• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.



As an economist, I always await all the major economic data that is released on a regular weekly or monthly or yearly basis.

January 12, 2014

As an economist, I always await all the major economic data that is released on a regular weekly or monthly or yearly basis.  I always look for the more positive signs of economic growth and prosperity, and I worry when the signs reflect weaknesses or areas of concern.  But what if I didn't have access to all this data?  Could I still tell what was and was not happening? Would I be reduced to visiting a fortune teller on a regular basis? Or isn't this in the cards for me?

For broad trends (as opposed to very nuanced happenings), I would rely on observation and intuition and I would expect to be more right than wrong.  This holiday season was especially telling for me.  More than a few times the line of cars from the highway to the largest mall in the area stretched back a full exit on the highway. Putting a value on my time, I doubt I would be willing to join this car cavalcade but more cars /people were on line and I believe that translated into more sales. Another example took place late on the night before Christmas Eve.  My older daughter needed to finish her shopping and so she asked me to drive her to the nearest major department store.  I grimaced and reluctantly agreed.  Since it was already late at night, the store was not that full but more importantly you could see areas where there were clearly some shortages of desirable merchandise.   Good lesson for my daughter but also a small positive indication regarding the economy.

My family and I spent the holiday break in a nice warm climate.  Part of the allure of visiting this area is visiting our favorite restaurants and here too there were positive signs.  The restaurants were packed so much so that I was glad I had made the reservations months ago.  Easily more packed than the past year or the year before or even the year before that.  The same for the hotel we stayed at.  For much of the holiday break period, the hotel was at 100 percent occupancy, which also wasn't the case in previous years.  From observation, both travel and retail sales looked more robust to me.

I'm glad to have both economic performance data and empirical data readily available.  Statistics are enormously important but empirical data with a dose of intuition for me is another helpful dynamic way of assessing where we are.  Thinking back to the recent holiday seasons, I am thankful for the progress that has been made and the signs that are clearly visible.

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