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Business Goes On

Despite the media's relentless coverage of the economic downturn, a lot of business is still being conducted, and companies are evolving to survive.
By Mark Roberti
Mar 09, 2009Back in 1988, when I was young—or, at least, younger—a friend of mine who was a travel journalist invited me on a unique trip. Along with a local photographer, we planned to drive down the Pan-Philippine Highway, from the capital of Manila to Davao, on the southern island of Mindanao. At the time, there was a Communist insurgency in the country, as well as a Muslim insurgency to the south. In fact, just a few weeks before we were to depart, a Newsweek reporter traveling with the rebels had witnessed a firefight.

I was working in Hong Kong at the time, and the local newspapers gave the impression that the Philippines was a war-torn country. But nothing could be further from the truth—the trip was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The Philippines is one of the most beautiful countries on Earth, and the people are warm and friendly. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with smiles and small talk. We drove more than 1,500 miles, and though we did meet gun-toting rebels, they posed for photos and bought us Cokes at a small stand made of straw, along the highway on the island of Samar. And we also met a nun who had been kidnapped and released a few days earlier in Mindanao. Other than that, we didn't see nearly as much strife as I had anticipated.

When I came back, I wrote an article entitled "Where's the War?" I pointed out that the media makes things sound worse than they really are, because a firefight is news, whereas people going about their normal routine is not. But the attention on the war had an unfortunate economic impact: Fewer people traveled to the Philippines for tourism, and foreign companies declined to invest.

The same phenomenon is now making the global economic situation worse. The media reports about each bank that runs into trouble, but says nothing about those that do well, or that lend to people who pay their mortgages (92 percent of homeowners make their monthly payments). The media also reports that construction of new housing is way down, but rarely mentions that more than 5 million homes are anticipated to be bought and sold this year in the United States. And we hear that retail sales are off, but no one mentions that sales are expected to total more than $3 trillion this year in the United States alone.

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