Stalking the Green Shoots: A History of the Present


It's been a year and a half since the rhetorical recovery began. In honor of that achievement, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's recent "Mission Accomplished" op-ed in The New York Times, and the dog days of the Summer of Recovery, AOL Opinion Editor John Merline puts all the good news pronouncements in one easy-to-use chart, and buries it in the ground with all the green shoots. A sample of what would in a just universe have been famous last words:

A) Obama budget predicts that the unemployment rate for 2009 will be 8.1 percent (actual rate is 9.3 percent), and says it will be 7.9 percent in 2010 (average so far: 9.7 percent).—Feb. 26, 2009
B) Fed Chairman Bernanke says he sees "green shoots" of U.S. recovery, which, he said, would "pick up steam" next year.—March 15, 2009
C) Obama says, "We are beginning to see glimmers of hope."—April 14, 2009
D) CNN reports that "Job Recovery May Be on the Way."—May 18, 2009
E) Jeffrey Kling of the Brookings Institution says, "It seems clear the U.S. economy has turned a corner."—June 5, 2009

More where those came from. Merline adds:

There's nothing wrong with a little cheerleading. But there's a real danger with all this "turning the corner, things are getting better, recovery is on the way" talk. If you don't think so, just ask Herbert Hoover, who infamously claimed that "prosperity is just around the corner" right before the worst of the Great Depression.

At some point, someone is going to have to level with the American people about just how bad things really are and why, despite all the ministrations from Washington over the past two years, they don't seem to be getting much better.

Note that, as the above unemployment curve suggests, the news isn't all bad. Some of it is solidly mediocre, and there have been lateral-to-slightly-rising moves in retail sales and the consumer price index. But mere survival is nothing to cheer about. The reason politicians and big media love to make these sunny statements is that they actually believe Keynesian flapdoodle about animal spirits and the importance of market sentiments. The truth is that sometimes people are glum because things really are bad. And with an enormous amount of leveraged "value" still to be wrung out of the U.S. economy, this is one of those times.