You've probably seen the headlines or news, especially if you watch CNN.
CNN recently released a poll, in which it surveyed 1,000 Americans. About 60% of respondents believe that it's very likely, or at least somewhat likely, that the nation will have another depression.
I'm sure it's a good survey, and I don't quibble with CNN polling people to see what their attitudes are toward the economy. That's a hallmark of journalism, checking with the mindset of the public.
But it's not like this was a poll of economists. These are just average people who read the papers and watch TV news like the rest of us. Ultimately, the more men and women who see that poll will probably think to themselves, "Well, if 60% of the country thinks we're heading toward a depression, maybe I should be thinking that, too." And the next thing we know, we'll see a poll in which 75% of the country believes a depression is inevitable. And if my futuristic, so far fictional 75% poll is widely seen, maybe the next one will indicate that 83% of the nation believes... well, you get the idea.
In fact, several days ago, a USA Today-Gallup poll indicated that a third of Americans believe that we're already in a depression right now.
Technically, we're not, although if you disagree, it's nothing like the Great Depression of the 1930s when 25% of the country was unemployed. Right now, the unemployment rate is 6.5%. Which I realize is hardly comforting if you're part of that 6.5%.
Anyway, the danger of taking any of these polls too seriously is that we end up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Anirvan Banerji, director of research for the Economic Cycle Research Institute, told CNN (in the first story I linked to), "The fact that the majority of people believe we are going into a depression ensures that the recession will get worse."
So don't believe the polls. If you're caught up with your bills, if you've socked some money away recently, if you've contributed to your 401k, and you've filled up your tank of gas, and you have some extra money, and you're itching to shop or wallpaper the living room or what have you, you now have your argument for doing just that. Ignore the dreary polls and shop guilt-free. If nothing else, you're doing some good for the country.
Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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