Monday, January 06, 2003

Were Holiday Shopping Numbers Bad Or Not?

If you read the papers you might get the impression that this holiday buying season was a bust, with reports like this common:
Economy Inching Forward The holiday shopping season, while not a disaster, was one of the weakest in memory, with U.S. chain-store sales up a scant 1.5 percent from the year before, according to a Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi estimate. (from
But if you read the technology news, you might read something like this:
Online Holiday Spending Jumps 24 Percent - Report Online spending during the holiday season, excluding travel, rose 24 percent from a year earlier to $13.7 billion, Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings said in a joint report released on Monday.
So, which is it? Is the online economy part of the "real" economy? Are we witnessing a mere paradigm shift, where mainstream media is still picking up and reporting old fashioned, government generated statistics, while the economy is better than the raw data seems to indicate? This seems to be a classic instance of the philosophic argument of the search for the "truth." Is the truth the tale of what actually happened? Or is the truth actually merely our perception of what happened. If a tree falls in the woods, should a bear shit on it?

More basically, does anyone really know if we had a bad or a good holiday shopping season? Is the economy good or bad? These seem like simple questions to me. Yet entire forests will be destroyed to provide the paper upon which this debate will be recorded and published. Sometimes I think that much of our national discourse is a huge make-work project, and many of the pressing issues of the day might be settled easily if only I were king, or the star Chamber was really a committee that actually ruled the world. Are the rest of us in some sort of Orwellian rat race where we are forever running running running on an endless wheel and never getting anywhere, but staying busy and feeling important? Other times I feel that all I have to do is get better at predicting the movement of a few stocks, and to hell with philosophy. Is the idiot the guy who spends his time writing missives like this, or the guy who reads them? (As both a writer and a reader of blogs like this, I'm an idiot either way.)

And if we are just cattle in some giant cosmic feedlot, who buys all of the beef?