2010-07-29 / View From the Middle

Spending Might Be The Key After All — Ya Think?

View From The Middle
By Charles Rogers
On the one hand, we’re being told that the country is in economic trouble; we’re in, as they say, “over our heads” in just about everything and, no matter what we do about it, the outcome is uncertain.

This past week President Obama signed the Banking Reform Bill; said to be the biggest overhaul of the nation’s financial industry since the 1930s. It is supposed to prevent another economic meltdown like we had two years ago. Currently, we’re being told, we’re practically poverty-stricken and people are fearing they are going to be in breadlines. We’re being told that Social Security recipients are scared their deserved benefits might be taken away from them with the next stroke of the President’s pen.

But look around. The thing that seems to be wrong with the above picture is that most shopping centers are filled to the gills. Target and Walmart stores are fitting right into urban areas all over. Traffic on the highways is barely drivable because there are more cars on the road than ever before. Boutiques and department stores have huge, winding lines because people are going ahead and buying that item they might not have even considered two or three — or even five — years ago.

A case in point: Last weekend drivers couldn’t park in shopping centers from here to Long Island. The reason had nothing to do with, perhaps, the scraggly surface of the parking area or the intermittent (POURING!) rain. There was nowhere to park because there were so many vehicles there. And they weren’t there just because they needed groceries, either. The people were SHOPPING!

And they were buying things. Yeah. Right there in the midst of fantastic unemployment statistics and tremendous pressure from (yes) bankers and bill collectors, the people were jamming dress shops and stores selling men’s jeans and novelty stores and stores where girls were picking up frilly blouses and jeans.

The large pharmacies that rarely sell things related to the pharmaceutical industry were crowded and selling hair products and shaving supplies and candy bars and soap at cut prices — and even some items the consumers found to be necessary. In short, people were buying THINGS.

What can that mean? Is the economy — as the Administration is telling us — actually turning around? Could it be that the two-job, two-paycheck family suddenly has found a gold lode in the backyard? Or have they decided to take both checks and NOT bank them, but maybe put a small portion under the mattress and go out and spend what’s left?

Some economists are quick to say things are slightly turning around. Not much, but just a smidgeon, and they are predicting brighter times ahead. But those are the optimists, of course. The pessimists, meanwhile, are saying we’re still in the doldrums and that we won’t see a surge in the economy until we start to do things differently.

However, look out the door and talk to your neighbor. He or she are not spendthrifts, I’m sure, but I’ll bet they’re not hanging onto that last penny. This year, while they’re not taking the Orient Express for vacation, they’re not staying home, either. Whatever the reason, whether it’s the 1920s happy-time syndrome, which ended abruptly, or just getting rid of the feeling of confinement, of which we’ve been prisoners for so long, we don’t know.

What we do know is that people are buying. The paradox is that the powers that be (or just the media) are telling us that things are bad; so bad that we can’t buy that trip or those semi-expensive jeans. Maybe those powers or those media people should stop being filled so much with their own grandeur that they forgot to look at the grass roots. They forget that we’re the majority, after all, and we’re not really paying very much attention to their dire predictions.

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