Recently the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 11,500 points, a remarkable height that was noted mostly in negative terms: it's within sight of the all-time high for the Dow set in January 2000. Do you get the message? Things now are not as good as they used to be.
Moreover, business writers insisted on portraying this good news as anomalous: the rise in U.S. equities comes against the influence of rising fuel prices. Showing another trope of economic reporting, the Wall Street Journal (among other sources) reported that the positive news follows "a weak jobs report" (which stoked hopes that the Federal Reserve will stop raising interest rates), meaning the good news is in fact the result of bad news.
Financial reporting is one of my favorite examples, but you'll find this impulse everywhere. Whatever appears to be good, is not entirely good, and at the very least is not as good as it once was. Today's pro athletes aren't as skilled, or dedicated, or exciting as those of the past. Movie stars aren't as talented, music isn't as inspired, houses aren't as well-built as they once were.
The impulse to nostalgia is normal, but it's also a bit self-defeating. Usually, as in the financial news, referring to the past doesn't provide insight so much as it denigrates the current standard. More to the point, it eludes an honest evaluation of present.
I attended a large trade show recently -- not Forge Fair 2006, as it happens -- and I noticed a pattern: for every manufacturer in attendance the news was good; orders for their products are strong and prices are solid. For every supplier, the news was good, too -- but their business just isn't as good as it used to be.
True enough for all of us. But, it's equally true that we have a strong and diversified economy, with solid consumer demand and a sound manufacturing sector that finds ways to compete against a fast-evolving global economy.
That, in a nutshell, is my interpretation of the emergence of FormTech L.L.C., a new company about which you may read a lot in this issue. This is a forging organization that is decidedly not reliving the past. They have a strategy for the market as they see it now, and for how they hope to influence it in the coming months. They're looking for results, not references. And so should we all.