Opinion and Economic Analysis

HICKS: Memorial Day puts economics in perspective

May 29, 2010

Over the past year or two, folks of all backgrounds have watched the economy closely. We may have done so before, but it sure seems like we are spending more time attuned to the ebb and flow of economic news than in years past. Several times a day, there’s a new economic announcement. We hear of changes to jobless claims, unemployment rates and consumer sentiment. There are new data measuring the alternative unemployment rate.

We listen to data reports on the consumer price index and core inflation, reports on bond yields and the value of the dollar against the yuan, pound and euro. Of course, we worry about the debt and deficit of the federal government. Sadly, the stock market and its meandering, random walks consume more news time than is worthwhile, more than all the others combined. The only benefit of most stock news is in puzzling over the colorful madness of stock analysts.

Of course, the media is partly responsible for this, and a weekly economics columnist must bear a share of blame. An inkling of economic news is of interest to many, and rightly so. It is important stuff. But the opportunity to dwell so deeply on short-term matters of the economy is a remarkable luxury. We would be well to remember that on this weekend.

To be sure, market economies and the governments that nurture them have done more than any other human endeavor to make our lives longer, healthier and better. That is why we value and watch them so closely. But, the things that determine our ultimate prosperity and happiness are not the vacillations of markets. We are most threatened by actions aimed at interrupting or ending the governments that embrace and defend the liberties that enable market economies.

Many of us look to 9/11 as such an example. We should all know it could be much worse. Terror weapons can kill and disrupt in much larger numbers, but circumstances to which we have become accustomed can wreak even more havoc. We need only think of the news from North Korea to be reminded of the need for eternal vigilance. There is also Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, who wish the destruction of us and those like us. Well-timed malevolence by any of them would shatter market data across the world, and that would be the least of our concerns. It is a sobering thought.

None of this is an argument to stop thinking about the economy. Nor does it make a case against living a life that is fulfilled in part by commerce, labor, and the creation and exchange of goods and services. These are natural and good things, older than anything we call a civilization. I believe we should simply acknowledge the great gift it is to be able to concern ourselves with the economy. This is a great bequest made disproportionately by those we remember this Memorial Day.•

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Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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