Friday, April 04, 2008

The R-Word Chronicles, Vol. 8


Ah, yes, the head honcho utters the taboo word in an official public statement, and so it now may be discussed in polite company. But with rhetorical tongs, such as air quotes, or excessively noncommittal “let’s leave this to the experts” hedging and hawing, or a rushed delivery strongly hinting at “let’s discuss the weather instead.”

What precisely is Papa’s delicate condition? “Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said for the first time that the U.S. could slip into recession this year, using a word that other government officials including President Bush have gone to great lengths to avoid. ‘A recession is possible,’ Mr. Bernanke told a congressional committee Wednesday, citing turmoil in the housing and credit markets. He added, ‘We're slightly growing at the moment, but we think that there's a chance that for the first half as a whole there might be a slight contraction.’ His comments risk adding to economic gloom. But they also won praise from some economists as [blah blah blah] ...”

Speaking of hedging and hawing, how about that Bernanke with his “a recession is possible,” coupled with “we’re slightly growing,” and “we think that there’s a chance...for a slight contraction”? For an example of the same at a micro-economic level, in my bread-and-butter area of business intelligence (BI), check out Mike Schiff’s recent article “The Impact of a Recession on the BI Market.” It’s a good article, and what he says re the potential for BI to help enterprises weather a recession is pretty much the same as I argued in the Network World article that is also Vol. 1 of this thread. But, seriously, come on Mike, you have watered down the current economic situation into an exquisitely flavorless broth: “There has been much speculation about the effects of a possible recession on the business intelligence market and how this could adversely affect customer spending and associated vendor revenues. While caution is certainly advised, I suspect that these concerns are much too pessimistic and that a general business slowdown may have little detrimental effect on the BI industry. In fact, it might even result in increased BI spending.”

Getting back to the macroeconomic situation, it’s funny that the ideological pendulum has swung in the direction of tighter regulation to keep the US economy from drifting further into the doldrums. Even a conservative Republican administration is now advocating a crack-the-whip anti-laissez-faire approach to re-regulating the securities industry in the wake of the subprime mess (contrast this with Republican Herbert Hoover’s snoozing response to the stock-market crash of 1929, or Republican Ronald Reagan’s “get government off our backs” response to the persistent stagflation of the 70s/80s).

Even those recent regulatory initiatives that had started to fall out of favor are finding new life under stormy skies. “Even at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's annual conference on capital markets this week, there was a marked shift in tone from last year, when Sarbanes-Oxley was blamed for making U.S. markets less attractive to overseas investors. ‘An increasing appreciation for the internal controls is emerging,’ Jim Turley, chief executive of accounting firm Ernst & Young, said at the Chamber conference, where many of the pro-business speakers said there may be a need for more regulation.”

Ah, yes, the new-old R-word: regulation.

That’s still taboo, isn’t it?