is less a matter of science than of mood.
Whether you want to be
pessimistic or optimistic, you can find some statistics to support your view.
At the most obvious
level, American real estate property prices, lending, and business investment
are down, while unemployment, personal and business insolvencies, and
foreclosures are on the increase – the defining symptoms of recession.
Yet at the same time,
the markets are far from despair. Stocks are jittery but a long way from
freefall: there are steep declines, but some are long overdue revaluations, and
there are also rallies. While banks are nervous, and rightly cautious, the
panic that threatened to consume the whole sector in the wake of the sub-prime
crisis has been calmed.
The price of gold, a
key reverse indicator of business confidence, having risen to over a thousand
dollars an ounce, has fallen back: investors who were stockpiling exchangeable
commodities in fear of the worst have recovered some of their trust in cash
these glass half-empty or half-full scenarios, there is a third way of looking
at the situation: irrespective of where we happen to be on the economic cycle,
we are also seeing signs of longer-term changes in the structure of the world
In particular, even
when the “credit crunch” bottoms out, the record oil and corn prices may not be
going away so quickly.
The high prices of
basic commodities are in part a reflection of the basic economic fact that we
have ever increasing demand, in the form of increasing population, but
relatively static supply, in the form of natural resources.
Part of what we are
seeing is the reality of this basic mathematical truth at last coming home to