Bad News: The Economy is Good

Rich Tucker

9/21/2007 3:21:14 PM - Rich Tucker

All we need to do is read the papers or watch the news to realize that we live in troubled economic times. It may even be time for desperate measures.

Consider the bleak picture drawn recently by Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles. “What does it mean that the housing market is ‘cooling off’?” Toles asks. He then draws a man living in a refrigerator box.

Of course this cartoon is ludicrous.

After all, with our national economy in such dire circumstances, there couldn’t possibly be any refrigerator boxes around. Who can even think of buying a new refrigerator these days? Most Americans have, presumably, been reduced to burying their perishable items (assuming they can afford milk and eggs for their starving families) in the cold, cold ground.

If, that is, they still have a home at all.

“There has been a dramatic increase in foreclosures,” warned CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Sept. 20. “People losing their homes. They’ve worked so hard for so long to get this house. And all of a sudden they can’t meet the mortgage payments.”

Blitzer didn’t mention refrigerator boxes. But his dire warnings stood in stark contrast to the facts as explained by the very reporter he was speaking to that day. As Ali Velshi explained, “For homebuyers with good credit, a 30-year fixed rate mortgage is 6.29 percent, not even a full percentage point higher than it was a year ago.” That’s an increase, but certainly one virtually all mortgage holders can afford.

But, Velshi went on, “there’s still the actual housing problem. The median price for an existing home in America is $218,000 -- $3,700 less than it was a year ago.” So wait: very few people are going to lose their homes. That sounds like good news. Yet “housing” is a “problem” because the price of homes is edging down? When it comes to housing, the news is bad when prices go up … and it’s bad when prices come down.

In many ways, this struggling economy is our own fault. During the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry warned us repeatedly that we were living in the “worst economy since Herbert Hoover.” But we didn’t listen, and re-elected President Bush.

Luckily, we’ll soon have another chance to improve things by electing another liberal senator. Recently, presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York announced some of her ideas to “fix” our economy.

For example, she’ll introduce a socialist health-care system. Under her plan, every American would be required to carry health insurance. And, she told reporters, she can even picture a day when “you have to show proof to your employer that you’re insured as a part of the job interview -- like when your kid goes to school and has to show proof of vaccination.”

Now, this would be a great idea if we applied it to illegal immigrants. By all means, let’s make sure everyone holding a job has a Social Security number and is here legally. But even though many of us have been demanding that for years, lawmakers haven’t take steps to make it a reality. Now we’re supposed to accept that Washington will, indeed, demand and determine that everyone has health insurance. Right.

Clinton also decried the “rising inequality and rising pessimism in our work force.” Now, why would our work force be pessimistic? Maybe because it’s been listening to our politicians or reading the mainstream media, where even good news is played as bad news.

            “Unemployment Claims Make Surprise Drop,” read the Associated Press headline on Sept. 20. Who’s surprised? Reporters, certainly. And economists. “The labor market is being closely monitored for any signs that recent turmoil in financial markets and a deepening slump in housing are causing serious problems for the overall economy,” the story added. But it’s no surprise to most of us that the economy is doing well.

            Unemployment has been at historic lows for years now. Consumer goods crowd the shelves in big box stores, and prices just keep tumbling. Recently, for example, Apple slashed the price of its iPhone from $599 to $399. That was spun, naturally, as bad news for those who bought it at full price. In reality, good news abounds, even though we seldom hear about it.

Sen. Clinton says that the problem with our economy is it features “trickle-down economics without the trickle.” But the problem is really simpler than that. It’s that bad news is trumpeted over and over, while good news never seems to trickle out. It’s a problem of perception, not performance.

Maybe it’s time to elect a liberal as president. Sure, that would probably damage the economy. But it may be the only way to convince the media to report any good economic news. As they say, desperate times may call for desperate measures.