Bad energy

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Poor Martha had to spend a couple days down at the Breakers in Palm Beach at the Barnes Buchanan Conference this past month.

We were prepared for a financial conference full of batten-down-the-hatches messages, but that’s far from the experience she had. Rather, attendees (and there were more of them than last year) were guardedly optimistic about the security industry, as compared to other sectors of the economy.

Were they all just fooling themselves? Or are they the realists?

In my experience, the financial guys (Bill Polk, Michael Barnes, Henry Edmonds) usually have a good handle on the way things really are. It doesn’t do them any good to be overly optimistic; it just loses them money.

But it seems like many people are searching out bad news. When I look at the numbers for the Web site, those stories that carry bad news - bankruptcy, layoffs, foreclosure, division closings - predictably swamp in number of page views those stories carrying good news.

What’s that German word? Schadenfreude? A delight in the suffering of another? Is that what’s going on in the security marketplace? In the American economy?

That may be an oversimplification, but there’s clearly a delight on the part of many media members in passing along bad news. The hyperbole can be striking: “It’s the worst economy since the Great Depression!” Really, then why is it that we’re constantly being told unemployment is the worst since 1974? Now, I was an English major, but I think my history knowledge is good enough to know 1974 wasn’t any kind of Great Depression.

And this hysteria matters. Job cuts are often made based on predictions of bad times to come, not experienced losses. The stock market is governed by what people think a company is worth, not by what it’s actually worth (just ask Protection One).

As we look at the future of our industry, of our economy, let’s take the time to ask ourselves whether we’re being honest in our outlook, or wallowing in our own self-pity.