We must hold up economic sky

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER) says the United States sank into a recession last December. I’m not sure if these were the guys who said a few months ago that we weren’t in a recession, but now they say not only are we in one but also it started a year ago.

In an effort to understand, because it’s a numbers thing and as I’ve said math makes my head hurt, I searched for the definition of recession. This is what I learned.

A recession is a contraction phase of the business cycle or a period of reduced economic activity. The U.S. based NBER defines a recession more specifically as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real gross domestic product (GDP) growth, real personal income, employment (non-farm payrolls), industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.”

Well we cleared that up didn’t we…(it is still numbers, which means it sounds like the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons). What I understand is that nightly news reports about the economy sounds something like this, “THE SKY IS FALLING, THE SKY IS FALLING!!”

And they wonder why folks aren’t spending like crazy. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the sky is falling, I run for cover instead of standing in the open looking up. Or in the case of the economic falling sky, I’m more likely to stick my money in the mattress than to rush out and buy everything in Wal-Mart.

How did we get here and how do we get out of here? More numbers stuff — theories I didn’t understand like what Keynesian economists think, as compared to supply-side economists or laissez-faire economists or populist economists.

In other words, the experts don’t agree on the answer. So where does that leave us chickens as we wait for the sky to fall on our heads? Confused is how I feel.

What is not confusing is that the situation is forcing realignment of priorities for lots of folks. Suddenly a spending spree courtesy of credit cards doesn’t seem like a great idea.

Now I’m about to revisit “the good old days,” but there was a time we lived without the instant gratification of credit cards. Remember saving for what you wanted until you could buy it? Or if you did go ahead and purchase it, you borrowed just enough money, probably from your local bank, where you had to show you had the means to get the loan, and then you paid it back within a set time?

There were no huge credit lines with payments so low it took years to get the balance to zero. We have to agree there is enough responsibility for our falling economic sky to go around. So although I am no expert, here is my personal answer to how we got here and how we get out of the mess we created.

We got here by not considering long-term consequences. We didn’t think and use common sense in lots of instances. We forgot what goes around comes around, and if you spend more than you have, eventually the house of cards tumbles down. That is true whether you make a million dollars a year or $30,000.

So what happens now? Well, I think we prop up our falling sky with personal responsibility and stop searching for someone to blame.We don’t have to have the newest something out there just because our neighbor got one, especially when we can’t afford it.

Finally, we might need to figure out that having a lot of outside superficial stuff is not what makes us feel good on the inside in the long run. If that comes out of this recession, it might be a good thing that not only keeps our sky from permanently falling but also brings brighter, happier more responsibly lived days in the future.