Monday, April 19, 2010

Nothing New To Know

So I was reading the Seattle Times today, and found an article with an interesting headline: Recession is ending? Some Americans don't buy it‏.

Interesting - there's only one problem. None of the Americans they talk to actually directly say anything about the recession.

But does he [Doug Rice, president of the local autoworkers' union] believe the recession is ending?

"It ain't almost over with," he says. "We have a long ways to go. A very long ways to go."
And that's as close as it gets. But "it" is never defined in his statement, and while one might assume that he's talking about the recession - without actually knowing exactly what was asked, you can't be sure.

The reason for that, I suspect is a simple matter of semantics. Whether or not the recession has ended is a very different question that whether or not people are doing better in their personal circumstances, perceive that things will be doing better in the immediate future or otherwise think that a recovery is in the offing. "Recession," as a term of economic jargon, has a precise and objective meaning, and you can look at the quarterly economic numbers and say: "The recession started here, and ended there." That's not something you ask the "man on the street" about - it's what you ask economists about. But even they aren't certain yet - this is a determination that is made after the fact, sometimes quite at bit of time after the fact.

Articles that invite people to apply their own understandings to clearly-defined technical terms, and then treat those subjective impressions as objective facts, do everyone a disservice. But of course, they drive eyeballs - especially when they appear to mesh with what people already believe is going on - that elites in the government, business or both are seeking to trick them into believing that economic conditions are better than they actually are. And while there is nothing wrong with backing up people's opinions, it shouldn't be wrapped up as the news.

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