Who says the sky is falling?

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier

This isn’t about the earthquake, the hurricanes, tornadoes or even the September rain.  It’s about the nagging negativity that’s becoming temptingly pervasive in our culture.  Who says the sky is falling?

For some, it is as simple as blaming the media.  After all, everyone seems to think that bad news sells better than good news.  On the other hand, the majority of newspapers are losing circulation, so maybe it’s not quite so simple.  The media report the events of the day, who’s done and said what to whom.  Two observations:

1) Shooting the messenger isn’t a very original strategy, and
2) Good news is perhaps less memorable.

We are all conditioned to learn from bad examples.  That’s why there are child-protective covers for electrical outlets and also why one learns quickly not to touch a hot stove.  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we learned just as quickly from good examples?  Unfortunately, pleasure isn’t as tightly connected to our survival instincts as pain.

Conventional wisdom is that the world has pessimists and optimists — people who see the glass as half empty or as half full.  This isn’t necessarily as much a matter of predilection as it is one of choice.  For example, a lot of business success arises from either persistence or luck.  For the part that comes from persistence, phrases like, “Problems are opportunities,” do a lot to get us through the day.  We really do get to choose.  Starting the morning thinking, “Today will be a good day,” really does make a noticeable difference.

Technology, transportation and high-speed communications have all helped to create an increasingly global marketplace.  We live in a world that looks more at macroeconomic trends than microeconomic ones.  Rarely does a day go by without hearing concerns about the European debt crisis and its impact on the global economy.  Our financial markets hinge more on the words of politicians and central bankers than on the actual results of the companies that make up their markets.

When it comes to the sky falling, it’s not unfair to associate such negative sentiments with the world of partisan politics.  Recent events in Washington and elsewhere have made it increasingly clear that there is a great divide between what is required to win elections and what is required to govern effectively.

Increasingly fractious political parties make nominations and campaign funding unlikely for anyone who fails to embrace party orthodoxy.  Voters are less likely to come from the center than they are from the fringe, especially in less-noticed local elections where new candidates begin to build their careers.  Political positions are no longer built upon the qualities of candidates.  Instead they rely on the shortcomings of the opposition.  If there is anywhere that deserves credit for taking strength from bad news it is the political arena.

Moving from the global to the local level, there is evidence that the economy is getting better.  According to CNBC, 71 percent of S&P 500 companies reported second-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ estimates, 9 percent reported earnings that were in line with expectations, and only 20 percent were below projections.  The estimated earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 for the third quarter is 15.6 percent.
Looking at Virginia’s largest 10 public companies by revenue, seven of them reported better earnings in the first half of 2011 than during the first half of last year.

Getting even more local, the number of ad pages in Virginia Business has significantly increased during the past couple of years.  This is not just about the good fortune of the magazine; it’s an indicator of growth for the commonwealth’s economy.

So, who says the sky is falling?  At Virginia Business we really don’t see the world that way.  Outside of the circus-like political arena, there is very little to be gained from negative thinking.  Things are getting better.  It may be slow, but the economic recovery has been under way for some time.  Scaremongering thoughts of double-dips don’t help anyone and certainly won’t lead to positive outcomes.

When it comes to shaping results, we really do get to choose.  Next month, we’ll have statewide elections for the General Assembly.  Regardless of which candidates or parties you might support, please make sure to participate in the democratic process.  It really does make a difference.

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