Friday, November 25, 2005

Have Yourself a Wary Little Christmas 

With the biggest retail-shopping weekend of the year officially underway, David Lazarus takes a few quick snapshots of the Bush economy (improving! -- always improving!). As the director for the Consumer Federation of America explains in the article below, 'tis the season to be cautious:
  • Roughly half of all American households now carry debt on their credit cards. The average amount owed is more than $9,000, according to Cardweb.com, which analyzes trends in the credit card industry.

  • The U.S. savings rate reached its lowest level in the third quarter since the Great Depression -- minus 1.1 percent. It was the first time average Americans spent more than they earned over a three-month period since savings stats began being compiled in 1947.

  • A tough new bankruptcy law took effect last month, making it harder for people to get a fresh start with a Chapter 7 filing that wipes out most outstanding obligations. Many consumers will have to settle instead for a Chapter 13 filing that still requires that debts be repaid . . . .
Kasser is an associate professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois who focuses on consumer behavior. Economic conditions might be uncertain, he told me, but most people will be unable to resist the impulse to shop that's cultivated by corporate and political interests.

"We think we're all individualists," he said. "But we're actually being manipulated by the largest and most expensive propaganda system ever developed."

Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy. As such, Kasser said Americans are constantly bombarded with messages promoting a sense that materialism will foster feelings of satisfaction and contentment -- and will be patriotic to boot.

For example, just days after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, President Bush said that as part of the country's "campaign against evil," Americans should "do your business around the country," and go to Disney World and "enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed."

The president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was even more explicit.

"We need to respond quickly so people regain confidence and consider it their patriotic duty to go shopping, go to a restaurant, take a cruise, travel with their family," he said shortly after the attacks. "Frankly, the terrorists win if Americans don't go back to normalcy."

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us