Column: The audacity of optimism

Dec 28 2013, 03:09 IST
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SummaryMore Americans now think the economy is heading in the wrong direction but a better idea is staying positive

Over the past four weeks, we’ve had a run of undeniably good news. A panoply of data has shown that the US economic system appears to be on firm ground. More people have jobs, albeit not necessarily sterling jobs, and the pace of overall activity as measured by GDP is at the highest level in two years, expanding at 4.1% annually. On the political front, Congress passed a budget for the first time in more than three years, which suggests a period ahead where Washington tantrums do not threaten to upend whatever delicate equilibrium currently exists.

And yet, an aura of unease still seems to hover over us. In the year or more that I have written this column for Reuters, I have often emphasised the way in which things may be going at least a bit right. That contrasts with the frequently-repeated mantra that we are going dangerously off the rails. Of course, like anyone, I may be right or wrong or somewhere in between. What’s been perplexing about responses to this column, however, isn’t whether the analysis is right or wrong, wise or naïve, but that the very hint of optimism makes a fair number of people extremely angry.

It may be, of course, that my optimism is misplaced. It may be that the United States is actually headed to hell in a proverbial handbasket; that Europe is in a brief lull before its next leg toward dissolution of the Union; that Japan’s easy money spigot unleashed by the new government of Shinzo Abe will end with the same no-exit stagnation of the past 20 years; and the glorious story of emerging economies from Brazil to Mexico to India to China will end not so gloriously. It may also be that whatever appears to be working in the developed world is in truth working only for a small minority—for the wealthy and members of the middle class in privileged urban areas, and for anyone tethered to financial markets and global commerce.

But possibly being wrong doesn’t explain the anger my columns have provoked, in the form of email and online reactions. Weather forecasters and sports experts are routinely wrong about outcomes, and while those missed predictions can trigger some ridicule, they’re not usually a recipe for rage.

True, the online world of comments and commentary skews towards the negative, especially in the realm of economics and politics. People are more likely to

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