Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

The Consumer Is King, but for How Long?

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

The Consumer Is King, but for How Long?

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- Measured in dollars and the things dollars can buy, these have been a few great years for most Americans, as attendance at theme parks and resorts and ballparks suggest.

You can see it in the number of new cars that sit in driveways, in the activity of home builders and home improvement contractors, and in the number of new household entries in the stock market sweepstakes.

The good times can be measured in low inflation, near full employment, rising real wages (that is, after discounting for inflation), soaring stock prices and a pervasive sense that opportunity abounds. It is a very rare time for those who as children remember the Great Depression of the 1930s and as young men and women the struggle to remain in the middle class and as older folks the limits of living on a pension. For the latter, it has taken years to erase insecurities, but there's nothing like extra cash from a part-time job at the local dress shop or grocery to convince them that these, after all, might be different times. In a sense, therefore, the popular myth that consumer is king is now nearer the reality than ever before in American history, or in any other nation's history. A king is commander; all others are subjects. You can get a sense of the consumer's ascendancy by observing the number of unsolicited offers from sellers and lenders that arrive in the average household each month. Why, they even offer instant credit! The offers of credit are so routine that few recipients can see the marvel of it. But consider this: Just a few decades ago academics and business people argued about whether credit was a right or a privilege. More to the point these days, it is a plea from lenders to take their money. And, expressing their confidence in the future, consumers have heeded the plea; consumer debt rose to $1.28 trillion in September. …

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