Whenever a series of events transpire that have significant impact on the local, national or global economy, such as the 2008 meltdown or the present plummeting oil prices it seems the economists of the world eagerly view these events as their moment in the spotlight and share with us exactly what the future will bring.
Alberta is presently experiencing the beginning of an economic slowdown and each day brings news of lower and lower oil prices.
When this happens many companies immediately begin to throw people overboard as they strive to compensate for lower revenues by shaving costs wherever possible.
Driving to an appointment earlier this week I heard two economists, on different radio stations, spouting off, with great conviction, exactly what the future will look like.
The first one was strongly stating that by the middle of 2015 we will see oil prices firmly rising again, approaching the $90 range before the first leaves hit the ground. At that point the economy will begin to rebound, companies will start rehiring and life as we know it will return to normal by the end of the year.
By simply touching a button on the car radio I was immediately able to learn of a whole different future as the economist being interviewed on that station was telling us to tighten our belts for at least two years – perhaps longer – before any of us would be able to see even the faintest glimpse of light at the far, far end of the tunnel.
Watching the news later that evening I learned that a nationally known brain trust was telling us that Alberta will be in recession – defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth – by the middle of the year and yet another economist, rebutting this statement, was assuring us not to worry, that our provincial economy was going to experience a small but acceptable growth of between 1 and 2% this year.
Guaranteed and guaranteed.
I find it fascinating that these folks, with such confidence, can predict the future even though they all have years and years of history to prove that, by and large, their predictions have almost always been wrong.
I’m not sure what it is that resides inside their heads that propels them to tell us what the future will bring when they have no more of a glimpse into the future than the rest of us.
They do not have crystal balls and listening to them is a validation to me of one of the topics that we have spent much time discussing in this blog over the past five years or so.
By and large these very smart people all have access to the same data. They study the same information, follow the same trends and subscribe to the same news sources and yet all reach different conclusions.
To me this is simply further evidence that the only meaning on any, and everything, that occurs in our lives and on any and every piece of data before us is the meaning we choose to place upon it.
The data itself is just data – it has no meaning. It requires interpretation and, as humans, each with vastly diverse backgrounds and experiences, we reach different conclusions.
In the same way that one person losing a job will view the event as a major life-changing catastrophe, another, sharing the same experience, will see great opportunity in being set free in order to better themselves elsewhere.
The great thing about being an economist is that having been wrong so many times, the bar has been set so low we have no expectations of them ever getting it right, which means no matter how wrong they are, no-one is ever surprised or disappointed.
It’s a great job to have.
Kind of like being a meteorologist on TV.
Till we read again.