Beware of economic indicators

Economic indicators are designed by data analysts for data analysts. They create an echo chamber of self confirming evidence. They load up the analysts minds with answers more often than serving up better questions. Those who rely on the economic indicators "drink the Kool Aid" that takes out the cult of analysis in a hurry. When stock markets, housing prices, sales or employment goes into a steep decline, no one is cautious about the poisonous nature of economic indicators.

The biggest problem I have with indicators is their insularity. They only monitor the same old roller coaster. They measure the ups and downs, speed of the rise and descent and turning points. They presume there is no place to go other than up and down. These numbers sometimes translate into economic expansion and contraction, but persist in the use of a convergent data set. There's changes in how many can fit on the ride of the same old roller coaster. They don't consider the viewpoint of roller coaster designers, constructors and demolition experts.

I'm fascinated by disruptive innovations, game changers and market upheavals. Economic indicators don't reveal how the data analysts are getting misled, tunnel visioned or trapped by their own assumptions. The data showing an economic downturn does not reveal innovations that are ready to burst on the scene. Indicators of tight money do not necessitate shortages of creativity, freedom of expression and social capital. Established industries in trouble is no indication of customers who are on the brink of getting more value, access, freedom and opportunities. Layoffs from employers with a long standing track record says nothing about job opportunities in startups on a totally different track.

Economic indicators watch for how much trouble were in, how dangerous things are getting and what to get apprehensive about. They are based on fear which stifles our creativity, curiosity, compassion and transformations. The indicators cannot see beyond the dangerous ground which defines the data as reliable measures, forecasts and pattern recognition. The cognitive strategies of the left brain invoked by the danger preempts what the right brain can do in this situation.

I'm also fascinated by circularity and self reference. Data analysts presume they are being objective. The data "speaks for itself". They presume there is no value in counting themselves in or referencing themselves in their analysis. They act as if their data grounded in fear will have no effect. Yet, fears do come true as they inspire herds to "follow that butt in their face without question". Minds freeze like "deer in headlights".

Fears then motivate us to drive by monitoring the rear view mirror. Rather than realize "there's nothing to fear but fear itself", their fears dictate conformity, compliance and convictions. A bend in the road is the end of the road because the turn shows up in the rear view mirror to late to make it round the bend. Beware of economic indicators.


  1. I highly recommend you look at the work of Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of "The Black Swan" (plenty of YouTube videos if you just want an intro). He makes a convincing case that human beings are awful at making long term predictions and are terrible at assessing risks. He says that market predictions are nothing but voodoo.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation, Sean. I watched lots of Taleb's videos last year as Wall Street was matching his predictions. His ranting against complacency of brokers, investors and regulators seemed like he was back in Lebanon amidst the war that inspired his book. While I agree with his message, I find the challenge he poses is beyond human psychological capabilities. I explored all that in four posts to this blog in August 2007:


    the unexpected

    narrative fallacies