Friday Five: lessons in economics for Sunday dinner

Friday Five: If yours is a family inclined to Sunday dinner conversations, then you know there are a handful of subjects generally off the table: sex, religion, politics and money.

That leaves precious little about which to chat, except for the weather and your sibling’s awful spouse, that last one guaranteed to have someone leaving the room unpleasantly.

Inevitably one of those “no-no” topics slithers onto the table. Those are subjects about which everyone has an opinion — and about which most of us know little more than a couple headlines worth of facts.

This week has been bewildering for the economics-high-finance-challenged among us. In case you missed them, or just flat out didn’t bother since you were busy making your own ends meet, here’s this week’s Friday Five: lessons in economics.

All the better for that Sunday dinner.

* Capitalism good. Crony capitalism bad. Who knew?

* Bail out the Greeks? Sure. Italy? Not so much. I guess they like Greeks better than Italians. The seat-of-your-econ-chair agreement that was two-years give or take a couple months in the making appears to be an outline with not much in the way of details. Now the hard work begins.

* The U.S. economy grew more than all those ugly August and September “oh, lands, a double dip is inevitable” talking heads bloviated upon. I swear, if we  could muzzle 24-7 “news” channels and talk radio, the world would be less stressful place and we might actually get some traction on getting things done. But, that would be unkind to the First Amendment, so tune out the cacophony.

* Are those Occupy Wall Street people “half naked, over-educated, children of the privileged, preening Socialists” or just regular Americans annoyed with what they perceive as “take from the poor and give to the rich” a sort of backwards Robin Hood thing? Probably both and more since few things — including economics and politics — are so either-or. Good to see the First Amendment flexing its muscles, too.

* And, then there’s 9-9-9 and similar plans from enthusiastic presidential candidates that start with “now, this won’t hurt a bit and we’ll be healthy, wealthy and wise to boot.” Sigh. Getting our fiscal house in order requires pain: raise revenue; cut expenses. Eat less; exercise more.

And, that comes from an original flat-tax kinda fan, folks. Steve Forbes and Bill Bradley, two New Jersey boys, did that song-and-dance back in the 1980s when I was editor at the Trenton (NJ) Times. I got to hear the original version.

And, there you have it. Economics and high finance lessons for the weekend dinner table or wherever your conversations lead you. May God smile upon you and yours.

Save the economy: Shop ’til ya drop

Oh, how we love shopping. Think not? Take a few minutes to ponder this consumer nuttiness — the “out of the box” or “unboxing” experience.

I swear to all the retail gods, we’ve made an art of describing, experiencing and reviewing a product just as it comes out of the box. Sleek, smooth, enticing. That ah-moment new car smell. The buttery swish of a leather shoe that’s just so. The Apple iWhatever. Even the new white cotton skivvies we had the clerk roll up and stick in a bag.

One of the whoppers we tell ourselves is that not shopping ensures we will assuredly become “healthy, wealthy and wise.” We believe that Ben Franklin exhortation because somehow we think we should. Some sort of holdover Puritan guilt, I guess.

We lament the credit-card swiping culture that wants three flat screen televisions, a dozen pairs of shoes and unlimited downloads from Kindle and iTunes. We shake our heads at teenagers who wander the malls. At the Sunday afternoon lookers in the Anderson Automotive lots. At the lookie-lous driving from one Open House to another. We really go nuts over pet parents who spend small fortunes on doggie — and now cat — costumes.

(Sidebar: There is a difference, of course, between shopping and buying. Shopping’s more the process leading to buying. Buying is pulling out the cash and wrapping up the box. Not all shopping requires buying. All buying requires at least some shopping. I had to explain that to an irritable hubby several years ago.)

Back to the point. We love our shopping, especially the kind that ends in buying so we can glory in the “unboxing.” Now there’s proof that if we shop-and-buy we can jump start the economy, get the country growing again — and, well, shop some more.

We’ve known forever that consumers are the foundation for 60-70 percent of the U.S. economy. Whether we’re buying cars and houses or those white cotton skivvies, it’s the “little people” — the 99 percenters — who are the engine. We buy and those companies, big and small, make and making means money, which means gotta run the factory, staff the front desk, fly the planes … You get the picture.

James Livingston, a Rutgers University history professor is my new econ hero. Here’s what he says his research proves: “If our goal is to repair our damaged economy, we should bank on consumer culture — and that entails a redistribution of income away from profits toward wages, enabled by tax policy and enforced by government spending.”

The regular dude and dudette. And the government. Government spending and consumer spending are the real drivers of economic growth. Oh, I can see the frothing now….

A proposition: Give up the frugal-til-we-atrophy charade. Go buy something. Shop ’til you drop. Save the economy. Because it doesn’t sure as heck doesn’t look like the “private corporations” are going to do anything except hoard their cash.

Let the frothing begin. The rest of us will be at the mall.

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