Well, knock me over with a feather:  the National Bureau of Economic Research declared today that the US is officially in a recession.

And in other shocking news, scientists announced that grass is green, the earth revolves around the sun, and four-year-olds like candy.

Seriously, though, there is one genuinely interesting fact in the announcement:  according to the best judgment of notable economists, the recession began last December.   That’s right, the downward spiral has been underway for about a year, but it’s taken until now for economists to confirm that there’s actually a recession afoot. 

On the one hand, this could be seen as admirable restraint.  The nation’s top economists patiently checked and double-checked all the data before they made their announcement. 

But on the other hand, it seems like a clear failure of economic measurement.  The beginnings of a serious economic crisis passed by with essentially no notice.  And by the time economists had enough data to confirm the trend, their findings were almost too obvious to be worth mentioning.

So why is it, exactly, that we continue to pay so much attention to the official declarations of boom and bust?