“But eight point one percent. . . . Uh, that’s what you said, right, Zandi?”
“I said eight. I said eight. Eight point one is worse than I expected.”
“I mean, this is bad, right?”
“There’s nothing redeeming about it. . . . There’s nothing good about it. . . . I don’t see anything redeeming about it at all. . .”
“So why are the futures higher? Any idea why the futures are higher?”
“Well, there were articles out yesterday that said if it was just a complete blowout. . . . It’s a capitulation, a capitulation. That this is the worst; that was the, that was the talk.”
“Well, you could now say that February was better than December and January!”
“But we haven’t got the revisions yet!”
“It’s a capitulation . . . but when you look at the private sector forecasts that are out . . . things are still gonna be worsening.”
“It’s very very . . .”
“But the futures . . .”
That is the sound of the CNBC in the moments following the worst jobs report in the history of jobs reports. Eight people with at least as many advanced degrees among them are assembled onscreen on March 6 in the network’s customary “octobox” grid formation to hold forth on this fresh piece of data, the 8:30 a.m. release of which a timer in the corner has been ticking toward by the hundredths of a second. In this economy, the network’s promotional spots remind viewers at every commercial break, the most valuable asset you have is information. CNBC: Now more than ever. How valuable is it now to be told America is screwed? (Now more than ever?) We learn that in February, 851,000 more Americans have been added to the nation’s out-of-workforce and, worrisomely, two hundred thousand have been jobless since December and January but were simply delayed along the path toward becoming statistics, meaning February’s numbers could climb further. The chief appeal of the octobox—its animated eight-way debates—is somewhat limited when there is such consensus about the consensus. “There’s no way that we could or should put a positive spin on these,” White House economic adviser Christina Romer confirms, smiling weakly, as if to a grandchild who hasn’t quite learned to accept that Daddy isn’t coming home.
Exactly a year before this jobs report, the last of the optimistic forecasters on Wall Street “capitulated,” in Wall Street parlance, to the reality of a deep recession. Sixty-three thousand jobs had been lost in February 2008. Angelo Mozilo, the persimmon-skinned former CEO of Countrywide Financial, the subprime mortgage lender, was being grilled on Capitol Hill about the nine-figure compensation package he got peddling the predatory home loans that were upending neighborhoods across the country. The Dow closed below 12,000 for the first time since November 2006. “Godot,” the theretofore relentlessly bullish economist Edward Yardeni wrote in a research report that day, “has arrived.”
A few days later Bear Stearns collapsed. By the end of the year the most salient remaining arguments against the nationalization of the banking system were practical concerns. A consensus began to emerge about the nation’s economic narrative: a few bulge-bracket banks had bilked the broader economy of trillions of dollars with the phony profit margins they booked by inventing new financial “products” that packaged, traded, and placed evermore complex bets on consumer debt. They said they were ensuring the “efficient allocation of capital,” but they were allocating a suspicious amount of capital to themselves. Wall Street, in short, had royally screwed Main Street.
But rarely will one hear this consensus voiced on the deepest-pocketed journalistic outlet covering all these stories. When the subject of taxpayer-subsidized bonuses comes up, for example, CNBC’s sources on the trading floor will assure you they share the outrage, but “level heads”—CNBC seems to hold levelheadedness in the utmost regard these days—must not succumb to “class warfare.” Class warfare has been the subject of several CNBC segments already this year, not that the network seems to have a clearly defined view of what class warfare is, simply that the market doesn’t like it.