Whatever is happening with the economy right now, ‘green shoots’ is the wrong metaphor for it

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I was walking up Broadway a couple days ago when I saw a BusinessWeek cover in the window of a magazine shop, illustrated with a couple of green shoots poking out of the ground, on “Signs of Life” in the housing market. So much for that housing bottom, I thought to myself.

The green shoots metaphor is now dominating economic coverage. I just did a search on Google News and found 1,481 references. Which is disturbing, because green shoots signify growth and new beginnings—and there are really no signs yet in the economic data of that.

What there are, are lots of signs that the precipitous economic decline that began in November is moderating. You have to have a moderation in the rate of decline before you can have a recovery, so this is really good news. But it’s not green shoots. It’s not even seeds being planted. It’s more like preliminary rototilling.

Update: The Obama administration’s preferred phrase appears to be “glimmers of hope.” Which is fine, I guess—it’s not inaccurate, plus it’s glimmery. I still prefer “preliminary rototilling,” though.