by Steve Bodow is the head writer for “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central.
AS a nation, the central question we face just now — even more than, “Can I still exchange this dreck for something I might actually wear?” — is whether our economy is entering a recession (“recession,” of course, being technically defined as two consecutive quarters in which office managers keep warning everyone to stop using FedEx for personal mail).
The stakes could not be higher. When forecasters determine that a recession is possible, businesses and individuals can quickly curb spending and investment, thus causing a recession. Still, getting it right is hard; economic forecasting is like reading tea leaves — extremely difficult, unless you arrange the leaves into letters and numbers, which is no picnic, either.
First some statistics. Inflation has jumped to 4.1 percent. Fourth-quarter personal savings were under 0.5 percent. On employment, the Labor Department reported that nonfarm payrolls dropped 17,000 in January. That was down from December’s 18,000 gain, which had been revised up by 4,000, which was down from an earlier Commerce Department revision of up by 6,000, according to the Treasury Department.