This post is not about real prophets. Real prophets, the kind you hear speak at General Conference twice a year, are optimists and preach about the “good news,” the Gospel. This post is about the guy who speaks out in Gospel Doctrine class saying, “these are the worst times ever.” Or the, ahem, Mormon talk radio host Glenn Beck, whose shows these days could be summarized as, “the sky is falling, we’re all going to die.” Or the apocalyptic global warming fanatic who tells you to soon expect tropical weather in Winnipeg.
My message to these “prophets” is, to paraphrase Dickens, “it is the worst of times, but it’s also the best of times.” It all depends on what you want to spend your time thinking about.
Yes, we are in bad economic times. Compared to the last few decades, really bad economic times. And there are clouds on the horizon. But can I point out that the U.S. economy has always been about boom and bust cycles? That is the reality of capitalism.
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There have been dozens of recessions since the founding of the Republic. During the 19th century, these recessions were much worse than what we have been facing the last two decades. Entire populations of millions of people were displaced and out of work. These recessions were really ugly.
But good things come from recessions. Failing, weak businesses are replaced by stronger, growing, competitive businesses. The unemployed are forced to find new jobs and new skills. And the vast majority of people, when they look back at the difficult times, say, “wow, I really learned something from those times.” Most importantly, the U.S. economy continued to grow — strongly — overall during the 19th century, despite tough recessions that seemed to come regularly.
I am not discounting the human cost of recessions. I certainly don’t want to lose my job — it would be devastating to me personally and my family. But sometimes things happen that are out of your control, and you simply have to make the best of your situation.
So, when we look at what we are facing now, and we start considering the history of the United States, would it be the worst thing in the long run to let the Big Three automakers fail and let the market sort it out? Interestingly, 61 percent of Americans in a recent poll said they are against a bailout for the domestic auto industry. I agree with them. In the long run, letting these sclerotic companies fail would be the best thing you could do for them. They would be reorganized into leaner, more competitive enterprises. Some workers would be let go, others would stay and be part of the new organizations. The vast majority of the displaced workers will find other work or will undergo re-training.
The point is that recessions, even bad ones like we are suffering, are not the end of the world. They are bad times, but good times follow.
Which brings me to our most famous prophet of doom, Glenn Beck. For an example of what Master Glenn has been preaching, take a look at this interview with Saxby Chambliss in which he says we’re either headed for hyperinflation or civil disorder and wars.
All I can say is, “wow, he has been reading way to much Parley Pratt.” If you listen to his show at all, you will hear that the world is going to end next Tuesday and that before then there will be revolutions, the United States will break into pieces and all of us will lose our jobs. And those will be the good times.
In fairness, Glenn Beck has a lot of good messages too about the importance of family and sticking to traditional values. But I don’t think it’s productive to concentrate on such gloom and doom. Global economies function in part on confidence, and gloomy prognostications can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we all think things are never going to get any better, then they probably won’t.
It is the Adversary who wants us to descend into despair and gloom. He wants us to think that times won’t get better, that these are the worst times ever, that we’re heading for chaos, more hurricanes, 10-foot rises in the oceans, etc, etc. Real prophets, instead, preach the gospel of “being prepared, but being optimistic because good times are coming.”
Can I leave you with the words of a real prophet?
Listen to this story from President Eyring about the late President Hinckley:
“In the last few days, I have remembered his voice. I heard that voice so many times when a difficult problem facing the Church was brought to him. He would listen carefully, perhaps asking a question or two, to be sure that he understood the magnitude of the difficulty facing us and that those who brought the problem to him knew he understood. Time after time, he would quietly say something like this, with a pleasant smile, ‘Oh, things will work out.’ He was an optimist.”