Hope Springs Eternal in Baseball – Why Not the Economy?

Hope Springs Eternal in Baseball – Why Not the Economy?

It might technically still be winter, but spring is in the air. Spring training that is. And while Major League Baseball teams are gearing up for play in Florida and Arizona, fans are thinking happy thoughts about the season to come.

For consumers concerned about the state of the economy, there is a lesson to be learned from the annual rite of late winter when every team is in first place and World Series glory seems possible for everyone. If only economists could take a hint from baseball fans.

Rather than sit in their ivory towers looking for dark clouds on the horizon, economists could take a more optimistic approach to economic forecasting. This is not to say they should sugarcoat their analyses or offer pie-in-the-sky predictions for what is to come. But it would be refreshing for them to cast off the mantle of practitioners of the dismal science.

Every February, as players begin to work in Cactus League and Grapefruit League play, baseball fans – even those of the New York Mets – cannot help but feel this is the year. Forgotten are last season’s blunders and blown leads. Off-season moves have been scrutinized and debated and, with fingers crossed, past injuries to players have healed. It is a season of hope and dreams, where last year’s last place teams can aspire to turning it all around and making a run for October.

That kind of optimism – with a dose of skepticism to be sure – is what keeps fans coming back year after year, rooting for their favorite team. All is possible in spring training. But in the world of economics, there is little optimism. Economists and experts are always looking for signs of bad times ahead and are ready to issue warns of impending economic doom.

For much of 2023, the mantra of economic observers and commentators was that a recession was around the corner. One might think that since those gloomy predictions never came to pass, 2024 would be different. Alas, no. For many economists and financial prognosticators, the healthy state of the U.S. economy is a false flag, a mirage, hiding its true nature behind a wall of statistical noise, and surely on the path to hard times.

No baseball fan surveys the coming season with the level of pessimism economic forecasters bring to the game. Right now, every team is on the cusp of greatness and this is the year that all the pieces fall into place, ready to take fans on a hero’s journey to a world championship.

Where economists see the ghosts of the Great Depression and Great Recession looming behind the data, baseball fans see the 1984 Detroit Tigers season when the team rocketed out of the gate to win 30 of its first 35 games. Or the 1990 Cincinnati Reds who went wire-to-wire winning the World Series while never being out of first place. Or the 2016 Chicago Cubs who rolled their way to their first championship in 108 years.

There are sure to be bumps on the road during a 162-game season and baseball is cyclical, just like an economy. But long losing streaks – like recessions – eventually end. Even the beleaguered fans forced to “wait ‘til next year” can see greener pastures ahead. The essentially hopeful attitude fans have – and for some teams they must have – keeps them focused on looking for the bright spots in a season and staying positive.

Economists could learn a lesson from baseball fans. It would take another miracle on par with the 1969 New York Mets. But it could happen.