"Bad news, the downside, grousing-that's all you ever offer in your column," Fred Fetid declared.
We were sitting on his deck enjoying the songbirds and the new green of the trees about us. Fred and I have been neighbors nearly 20 years. He is the greatest complainer I have ever met.
"There's lots of good stuff out there to talk about, but all you do is moan about the world," Fred persisted. "Just look at the Indiana General Assembly this past session. They authorized a 70 mph speed limit on the rural sections of interstate highways.
"It's about time," he added, glowing. "Other states already have higher speed limits and it makes us look like incompetents if we're not allowed to drive as fast as they do. Plus, we already drive 80 mph where the speed limit is 65. So this will reduce the degree of sinfulness in the state as we adjust the law to our existing ways."
"Interesting concept," I conceded. "Do you think that enforcement of the speed laws will improve?"
"No way," Fred asserted. "We don't have the manpower or the experience to enforce speed laws in Indiana. But at least now we'll have less need to do so.
"When you don't have the money to do the right thing, you need to redefine what is right, as we are doing in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans' programs. That's more of the good news you don't discuss: how America adjusts to meet its troubles by redefining the needs of the needy."
"I'm sorry I disappoint you," I said.
"Oh, you're not so bad. It's just that you're so ignorant," Fred continued. "For example, you should have written a column when the Chicago Sun-Times dropped its daily, detailed stock price listings. That's good news, but you probably didn't know about it. Folks have to understand that whatever they are reading in the newspaper about stock prices is out of date."
"I'll agree with you," I said, "that dropping daily stock listings is a good idea, but my reason is that it opens up valuable pages in the business section for real business news. We should know more about what companies are doing and about trends in the marketplace. Fluctuations in daily stock prices don't give very much information for the investor."
"Be that as it may," Fred said, choosing not to argue anything when he was having so much fun instructing me on improving myself. "You also missed the Arthur Andersen story. Here we have a great American company brought down by a malicious federal government. And when the Supreme Court of the United States got around to clearing those good people, it was too late for their careers, too late for their honor, too late for their company. And who will provide restitution for the injustice done to them?"
"Fred," I said sternly. "The Supreme Court did not clear Arthur Andersen of anything. It just threw out the jury verdict on the basis of the ambiguity in the judge's instructions. That's not vindication of the company. It says nothing about whether those accountants behaved appropriately in shredding papers and engaging in other cover-up activities."
"So like you," Fred said. "You won't see the good in anything unless it conforms to your view of the world." And so saying, he went inside his house and I returned to my home. The birds continued to sing.
Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.