Bob Franken

The Economic Glass: Half Empty, Half Full, or Still Shattered?


It’s time to turn away from health care for just a moment and address the confusion in the economy. It’s a good thing, actually. How many town halls can we take? So, with the markets once again in their gyrations, it’s a good time to, uh, take stock.

I can tell you what doesn’t help: navel-gazing pieces like the one in the Washington Post, “Signs Don’t Point to a Typical Recovery.” It was a laborious “on the one hand, but on the other” piece that said so much it ended up saying nothing. Hey, I can do that.
So, as we ride the roller coaster of economic indicators that race us day-to-day from the depths to the tantalizing to the depths again, someone is bound to ask whether the glass is half empty or half full.

It’s an idiot’s question. So I’ll ask it. For an answer we should start with the glass. It had been shattered, but it’s beginning to look like it has been pasted together. Whether it will stick is another story.

Now we can get to the question about “half empty” or “half full.” The answer (finally!) is “neither.” (Right now you’re asking yourself, “I waited for that?”)

What we see in the glass depends on when we look. Sometimes there’s a tiny drop of hope on the bottom — some statistic that suggests we may have reached bottom.

On other days we see another report that unemployment will still grow and/or that consumers are not spending what it takes to generate a recovery.

For most of us, the economy is as flimsy as a paper cup. So far it looks like the only ones really benefiting are those who use the Waterford crystal to drink their fine wine — the very people who brewed up this poison in the first place.

They are starting again to get their bloated return on investments, the disastrous investments that ruined so many others’ lives. They are still getting the absurd compensation that made it so profitable for them to take the destructive risks that they did.

Everyone else is trying to not die of thirst as they face a parched future with their security dried up. The only hope is that the glimmers of optimism create their own waves, and the perception of a rising tide raises all hopes.

Obviously there is a major connection with health care reform. The trillions already spent to keep us from drowning have generated a huge debate over whether the country can take a chance on major changes in the way we provide medical care — and pay for it. Many insist we can’t afford to. On the other side are those, including the president, who argue we can’t afford not to.

Back to our inane question: Is the glass half empty or half full? It’s full. Full of something. I’m glad I could help clear things up.

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