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“With The Full Picture, 2009 May Be Bright”

News Headlines

If you were an extra terrestrial planning a visit to Earth and tuned in some of the news reports before arriving, what would you think about our society, given headlines like the ones above?

I might be tempted to keep on moving, and find another place to visit, where life doesn’t appear to be so gloomy.

As we start 2009, we have some big choices to make. How prosperous do we want the year to be? But more important … how hard are we willing to actually work to achieve that goal? Or will we choose instead to live more in accordance with the negative portrayals and not even try to make it a positive year?

I find it interesting to see the contrasts in views about our economy right now. Quite a few of the people we know and work with here in the Shelby county/Birmingham area are remarkably upbeat. That optimism still manages to shine through, despite a challenging 2008 and constant pessimistic predictions so prevalent in the media about the real estate, financial markets and world markets in general.

By the way … I didn’t make up the headlines above. I copied them from various websites during the last few months of 2008, as part of a small (and very unscientific) research project of sorts to see if the majority of stories carried any particular overall tone or slant. Does a prevailing tone come through to you? There is to me. Nope, I’m not ranting about wanting more positive or ‘happy’ news. That’s not what we need. What does bother me is that so many people in the mainstream don’t seem to be getting a very balanced perspective about such a broad array of subjects, based on what they read and hear. If they were, I don’t think we would have had people asking us questions recently like:

  • “Has the real estate business just rolled over and died?”
  • “Is it true that banks are selling foreclosed $150,000 homes for $65,000 in Shelby county?”
  • Colleen and I have wound up explaining—more than once—that, contrary to popular belief, the home sales market in Shelby county and Birmingham is still pretty healthy, despite downward trends in the area during 2008. And I think back to a few days before Christmas when The Birmingham News ran a story about a “silent” mall where holiday shoppers were a scarcity. Later that afternoon, as we passed the Galleria on I-459, we observed traffic backed up on the flyer-over ramp onto the interstate, waiting to pour in to the Galleria and Patton Creek. The newspaper wasn’t lying. But I wasn’t getting the full picture, either.

    Want to keep balance in your perspective? My suggestion is to look around and decide for yourself. There are positive developments that affect the way we live and do business, and it’s not just happy talk. But you don’t hear as much about them. I’ve heard more than one person ask recently, “who would have ever thought gas would be this cheap?” While it’s anyone’s guess as to how long oil prices will stay where they are, there is still the inescapable fact that our national economy and virtually every business and industry, large or small, are benefiting in many ways.

    So, what kind of year will 2009 turn out to be? When you listen to the talking heads and so-called ‘experts’ giving their predictions, remember that some of them just flat get it wrong sometimes. Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, maintained in 2002 and into the following year that there was not going to be a housing market bubble. He later admitted he was wrong. Part of getting the big picture, I think, means listening to those people, but staying careful not to put 100% confidence in everything they say.

    I think we all have a lot more ability than we typically realize to control our financial and economic prosperity and destiny, rather than just citing bad or good luck, as so many often tend to do. But we’ll only prosper by having the full picture in front of us to start with. And then there’s the work involved to make it happen. Here’s hoping your 2009 really is a prosperous one.