Tuesday, January 17, 2006

We're doomed, I tell you, doomed

According to Radio New Zealand the NZ Institute of Economic Research, in its quarterly survey of business opinion has found that 71% of firms are despondent about the next six months, after allowing for seasonal variations.

I like the idea that there are seasonal variations in despondency. It reminds me of something I heard about Finland: when news reaches Helsinki that the leaves are turning brown up north, gloom spreads around the saunas as the message is passed on that Winter is coming.

But that is by and by. What I want to know (and The Economist Formerly Known as Jock may be able to help here) is whether there is any historic correlation between forecasts of business confidence and actual economic performance. It seems to me that business is always gloomy about prospects. Farmers, in particular, are always pessimistic; the agricultural economy appears to be permanently on the brink of collapse yet, strangely, you will never see a farmer on a bike.

But why all this despair? For the last few months, the retail market has been so buoyant that just about every shop in Auckland has posted advertisments for staff in their windows, something I had not seen for a long time. Is it all going to go to custard or is this just business despondency as usual?

What is worrying is the possibility that this may be a self-fulfilling prophecy: that business people will become more cautious, investing less and hiring fewer, because they think bad times are around the corner, thereby slowing the economy.

Perhaps it is time for us all to go out and cheer up a business person. Exude relentless optimism while you shop, comment on how good things are and how you will be spending like there is no tomorrow. Go on, make a shopkeeper happy. Do it for New Zealand.