“Perfect Storm” watch

perfectstormMemo to everyone, please stop using the expression “Perfect Storm.”

It’s not only a cheap attempt at trying to make something sound more important, but it’s also misleading. It insinuates that a given event or consequence was a confluence of factors that nobody could have predicted. And more insidiously, it displaces blame from people who deserve it – like banks and mortgage lenders that gave out loans to anyone with a pulse.

Matt Thornhill, in an otherwise engaging column about Boomers and changing spending patterns, drops an unfortunate “Perfect Storm” bomb in an Op/Ed piece from Thursday’s Times-Dispatch.
Thornhill, who consults about Boomer trends, prognosticates a huge shift in spending. “One last ingredient to this perfect storm: the worst recession since the Great Depression,” he writes.

Arg.

Economists and cab drivers alike saw this coming for the last five years. It was not a combination of anything other than a gorging on credit that could not continue forever. Even though Thornhill references several other possible trends (austerity, green everything…) it’s still not even close to a “perfect storm” if ever that cliché should see the light of day. All trends are multi-variable.

And while we’re on the topic of his column, he makes several other dramatic statements. He says that “Mass consumerism by the masses is dead. Welcome to the dawn of Responsible Consumers – arguably the most profound shift in American values since the 1960s.”

Hmmm.

If I may be sold bold to ask, where is the proof? What is so profound in the shift in American values, and what was the shift he was referring to in the 1960s?

Thornhill writes that people will cut back on spending and instead use the stuff they have. That sounds plausible, if only because it’ll be a cold hard fact with less access to credit. But it’s hardly a tectonic shift, especially since until this year; sales have been rising every year. And even in this dismal holiday season, sales are only off a few percentage points from last year when you factor in the dramatically lower price of gas. Maybe spending levels go back to 2003 levels but would that be such a profound shift?

Perhaps the underlying question is, can a society change its buying habits over night?

And if so, how much?

Read a great column from the Washington Post entitled, “A Perfect Storm? No, a Failure of Leadership”

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