Kudos to Paul Farhi at the Washington Post for his exposé of the financial media’s abusive grandiosity in interpreting retail industry holiday sales figures as bellwethers of the overall economy. Among other gems in this article, Farhi writes,

 “Consider this fact: Total retail sales in the United States have increased every month, with one exception, for the past 11 years, according to the U.S. Commerce Department’s seasonally adjusted data. That’s 130 months of rising sales (compared to the same month a year earlier) vs. one month of declining sales (October). I’ll give 130-1 odds that December was yet another ‘up’ month.

“But surely, you say, holiday sales give us some idea of how the overall economy is doing, right? Wrong. It’s true that the economy has been relatively robust for some time, but the arrow hasn’t been pointing straight up for all those 11 years. Indeed, during the period when retail sales have been climbing, the quarterly gross domestic product has declined four times.

“..The retail-in-December story is, I think, irresistible to the media… First, tradition. The media are creatures of habit, reflexively recycling the same seasonal chestnuts. The holiday-shopping story is a comforting staple of the season.

“Second, retailers — who are among the biggest advertisers on radio and TV and in newspapers during December — are more than happy to encourage such stories. Media coverage of shopping is yet another reminder to the masses that it’s their patriotic duty to get out there and spend.”

Farhi is free to truth-tell like this because he’s a recovering business reporter who now writes for the Post’s “Style” section. And, perhaps, because his conscience is clean. Heading off the legion of blogging fact-checkers like me, a post-script to the article states, “He was a Business section reporter for 11 years, during which he managed to avoid writing about the holiday shopping season.”

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