Alongside the green room at the Fox Business studio in Washington, D.C., minutes after Mark Zandi has walked into the building, a makeup artist is patting a tan sponge against his face for a live TV segment. She won’t reveal what kind of paint she’s putting on his cheeks. “Trade secret,” she says. Then, to Zandi, sort of winking: “Trust me, you don’t need much.”
Zandi doesn’t need much help getting settled in front of the camera, either. An anchor in New York will interview him remotely this -morning — yet another appointment on a typically jam-packed day for Zandi — so after a sound technician clips a microphone onto his lapel, Zandi sits alone in a chair, as still as the Lincoln Memorial, waiting for his close-up. He’s about to do a live national TV interview about the state of the economy with as much fuss as going into Starbucks for coffee.
Well, he has done this a lot lately. Zandi’s parlor trick for TV is that he can peer into the economic future and explain it more clearly than a lot of people. This superpower has made Zandi, 50, a wealthy businessman, selling forecasts to companies and governments as chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com, the consulting firm he co-founded in West Chester. His ability to hear the distant thunder and interpret it calmly for the huddled masses also has made him the man of the moment, one of the hottest economists in the country, if it’s not too weird to put “hot” and “economist” together.
Zandi’s name is everywhere — pick up any newsmagazine or newspaper story about the economy and scan for the capital Z. The year-end issue of Newsweek had a page quoting 10 people in an effort to explain 2009. The first quote was from George Bush, the second from Zandi, the third from Barack Obama. (The 10th was Tiger Woods.) On CNBC’s Squawk Box in mid-December, host Joe Kernen introduced Zandi like this: “Moody’s Economy.com chief economist Mark Zandi, who if you Google him — he’s like, every day, Zandi, Zandi. Zandi this, Zandi that.”
The red light comes on at the Fox studio.
Anchor Dagen McDowell introduces Zandi and says: “More and more it seems like you’re going out on a limb, that the Federal Reserve should for now keep the easy money flowing, that stimulus money should keep moving to states, to the unemployed and the like. Why do you think that?”
Sensitive types might detect some conservative code language in there (easy money … to the unemployed), but Zandi plays it straight: “Well, first of all, I think that the recovery will remain intact, and that we will not backtrack into recession, but the odds of something going wrong are still uncomfortably high. … ”