"At malls from New Jersey to California, shoppers are snapping up electronics and furniture, as fears of joblessness yield to exuberance over rising stock prices. Tractor trailers and railroad cars haul swelling quantities of goods through transportation corridors, generating paychecks for truckers and repair crews."
That's Los Tiempos de Nueva York's Peter S. Goodman, describing an economic recovery that is showering "golden dust" in "clouds" as "piles of grain" go "spilling into the bellies of giant tankers" from coast to coast. (Read: Goodman had help from stringers in both New Jersey and California.)
As Georges Clemenceau might have said had he lived long enough to see the following MGM newsreel, pro-recovery journalism is to journalism what military music is to music:
So it goes with Goodman's A-1 story. The actual content of the piece is one long to-be-sure paragraph, and as such it makes some useful points that you have read here many times: Much or all of the uptick in spending can be accounted for by people blowing through their savings. The job market "remains weak." The growth rate is about half what it normally is after a recession. And measures of consumer sentiment (a mix of voodoo and hoodoo that I will not defend, but still) are way down, suggesting that America is still lacking the "confidence" that Walter Lantz (the Neil Bush of golden age animation moguls) suggested the country needed in this Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon that is as deceptive about economics as it is about avian anatomy:
You can wash out the taste of that one with a slightly earlier Alice cartoon from Walt Disney, who knew a thing or two about outsmarting agitators and collectivists:
Sadly, there is no such Listerine (or its more reasonably priced store-brand equivalent) for Goodman's purple mountains of majestic prose, in which everybody's feeling "robust" or "bolstered" or "emboldened" or all three.
Consider the discussion of the $800 billion stimulus package, which in Goodman's telling "appears" to have goosed many of the positive indicators he refers to. Now the stimulus may provide the kind of boost that shows up at the intentionally hard to measure level of GDP growth. But unless there's a major iPad component in the ARRA, stimulation is much less apparent at the practical level Goodman is treating here. The National Association for Business Economics, which is optimistic about the recovery, nevertheless notes that a whopping 68 percent of its members believe the stimulus had no impact on job growth. Clearly, these private-sector meanies are shirking their patriotic duty to give a man a job:
On other matters of government intervention, Goodman is even more coy. He notes an uptick in real estate activity, but you will search in vain for any mention of the soon-to-expire home buyer tax credit, the Federal Reserve's negative-interest rate freebasing, or the continuing slide in house prices. Nor will you find the word "inflation" in Goodman's broad vocabulary, though food prices are shooting up at a rate not seen since Ronald Reagan's first term. See how your bolstered and emboldened shoppers like paying half again as much for vegetables with the savings they're not accumulating from the jobs they don't have.
But that's the nut: Though Goodman and his three helpers fill the story with types (Eager Shoppers, Confident Shopkeepers and Optimistic Economists show up in droves) there are no actual characters in this story. Refer to that opening line: Do you know many people, or any people, who are saying to themselves, "I was fearing joblessness, but now I'm exuberant over rising stock prices"?
The recession may or may not be over. But boosterism like this demonstrates something more permanent. Commenters on the Depression-era economic propaganda posted above (which I hope you have enjoyed, and for most of which I have to thank Matt Welch) are fond of noting that today's propaganda is more sophisticated than yesterday's. But it's really not. They just had better choreography in the old days: