HIGHTOWER: The "Consumer Confidence" Hype
Zow-eee! Hip, hip hooray! Hot diggity-dog! Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! The "Consumer Confidence Index" was at 144.7 last month!!!!But ... a hundred forty four point seven what? And what the hell is this index? Every month, practically every news outlet dutifully reports this little statistic without asking the six basic questions of journalism: who, what, where, when, why, and ... huh? All we're told is that something called the Conference Board issues the happy stat, that it's derived from a survey of 5,000 U.S. households, and that it measures the confidence we consumers have in the economy.Despite the official-sounding name, however, the Conference Board is not a government agency or academic institution -- it's a service company for brand-name corporations that buy its reports, including Aetna, BankAmerica, Exxon, GE, Merrill Lynch, Sears, Wal-Mart, and Xerox. No consumers, workers, or other broad public interests oversee its work. As one analyst says bluntly, "The purpose of the Conference Board is to promote business, and it is dedicated to good news for business."It's "survey of 5,000 U.S. households" turns out to be nothing but a multiple-choice questionnaire asking 16 questions, nine of which are marketing queries, like what brand of refrigerator do you plan to buy, or which airline will you fly on your vacation? The survey is mailed monthly to 5,000 households, but these are not randomly selected from all 100 million households in our country. Instead, names are drawn from a pre-selected, unrepresentative, pool of less than one-percent of us.This is Jim Hightower saying ... Yet the media unquestioningly uses this hokey index to tell us everything is rosy and consumers are not merely upbeat about the way things are going -- they're at 144.7! If you're feeling only about a 120 or maybe a 72.3 -- well there must be something wrong with you, Bucko.