Save the Economy; Turn Off the T.V.

Americans see the national economic crisis through the media prism. Is it time for a news blackout?

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In searching for positive economic indicators to counter today’s abundant gloom, I have wondered if one helpful economic stimulus might be for Americans to go on a news diet. Thirty years ago, during the last major recession, there were only three major television networks and Americans received most of their daily news from a local newspaper and half-hour of evening national news. We spent most of the other twenty-three hours of the day working, going to school, living life, sleeping and perhaps watching Dynasty or M*A*S*H on our 19″ non-flat television screens. Few were privy to the second-by-second gyrations of the New York Stock Exchange, let alone the Asian and European markets.

News-free existence is not a serious proposal, but it is worth noting that while today’s 24/7 media environment is wonderful in many ways, it can also be like drinking out of a fire hose and intensify a downward reinforcing cycle of despair. The reason this subject came to mind is that so many of the usual economic indicators are dreadful (unemployment, GDP) and the ones that are not (manufacturing index) still are not very good. And yet, a lot of Americans profess confidence in their individual prospects.

(MORE: What U.S. Economic Recovery? Five Destructive Myths)

And yet, according to a survey done by Citibank this past summer, 60% of respondents remain somewhat or very optimistic about their own personal economic fortunes over the next year. In another survey done by KRC Research, also from the summer, 83% said they expected that in the next year their personal finances would improve or stay the same. In a similar vein, in September, a Rasmussen Research survey found twice as many (38%) said they expected that their next job would be better than their current one than took the negative view (17%).

We Americans typically are more positive about our individual futures, which we have some control over, than we are the nation’s or the world’s, which we see largely through the media prism. Consumer confidence surveys nose-dived this summer as Americans took a dimmer view of today’s economy and an even dimmer view of the nation’s foreseeable future.

This dim view is why at the moment, among private sector employers, there is more means than will. U.S. non-financial businesses alone, short on confidence in government and other factors, are sitting on over $2 trillion cash reserves that, when unleashed, will help fuel recovery. Conversely, in our government, will (to spend, regulate and litigate) exceeds our means and good sense. Changing that equation would boost business confidence and, in turn, job creation and consumer confidence.

It is hard to be optimistic that the current administration will change course in a meaningful way. But there is always hope, right?