Lori Falce: Drowning in recession rhetoric

·3 min read

Aug. 5—Are we in a recession or not?

It's hard to get anyone to agree.

First of all, you have to know what a recession is. The short definition is an economic condition where industry and business are down for a time. A recession isn't as bad as a depression but worse than the almost meaningless "downturn."

We used to have a fairly cut-and-dried measure of what makes a recession: two consecutive periods of gross domestic product being down equaled recession.

But that has happened now, and some experts aren't sure this qualifies. Why? Well, this isn't exactly your normal period of economic ups and downs. The pandemic threw a serious wrench into the international and domestic monetary machinery. Then, just as that was loosening up, Russia invaded Ukraine, and the economic train that was getting back on track promptly drove off a cliff.

Then you have labor shortages at home. Supply chain problems everywhere. If the typical process to get from a healthy economy to a recession is a bunch of dominoes falling in just the right order, the last two years have been an upended Rubbermaid tub of Lego bricks dumped on those carefully spaced dominoes.

So the people who say it's a recession? Not wrong. The people who are saying it's more complicated than that? Yeah, they're right, too.

However, the real question is this: Does it even matter if it's a recession?

Let's stop quibbling about semantics and definitions. The only reason to fight about it is to score points politically, and that is the last thing anyone should be prioritizing at the moment.

Sometimes having a very clinical, specific idea of what something is makes a big difference in solving the problem. Knowing the bacteria that is making someone sick lets the doctors know what antibiotic would be best, for instance.

But if someone is drowning while being circled by sharks, you don't need to reconstruct how it happened and establish fault before you throw a life preserver. You get the person to safety and away from the sharks with as little water swallowed and blood shed as possible. Everything else can wait.

People are losing their homes through eviction. Food banks are being deluged — and if you think that's bad now, consider that schools are going back into session and the free lunches that have been given since the advent of covid-19 have been discontinued in many areas. Gas is lower than it was in June but still high enough to be a problem. Electricity is through the roof. So are prescriptions. So is almost everything.

Maybe it's a recession. Maybe it's not. Maybe this is an entirely different animal that needs a whole new word to describe it. Who cares?

What matters is not arguing about definitions. Instead, we need to be seeing what can be fixed and getting it done before we all drown.

Because the sharks? They don't care about definitions.

Lori Falce is a Tribune-Review community engagement editor. You can contact Lori at lfalce@triblive.com.