My job secret? Tell folks only what they want to hear.
Philadelphia — Ive decided to become an economist. I have no formal credentials. But I have something better. I know what people want to hear, and I'm prepared to deliver it.
When it comes to inflation, for example, I'll be very diligent. There used to be a single, universally accepted inflation measure, the Consumer Price Index. But today, the Federal Reserve and other economic institutions regularly fudge inflation's actual size by factoring out food and energy costs, focusing instead on a so-called core rate. The rationale here is that since the costs of food and energy are volatile, it's foolish to include them in the mix. (Never mind that human life is impossible without them.)
Since the Fed now has its own preferred measure, why shouldn't others have one, too? I'm prepared to do even better with something called the "ultra-core rate" of inflation. It merely improves on what the Fed has already done by excluding everything that actually causes prices to rise during a given month.
Health costs go up? They're too volatile to consider, so out they go. Housing? Who needs a place to live if its costs are volatile? In a market economy, if the market wants no inflation, that's what it should get.
I plan to be equally accommodating on the matter of ensuring that stock prices always rise. Whether a company makes more money than it once did is now pretty much irrelevant. What really matters is beating market expectations – expectations based on asking a few dozen economists to guess how well a company will perform and averaging their guesses. Beat the average and up goes the stock.
That's where I'll come in. My guesses, my expectations, will always be so low that any company that doesn't file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in that quarter can't help but exceed them. Indeed, I'm prepared to be so extravagantly off the mark that even when my guesses are averaged in with other guesses, the resulting number will be less favorable than the company's reported number.
Company investors will love me. CEOs who pull down eight-figure bonuses even in losing years will bless my name.
The simple fact is that there's no such thing as bad economic news if an economist like me puts the situation into a desirable perspective.
More people losing jobs? That's good news because the Fed will then feel less pressure to raise interest rates. Saving rates in negative territory and consumer indebtedness soaring? No problem. If people keep spending, who cares if it's all borrowed money? Record government deficits and record trade imbalances? The foreigners who are subsidizing America's standard of living and US markets today will continue doing so forever. How could it be otherwise?
Trust me. My new career in economics will be quickly and richly rewarded. I'll be regularly quoted in The Wall Street Journal, become a closely followed cable financial news talking head, and be awarded a sinecure in a Beltway think tank. Tell folks what they want to hear, and good things follow. People have enough in their lives to make them unhappy. Economists need not add to the pain.
Of course, this noble "feel-goodism" will ultimately play itself out. Reality can be terribly cruel that way. But not to worry. Economists like me will be nicely cushioned to withstand the shock. No matter the consequences of our gaming numbers for others, we'll make out just fine.
• Michael Silverstein is a former senior editor with Bloomberg Financial News.