Economics as a Spectator Sport

The National Association of Business Economists recently released its forecast survey for 2023 and 2024, and the results were mixed.

“Estimates of inflation-adjusted gross domestic product or real GDP, inflation, labor market indicators and interest rates are all widely diffused, likely reflecting a variety of opinions on the fate of the economy – ranging from recession to soft landing to robust growth,” said Julia Coronado, NABE president and founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives.

The range of opinions and outlooks isn’t surprising, given the volatile nature of the global economy and the challenges from pandemic-related disruptions, geopolitical tensions and other issues impacting economic growth. But the tone of the report and diversity of views is reminiscent of sports broadcasters opining about past results and future prospects during a pre-game show.

The variety of issues economists are focused on is comparable to the many-faceted commentaries from sports analysts on a team’s strengths and weaknesses, in effect handicapping the potentialities for victory or defeat in the next game. This, too, is not surprising.

Interest in the state of the economy, financial projects and monetary policy is high and there are plenty of cable channels, news programs, digital publications and general economic news broadcast every hour to prove it.

Investors can track their portfolios in real time in the comfort of their homes and even keep track of after-hours trading. The days when economic and financial news merited little more than a nightly recap of the closing number for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and a short piece on a jobs report or inflation release are long gone.

Now, activity in the equities markets is the subject of on-the-spot analysis several times daily, with plenty of speculation to go along with the mountain of statistics. And people can’t seem to get enough of it.

The digital revolution that brought us computers and the internet and social media gives anyone even tangentially aware of economic issues access to a wealth of information. And for those whose interests are deeper, there is business and financial programming available day and night, just like what sports fans have at their fingertips.

This gamification of economics has turned the “dismal science” into a spectator sport, where analysts and experts offer opinions on the past, present and future course of the economy with a flurry of statistical data and professional insights in much the same way color commentators and play-by-play announcers cover sports. And while the access to information has allowed ordinary individuals to learn more about the economic realities that shape the world, there is a dumbing-down effect from it all, that attempts to break down the complexities of international finance in much the same way instant replay gives sports fans a second, third and even fourth look at the last play on the field.

With economic news reported more as a spectator sport than a serious issue, it also removes the subtleties of policies and trends and casts the economy in terms of winners and losers with a primary focus on the score.

At this rate, we aren’t that far away from seeing live broadcasts of the New York Stock Exchange presented like a football game with a coin flip to determine who gets to ring the opening bell.