People crave ‘escapism’ during uncertain times

Is a recession coming in 2020? Perhaps.

The seemingly sudden onslaught of recession alarm bells in the United States and around the globe lately might make it a little easy to hit the panic button.

Economists, investors, and market observers have started to sound a little extra gloomy when it comes to their economic predictions in recent days. Bank of America and Goldman Sachs have warned of a rising risk of recession, and the infamous yield curve is signaling things might soon get dark. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 800 points on Wednesday, marking its worst day of 2019 and prompting CNBC to declare, in an ominously red graphic “markets in turmoil.”

The Great Recession continues to loom large in people’s minds, and millennials who entered the working world in its aftermath still fall behind Gen Xers and baby boomers in terms of homeownership and having children. It makes fears of a recession easy to stir up, especially when there are a few signs of contraction.

Recessions don’t just pop up out of thin air — something has to cause one. And right now, there are a handful of factors experts say could do it.

One big issue: President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. Tensions between the US and China have been escalating, and a resolution is looking increasingly unlikely in the near term.

And then there is the “yield curve,” a wonky concept that is often taken as a signal of what’s to come. As Robert Samuelson recently explained at the Washington Post, the. Normally, long-term interest rates are higher than short-term rates because it’s riskier for investors to lend money for longer periods of time. When short-term rates get higher than long-term rates, the yield curve becomes “inverted,” and that’s often a bad indicator. Every US recession for the past 60 years was preceded by an inverted yield curve. This week, the yield curve inverted.

There’s not a whole lot you, personally, can do to prevent a recession, or to prepare for one. Obviously, it’s always good to save and have a rainy-day fund in case of emergencies. But that’s not easy for everyone, less than 40% of Americans have a rain-day fund.

And even though certain factors signal a recession might be coming, that doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion — the stock market got extra rocky at the end of 2018, partly because of fears of a recession, self-fulfilling prophesy is always a danger.

Forget your troubles, come on get happy!” sang Judy Garland in Summer Stock back in 1950, but she could just as easily be singing it today. The musical film enjoyed two early “golden eras”: First in the 1930s, with US productions like 42nd Street, as The Great Depression took hold, and then again with the MGM films – like Singin’ in the Rain – during and directly after the Second World War.

Robin Baker, who’s curated their upcoming celebration of The Great Show on Screen, believes it’s no coincidence that similar trends are emerging in cinemas once again.

“In earlier times and current times, you’re dealing with a society under stress, wanting to escape their woes and troubles,” says Baker, who pinpoints the success of La La Land and The Greatest Showman as heralding in the new wave.

“To me right now, in an age dominated by international anxiety – people just want an escape from that.”

Musicals and music films, he concludes, “they allow us to come together and confront harsh truths, through a fantastical prism. They allow you to kind of flip into another world that is exaggerated and larger-than-life.”

Entertainment is basically healthy for all of us, but when it becomes primarily an “escapism” it says a lot of where we stand in our belief system and security for the future.

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