by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & admire journalists who cover business, as it can be the most challenging field to cover, with arcane economic models to understand and obscure governmental agencies to infiltrate. But reading their stories can be frustrating, as you have to cut through so much hype and read between the lines to get to anything approaching objective truth. Just about every source they quote, it seems, has an incentive to make things seem just fine. Too often, the result is journalism through rose-colored lenses.
Which brings us to our current economic predicament, in which objective signs suggest the United States may be on a crash course with a recession (or worse). But the experts you hear from in the media use phrases like "turning the corner," "set to rebound" and "glass half-full."
Yep, those people are selling stuff, and panic is bad for business. Of course we need to protect against debacles like the runs on banks that triggered the Great Depression, but can't we get a more sober, accurate picture of what's to come?
The objective facts we do know are pretty scary.
& lt;li & The dollar is bottoming out against the euro and even the once-mocked Canadian loonie. Meanwhile, Russia is relying less on dollars as a national reserve, and Venezuela and Iran are selling their oil only via euros. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & The Federal Reserve is as frantic as Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory, trying to stave off a day of reckoning with interest rate cut after interest rate cut. Recently, and for the first time in American history, the Fed had to do a rate cut/bank bailout combo move -- on a Sunday. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & With wars, tax cuts and new entitlements, our government is spending way, way more money than it takes in, forcing us to borrow trillions of dollars -- and paying out billions in interest alone. And Medicare and Social Security costs are mounting, leading former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to comment, "As a nation, we may have already made promises to coming generations of retirees that we will be unable to fulfill." & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Millions of Americans are seeing their personal wealth cut as home values drop in the wake of a credit tightening. Failure to regulate lax lending has been tabbed as the culprit, but meanwhile banks are getting bailed out by taxpayers as Congress decides whether to help homeowners stuck with escalating loan payments and declining home values. & lt;/li &
It seems an odd way for an economy to rebound, but I heard a Wall Street expert say we're turning the corner.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & t least around the Pacific Northwest, the glass may be half-full -- or perhaps more full than it is in the rest of the nation. On home values alone, the Northwest is bucking the trend, as Spokane, Seattle and Portland are all still seeing increases in home values, according to National Association of Realtors' data. And the rate of foreclosure is much lower here than it is in places like Las Vegas, San Diego and Orlando, where home values were superheated by investor speculating and subprime loans.
We shouldn't get too smug, however, as the recession -- if it comes, or if we are already in one, as some say -- will have an impact here.
I can see how hard it is to cover economic fears, as we have talked to local experts and businesses for stories we've done over the past few months here at The Inlander (including this week's cover story). And the story is the same -- few people want to say times are tough. Realtors especially will tell you, off the record, that there are a scary number of homes for sale right now -- off the record. Nobody wants to turn on the lights and end the party.
Maybe they're right and there's nothing to worry about. Maybe Spokane will weather this coming storm. Heck, we never get much out of the big American booms, so maybe we deserve to ride out the busts, too?
And things have been changing in Spokane over the past decade. Suddenly there is a lot of optimism breaking out. Team Inlander spent the day last Thursday out delivering Best of the Inland Northwest awards to those businesses that you, our readers, chose as top of the heap. And as we chatted with small business owners, it was the same story everywhere -- people have a lot of confidence that Spokane is finally coming into its own.
Just last week, we found out that Forbes magazine ranked Spokane No. 9 in the nation as a great place for business and careers. You are reading that right -- No. 9, ahead even of our friends in Seattle, who landed at No. 20. (Back in the mid-1990s, Spokane came in at No. 161 out of 162 -- in your face, Fargo!)
It's been a dramatic turnaround -- kind of like the Cougar basketball team's -- but just in time for our curtain call, the nation's economy appears ready to crumble. Nice.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & y take is that the financial press is, like the rest of us, flying somewhat blind. There is comfort in the fact that history teaches that economies generally rebound -- what goes down must come up. And here in the Northwest, we appear better situated to continue to thrive than many metro areas. But we'll have to find a way to get through it.
Again I come back to our recent readers poll. I'm always proud of how many locally owned businesses win -- even those pitted against national chains with multi-million dollar ad budgets. Inlander readers get it -- that supporting homegrown businesses keeps our dollars local.
This bears repeating: If we support each other, we can at least maintain a healthy local economy. And that's how we'll get through this -- together.