Unexpectedly! Again! 

“Unexpectedly,” as I noted in my Sunday Examiner column, is a word that often appears in mainstream media accounts of negative economic developments. Or “unexpected” or even “a real surprise.” Glenn Reynolds, the eagle-eyed Instapundit, has spotted yet another example. “Consumer confidence falls unexpectedly in May,” is yahoo.com’s headline on an Associated Press story whose second paragraph reads: “The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index fell to 60.8 from a revised 66 in April, a sign of the toll that high gas prices, a choppy job outlook and a moribund housing market are taking on people’s psyches. Economists had expected an increase to 67. It was the lowest reading since November.”

 

Let’s unpack that a little. “the toll that [gas prices, etc.] are taking on people’s psyches.” Only on their psyches? The way I read it, the toll is being taken on their pocketbooks, their economic position, their net worth—phrase it any way you want, but the damage from high gas prices, low hiring and housing price doldrums is concrete and economic, not airy and “psychic.” People aren’t just being spooked; their responding to realities. And who, by the way, are the “economists” who had expected consumer confidence to rise? Perhaps the Associated Press writers could do a little investigation here and tell us who the economists are who keep getting things wrong. Or will they be content to keep characterizing negative economic trends as “unexpected”?

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Michael Barone

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