Business Journalism Saves Planet

From near-certain disaster

Bloomberg has a nice item showing the power of the business press for good. Or at least the power of language on economic behavior.

“As Green Shoots Sprout in Media, Confidence Grows”

I don’t have a link, but the item is short. It plots the media’s use of a term first coined apparently by Ben Bernanke on “60 Minutes” in March against professional and consumer-confidence indices.

As use of the phrase “green shoots” infiltrates the financial world’s lexicon and flourishes in the media, consumer and business confidence is having a growth spurt, according to Nomura Holdings Inc. The CHART OF THE DAY compares the use of “green shoots” in print-media stories, based on data compiled by Nomura, with the Bloomberg Professional Global Confidence Index and the Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment gauge. Sentiment measures improved after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke used the term in an interview aired March 15 on CBS Corp.’s “60 Minutes.” The U.S. central bank chief said he saw “green shoots” in some markets, and that the pace of economic decline “will begin to moderate.” The phrase has since proliferated in the press, financial research and daily conversation.

Here’s the chart:

See? That proves it.

And here is some testimony from experts:

“The invisible hand does play an incredible role in capitalism,” said Sean Darby, a strategist for Nomura International Hong Kong Ltd. “The herd instinct has quite a profound effect on the traditional correlation between stock markets, consumer confidence and private consumption.”

I don’t know how all this jibes with rational expectations theory, but that may be toast now anyway.

Bernard Salt, a partner at KPMG International in Melbourne and author of books on social trends including “The Big Shift” and “The Big Picture,” says it’s human nature to grasp “corporate pop words” in difficult times. “When something as disastrous as the global financial crisis grips the world, then something equally catchy will pull us out of it,” he said. “The phrase ‘green shoots’ gained social currency the minute we saw a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. Now we didn’t, and still don’t know, whether there’s a train coming the other way, but we’re happy to ascribe it to a recovery. It’s part of the human psyche to look for simple explanations. Right now, it’s green shoots to the rescue.”

Business press, your work here is done. As the good townspeople at the end of Lone Ranger episodes might have said: “And we never had a chance to thank them.”

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.