follow us
Jennifer Marks

Get real

November 16, 2010

Can we stop comparing everything to 2007?
As I write this, some cable TV yammerer just remarked that retail sales are down - compared to 2007.
A quick reminder: 2007 was the year when the bubble economy in the form of an overheated housing market and insane levels of consumer debt was hitting peak. I don't understand why 2007 is being used as a yardstick for "normal" when the events of 2008 (not to mention everything that followed) demonstrated it was anything but.
It's not normal for middle-class people to buy and flip multiple houses simultaneously. It's not normal for mortgage companies to extend credit without inquiring about a loan-seeker's job status and annual income. Until the shenanigans that crashed the economy got going, it was not considered normal for reputable financial institutions to package up a bunch of amorphous crap and sell it to investors.
We might as well make comparisons to 1999 - another crest-of-the-bubble era when any mope with a couple of bucks to spare could fall out of bed and rack up big gains in the stock market.
I remember the (fairly young) head of an Internet start-up describe in 2000 how the venture capital group that funded his outfit initially granted him $250,0000 - then came back and offered $1 million, then $3 million, then $6 million.
I think it was about a year later that the business collapsed - along with many other internet start-ups of the era. Of course, that recession was cake-walk compared to the latest one.
I don't want to get all "new normal" here. And while it's painful in the interim term to see consumers retreat to what used to be considered common sense behavior - keep your debt to a minimum, don't buy more house than you can afford, don't purchase more stuff than you really need - ultimately, it is to the good.
Now that retailers are starting to talk about expanding their store portfolios again, it's also good to see most of them doing so at a more measured pace than they did during the '90s and the aught years. With more sales continuing to shift to the Internet, perhaps that level of restraint will become permanent.