When Optimism Makes Sense

When Optimism Makes Sense

It's a tough time to be an optimist. Unemployment is a scourge, sapping the public's spirit and creating hardship for millions. Many key Presidential initiatives have sunk into the mire of what passes for the legislative process and will emerge, if at all, muddied almost beyond recognition. The stimulus is trickling out inefficiently, elements of the financial industry are resorting to their old, risky ways, and the huge cost of current and proposed programs—from the auto bailout to cap-and-trade and health-care reform (not to mention two wars)—threatens to produce unprecedented deficits.

So is there a credible case for optimism? Do the recent stock market moves and news that unemployment growth has slowed signal a turn? Does evidence that the recession is correcting excesses of the bubble years, as Economics Editor Peter Coy writes, lead to a more positive view? To explore these questions, this week's Special Issue draws on the insights of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters (TRI) CEO Thomas Glocer, Swedish thinker Hans Rosling, and others—as well as the reporting and analysis of our writers and editors.

The conclusion you reach depends in part on how you analyze the most relevant and reliable data. It also depends, I believe, on spirit and temperament—in particular, an openness to a change in direction. Just as the bubble of the mid-2000s was exaggerated by mass blindness to the possibility of a downward shift, so the recession of the late-2000s is only made worse by a refusal to see—and act on—signs of recovery.

It's fashionable right now to be downbeat, especially if you didn't anticipate the collapse and, like so many, were burned by it. But if optimism is rational in light of all the facts, it is also simply superior to the alternative. Optimism breeds consumer confidence, business investment, entrepreneurial risk-taking, and job creation. Recent studies even suggest that optimism reduces the chances of heart disease. And it feels good, too. In this issue, we'll look closely at the evidence, and assess whether it is, indeed, time to get excited about the start of a new and more beneficent season. Let us know what you think.

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