Imagining Recession

Although the world’s housing, oil, and stock markets have been plunged into turmoil in recent months, consumer confidence, capital expenditure, and hiring have yet to take a sharp hit. But that could change quickly if images of disaster – mainly stemming from the weakening housing market – continue to multiply.

The world’s housing, oil, and stock markets have been plunged into turmoil in recent months. Yet consumer confidence, capital expenditure, and hiring have yet to take a sharp hit. Why?

Ultimately, consumer and business confidence are mostly irrational. The psychology of the markets is dominated by the public images that we have in mind from day to day, and that form the basis of our imaginations and of the stories we tell each other.

Popular images of past disasters are part of our folklore, often buried in the dim reaches of our memory, but re-emerging to trouble us from time to time. Like traditional myths, such graphic, shared images embody fears that are deeply entrenched in our psyche. The images that have accompanied past episodes of market turmoil are largely absent today.

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