On our show Street Signs we’ve been talking much about the concept of ‘hopium’ — that bizarre concoction of hope and optimism that may synthesize into an "economic drug," propelling the economyinto an upward spiral.
Confidence is, after all, everything. Especially in an economy three-fourths powered by the simple decisions of consumers and companies every day to spend money. It is also a very fickle thing.
Becoming more optimistic after my own five years of pessimism hasn’t been easy, particularly in this new world where negativity rules the day and he who can be most sarcastic and outrageous seems to capture the headlines.
The naysayers are as plentiful as they are loud in their conviction we’re doomed. Doomed by Europe. Doomed by an ineffective Congress. Doomed by the Federal Reserve and its easy money policies. You name it, they’ve used it in their bearish arguments. They’ve even been able to discount the big run of better-than-expected economic data we’ve gotten over the past few months, mostly by questioning the very calculation of the data itself or the intentions behind it.
But data and data-bashing be damned.
My recent optimism doesn’t come from the weeds or some random page of the Beige Book. It comes from conversations with those in the (gasp) real world. Friends, family, and business contacts who (shock) are actually working. They are realtors, truckers, software salesmen, tax preparers, roofers, and more. They are all far off Wall Street. They hail from Virginia, Kansas, Wisconsin, and other parts long removed from the capital of capital. They are building, moving, and selling things. They know Europe has problems, but none can say that any client or customer has mentioned Athens or the European Central Bank as an excuse to cancel an order. To a person they tell me that things are improving. One salesman buddy of mine tells me he’s having his “best year ever.”
In the crazy business of business television, going against the vocal tide is tough. It’s almost hip to be a downer, especially in the age of Twitter and blogs that love to tell you how wrong or mentally deficient you are (generally in not such polite ways).
No one is suggesting things are great. I grade the U.S. economy a "C," maybe a "C+." But that’s at least a grade higher than we were testing at a year ago. If jobs don’t start to grow in a meaningful way, those may be the best grades we get for a few more semesters.
That said, scores and sales are rising. And though many seem to hate to hear it, after a number of down years I don’t hate to say it: Things are indeed getting better in America.
Put that in your data pipe and smoke it.