Is it already time to turn pessimistic again? And is that something to be optimistic about?

  • Share
  • Read Later

Right before the stock market bottomed out on March 9, I wrote a column (headlined “Call Me Mr. Sunshine”) outlining five reasons for moderate optimism on the economy. I didn’t make any kind of market call (unlike Doug Kass),  but clearly I was on to something: Everybody had gotten so pessimistic that it was almost inevitable that they would start to be pleasantly surprised by the global economy’s failure to completely collapse.

Now we’ve had two straight months of pleasant surprises, and I’m starting to get worried. Not enough to write a column headlined “Call Me Mr. Total Solar Eclipse” (although there is one of those coming up June 22), but worried that most people are going to be deeply disappointed with the pokey pace of the recovery.

Then again, maybe more economic disappointment is just what we need. As plukasiak commented after the release of some halfway good jobs data last week:

I think this kind of “optimism” is dangerous — even if there is cause to be “optimistic”, the problem here is that such optimism takes the wind out of the sails of efforts toward substantial reform of the banking and financial sectors (and other aspects of our socio-economic foundations like health care.) Indeed, not only does reform become less important, but we wind up sweeping the costs associated with preventing an economic armageddon under the rug, making it both more likely that we’ll be back that way again quite soon, and that when we get there we won’t have the resources to pull ourselves out of the spiral…

My sense is that, even as the economy pulls out of its free fall, dissatisfaction with the economic and financial status quo and political pressure to do something about it is only going to grow. That could lead to wonderful things like a reformed financial system and affordable health care for all. It could also lead to lots of really dumb legislation. But I don’t think this whole mess is just going to get swept under the rug.