I like the way he’s thinking!
Joe Queenan, in his Moving Targets column, looks at the “glass-half-empty” habit of experts.
2011 was the year that Americans were constantly told to avoid getting their hopes up. Case in point: When the U.S. unemployment rate surprisingly dropped to 8.6% a few weeks ago, the experts said: “Don’t get your hopes up. The only reason it dropped is because so many people left the work force.”
Then, when the Dow Industrials soared after the euro crisis seemed to abate a bit, the experts cautioned: “Great, but don’t get your hopes up. Greece could go under. Spain and Italy, too. And then all of Europe could implode.”
Similarly, when word got out that the U.S. economy had grown at a much faster rate than economists had predicted, the experts sniffed: “Big whoop. If Europe goes into a recession, all bets are off.” Sure enough, when the trade deficit substantially narrowed, the experts carped: “Great. But if the euro collapses, the trade deficit will go right through the roof.”
I for one am tired of being told not to get my hopes up every time it looks like there is something to get my hopes up about. I am tired of being told to take things with a grain of salt, to hold my horses, not to get ahead of myself. Just once I would like to see a report reading: “Housing starts grew at their fastest pace in five years. That’s it. No caveats. No statistical anomalies. Nope. Happy days are here again. Everybody, grab a Champagne glass.”
I am no Pollyanna; I realize that tough times may still lie ahead. But what’s the point of spending all our time waiting for the other shoe to drop?
For starters, hedging bets is not the American way. Just ask Patton. Or Sherman. Or Custer (maybe that’s not a good example). Still, imagine what would have happened if previous generations of Americans spent all their time worrying about those gathering storm clouds instead of keeping their eyes peeled for the silver lining?
“George Washington and the boys pounced on the British garrison at Trenton and put those despicable Hessians to flight. That’s nice, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t make up for our crushing defeats at Brooklyn, Fort Washington and White Plains. And it doesn’t change the fact that the British are better trained, better supplied, and can actually field a working navy. And, oh yeah, their troops actually have shoes. So don’t get your hopes up.”
But Americans did get their hopes up. Just as they got their hopes up in the summer of ’42 with word that the U.S. Navy had defeated the Japanese fleet at Midway.
Today, news like that would come festooned with qualifications: “Close, but no cigar. The Japanese are still dug in on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, not to mention Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines and China. And, oh yeah, Guam. So don’t get your hopes up.”
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the experts were there to tell us that it wasn’t such a big deal: “It’s nice that the Berlin Wall came down, but we’re not out of the woods yet. The Soviet Union, with its massive army and vast nuclear arsenal, still dominates Czechoslovakia and Romania, not to mention Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. The collapse of the Wall is a cute, heartwarming story. But don’t get your hopes up.”
Well, we did get our hopes up. And look what happened. Maybe that’s what we should be doing today.
I’m not denying that we may still face some rough sledding. I’m not oblivious to the potential for a second economic downturn if things go south in Europe. I just don’t see why we have to think about the potential bad news immediately after we get the good news.
Why can’t we have 24 hours to enjoy the declining unemployment rate, the faster housing starts, the soaring stock market, the burgeoning GDP? Why can’t we have a few hours’ breather from the doom and gloom? There will be time enough for gloom and doom later. There always is.
That’s why the very next time I read some good news—any good news—I’m casting my fate to the wind, putting the cart before the horse, and counting my chickens before they’ve hatched.