Have we had a recession in the plastics processing industry? Of course we have. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, in all probability, it is a duck. Layoffs, plant closings, and bankruptcies have been very real in the plastics industry. Never mind the retrospective musings of economists as to whether the country ever actually had a recession, whether we are still in it, and, if so, when we will come out of it.
Economists and economic theories have been the worthy targets of some rather pointed remarks over the years. Public comment is an occupational hazard for learned sorts who diagnose the economy, sometimes by pronouncing the obvious and other times denying the obvious, but in either case being mostly unable to do anything about it, unless they have political power. Even that is often ineffective.
The famous dubbing of economics as "the dismal science" came from the prominent 19th century essayist Thomas Carlyle. The less frequently quoted part of his remarks describes economics as dreary, desolate, abject, and distressing. The remarks were originally made in the context of a social argument of Carlyle's times, but they have since taken on a life of their own.
President Harry Truman once cracked that he was looking for a one-armed economist. He was tired of hearing from economists "on the one hand this, on the other hand that."
George Bush, the elder, during a presidential primary campaign against Ronald Reagan, described Reagan as promoting "Voodoo Economics." Reagan won the nomination, then the presidency, and Bush had to eat crow when he became Reagan's running mate and subsequently vice president. Bush ultimately became president himself, with the attendant opportunity to propose to Congress his own brand of economics.
The state of the economy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There is the old saw, as too many have become painfully aware, that a recession is when your neighbor loses a job, and a depression is when you lose yours. But there is light at the end of this tunnel, and it's not the headlight of a freight train engine.
At MassPlastics, a regional show held in late March in Fitchburg, MA, we got several exhibitors' perspectives on the state of the economy. One company can't build machinery fast enough to meet demand. The economy looks good to them, though they don't deny that business is tough for some other companies.
Another MassPlastics exhibitor said that for awhile the phones went dead. The company president expressed relief that the phones had started ringing again. Some callers place immediate orders, and others want to know about specifications, availability, prices, delivery time, and so on. Some of those calls will turn into future orders.
By their very appearance at MassPlastics, exhibitors expressed hope for the future of the business. Otherwise, they wouldn't have been there. This bodes well for the future.
Business indicators, and yes, even economists, are pointing at signs of recovery and growth in the overall U.S. economy. As a mature industry, the plastics sector will benefit from this. When it does, PA&M will be there, and we hope you are, too.
Merle R. Snyder
Plastics Auxiliaries & Machinery