When my daughter was about 9-years-old, we bought her a fish tank and, to make it more interesting, we bought a fish. We didn't know that we had bought a "married" fish, but we found out when the fish had babies. Shortly after the widdle fishies were born, they began to disappear. One day we had 10 fish babies, the next day only 5 and then 2. (Swim, widdle fishies, swim if you can! … Damn!) We managed to save the last fish baby from the cannibal mommy.
This was an obvious teaching moment. It taught my daughter to be careful around her mother, especially before meals. I wish we had found the way to make this traumatic incident into a sign of hope instead of a harsh reality, but we didn’t know how.
Much too long after the fact, I have finally gained that insight, thanks to the news people. The AP is reporting that only 11,000 US jobs were lost in November, the lowest monthly figure since 2007 and they tell us that “this raised hopes for a sustained economic recovery.“ Clearly, what I should have told my daughter on the third day of Fish Horror was, “Look, Allie, the mommy fish ate fewer of her own precious babies today than the last two days. That means we’ll start seeing babies reappear tomorrow.”
A few years ago the murder rate in Cincinnati declined in one year compared to the previous year. In particular, the number of gang-related homicides dropped. The police interpreted that as a sign that their efforts to reduce crime were working. I took it as a sign that, after gang members kill each other, there are fewer gang members left to kill. When all the jobs are gone, we will finally see zero job losses in one month; but we won’t know it because all the reporters will be unemployed. But surely the total lack of jobs can lead only to prosperity, right?
The slow decline in the rate of fish consumption in Allie’s tank did not predict new fish appearing. The only common factor in the eating and the birthing was that the Mother was involved. The economy giveth jobs and the economy taketh them away but one doth not predict the other.
The other strange element of the AP story is that 11,000 jobs were lost in November and yet the unemployment rate dropped. How can that be?
The unemployment rate they are using counts people who are looking for work and can’t find it. So it can drop in one of two ways: those people find work, or they stop looking. 11,000 job losses can’t mean people found work. So we have to conclude that more than 11,000 people stopped looking. (The number of people in the unemployment office went down, not the number of unemployed). They either decided rather than be “unemployed” they would be “retired” or “dead” or probably they took a job in the economy-which-is-not-officially-measured: drug dealing, prostitution, lottery ticket buying or reality show seeking.
People keep saying the economy is about to turn the corner. But which way are we turning? If you get mugged and robbed on the street, don’t let some reporter tell you that means prosperity is just around the corner. Be prepared to defend yourself when you reach the corner because, if you turn the wrong way, you might meet another mugger … or a hungry mommy fish.