Maybe it’s just me, but if the odds are something bad happens 60% of the time, that’s not exactly a statistic you should be touting as a positive.
Last week, we ran a big Sunday package about a possible downturn on the horizon in the RV industry — and whether that’s an early signal that the rest of the economy would follow — and our story and others like it that other outlets have done have been generating some buzz.
On Wednesday, we ran our usual Indiana Policy Review column from Leo Morris titled “The ups and downs of a manufactured crises” where he took aim not specifically at our story about the RV industry declining, but a similar version from the Associated Press.
“Welcome to the roller coaster world of ‘Gotcha!’ journalism, where our anxieties are manipulated into stomach-churning thrill rides of pretend disaster,” Morris wrote.
In that column, Morris repeated a statistic that our reporter Patrick Redmond heard from the spokesman from the RV Industry Association when they were talking about the current climate in the sector. From our story on Sept. 1:
“When asked about a possible recession, RV industry spokesman (Kevin) Broom said he remains cautious. He points out that RVIA data shows that in the five times that annual RV shipments have fallen since 1981, a recession has only followed three of those downturns.”
Not joking here, when I was editing the story and I read that, I had to call Patrick to check whether that was a typo. He told me it wasn’t. I then laughed.
We only went into a recession — a nationwide downturn in the economy — three times out of five?
This is not a comforting statistic! I can’t believe that this is on the list of talking points under the “Sunny Spin on the Current RV Shipment Numbers.”
Imagine trying to use that in any other context:
“Well, Coach, when I drive to the lane for a layup I only miss it three out of every five times.”
“Well, Mr. Johnson, don’t worry about that pneumonia, only three out of five people get worse and need to be hospitalized.”
“Well, community, when people commit murder, we only blow the case and miss the conviction three out of five times.”
“Well, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, don’t worry, the last five times you’ve attempted to get pregnant you’ve only miscarried three times.”
“Well, Chicago Bears fans, the last five times we’ve drafted a quarterback only three of them have turned out to be total busts.”
(OK, actually that last one at least would be an improvement over recent history, although it still wouldn’t make me feel better about how lousy the other times were.)
Maybe I’m the one out of touch here, but a 60% fail rate is probably not a statistic you should be proud of.
There’s one other major point I disagree with in Morris’ recent column:
“We change our behavior because of our anxieties and create the very thing we were anxious about, the definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
While Morris is correct that consumer spending drives a large portion of the economy, recessions usually start long before anyone even realizes they’re happening.
Example: The so-dubbed Great Recession officially started in December 2007, but unemployment didn’t start skyrocketing up until summer 2008 and didn’t peak until about March 2009, only a few months before the recession technically ended.
Most people associate the Great Recession with 2008, because that’s when the situation really changed and became forefront in the national consciousness. But economic factors had already been in decline for two quarters prior to December 2007, then another six months before unemployment really took off.
Because of that experience, economists, journalists, even the general public are now a bit more alert to the signals. You know that saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Again, it’s up to you how much stock you want to put into these warnings.
To use an analogy to close out here, when a hurricane forms off in the ocean with a long-range projection that it might hit the U.S., some people evacuate well ahead of time, some people stock up and hunker down and some people don’t do much at all.
But it’d be a very different situation if the only time you heard about the approaching hurricane was on the day when it was already on top of you.
But hey, think positively and rest easier with this sentiment:
Of the last five hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. only three of them have caused major damage.