All this talk about “green shoots” is out of control. It’s become the go-to oh-aren’t-I-clever analogy for signs of economic recovery.
It’s obnoxious. It’s factually inaccurate. And it must be stopped!
“‘Greenshoots’ implies that we have nascent growth. But we aren’t there yet … There are no green shoots,” said Robert Brusca, chief economist at Fact and Opinion Economics.
“I am sick of it!” Peter Cohan, founder of management-consulting and venture-capital firm Peter S. Cohan & Associates, said of the term. “[I]t’s condescending because it oversimplifies what is really happening and it seems to imply that just by using a clever phrase, the reality will somehow be transformed.”
“Green shoots make me think of kudzu,” said Alyx Kaczuwka, creator of the blog LOLFed.com, referring to an invasive plant species from Japan that’s wreaked a lot of havoc on the southeast U.S. “At the rate by which this term has gone parabolic, I am hoping it burns out soon,” she said.
The term “green shoots” sprung into popular consciousness during the recession of the early 1990s. The man who started it all was Norman Lamont, then the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (i.e., Treasury Secretary), who said during a speech at a Tory party conference in December 1991, “The green shoots of economic spring are appearing once again.”
The ironic part is that Lamont’s “green shoots” were just as much a mirage as the fields of green shoots we’re planting today. He was demoted in May 1993 and later resigned after 2 ½ years came and went with nary a green shoot.
Still, that hasn’t stopped people from planting green shoots by the truckload from coast to coast: One day last week, Bloomberg had 118 articles referencing the horticulture metaphor, one reporter noted. Google “green shoots” and you get more than 700,000 results.
Surely we can come up with a term that’s actually, I don’t know, factually correct, to refer to these glimmers of hope in the economy.
THE NEW 'GREEN SHOOTS'
“I’d suggest using a bad news/good news index instead — this would be a significance-weighted index of the ratio between the bad news and the good news over time,” Cohan suggested.
Tony Crescenzi of Miller Tabak suggests “troughs” as the new “green shoots."
“A trough more closely defines what has happened, because in the analogy of the plant, the trough occurs below the ground—there is no green shoot yet,” Crescenzi explains. “What we have seen is a slowing in the growth of the ‘recession,’ the hole in the ground. A green shoot only occurs when recovery takes hold—which it hasn't—the plant has not taken root; only the seed has.”
Brusca also stays with the gardening theme.
“There may be some piles of brown fertilizer to help things get going, once they germinate. But the green shoots have not poked though yet,” Brusca said, citing the fact that the ISM manufacturing gauge is still below 50, jobs are still receding and that spurt of consumer spending fizzled.
Kaczuwka takes her metaphor down the street to Starbucks.
“My [economic] indicator is the number of people in front of me in line at Starbucks,” Kaczuwka said. “It hasn't been greater than 1 in quite a while.”
OK, so quick recap. That’s:
- Better good-bad ratio
- More holes in the ground
- Economic fertilizer
- Pickup in the Starbucks line
Think one of these works as a substitution for green shoots? Or, think you've got something better? Send your suggestions to email@example.com. We'll publish the best ones and vote on them.
Ready ... Aim ... Shoot!
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