As I was driving to work today and listening to NPR, I was caught a bit off guard by a streak of frustration that flooded me as I listened to yet another economist talk about the jobs market and “uncertainty”. Uncertainty is to blame for slow hiring (or no hiring). Uncertainty is to blame for a lack of lending. Uncertainty is to blame when it comes to consumer spending. Uncertainty is to blame for everything that is currently “wrong” with our economy, went wrong with our economy, and ever will go wrong with our economy. I have been listening to and reading this word for several years now, but today it rubbed me the wrong way.
The problem is that uncertainty used in this sense implies that there is some other world that is actually certain that we will one day return to. Guess what! It never was certain, never has been certain, never will be certain. There are just “good” times when people who craft the stories and promote the state of things were comfortable with the uncertainty and likely being fed by it. So, they call it certainty. Was the housing market certain in 2006? Of course not. But, in 2006 were we certain that housing prices would continue to rise? Of course we were. Were we once certain that unemployment rates could and should stay at 4-5%? Of course we were. Are we certain of that now? It doesn’t look like it. Were we once certain that every next generation in America would be better off than the previous? Of course we were. And now? Not so much.
Can I go ahead and blame uncertainty for the flat tire I had last week? Perhaps if I do that I won’t have to go looking for nails in my driveway from my new roof. Maybe it can be blamed for the strange pain I had in my leg the other day while running. If so, I don’t have to consider that I do not stretch sufficiently. Surely it is to be blamed for that strange stain I found on my shirt while ironing it this morning. No way I could have done that! It was just uncertainty!
Uncertainty has no real meaning. To use it as the opposite of certainty is a lie, because certainty doesn’t exist. Uncertainty is life and life is uncertainty.
If we are rebuilding our economy for a more certain time, we are not really rebuilding our economy.
If we are preparing the next generation for a more certain future, we are certainly not preparing them.