Where Do They Learn to Write Like This?


"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:


With the right mix of subsidies and stimulus, America can look like this.

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:


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  1. Seeing as the markets gagged up a loss of over 2% today, thereby wiping out over a week’s worth of gains, I’m not feeling exuberant at all.

    1. Well based on your previous comments, it sounds like you’re not fearing joblessness. So you got that going for you…

  2. “Prosperity montage”

  3. Lucky for Oswald he got that hypodermic full of “confidence” before FDR signed the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

  4. I might have added that the government continues to squander our future earnings–which really would make the economy go–on past mistakes and bad investments, but why offer solutions when other people are refusing to the problems?

    Excellent piece.

  5. 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.

    Go forth, and Multiply!

    1. Looks like it “goosed” the local theme parks in Oakland:…..1D1NRU.DTL
      (with the help of some crooked non-profit, excused by the crooked mayor; ain’t it always the case?)

  6. 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”?

    [Raises hand]
    I lost my job last year and I’ve been living off my savings, which are almost 100% in equities. Since I started taking money out in July, my balance has increased. This is not ideal over the long haul, but had it not been for the current stock boom, I’d be trying on barrels right about now.

    1. You have savings? You must not be doing your part to save this economy.

      1. I’m doing my part. My food and gasoline isn’t free, and I had to buy a new TV to replace the 10-year-old one. I forgot how heavy that damn black cube was. The new flat-screen was made in China, though. Does that count?

      2. love the sarcasm

    2. I hope you have stop-loss orders on those “savings”

      1. nah…inflation will keep thpose stock prices up for years to come.

        And apologists will continue to point at those high inflation fed stock prices as evidence of economic recovery for years to come as well.

        1. I’m no financial genius, but when the comedians on the cable news shows started making the “201K” jokes at the end of ’08 and through early ’09, I was staying put and in fact buying more shares. I knew the markets would rebound. They always do. People who bailed on their equities screwed themselves big-time.

          1. Buy High and Sell Low, that’s my motto!

          2. I knew the markets would rebound. They always do.

            Tell it to the Japanese.

  7. But I wonder if anyone was embiggened.

    1. I was not unresponsive.

  8. Walter Lantz (the Neil Bush of golden age animation moguls)

    As an amateur toonologist (I should have an honorary doctorate in the subject) Mr. Cavanaugh, I demand your head on a platter for this heresy!

    I demand satisfaction.

  9. Walter Lantz (the Neil Bush of golden age animation moguls)

    As an amateur toonologist (I should have an honorary doctorate in the subject) Mr. Cavanaugh, I demand your head on a platter for this heresy!

    I demand satisfaction.

    1. Squirrel FAIL. I wasn’t that offended.

      1. I dunno – you’re gonna get all Al Qaeda on him and cut off his head – seemed pretty offended.

        It was worth posting twice.

        *looks at Groovus supportively*

        1. LOL. I don’t perform full cranial cranial amputation. The closest general surgeons get is thyroidectomies/repair with exploration. Thanks for your support!

          1. Well, in the interest of increasing the peace I’d consider an upgrade to Marvin Bush, but you’ve already got Disney, Max and Dave Fleischer, and Friz Freling (I’m counting Hanna and Barbera as “Silver Age”), and there are only so many Bush brothers to go around…

            1. Fair enough (I regard Disney as overrated in animation; Freling, Tex Avery, and the Fleischers are more relevant to animation than Disney, artistically speaking.) At least you didn’t invoke the Baldwin brothers as your equivalency.

              1. “Hey, you know what sucks about being a Baldwin? Nothing!”

            2. Hanna-Barbera? More “Bronze Age” or maybe “That-unidentifiable-metal-stuff-they-make-trophies-out-of” Age

  10. Wow, you have to admit that makes very good sense dude.


  11. To celebrate our great recovery – we MUST have another ‘Hands Across America’ event. You know Barack is up for it.

  12. With the exception of stockpiling incandescent light bulbs, I’m still not spending a dime more than necessary* until the overall economy improves, even though my household income these days is higher than it’s ever been. But neither I nor my boyfriend have any assurance our jobs will still exist next week, let alone next year, so all that income is going into the bank rather than the local economy.

    Even if money were not a concern I still wouldn’t want to make any of those big purchases that are supposed to help the overall economy: why buy a house when the market is still distorted by government stupidity? I know what the median and average incomes are in our area, I know what house prices historically should be based on those, and I know the market is still ridiculously inflated.

    1. Or maybe you should just buy up stuff while your money still has purchasing value. There are numerous schools of thought.

      1. I have in all seriousness thought about buying a little house in the boonies, except I live in the northeast where property taxes are outrageous. If you gave me the gift of a free house equivalent to my apartment, I would smile graciously, thank you for the gift, and then call a realtor the second your back was turned so I could sell the damn thing; chances are the property taxes alone would be roughly what I pay in rent for my fairly nice and rather large apartment.

        1. I rented a cabin in the Smokies a couple of weeks ago, and it certainly occurred to me more than once that I should be living there, at least some of the time.

          1. AHH, I would love to do that but I would need room service.

            1. And a good alibi, take from me.

              1. Secret Window was too weird.

                1. I declare…I disagree, kind suh!

                  1. I guess we know who is watching the watcher.

                    1. Je vous ai laiss? un message.

                    2. J’ai voulu voyager la nuit auparavant mais Il n’?tait pas dans les ?toiles

          2. A lot of those need the road rebuilt every year. Elevation is important too. There is a real estate phrase: “suitable for winter living”. Don’t believe it unless a well maintained County road runs very close to the property.

        2. Yeah, buying a house isn’t always the best investment for everyone. Some people are better off renting.

    2. Still thanking you for your vote Jennifer! Without idealistic voters like you, it wouldn’t have been possible. When we take over all of the banking industry, we’ll consider that money an investment for the good of the nation.

    3. You forgot the explanatory asterisk, Jennifer. “More than necessary*”? What is it? I won’t be able to sleep tonight.

      Oh, and if you write for a paper, your days are indeed numbered.*

      1. Oops! Originally the lightbulb stockpile was supposed to be an asterisked footnote. Let this be a lesson to all on the importance of following through with edits.

        And what I make at the paper is only a fraction of my income these days. I’d actually make more money if I quit and focused on certain freelance gigs — editing one crappy vanity novel nets me more money than what I make at the paper in two weeks — but I am reluctant to quit the only job I hold for which I’d qualify for unemployment bennies if I got laid off.

        1. So if i wrote a crappy Sci-fi novel how much would you charge to edit it?

          1. I’m not looking for any more editing work right now; I’m already working 80 or 90 hours a week. But judging from what the company pays me, they charge a LOT of money.

  13. Tim Cavanaugh, why do you hate optimists?

  14. I laughed my ass off to this Walter Lantz Classic Cartton

    1. Man, Lazy Town looks awesome.

  15. If history is any guide, all we really need is a few million men, with picks and shovels and an endless supply of Lucky Strikes, and a few mule-powered machines, and everything will be fine in 15 years. Oh, and a World War. Everyone wins!

  16. Where do they learn to write like this?

    Obviously, Tim, the same place you did.

    1. Alan, you might want to consider the irony of you criticizing Tim’s writing. Tim’s writing is like Dennis Miller’s (old, good) comedy style mixed with PJ O’Rourke’s writing, and surprisingly, that’s a good thing.

      And while you’re at it, why don’t you review Misery for us? Or at least The Dark Half.

      1. Tim’s funny, but God his posts are l-o-n-g. By the time you’re done, you’ve forgotten the original point.

        Clearly he gets paid by the word/video link.

        1. I’ve speculated at Tim’s pay-by-the-word contract before. Well, what is it, Tim?

          1. Yes. Yes you have. And nary doth confirmation ye shall receive. Do you give up all your trade secrets?

      2. Tim’s writing is like Dennis Miller’s (old, good) comedy style mixed with PJ O’Rourke’s writing, and surprisingly, that’s a good thing.

        It is like swimming through mud in a dark room with a back cat at midnight…or something.

        Horrible unreadable and punctuated with confused references only an eclectic savant with an encyclopedic knowledge of the most unimportant events of the 1980s would ever understand.

  17. I think propaganda was better back in the good old days. Look at the film that promotes inflation, for example. They told the plain, practically unvarnished truth about what inflation was and what it would do — they even hinted at some of the downside of inflation — but people walked away thinking that inflation was a GOOD thing, something to be DESIRED, in order to save our economy and stick it to the fatcats.

    In contrast, the alleged sophistication of today’s propaganda is claimed because the modern product obfuscates, lies, and confuses the audience.

    So which is the better propaganda: that which achieves your support despite telling you the truth (some of it less than savory), or that which gets your support by telling you something that flatly contradicts truth and experience as understood by both the audience AND the propagandist? For example, that in the internet age, the laws of supply and demand no longer apply (heard frequently during the dot-com boom).

    1. “… therefore wages will be increased to meet the cost of living…”


      IANAE, Hows that work?

  18. That Disney “Alice” toon was fucking great.

  19. Yeah, the NYT article is a load of optimistic crap. The author should be wearing a cheerleader outfit.

    Want a really quick and dirty indicator of how bad it is out there? Just go to your neighborhood public library. Go at 12 or 1 on a weekday, before the kids get out of school. You’ll find full parking lots and plenty of people inside. These are the new crop of unemployed, hanging out for hours, rewriting their resume for the Nth time, scrolling the job boards. Someplace to get out of the house. They go to the library because it’s free and has wi-fi. They don’t even want to spend a few bucks hanging at Starbucks.

    1. He does wear a cheerleader outfit, but that’s only on Saturday nights……

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