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Fiscal Climatology

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Joined: 20 Mar 2006
Posts: 1273
Location: Kent (East Hill), WA

PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 8:53 am    Post subject: Fiscal Climatology Reply with quote

For the longest time the principle metaphor for politicians to describe the economy was the car. If the economy "overheated" we'd get inflation...and we wouldn't want that...I mean, an economy spewing steam from the radiator...or whatever. The economy was often "moving too fast" or worse, "slowing down". How a static thing like money has velocity and acceleration is difficult to imagine...unless you think of it as a car. Then, you will sit back an nod...yes, I don't want it to go too fast...or too slow...thanks Mr. Fed Chairman!

So, metaphors are useful, but in general the bigger the thing your describing the less accurate and the lower that utility. That doesn't stop politicians though.

The car metaphor seems to have waned this decade to be replaced by -- the climate. Yes, years of browbeating anthropogenic global warming into the populace now makes this a convenient way to convince people of doing whatever it is that someone wants them to do.

For example

...rescue plan that he called the best chance to restore calm to the financial industry.

Yes, we want those fiscal winds to die down a bit, wouldn't want a tropical storm to turn into a hurricane! Pass that bill or we'll have another Katrina, darn it!

Surges, forecasts, warnings, categories of's all there in the dailies. The lowly car metaphor went the way of Greenspan. This is Bernanke's economy now...he is the rainmaker.
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Joined: 17 Mar 2006
Posts: 712
Location: Oregon

PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 9:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The car is not dead as a source of fiscal metaphor.

The notable expression we've all heard these last few weeks
is that the economy is in danger of "seizing up", just as the
real estate market did.

The implication of this metaphor is that the "engine" of the
economy will be permanently damaged.

If we are to continue to earn livelihoods, to buy and sell,
we are told, we must remove the corrupted (toxic) assets
from the market/engine, so that the lubrication of credit
can once again keep the engine going.

This all seems very reasonable until you consider other
possible interpretations following the same metaphor.
We could "add more oil", by having the government
(perhaps temporarily) offering credit to businesses and
homeowners. We might want to "pull over", but let the
engine continue running so as to let it cool down a bit.
We could take the economy in to the "shop". Certainly,
we'd want to take our foot off the gas. We might get out
and walk to the nearest pay phone. The largest one-day
drop in the stock market would have to be thought of as
the "check engine" light brightly blinking red.

These are examples of what I call the power and the glory
of the extended metaphor. The problem is that we can
be very much influenced by people using these metaphors,
as you note in your post. Is it turmoil that must be calmed,
or is it the danger of seizing up (inactivity) that must be
corrected by "lubrication"? These categories are so natural
to us that we can accept explanations like these very quickly.
They lead us to believe that we really do understand what is
going on, when, if confronted, it can easily be demonstrated
that we don't really understand very much at all about a given
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