I am not an economist. Like most looking for some insight into future economic prospects, I follow their analysis and predictions closely, especially when they focus on trucking. And since I'm a journalist, I often report on those insights knowing I write for an audience that's just as interested as I am. If you're like me, though, the recent almost daily swings between good news and bad from many trusted economic analysts has raised my anxiety level without offering any real insight or reliable guidance.
It starts at the broadest levels. One day we hear that the recession is definitely behind us, and slow but steady and long-term growth is well underway. The next, job numbers or housing starts look miserable, and optimism about growth and recovery is unfounded. And each day, stocks gyrate on the last report's positive or negative slant.
Closer to home, the economic forecasts are just as contradictory for trucking. One day we hear about the industry's rosy future with high freight volumes, tight capacity and decent rates. Then there's a study released that says the recovery is unraveling, and trucking will be among the hardest hit by a floundering economy. Dueling predictions point to both ever escalating diesel prices and quickly receding prices. Depending on who you listen to, intermodal services will siphon off all, or most, of the growth in freight volumes, or it's reached saturation and won't be able to handle any more.
And on and on it goes, an almost daily up and down in what were once credible and stable economic indicators. It's all pretty confusing and more than a little nerve-wracking if you're trying to plot a viable strategy for your fleet operation.
As I said, I'm a reporter, not an economist, so I don't have any answers, just observations. It may be that we're experiencing a real transition in both the American and global economies that's made all those indicators irrelevant, or at least in need of recalibration. But I think the answer may be simpler than that, that what we're experiencing now is based more on human nature than scientific economic principles. And that it's nothing we haven't seen before, if only to a lesser degree.
The Great Recession is an apt name, but it's far from the only economic downturn we've suffered in the last few decades, and each one seemed miserable and unending when we were in the midst of it.
I had the misfortune to graduate and enter the workforce just as an oil embargo and resulting economic crisis belted the U.S. economy and seemed to change our world overnight in radical and permanent ways. Ten years later, jobs were plentiful and gas station lines just a memory, as were predictions of economic Armageddon. Since then, there have been periodic downturns, some of them even recessions, and each time it seems to both surprise and frighten us all before it passes and recedes.
This time, the shock was particularly severe, and my hunch is all the uncertainty and contradictory tea-leaf reading is part of the aftershock. We're all ready to hear good news, but just as ready to see bad news as more credible. And in our totally connected world, the ever faster flow of not just information, but opinion, makes it impossible to gain any perspective beyond the hourly barrage.
So, I say read all the economic forecasts and analysis you can find, but try to remember that, like politics, all economics are at base local. For your own sanity, stay focused on what you can control — the business at hand — and let history be the judge of the economic pundits.