OPINION

Daring To Say the ‘R’ Word

Vegas oddsmakers are missing a golden opportunity. They should start taking bets on who will be the first high-tech executive to whisper the now-dreaded R-word. No, not recession. They toss that one around like a football. We’re talking recovery.

If there’s a tech exec willing to call the recovery under way, on the horizon or even in the near future, he or she must be whispering very loudly. All the rest are shying away from anything but limited statements about short-term improvements and encouraging signs.

What’s so bad about the R word? Plenty, at least in the eyes of people running the world’s technology mega-companies.

Playing the Game

See, it’s all about expectations.

For one thing, calling the recovery is like talking about a pitcher’s no-hitter in the seventh inning. If the next guy up gets a hit, you not only look silly, but someone actually might blame you for upsetting the balance of karma.

Likewise, many people still view any recovery as a fragile, delicate, ethereal thing that can be scared away simply by saying its name. Besides, if I’m a tech honcho and I say the recovery is here and then have to lay off 5,000 people next quarter because the bottom fell out again, my credibility is going to take a beating.

Not Again

Then there’s the risk of irrational exuberance, as it were. Say the word recovery and journalists are going to run with it to their editors, and they’re going to run with it to the front page. Readers will take the news and run with it to the bank, empty their passbook account of their paper-route money, and dump it all into eBay and Cisco stock.

That’s the fear, anyway. It happened once, so it could happen again — and if the tech sector suffers another fall from the top of the mountain, it may never get up.

So the recovery remains something to pine for, the good thing that’s always just around the corner. It’s easier that way.

But what about the evidence? Intel sees signs of improvement — not, I repeat, not recovery — and PC sales are going to grow more than expected this year. All the way at the other end of the spectrum, consumer confidence is up in recent months, and people are buying more durable goods, which means factories will have to fire up their engines to replace items sold in stores.

Jobless Recovery

Of course, the economists will say this recovery is different by nature. The double-edged sword of technological advancement is cutting the hand that forged it. Leaps in technology mean fewer workers are needed, and fewer employed people means a less robust recovery.

Still, at some point — we’re clearly not there yet — the evidence will be overwhelming, the scales will tip, and execs who don’t call the recovery will start to look a little silly. We may be getting close to that point. And then there will be a stampede to get to the microphones and declare the recovery under way.

Who will be first to say the unspeakable? Place your bets now.

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