Confidence in WHAT?

Jeff Golden

Picture 2    A few media events are so routine that we rarely notice how peculiar they are.  One that especially triggers me is monthly publication of statistics on Consumer Confidence, which, we were told last week, is tanking.

   There's so much grist here for anthropologists of the future that it's hard to know where to start.  First is the fact that a major determinant of whether the economy will rise or fall has become our collective, thinly-informed opinion of whether the economy will rise or fall  (Do you New Agers feel vindicated?  You've been telling us for a long time that if we envision something clearly and persistently enough in our lives, it will manifest).  

   When I read last week's Consumer Confidence figures, I had to use my column to drill a little deeper.  This is one uncomfortable conversation that progressives should keep provoking, even if we don't know precisely where to take it.

Where would you take it? 
 

Comments

  • Bill McDonald (unverified)
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    I would take it to "Capitalism: A Love Story." I saw it last night and it shook me up quite a bit. If America collapses, it will not be because of our consumer confidence levels. Or perception becoming reality. It'll be because of the death grip we've been put in by Wall Street. It's the reality of what has been done to this country by the ruling elite. The parasites will have killed the host.

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    I worry that our loss of confidence has gone beyond consumer economics. That we are losing faith in the “change” that we voted for with Obama. That what most people voted for was a “change” to return to some pre-Bush past, in values, economics and our place in the world. Values are values, and seem to be drifting slightly conservative/traditional, as noted by Charles Blow in his NY Times op-ed (here). They will, I think, again trend liberal/progressive. But on the harder economic changes we need to make, we seem increasingly to be backing off or hedging our bets, not really trying to change at all. I see it on health care reform with no public option and no free choice provision. I see it on climate change cap-and-trade legislation that will fund a variety of special interests with increasing energy costs. Better a revenue neutral cap-and-trade. And abroad, where economic growth and accompanying power shifts are creating new opportunities and risks, the US is still stuck in some chest-thumping causes in the less, as-we-get-off-oil, relevant Middle East and in strategically irrelevant Central Asia. In Oregon, we seem to want to make our major public construction project a bridge we don’t need while we refuse to increase the teaching of strategically important foreign languages so we can sell our goods better in the global market.

    At both the federal and state levels, our governments are failing us. Our system is not working well.

    Yes, we need confidence. I don’t think the pioneers who came across the Oregon Trail would recognize us – our fears and timidity would seem petty to them. Yes, I think we need confidence, understanding, a future vision, and courage. I hope we find them.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "If America collapses, it will not be because of our consumer confidence levels. Or perception becoming reality. It'll be because of the death grip we've been put in by Wall Street. It's the reality of what has been done to this country by the ruling elite. The parasites will have killed the host."

    I would be among the last to defend Wall Street or any of the other usual culprits in the corporate world or politics, but it would be a great mistake if we don't recognize the failure of the American people to live up to their responsibilities as citizens by assuming their pathetic roles as consumers and political partisans.

    There is the legendary story of Ben Franklin leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and being asked, "What have you wrought?" He replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." Well, the American people have failed to keep it, and there is no more tragic evidence than the current health care/insurance reform charade going on in Washington with the vast majority of politicians ignoring what polls indicate the people want and basically saying, "Screw you and your kids, I'm more interested in getting my 30 pieces of silver from corporate Amerika so I can get re-elected by feeding you a line of bullshit next year. A line most of you will be dumb enough to buy. Again."

    Change? What change?

    As John Donne put it:

    Each man's death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)
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    Second to Bill McD's comments. Read Les Leopold's "The Looting of America" and go see "Capitalism: A Love Story" as fast as you can. You'll have confidence all right, but not the confidence that the survey purports to measure.

  • Bill R. (unverified)
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    What we're facing in this country is certainly a crisis, when the structures and patterns which have held sway clearly no longer work. I'm a firm believer in the wisdom of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us." The truth is we are the ones who swallowed the lies about the supposed wealth that Wall St. would deliver us. We are the ones who thought our homes would continue to expand in value forever, and that we could borrow against that false wealth. Since the 1970s we have had a false affluence funded mainly on debt. -Public debt when the Reagan era ushered in record "borrow and spend" policies, and private debt when we bought the idea that we could indulge in recreational shopping on credit with no thought to the impact of that debt on our selves and our families. We the people are the ones who elected public officials who sang the siren song that we could enjoy the benefits of civil society and public infrastructure without being taxed for it. We are the ones who believed we could and should be the global defenders of the world without paying for it in treasure and blood.

    Consumer confidence?- No reason why we should have it, we have had far too much of it, for too long.

  • Lord Beaverbrook (unverified)
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    Confidence in confidence! It's reverse FDR.

    Seriously, why is unemployment data never broken out by age by length of unemployment? I've no doubt it would paint a radically different picture than the archaic "people with work" "people without work dichotomy". With all the temp positions, whatever "with work" means, anyway. Less than 1/2 stay on the job for 3 years. Aren't we really talking about more of a wave function? The wavelength and amplitude being more descriptive than a discrete point?

    Different age groups aren't propagating through the same medium. What about the chronically under-employed? If 75% of single mothers have to work two jobs, without benefits (which is why their hours are kept part-time), is that not an employment problem? What about the boomer that leaves a solid position for a .com, gets ripped off, and doesn't work for the next 10 years?

    The real trends, the real life stories of the under and unemployed, bear no relation to the phrases in the press.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    Re: Lord B. A more impressive way of understanding the unemployment figures is to visit a couple sites where they provide meals to the homeless and unemployed. If that doesn't get a person's attention, nothing will.

    From an English observer: Will California become America's first failed state? As California goes so too will the nation? Will the green economy mentioned in the article save the day? Or will people also be blind to this opportunity?

  • Geoffrey Ludt (unverified)
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    Consumer spending is the single largest component of the economy. Economists look at "confidence" as a leading indicator of future spending. Companies base production figures on it. It's important. If confidence is declining, company's will adjust production to meet the expectation of falling demand which could mean further job losses or other resource shifts (like, moving from higher tax countries to lower tax countries) ...

    to adjust, I propose a progressive production system where, those that produce are rewarded while, those that do not, aren't.

  • Bill McDonald (unverified)
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    Les Leopold was on Coast to Coast radio tonight talking about his book, "The Looting of America." The host asked how much this latest financial crisis has cost the American People. Les said that it was a difficult question but when you add all the underwriting that the federal government has done here, along with TARP - all the guarantees that we are now on the hook for, the number is from 13 to 19 trillion.

    Then you add that Wall Street has gone right on acting as it did before and all these exotic instruments are still unregulated. PLUS they have added new instruments that continue to drain money from the economy without adding anything of value. These instruments do nothing but generate billions in fees. That's the craziest part: This is all being driven by a desire for fees as these junk products are sold over and over. I repeat: Nothing of value is created for society.
    
      The latest involves betting on life insurance policies, chopping them up and selling the bonds as triple rated, low-risk securities. Les says if they cure cancer and people live longer these instruments will crash.
    
       Les says it all stems from the 1929-style gap in wealth that leads to the casino effect on Wall Street.
    
      Grim. I thought Michael Moore's movie was disturbing, but Les paints a picture that makes "Capitalism: A Love Story" seem like a romantic comedy.
    
  • Lord Beaverbrook (unverified)
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    Posted by: Geoffrey Ludt | Oct 3, 2009 9:54:45 PM

    Consumer spending is the single largest component of the economy. Economists look at "confidence" as a leading indicator of future spending.

    And that is precisely what we didn't learn to manage to after 9/11. That's what 9/11 was about, economically. 99% of all American discretionary economic activity is completely unnecessary! People can simply stop buying crap, and that sinks the economy. Consumerism has gone from being a strong trend in the economy to being the economy. This is why population control is never, ever discussed by Americans. Not if you want to be taken seriously, anyway.

    These are the kinds of data that inspire marxist rebels to send everyone to the country to farm for a year. Not saying...but do you have any doubt that if everyone grew their own food, ate only what they produced or traded for, brewed their own brew, etc., for a few years, that anything would ever be the same again? No, there are consumers and producers, and you can't have an entire nation of consumers and try and call the shots. Hence we resort to the military.

    Consumptive and belligerent. That's what yer left with in America in 2009.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    Could it be that the need for people to be consumers is capitalism's Achilles heel? I recall hearing pro-capitalists say that cities and corporations must grow or they will collapse. If that were true then the obvious conclusion must be that the planet would eventually be paved over after construction reached its vertical limits and there would be no land left to grow food. As for corporations, there seems to be a limit to human intelligence that would prevent them from going beyond an eventual point of collapse.

  • Geoffrey Ludt (unverified)
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    @LordBeaverbrook

    You lost me ...

  • rw (unverified)
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    Comsumptive and belligerent. Hehehehe... GREAT words!

    And, Gorey-like, my mind IMMEDIATELY flew to a picture of a belligerent consumptive! Utterly true, more's the pity!

  • rw (unverified)
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    Dave - our mistake is to look backward, continue to indulge in BUSH as the bogeyman, when, really, he IS the manifestation of the collective unconscious of a lot of Americans! Like it or not, HE represents America too.

    We need to look towards a POST-Bush value set. And that needs to be a departure from what came before. The Bush Era was built upon all that came before.

    This is what I think!

  • rw (unverified)
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    & Bill: I am a little troubled this year, as the homeless start to stack up under the bridges again. My community gave all their spare sleeping bags and clothing last year, thank god during the snows.... but this year barely a person can be stirred to save their tiny shampoos, or empty tiny bottles, or to send me some dollar store toothpastes and soaps to help me complete the first hygiene kits of the year to take to the UnderBridgers.

    It is dispiriting. I guess I should start asking my people why: and hope they take the time to answer. Is it because they are all afraid? Or need a huge glut of cheerleading to be moved to follow through?

    I don't know.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son [or sun] of York," from William Shakespeare's Richard III.

    Now that we are in the fall season and we approach winter we seem to be headed for a figurative winter, one of discontent and possibly worse. So where is our noble son of York to bring us back to summer? He is not likely to be found in the White House or in Congress. Bernie Sanders, Ralph Nader and a few others have the right ideas, but they seem destined to play the role of Cassandras.

    "Once Cassandra had been cursed by Apollo to prophesy the truth but never be believed, Troy was doomed. Countless times before and during the Trojan War Cassandra predicted what would come of the war, but no one believed her. Always it was Cassandra who recognized a face, who predicted a fateful occurrence, who ran around the ramparts of the city with her hair flying around her shoulders, crying and spouting oracles that no one understood. Most people considered her insane and tried to subdue her, but she was only trying desperately to warn her people of impending disaster." Cassandra's Prophesies for Troy by Laura Fitton

    Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't do the trick in California despite his enormous successes as The Terminator. And Rambo seems to have retired. So what is America to do? Collapse into madness and elevate Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to lead us into a false spring?

  • rw (unverified)
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    Bill: what's yer point? That was a literary treat. But what was the point? I'm parsing like crazy! Coming up cold.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "Bill: what's yer point? "

    The future does not bode well and we need someone to lead the nation out of its decline. The putative leaders don't seem to be up to the task and the people, as so often happens, seem incapable of recognizing those with the ability to point the way.l

  • rw (unverified)
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    This is an honest question. Given the vitriol spewed about the Obamas having an Anniversary date night, do you think Nader could lead the nation? Do you think he could fare any better against the deadlocks?

    I don't know if I believe any longer that there is ANYONE out there who can lead this nation, as ugly as things are. I have come to feel that we are indeed in decline.

    I have moments every day of deep joy and gratitude, but that is on the interpersonal level. Viz the political and powerbroken reality of this nation?

    There is nobody who can save her. The ugliness and moral turpitude that elected Bush is as real America as everything else. The rage expressed by the extreme[r] left people blogging here against the middle of the road left, is just as scary-ugly as the face of the ranting right, in my opinion. It's all rage and venom, and a complete lack of unity or the willingness to contemplate what is needed for unity.

    Call me Cassandra. I always thought it was a pretty name.

  • Lord Beaverbrook (unverified)
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    Posted by: rw | Oct 4, 2009 11:05:12 AM

    Dave - our mistake is to look backward, continue to indulge in BUSH as the bogeyman, when, really, he IS the manifestation of the collective unconscious of a lot of Americans! Like it or not, HE represents America too.

    Hear, hear!!! And so was Clinton. Part of the horror some feel with Obama. "Bush and Clinton were us; is THAT what we've become". Well, no, that's the problem.

    I have confidence in the timestamp on this post.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Sir Beaver: trust no timestamp either. :)... Bill Gates owns those. hehehehehehe.

    All Hail Open Source! All swear upon the sacred SlashDot, our new Bible.

  • Brian C. (unverified)
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    Try not to take this the wrong way but I'm beyond tired of hearing an obese, gluttonous, white American male tell me what's wrong with this country. Michael Moore's wit & humor won me over back in the day with TV Nation. His films are generally good too and could be great were it not for the preachy ideological pandering. Maybe it's just me but the latest box office returns demonstrate otherwise. He has become a caricature of himself and now only the far left who have an identical world view can enjoy his productions. I liked Bowling for Columbine overall even though the "blame the gun" undertone took it down a few bars. He lost me with Sicko. It's great to point out the drawbacks with the U.S. health care system but the guy presenting the case is oblivious to just how much of a drain poorer folks with his chosen lifestyle are. When I'm not laughing at some of the clever gags I'm yelling at the screen. Fat everyman from the mid-west with a sense of entitlement a mile wide just might be part of the problem, no?

  • rw (unverified)
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    Could you tell me what the hell that has to do with this thread, Bri? Try as I might, I sniff me no Cap nor Trade.

  • Brian Lee Randone (unverified)
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    So true! We don't have any assurance that the economy will be back again. However, we just need to cope for our survival. We shouldn't be so paranoid about this old stuff.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Roger and Me are the defining Moment of Michael, true. I no longer watch his films with much pleasure, as they are formulaic and bear no surprise gifts.

    However, there are no other voices like his to take up.

  • rw (unverified)
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    And BBodden - "false spring". Again, my mind, long since lapsed away from academic beauty, leapt to the hilarity of "Springtime for Hitler and Germany"... hahahah.. indeed. Dear Rush, bring to us the Spring.

  • James P (unverified)
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    Bill Bodden you are a very funny man.

    Your little quote and lament about Ben Franklin and the Republic illustrates that you don't understand what a Republic is.

    Had the quote been: "A democracy, if you can keep it," then your lament would have been been reasonable. But our founders created a REPUBLIC. A CONSTITUTIONAL republic.

    The distinction being exactly what Franklin was saying to that woman: a Republic won't be subject to the whims of the majority; it won't allow the majority to make the government take on roles that the constitution limits it from taking on.

    Meaning, your lament is the precise opposite of what Franklin would be thinking right now!

  • Emmit Goldman (unverified)
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    James P is correct. The U.S. has never been a democracy, and the policy elites from both wings of the single business party have made sure it will never become one, despite what Leonard Cohen says.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Interesting pen name, "Emmit". Sterling reference point too.

  • Gold Coins (unverified)
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    I really love reading articles that has lots of knowledge to impart. I admire those writers who share the best of their knowledge in writing such articles. Keep up the good work and continue inspiring readers.Thank you so much.

  • Buy Gold (unverified)
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    Nice to be back!

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