Commentary and Opinion and Economy

MORRIS: When does this movie end?

August 28, 2010

MorrisI don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street; and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.

We all know things are bad—worse than bad—they’re crazy.

It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, “Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms.”

Well, I’m not going to leave you alone.

I want you to get mad!

I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.

All I know is that, first, you’ve got to get mad. You’ve gotta say, “I’m a human being! My life has value!”

So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!”

Does this sound familiar? It’s an edited-for-space version of a scene from a movie made 34 years ago. The movie was “Network” and the rant came from one of the main characters, a television newscaster named Howard Beale, played by the late Peter Finch. The movie clip is worth checking out on You Tube.

Why drag this out of the archives now? Because lately, don’t you feel like yelling out the window on occasion, even just a little? Most folks have been slugging it out in the trenches for a while now. We’re working so hard and much of the time we don’t have a lot positive to report. We keep wondering where the bottom is. When are things going to get better? You have to really look to find the good news today.

I recently attended Mickey’s Camp and sat through a session moderated by Bill Witte, an economics professor at Indiana University’s Center for Econometric Model Research. Witte started his presentation, which was full of charts and graphs, with, “I wish I had more positive news to report, but I don’t.” I’ll give you the short version. Bill says we have some troubling signs. Job creation is very weak. Consumer confidence has fallen the past few months, almost back to where we were a year ago. Housing sales and starts have weakened to less than a year ago. We just got the bad news on July home sales figures last week. Manufacturing growth has slowed after picking up steam and looking pretty good earlier this year.

Take heart. There is good news out there and I’m going to work hard to find it and pass it along as we bring this year to a close.

Here’s a start. Even though home sales were down in July, the average sales price was up. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said recently on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he does not expect a “double-dip” recession. Bill Witte’s analysis points to the same conclusion. As it turned out, professor Witte did have some positives to report. Unemployment should decline, albeit slowly. Interest rates are at historic lows and they should stay low moving forward. Exports have been relatively strong during the recession. He predicts real output should continue to grow slowly with little inflation. There are some positive signs mixed in with all the bad news.

I know it’s still tough going right now. So, if you feel the need, go ahead and scream out the window. It might help relieve the tension of the moment. Be assured, however, better days are ahead.•

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Morris is publisher of IBJ. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to gmorris@ibj.com.

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