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June 3rd, 2012
08:58 AM ET

Letters to the President #1231: 'Why going slow is tough going'

Reporter's Note: President Obama runs the country. I write letters. That is where we intersect.

Dear Mr. President,

The economy is slowly growing. Plenty of indicators seem to say so. But the emphasis in on “slowly.” Glacially. And lately I’ve been thinking about how that is part of the problem in more ways than one.

The obvious problem is that slow growth delays all the things we need: More hiring, more purchasing, higher home values, more business expansion, yada, yada, yada.

The somewhat less obvious problem is that when growth is slow enough, almost everyone can delay responding to that growth until tomorrow, or next week, or next month. What I mean is, if I am a small business person (or heck, even a large company) who had to lay off some workers a year ago, I need to see solid signs of a recovery before I will risk hiring them back…certainly before I will do that and go even further, creating more jobs. How do I see those signs? I look for a clear surge; an unmistakable uptick in the indicators.

As long as the indicators are just creeping along, I’m not seeing the kind of “confidence trigger” I need to act. Furthermore, the slowness of the changes may very well give me time to simply adjust and stretch my current staff, so I don’t need to hire at all.

See what I’m driving at here?

It’s kind of a variation on that old story of the frog in the pot. Drop a frog into boiling water and he’ll hop out. Put him into cool water and slowly heat it up, he’ll stay there until he is cooked. (Not that I’m encouraging anyone to go cooking any frogs…)

Part of what I think you and other leaders must do, even if you can’t fix everything in the economy, is create some sense of real movement that makes people want to react…because what we’re getting right now is just making them want to hunker down, and wait.

Hope all is well. Call if you can.

Regards,
Tom

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