NEW YORK (AP) -- The nation's new financial goal, expressed in both word and action by the country's leadership, is to get people out into the marketplace with wallets and pocketbooks.
Action is the goal. Spend is the new motto. Defeat recession is the battle cry.
It couldn't be expressed more clearly or orchestrated with greater speed. Congress and the White House are committed to lowering taxes. The Federal Reserve has been shrinking interest rates inexorably.
And, impossible to overlook, are the efforts of the credit card folks who send to almost every household in America the happy message that the good life can be ours if we just avail ourselves of their cash.
To go on a guilt-free spending spree has been described as one of life's most elusive pleasures, but here we have the encouragement if not the endorsement of leaders that to do so is in the national interest.
Whether it works or not is another matter.
After indulging themselves throughout the 1990s, their attitude being that the future can take care of itself, consumers now are showing signs of becoming serious savers. Seriousness has replaced carelessness.
Serious consumers pay attention to finances, and those finances aren't in good shape. Wealth has declined for many families, the stock market to blame for some of the shrinkage. Some wealth has simply been squandered.
Earlier this year, an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Consumer Federation of America showed the "typical" U.S. household had net financial assets, including retirement funds, of less than $10,000.
That sort of money can hardly be called a security blanket, especially in terror times. Finances are fragile. Debt levels are now about 15 percent of disposable income, highest in 15 years.
More than half the respondents responding to the Consumer Federation survey indicated they lived from paycheck to paycheck at least some of the time. And for those earning less than $20,000 the percentage was 79.
Finances are but one reason why consumers recently have been inclined to conserve rather than spend. And why it will be that much harder for the White House, Congress and the Fed to get them to open their purses.
There are other reasons, an element of confusion, for example. Since 1998, a coalition of federal agencies and financial groups had been running a saving and investing campaign to counter borrowing and spending.
Another: Unemployment is rising, and seems likely to continue rising for weeks or months. And another: Some of those credit card issuers are themselves in trouble, forced into writing off record high amounts.
Most economists you might talk to believe the get-out-and-spend efforts will be successful -- that it is merely a matter of time.
The Fed doesn't fail to get its wishes, they remind you, even if it must cut interest rates to a level where it might be imprudent not to borrow. And unlike at some other times, it is buttressed by tax cuts.
Victory in the battle for the consumer mind might be certain, but it is likely to come only after a hard fight with the economy's financial and psychological enemies.
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