The Economist


I only had one economics class in college and therefore only had a fleeting introduction to the exciting world of macro and micro economics, Keynsian theories, the economy at large and a whole host of other things I basically paid no attention to. Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy the class or find it interesting. I had no real or practical interaction with the broader economic world and couldn’t relate to the theories and data being presented. If I had enough money for an occasional pizza or a movie with friends, I was set. That was the extent of my economic sensibilities and motivation.

Fast forward to last week. I found myself racing downtown in the middle of a hectic day filled with hastily returned phone calls, rapidly approaching deadlines and an inbox threatening to overflow and consume what little personal life I still was holding on to. Even though the week was completely crazy, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation given by an economist with the State of Oregon and wasn’t about to miss out. Unlike years past, the economy, the unemployment rate, housing starts, new construction et al is now important to my life. As far as I am concerned, graphs are pretty boring and soulless things. The sale of widgets, units per capita – it’s all dry stuff to me. That is, until you are actually one of the statistics or living amidst the statistics. Or, better yet, if your livelihood is directly impacted by the statistics.

So there I was, transfixed by things I would have considered completely boring in the past. I did my best to keep a low profile, worried as I was that my past incompetence in all things related to economic academia would be found out. The charts, the statistics, it all confirmed what we have suspected all along – our economy in our region has really taken a beating over the course of the last few years.

The economist thought it likely that housing prices would continue to be pressured lower for at least a couple years but that employment data was starting to show signs of improvement. Amidst all the data and graphs are real tragedies whether they be personal, business or some combination. All in all, it was fascinating in a morbid “Daddy look at the car crash” kind of way. I came away with the opinion that economists seem to be an even nerdier version of meteorologists and just as likely to completely miss a forecast amidst all the variables and uncertainty. And like a meteorologist, 50% accuracy begins to look pretty good over time.

I left the meeting prior to its conclusion; there were so many questions amongst our group that it was obvious the event was going to go well beyond the initial schedule. I feel cautiously optimisitic after the presentation and one thing I can tell you with better than 50% accuracy is that a little optimism goes a long way.

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