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Consumer Spending

The economy and consumer spending have mesmerized our culture to the point that we have little else to talk about. It is amazing how fear, planted in our hearts, can breed and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Optimism doesn't sell these days.

Conversation and news about the dire straits of our economy bombard every waking moment of our lives if we are at all connected to the "real world." After waking up this morning and remembering my dream about consumer spending, I knew my subconscious was overwhelmed and over-stimulated with too much news and commentary on the subject. So, to help rid myself of all that data, I'm blogging about it with hopes of having a great night sleep.

In the opening remarks of a recent news conference, President Barack Obama said his economic stimulus package "will put more money in the pockets of those Americans who are most likely to spend it, and that will help break the cycle and get our economy moving."

Makes sense. Keep the cycle moving. After all, most Americans have been religiously recycling and conserving to the point that it's impact is felt in the retail sector and as a result government taxes. In many states we are now talking about mileage taxes in order to recoup some of those lost revenues.

As a result, the economic message seems to have shifted. Keep saving the earth, but not your money. Spend, spend, spend; but spend it on approved purchases. In other words, there is a feeling, by some in our new government, that our money isn't our own. As if we aren't sensible enough to know what to with what we make. In fact when questioned further, President Obama said that after Americans started spending again, thus re-energizing our economic foundation, consumers would need to be more responsible about their personal finances. But wait, he also said in the same interview, "I don't think it's accurate to say that consumer spending got us into this mess." In other words, fund your government and then we'll tell you how to be responsible.

Do you ever stop and think that while we live in the 21st Century, a time unlike any other in history, we are actually only repeating a cycle that has come before? A devastating cycle to be sure that helped shape the world we know, but a cycle that for many was truly survivable. I am, of course, talking about The Great Depression.

In 1932 Good Housekeeping Magazine invoked women to "keep shopping in order to keep the men working and the dollar rolling."

Here is a consumer spending chart (in billions) on monies spent on items between 1929 and 1933, usually considered as the most horrific of The Great Depression.

1929 1933
Food; $19.5 (billion), $11.5 (billion)
Housing; $11.5 (billion), $ 7.5 (billion)
Clothing; $11.2 (billion), $ 5.4 (billion)
Automobiles; $ 2.6 (billion), $ 0.8 (billion)
Medical care; $ 2.9 (billion), $ 1.9 (billion)

After Herbert Hoover's presidential defeat in 1932, Roosevelt promised that under his new presidency government would act decisively to end the Depression. Once in office, FDR said yes to almost every plan put forward by advisers and the Congress said yes to almost every program proposed by the president. In the frantically-paced first few months of his administration, Congress passed scores of new legislation at the president's request.

While there is much debate in historic circles regarding Roosevelt's New Deal, it is agreed by most that it's design was to revitalize a mass-consumption based economy by revitalizing the masses ability to consume.

And so once again we find ourselves in uncomfortable waters in regard to the economy. The messages are loud and conflicting; consume and spend, recycle and renew. The New Deal was the mantra of the 1930's. Today our mantra has become something akin to The Great Obama Experiment.

My conclusion? Be optimistic. I plan to be. This current economic crisis will not end life as we know it. While certainly adjustments are both necessary and prudent, I'm not going to let it control my happiness and general outlook on life.

I know that we will eventually run through this cycle and I know that this cycle will eventually return. In my mind, it is more about growth than shrinkage. While I don't like over consumption of anything, I also don't plan to allow our media or our government to dictate to me how and when I spend my money.

My plans? I plan to save and to shop and to make as large of a contribution to society as I can, both with time and money. I will continue to buy ... when it's something I can't live without and I'll save even when I don't want to for the sake of future generations. God will take care of the rest.

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