Debate Forum Left 09/29/10

The Facts Are Pretty Clear That…

By Benjamin Tomkins

Benjamin Tomkins

Anyone who says we are still in a recession either hasn’t looked at the data, doesn’t care about the data, or isn’t using the word correctly. Now, if you haven’t looked at the data and are claiming that the recession is fervently underway, I would like you to do all of us with a hint of intellectual rigor a giant favor and screw. You suck, and we all hate you. For those of you who have looked at the data and are still claiming a recession is underway, I think you are probably just confused. Here’s why.

Economists define a recession as a fall in the GDP for two quarters or more. Sure, it’s a bit of an arbitrary construct, but you can’t just say a recession is anything you want it to be. There has to be a line, and that’s where economists put it. Sure enough, from 2007 to mid 2009 our GDP dropped like a stone. We were officially in a recession. Since July of 2009, the GDP has leveled off and slightly improved. End of recession. There’s not much to argue with because the numbers don’t lie. For those of you who choose to ignore these facts, I think you need to stop and realize that this isn’t some Fox News YOU DECIDE poll where people are allowed the delusion that we can vote on objective reality. The numbers are what they are, and if anyone is telling you differently I would suggest they probably have some stake in the upcoming midterm elections.

So to be fair, I think that most people are simply misapplying the term “recession” because it’s a convenient word to refer to the depressed nature of our economy. And three years ago I might have been tempted to rip into them for being intellectually inferior, and mercilessly pelt them with insults and abuse. However, given the current situation I am much more sympathetic to this kind of thing. Not because of the economic collapse, but because three years ago I got married and have had an infinite number of variations on the following argument I had three weeks ago when I asked my wife to hand me a sweater.

Wife: What?

Me: The sweater. Can you hand me that sweater?

Wife: What sweater?

Me: (pointing somewhat incredulously at the only article of clothing on that side of the room not currently being worn by her) Um, the one in front of you.

Wife: Where? I don’t see a sweater.

Me: (exasperated) The freaking blue one right there that I’m pointing at! What do you think I’m talking about?

Wife: Ooooohh. The sweatshirt. That’s not a sweater. A sweater is knitted. I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.


That’s about where I stroked out. Now god dammit… she knew exactly what I was talking about. NOBODY SHOULD HAVE THAT KIND OF DEDICATION TO THE ACCURACY OF WORDS! Seriously, we all deserve to be the beneficiaries of a small degree of contextual interpretation from our fellow humans. And in the spirit of having a conversation I’m willing to forgive an honestly misappropriated word when people somewhat ignorantly but very clearly use “recession” to refer to the general crappiness of our current state rather than an actual economic freefall that is demonstrably over.

That being said, I do think it is worth acknowledging that the current depressed economy, while not a recession, is very present and very painful for a lot of people. I was unemployed for almost a year in 2007, and that nearly ended my marriage for real. There is nothing worse than feeling helpless and uncertain about the future, and I think the temptation of a lot of people is to only be willing to admit that things have gotten better when we get back to 2005 again and everybody has an SUV and a cheap loan for a seven bedroom house. I hate to say it, but those people would all do themselves a big favor by getting that idea out of their head. Those times are gone and they won’t be coming back. Eventually in five or 10 years the numbers may return to where they were, but it’s never going to be the same, and that’s OK. At that point we will be a little older, wiser, and more frugal, and now that we’re stable I recommend that we all commit ourselves to doing what Americans have always done and make the best of a bad situation. So go to the library, take your kids to the park tomorrow, and realize that, no matter how long it takes for things to noticeably improve, personal happiness is about the only concept we have the ability to redefine to match the contents of our bank accounts. Take care.

Benjamin Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, CO. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.

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