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  D.F.'s Column Archive

October 11, 2006

The ‘Economy’? Ha! There’s No Such Thing!


I should have figured this out before now, but I recently discovered a very big secret that will come as a shock to most Americans. There is, in fact, no such thing as “the economy.” It was invented by newspaper headline writers.

You think I’m crazy? Well . . . that’s another conversation. But regarding the subject at hand, consider how your typical story about the alleged “economy”, like this one written by AP writer Jeannine Aversa on October 6, provides helpful information such as:

  • Unemployment is down.
  • Job growth is “slowing” (read carefully – the number of jobs available is still increasing, just not as fast as it was increasing before).
  • The Fed doesn’t want the economy to grow too fast. That would be bad. Inflation.
  • The Fed doesn’t want the economy to grow too slowly. That would be bad. Recession.
  • The Department of Commerce thinks 810,000 jobs have been created this year, but it doesn’t really know.
  • In February 2007, the Department of Commerce will release another number for the number of jobs created during the same period, which presumably will not be 810,000. So, never mind.
  • The Republicans say people are better off.
  • The Democrats say they’re not.
  • Forty percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is handling the economy. Fifty-eight percent disapprove. Two percent thought handling the economy was Simon Cowell’s job.


So now you’re up to speed. For clarification, readers may want to ask an experienced expert to explain how the economy is doing. Like me. I’ll be an expert. I can talk about the economy like I understand it. I’ll say stuff like this:


“Job numbers are signaling a light at the end of the tunnel, but analysts urge caution.”

“Investors remain fickle.”

“Consumers are jittery as economic reports remain uncertain.”


I once actually had a journalist tell me, “The economy is uncertain,” as if he had done a studied analysis and come to this conclusion as an alternative to a bunch of other options. The economy, uncertain? No! Next someone is going to tell me that love is complicated and cats don’t always use the litter box.


We Americans love to simplify things so as to make broad characterizations about them. Economy Good. Economy Bad. These are headlines you can fit into one column or four – simply by adjusting type sizes.


Economy Shows Job Growth With Inflation Fears, Stock Turbulence, Unemployment Dip And Questions Concerning Corporate Profits, Market Penetration And Debt Levels, All While Consumers React To Falling Gas Prices


Whoa, says the News Editor. There goes my front page. There is simply no way to report economic news in the way that Americans like to understand things. Really sifting through all the pertinent economic news that might affect Americans would require far more pages in your daily newspaper than advertising sales will render economically viable to publish.


So something had to be done.


“I know!” said a headline writer long ago. “Let’s pretend that all economic news is really part of a big monolithic entity that we can either call good, bad or uncertain – all in one story!”


The other headline writers looked at him strangely. What an absurd idea. But then they thought about the managing editors who were telling them to sum up the job market in five words. Self-interest took over. The economy was invented.


It did occur to them that, since this “economy” doesn’t actually exist, reporters assigned to cover it would have no idea what they were talking about. Their stories would make no sense. Did this bother the headline writers? Not for a second.


“Who reads the stories?”


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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