I was breakfasting as usual around 7.30am when one of my daughters turned on the television and there, on the screen, some overly groomed talking head told me all I needed to know about the overnight stock market movements in the United States. I was then apprised of the price of a barrel of oil and the state of the Aussie dollar.
On the way to work I was again reminded of the state of play on the New York stock exchange - it hadn’t changed as the markets had closed. Oil prices were static and the Aussie dollar was steady. I arrived at the office. It was 9am.
At around 11.55am I went to lunch. I drove to a small roadhouse near work. Again the person on the radio reiterated the state of the overseas market, the local stock market, the price of oil and the state of the Aussie dollar. I was informed also on what the current value of the Aussie dollar might mean to exporters and farmers. I left the roadhouse at around 12.30pm to return to the office. Still listening to the radio I was re assured again that the Aussie dollar was steady.
On the way home that night I was further advised there had been a slight fall in the ASX on the back of some late profit taking; the price of oil was unchanged; the Aussie dollar had risen slightly against the greenback; and there was some speculation about interest rates in the US.
No sooner had I digested that lot than I was reminded that the Reserve Bank of Australia was to meet in three weeks, so the count down had begun; our interest rates were in the spotlight and I was not going to be allowed to forget it. Economists all over the nation would now be interviewed, on an hourly basis no doubt, and asked to give their best guess on the three-to-one shot that are our interest rates - how hard can that be? They either go up, or down, or they stay the same.
This type of reporting goes on every day in both the print and the electronic media: weekends offer you no respite. On the contrary the reporting moves from the minutiae to the analytical. We are subjected to this saturation reporting week in and week out.
Listening to this endless dissection of our economy reminded me of that movie Ground Hog Day in which the lead character, Bill Murray, gets stuck in a time warp and relives the same day over and over again. The only difference with this life of ceaseless economic reportage and the movie is that in the movie, Murray’s character, exposed to the boring repetition of his daily life, slowly realises he has been given an opportunity to change a few things about himself - and does just that.
We don’t seem to be as insightful or as lucky. We listen to this daily drivel day after day after day as if our lives depend on it.
The popular press, like Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in 1984, overwhelms us hourly with news about the economy. Just as in 1984 there was no escaping the messages of the Ministry of Truth, that War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom and Ignorance is Strength, in 2005 we too are unable to escape the omnipresence of a message that “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” Access to economic information is, or so it seems, vital to our survival as a species.
I would suggest that if the financial well-being of the average punter relied on responding to the second, third and fourth hand information gleaned from the popular press they would be broke in no time. So why is this stuff poured down our throats? Even eminent people of economics do not seem to know why.
In a speech to the Financial Review’s Leaders Luncheon in April this year the Governor of the Reserve Bank I.J Macfarlane posed the question. “Economic News: Do we get too much of it?”. The speech got very little exposure from the media, which might be considered curious as the luncheon was convened by one of the Fairfax group’s most respected vehicles.
As far as I can determine it was only the ABC that reported on the details or the fact of MacFarlane’s address at the luncheon. It was as if the media collectively felt that his comments were superfluous to requirements: after all he was commenting not on the economy but on journalism. Maybe those journalists present felt he was somehow uninformed. We may never know.
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