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What’s a recession? It depends on whom you ask — an economist or a fishmonger. – News Opener

Scene: A fancy fish market in Georgetown.

Economist enters. Shot of pages flying off a calendar or clock hands turning or some other metaphor for time passing that Gen Z will roll eyes at.

Ten minutes later, Economist reaches the head of the line.

ECONOMIST

Good morning! I need something for my sweet tooth. I’d like a pound of jellyfish, please.

FISHMONGER

That is disgusting! Jellyfish aren’t sweet, and they aren’t fish.

ECONOMIST

But they are edible. Just because they gross you out doesn’t mean I don’t like them. They are a great delicacy.

FISHMONGER

The owner of this place is a marine biologist who’s a stickler for scientific classifications. She sells only true fish in this shop. She sells lobsters, shrimp, oysters, clams, squid and other nonfish seafood in her other shop across the street. But you can’t buy jellyfish here because they don’t have any backbone, so they aren’t a fish. And you can’t buy them across the street because they are disgusting.

ECONOMIST

Of course jellyfish are fish! They swim in the ocean. And it says they are fish right in the name! I’m sick and tired of you liberal elitists changing the definition of everything!

FISHMONGER

interrupting

Elitist? I’m up to my elbows in fish guts!

ECONOMIST

continuing without pausing

My kid came home crying the other day because her teacher said Pluto isn’t a planet anymore. I called the school to complain and asked for Miss Johnson, only to be told it’s Ms. Johnson! I tried to book a trip to Constantinople last week and I was told it’s now called Istanbul! I’d say “What is the world coming to?” but I’m afraid that if I use the word “world” I’ll offend Pluto!

FISHMONGER

Don’t worry about Pluto. It’ll be fine whatever we call it. But I told you: We don’t sell jellyfish.

ECONOMIST

That’s all right. Could I ask you something else? I work at the Federal Reserve, and I always ask shopkeepers: How’s business?

FISHMONGER

It’s terrible! During the pandemic, my cousin — who runs a shop called Just Potatoes — and I had a sweet side hustle during the pandemic delivering our famous fish and chips. We made a killing! But everyone is going out to restaurants now and I’m stuck with a ton of frozen haddock and gallons of cooking oil in the back. Luckily, my walk-in traffic is booming. My restaurant business is doing OK, but my distributor jacked up the price of salmon and he can’t always deliver when I need it because he can’t hire enough truck drivers! I think we’re in a recession.

ECONOMIST

That doesn’t sound like a recession to me. Your shop is busy, and everyone is working! In a recession, lots of people lose their jobs and they don’t buy fancy fish. I know the economy is slowing, but we haven’t crossed the line yet. It’s not a recession.

FISHMONGER

It has to be a recession. I heard a guy on the radio say so because the GDP fell again!

ECONOMIST

I’m a stickler for scientific classification, too. And I say that a recession is a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and that lasts more than a few months. The decline isn’t that significant because final sales to domestic purchasers only slipped by 0.3% in the second quarter, and it hasn’t spread all across the economy because everyone still has a job and consumers are still spending lots of money on things like salmon dinners. Maybe a recession will come next month or next year, but it hasn’t started yet. Anyway, I’ll come back for some of your yummy fish and chips as soon as I’ve found someone who’ll sell me some jellyfish.

ECONOMIST

leaving, mutters under her breath

That guy doesn’t know a thing about fish!

FISHMONGER

turning to the next customer, mutters under his breath, in perfect synchronization with Economist

That woman doesn’t know a thing about the economy!

NEXT CUSTOMER

impatiently

Hey! Could I have a pound of whale, filleted? And don’t give me any of that malarkey about whales not being fish! They have backbones, don’t they?

Rex Nutting is a columnist for MarketWatch who has been writing about the economy for more than 25 years. He’s keeping his day job.

More on the economy

Why the U.S. isn’t in recession now—and why it might not be able to avoid one

Everything you need to know about the economic recession that we are definitely not in right now

Almost all the economic numbers are aligned: A U.S. recession is now likely

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