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State: All Will Be Well in the Garden 

“Oregon calls flat unemployment a win,” said the headline in yesterday’s Oregonian.

The gist of the story was that although the state lost 1,200 jobs in February, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained the same as in January at 10.5% — and that was good news. In February 2009 the rate was just a tad higher at 10.8%.

Construction “continued its rapid decline,” the state report said, losing 1,800 jobs from January to February. Manufacturing also dropped 1,100 jobs, “a steeper decline than the typical seasonal decline of 300 for the month.”

The numbers are still horrendous any way you look at them. But Amy Vander Vliet, the Oregon employment department’s economist for the Portland area, strove to put a positive spin on things.

“Vander Vliet expects initial recovery stages will be ‘somewhat bumpy,’ picking up steam later this year and beyond,” The Oregonian story said. “Not all local economists agree. But some admire her chutzpah.”

The whole situation reminds me of a scene in the 1979 movie “Being There” in which dimwitted Chance the gardener (Peter Sellers) impresses the president of the United States and billionaire Benjamin Rand with his economic astuteness by uttering reassuring platitudes:

President: Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?

Chance: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden. 

President: In the garden. 

Chance: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.

President: Spring and summer. 

Chance: Yes. 

President: Then fall and winter. 

Chance: Yes. 

Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.

Chance: Yes! There will be growth in the spring! 

Rand: Hmm! 

Chance: Hmm! 

President: Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.

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