Titanic Bias? Times Implies U.S. Economy Is Sinking Into Recession

Is the economy sinking under President Bush? That's the indelible image taken from Peter Goodman's Sunday Week in Review cover story, "Trying to Guess What Happens Next."

WhileGoodman's actual article displayed pessimism about the U.S. economy after years of foreign-financed easy money, the accompanying graphic communicated starkly the feeling the Times wanted to convey - a fearful, sinking feeling among U.S. consumers (and November voters). The top half of the page was dominated by white space, with the big red word "RECE$$ION" sinking below the horizon. Is there a single economist who thinks the U.S. economy, with inflation tamed for now and a low unemployment rate, isnow in recession?

"You need not be a Wall Street chieftain to feel the anxiety that has wrapped its arms around the American economy. The stock market seems locked in a downward spiral as one bank after another suffers its day of reckoning with bad mortgages. Companies are sharply cutting profit forecasts as the sense takes hold that American consumers are finally too loaded with debt to buy the next flat-screen television. The dollar has fallen to inglorious depths, turning Manhattan department stores into something like a Tijuana street market for Germans. One unpleasant word hovers large: recession."

"How bad could things get? Pretty bad, say many economists. Not so bad that your grandfather's prescriptions for enduring the Great Depression need dusting off, but nasty enough to force many Americans to get reacquainted with living within their means. That could make life uncomfortable. It may also be an unavoidable step toward purging the United States and the global economy of a major source of instability - an unhealthy dependence on the willingness of American consumers to keep buying even as debt mounts. Concerns that Americans must eventually grow thrifty, leaving factories from Guangzhou to Guatemala City scrambling for buyers, now sows unease around the world."

Goodman did note:

"It is worth bearing in mind that the American economy has a history of unexpected resilience in the face of supposedly grim prospects. Moreover, some parts of the economy are enjoying good times, notably farmers able to cash in on the making of ethanol. That said, most economists think the American economy is headed for a significant slowdown, as housing prices keep falling, consumers grow tight, and businesses cut investments.

"The Federal Reserve last week said it expected the economy to grow 1.6 percent to 2.6 percent next year, a stark contrast from the 3.9 percent rate registered in the most recent quarter. Some see signs of a worst-case scenario - a severe recession that would feature a plummeting stock market, a lower dollar and the loss of many jobs. That would make for an unpleasant year or two for Americans from most walks of life. It would probably drag down the world economy, as Americans put off purchases of everything from computers made in China to Italian-produced sports cars."