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Tearing Down the Sky With Our Hands

Business writer Mark Sanborn makes some good points in a December 18, 2008 post titled Stick to the Facts. He starts off with a line that inspired the title of this post: “Enough doom and gloom already. The sky is falling and we’re the ones pulling it down. ”

I think (without proof) that his post puts too much blame on “The Media”, but I think the core of his post is sound and should be shared as widely as possible:

No single person can predict what is going to happen. Telling people how bad holiday sales are going to be become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Gosh, I was going to buy some stuff but maybe I shouldn’t if things are that bad!

Tell people things are rotten long enough and they’ll begin to believe the reports over their own experience.

Like Mark, I’m not here to tell you that everything is absolutely hunky dory. But I think there is some justification for his view. Just as there was irrational  exuberance in the tech days, it seems possible that there is some irrational pessimism going on now. Just through “irrational pessimism” into your favorite search engine and you’re likely to find some well written articles on the subject. Also, it is a documented fact in social psychology that negative memories and experiences carry more weight with people than positive experiences. We hardwired to  accentuate the negative. This helped us when fleeing large animals but is less helpful in navigating a complex economy.

Finally, one course to fight irrational pessimism might be to directly inform yourself about economic conditions outside of your direct experience. Two sources that should be of help are:

Bureau of Labor Statistics – http://www.bls.gov/

Economic Indicators.gov – http://www.economicindicators.gov/


2 Responses

  1. I like your use of “irrational pessimism.” Contrasted to the irrational exuberance that preceeded this mess, it is an example of how we miss what Aristotle called “the golden mean.” The pendulum swings too far in either direction, missing the appropriate moderation of the middle.

    And thanks for providing links/resources that people can use to do their own informed thinking.

  2. I wish I could lay claim to the term irrational pessimism, but I saw it in a December 4, 2008 Christian Science Monitor article Is US now stuck with irrational pessimism?.

    As a librarian, and especially as one with a background in government information, I’m highly committed to the idea of pushing primary sources to people and letting them make up their own minds.

    However, I’m currently about a third of the way through a book called True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society that’s making me question whether this is a viable way to get at truth.

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