I read a piece today in The Washington Post that focused on why people seem to be so down about the economy. Most economic indicators seem to indicate that, while the economy is sluggish, it really doesn’t suck. Inflation is still relatively low, though fuel and food prices are getting pretty outrageous, unemployment is manageable. Sure, it’s not a great economy, but it’s been lots worse. So why are so many people reporting they are worried about the economy.
A couple of things come to mind. Gas and food are things you buy every day. Maybe refrigerators and stoves and some other things haven’t gone up as much, but even if they have, it’s not like milk. You expect your next car to cost more than the last one, particularly if it’s been a few years if you’ve bought one. Most of us buy gas and food every week. That becomes pretty obvious.
But it wasn’t until the second online page of the article that the WaPo reporter got to this:
Some analysts attribute Americans’ negative views on the economy to media coverage, which tends to play bad news more prominently than good news. There is ample research proving that, say, a drop in the stock market or rise in the unemployment rate gets more extensive news coverage than a move in the reverse direction. (In other news, newspapers tend to cover plane crashes more extensively than a safe landings).
But that has been true during past downturns. There is no obvious reason that it would be more pronounced now than in 2001 or 1990, when consumer confidence did not drop as much as it has recently.
I don’t think so. In 1990, people still got most of their news from the MSM … the real, old school MSM. Even in 2001, the level of online news and opinion was nowhere near where it is today. The 24 hour news cycle has almost become a 48 hour news cycle crammed into 24 hours. Add to that the fact that so much of the commentary, and particularly the comments on the commentary, are extraordinarily uninformed. I’ve had to be very careful about reading comments on blogs and web sites, because I can get so sucked into what they’re saying it can be just monstrously depressing.
I think the Internet makes a huge difference in shaping opinion. If nothing else, just the access to information, and misinformation, and strong opinions can make a difference. And many, many people are willing to believe just about anything someone writes. We’re wired that way. Writers used to be scarce. Now pretty much anybody with an Internet connection and a word processor can be a writer. The Internet is the publisher of the great proletariat. If it weren’t for the interwebs … you’d never have read this, that’s for sure.
So, I think that the media, and the medium, matters. Maybe the filter of the MSM was not such a bad thing, at least in some instances. I’m all about people being able to make up their own minds, but when you read stuff online, you really have to consider the source. There are a billion megaphones out on the naked web. It’s probably not a good idea to listen to them all.