Black Friday

We have finally entered (I think) what must be history’s longest- and most eagerly-awaited recession. News reports and commentary have been so relentlessly negative for so long that it is easy to lose sight of the actual performance of the economy. This happened again this week, with universally-gloomy predictions for “black Friday,” the opening of the Christmas shopping season. Yesterday morning, the Boston Globe, to cite one of many examples, headlined “Black Friday takes a hit from the economy” and highlighted its pessimistic account with the National Retail Federation’s prediction of an 11 percent drop in Black Friday shoppers.

In fact, though, most people’s incomes are no worse today than they were a year ago, notwithstanding daily references to “hard times” and casual talk about a possible depression. That reality was reflected in what actually happened yesterday: a 3 percent increase over last year’s “black Friday” sales, which itself represented a fat 8 percent rise over 2006. This photo is of shoppers lined up at 4:57 a.m. yesterday to get into the Best Buy store in my neighborhood, courtesy of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:


Yesterday’s healthy sales came on top of a week in which the Dow gained nearly 10 percent.

This is not to suggest that all is rosy on the economic front; it isn’t. The financial crisis is real, and we are most likely in a recession. But the hysterical terms in which the economy is discussed are unwarranted and unhelpful. They are also, I think, politically motivated. Reporters and editors like the idea of a looming depression (or, failing that, an unusually severe recession) for a number of reasons. If it happens, it will be taken as refutation of the relatively conservative consensus that has influenced government policies since the early 1980s–a consensus under which a great many people have flourished, but not, notably, reporters and editors. And if it doesn’t happen, they will give the credit to Barack Obama and the more-liberal policies they expect from his administration. So for the left, hysteria over the economy is a win-win proposition. Not so for the rest of us.

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