A recent UK study found that happiness is contagious. President-elect Obama has proven that messages of hope can also have a distinct contagion. It may be helpful to realize this, as the world is subjected to a collective of depressed thinking that is perpetuated by rudimentary media analysis as concrete sky-is-falling fact.
It is important to read between the lines of these media stories – with a particular emphasis on how numbers are positioned and revered. In some cases there are foundational shifts in revenue fundamentals – but there is a great and damaging amount of partially-informed media hype out there.
Let’s look at a recent scary headline: Payrolls Plunge by Stunning 533,000 in November (Marketwatch). The story goes on to note that the last time we have seen this kind of loss was 34 years ago – or 1974. If we are going to play in the space of raw figures, then we have to look at the total picture. According to the U.S. Census, the U.S. population in 1974 was 214 million, and today it is 306 million – that’s an increase of 90 million. While not seeking to diminish the pain of losing one’s job, 533,000 as a flat figure is less dramatic against today’s population and when put in the context of our core population growth relative to 1974.
Looking at the unemployment rate – as expressed in the “purity” of percentages – we are currently at 6.7% for November (the annual rate for 2008 will come in less than 6%). According to the US Labor Dept, we have crossed an annual jobless rate of 6% or higher 17 times since 1970. From 2000 to 2008 – during the Bush presidency – we crossed 6% twice. From 1990 to 1999 we crossed 6% four times; three times under Clinton, a period that is widely considered our great economic and surplus boom. What is also remarkable about our unemployment percentages is that we have been steadily moving from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy – and exporting record numbers of jobs overseas. So, percentage comparisons with the 1970s and the 1980s are not on a level plane.
While this is a number-heavy article, we are digesting number-heavy media these days – and we are not getting the full picture or the full analysis that should be expected of journalists. Keep in mind that the brightest in economics have just recently concluded that we have been in a recession since December 2007. This is a backward-looking statement, so it is hard to gauge the future from it. Are we bouncing along the bottom and on our way out? Look at recent investment hops in certain retail stocks. Some people are saying that retail has hit bottom – and if it has, this means another consumer-driven push forward.
Take a look at your neighbors and your friends and your family – does this feel like a full year of recession to you? If it has been a full year, do you think we’re coming to the end of it? Remember also our dynamic new president on the horizon – just over a month away from taking the helm, radiating hope and intelligence and pragmatism.
AT&T recently made big news with their 12,000 layoffs. But when you look at the fundamentals of their business, you find strength and growth and a real need for division realignments. A brief snapshot on AT&T’s revenue:
2003 = $38.6 million
2004 = $36.3 million
2005 = $38.6 million
2006 = $55.9 million
2007 = $107.4 million
They doubled their revenue in one year through acquisitions and through organic growth – particularly in their wireless division. AT&T and Verizon have been pummeling the cable industry and creating new business models along the way. Throughout AT&T’s stunning success they added whole populations of employees. The layoff announcement largely reflects a need for more agility and nimbleness – and an intelligent and preemptive pragmatism moving into a discordant new year.
There are certainly some significant issues out there. We have the specter of Detroit, for example. The housing crisis and subsequent Wall Street bet on the American consumer brought a harsh criticism to the notion of a free market economy – however, Detroit represents an arrogant lack of competitive understanding and a hardcore look at American labor unions in the face of the global economy that we have long sought to be a part of.
The United States is actively pursuing a participation in the global economy. The credit crisis that we have experienced is a necessary recalibration in this pursuit. American culture simply cannot continue to operate in such a vapid credit-heavy manner, whereby we live through materialistic projections of ourselves – in most cases, projections we will not manifest. Even in the throes of this crisis Americans live in a comfortable royalty that cannot be mirrored elsewhere in the world. This separateness is not a participation in the global community – and the recalibration that we are experiencing currently represents the first steps in our seamless trade in worldwide markets.
John Lennon said that happiness is a warm gun. But at whom can we aim it?
It is more and more apparent that a smile in the mirror will get us there. If happiness is contagious, let us go and infect the world.