Dan Gainor

Up or down? Nobody really knows, if you’re talking about the economy.

There are tons of predictions about what will happen in 2008 – everything from “recession” from much of the media to market maniac Jim Cramer predicting “sunny skies.” Gas prices are supposed to go up to $3.50 this spring, according to the Energy Information Administration. Or even $4 by February, if you believe NBC.

But the truth of the matter remains, nobody knows. Americans are worried, many believing that what goes up must come down. The economy is surpassing Iraq as the No. 1 issue with voters thanks, in part, to relentless media coverage.

We’ve got good reason to be concerned. Since hitting an all-time high, the Dow is dropping like a stone. The market is off more than 1,500 points or almost 11 percent since it hit a new end-of-day record October 9.

Nearly every network newscast is filled with the latest “recession” news – housing, rising unemployment, a declining dollar. Merrill Lynch’s Chief North American economist David Rosenberg is even telling clients that "Friday's employment report strongly suggests that an official recession has arrived." Goldman Sachs sees that happening later this year.

There are two sides, however. Noted economists Brian S. Wesbury and Robert Stein, both of First Trust Advisors L.P., are among those who go the exact opposite direction. Reminding readers that unemployment numbers are often revised, they give an optimistic outlook for the year. “We remain confident that neither a recession, nor any significant consumer slowdown, is in the cards,” the two write in their January 7 Monday Morning Outlook.

Even Cramer, on a one-man crusade against the Federal Reserve causing “Armageddon,” takes an upbeat look at the upcoming year. CNBC's "Mad Money” host tells the January 1 “Today” audience “This is going to be another good year. I know it sounds like I'm a cock-eyed optimist, but there's a lot of good things happening.” He says the end of the year could be a time “to start looking at real estate as an investment again.”

And though unemployment jumped to 5 percent in December, it’s still just 5 percent, what many economists consider close to the best that can be sustained. The nation is also up to 52 straight months of positive job growth. The economy grew at a whopping 4.9 percent in the third quarter – a figured that was revised … up, not down.

Dan Gainor

Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow and director of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute.