businesses afloat. And the danger is that the cycle of raised and dashed hopes could perpetuate the downward curve, or keep us treading water at the bottom for a longer time.

The unemployed may become more frustrated every time they hear bad news on jobless claims, and grow less inclined to pound the pavement. Business owners may hesitate to take the risks necessary to drive renewed growth, especially the risk of taking on new staff. This could prolong the crisis of the unemployed.

It’s a cycle that can be broken only by decisive action. And action, ultimately, must start at the individual level. Gandhi once said that, in terms of the cosmos, “Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it.” Echoing this idea in a comment on one of my blog posts on healthcare reform, one of my Facebook friends, Cheryl Batoon, emphasized the importance of “the power of ONE” in effecting political change and countering the destructive impact of misinformed negative rhetoric.

The power of one means you, no matter who you are, or what your current situation is. There is a wry sort of joke that has been much repeated during this crisis: if your neighbor is unemployed, it’s a recession. But if you are unemployed, it’s a depression. And for the out-of-work individual or the financially struggling business owner, the resolution ultimately depends on individual action.

Action has to start somewhere. Spending one dollar triggers a ripple of subsequent transactions that raise the impact of that one dollar by many multiples. And the actions of one individual create a similar multiplier effect within society.

From chaos theory we learn that a butterfly fluttering its wings somewhere along the coast of Africa can alter the course of a hurricane. Similarly, the buck-and-change you spend for a cup of Joe from the 7-Eleven could alter the course of the recovery.

So take some action. Take some risks. Spend an extra buck at the store today. If you’re in business and finally finding a bit more room in your operating margin or credit line, hire one more person, even if it’s for an unglamorous, low-paying position, to take one more person off the unemployment rolls and get them spending again. If you’re out of work, hit the Send button on just one more online job application today. It might be the one that ends your depression of one and your still-working next-door neighbor’s recession of one. Sphere: Related Content

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