I was reading an article in this Saturday’s newspaper how the economic downturn / collapse. One official described how misfortune propagated itself through the economy: once a business does poorly enough to force it to close, the people who were employed there lose their jobs and don’t have money to spend, which tends to harm the business they patronize, which can reduce their business enough to force them to close, etc.

The official described it as “a negative feedback loop”.

That’s funny, I thought, did I misunderstand?

I re-read the article. Nope. Either the reporter or the interviewee got it wrong. That’s a positive feedback loop. The modifier applies to the feedback, not the ‘direction’ of the end result. Positive feedback is amplifying, negative feedback converges to a particular value.


3 Responses to “Idiocy”

  1. Yeah, I think his meaning was pretty clear from context. Calling that “positive” would be a rhetorical no-no. I think you probably wouldn’t have had a problem if he’d simply said “feedback loop” so I think referring to that as “negative” (as in bad), while unclear, isn’t necessarily false.

  2. “Vicious cycle/circle” is the phrase he was looking for. If it’s good, then “virtuous”.

  3. But it is a positive feedback loop. Of negative economic growth. Which is negative in his estimation.

    There are three different sorts of meanings being bandied about there.

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