As the 2008 election approaches, the New York Times uses the image of a sinking red "RECE$$ION" to communicate a fear that is so far only a phantom menace. Peter Goodman's Sunday Week in Review cover story, "Trying to Guess What Happens Next," displayed plenty of pessimism about the U.S. economy after years of foreign-financed easy money.
But the accompanying graphic communicated even more starkly the feeling the Times no doubt wanted to convey -- a fearful, sinking feeling among U.S. consumers (and November voters). The top half of the page was dominated by white space, with the big red word "RECE$$ION" sinking below the horizon.
Is there a single economist who thinks the U.S. economy, with inflation tamed for now and a low unemployment rate, is currently in recession? Not even Goodman himself goes that far, though his pessimism seems pretty overblown.
"You need not be a Wall Street chieftain to feel the anxiety that has wrapped its arms around the American economy. The stock market seems locked in a downward spiral as one bank after another suffers its day of reckoning with bad mortgages. Companies are sharply cutting profit forecasts as the sense takes hold that American consumers are finally too loaded with debt to buy the next flat-screen television. The dollar has fallen to inglorious depths, turning Manhattan department stores into something like a Tijuana street market for Germans. One unpleasant word hovers large: recession."
"How bad could things get? Pretty bad, say many economists. Not so bad that your grandfather's prescriptions for enduring the Great Depression need dusting off, but nasty enough to force many Americans to get reacquainted with living within their means. That could make life uncomfortable. It may also be an unavoidable step toward purging the United States and the global economy of a major source of instability -- an unhealthy dependence on the willingness of American consumers to keep buying even as debt mounts. Concerns that Americans must eventually grow thrifty, leaving factories from Guangzhou to Guatemala City scrambling for buyers, now sows unease around the world."