As I’ve admitted on this blog before, everything I believe about economic forecasting (and a lot of what I believe about life*), is summed up in the movie, Being There. (I’m also a big fan of Jerzy Kosinski’s brilliant satirical novella from which it was adapted — it captures still today, the superficial nature of American pop culture, media and politics).
In the movie, there is a scene which I believe is as insightful as anything ever said on CNBC (with their shrill and superficial market coverage that swings from hype to horror throughout the day.) In the scene, Chance the Gardner (a name that in the novella, is misinterpreted by others as Chauncey Gardiner) is having a discussion with the President of the United States about a serious recession that is taking place. Yet Chauncey knows nothing about the economy, he only knows about the garden he has tended his entire life — his reality is that garden and anything more of the world is something he has merely observed by watching TV.
Peter Sellers cast in the role of Chauncey might seem a cliché of a type of character in which he was often cast: the village idiot who bumbles his way into success. However, in Being There, his acting is of such a restrained and charming nature, it makes you forget the “over-the-top” nature of his Pink Panther roles. He is brilliant in this film, one of the last he ever made.
Here’s the dialogue (via IMDB.com) from the scene in which Chancey espouses a truth worthy of a Noble Prize in economics:
President “Bobby”: Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
Chauncey Gardiner: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
President “Bobby”: In the garden.
Chauncey Gardiner: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President “Bobby”: Spring and summer.
Chauncey Gardiner: Yes.
President “Bobby”: Then fall and winter.
Chauncey Gardiner: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we’re upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chauncey Gardiner: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
Chauncey Gardiner: Hmm!
President “Bobby”: Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I’ve heard in a very, very long time.
As I have written before, it is easy to cherry pick metrics, surveys and news to “prove” the economy is doomed for years of recession; or, if you’d like to take another tact, is going to recover in a way that is typical of recurring cyclical downs and ups.
Today, for example, I ran across a blog post titled “20 Reasons for Optimism” on the blog of Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard. The comments following the post provide at least that many reasons why not to be optimistic.
Bottomline: If you want to believe the economy is heading to recovery or off yet another cliff, you can easily cherry pick all the facts you need to prove your point.
As for me, I believe there will be growth in the spring. And I mean this spring.
However, I’m mainly talking about the tomatoes I’ll be planting in a couple of weeks.
*It would take a double feature of the Being There and The Jerk to capture it all.