I received an e-mail from a friend listing several hundred retail store closings as a warning about the potential for giving or receiving worthless gift cards.
While the long list of store closings may sound foreboding, from the standpoint of sound economics and responsible human behavior, this is great news.
Economists and investment gurus have been complaining for years that personal debt is excessive and the personal saving rate is dismally low. Most recently the complaint has been that excessive credit has been extended to many millions who are not credit-worthy. Based on the unworthy credit, we have been spending and buying "stuff" at unsustainable levels. Retailers, sensing a good (though unsustainable) thing built an excess of stores to satisfy our excess greed.
Our unsustainable orgy of credit and spending lasted so long that its fall is hard and fast. Consider our current economic problems as a too-long deferred market (and behavior) correction. Retailers are adjusting by closing unprofitable stores. This may be just the beginning.
The phenomenon that makes this recession likely to be a long one is another consequence of our greed: Our lack of productivity. Our "value added per buck paid" is not competitive in the world market place that we have been hell-bent to create and participate in. As the promoters of illegal aliens are fond of saying, others are doing the work Americans won't do.
Why did the 1929 depression end in the late 30's through the early 40's? We worked our butts off to win the war. We were motivated. Our personal productivity was high. This "high" carried over into the 50's. In the 60's we saw a new culture emerge...the flower children, the druggies, and the culture of excess consumption. This dysfunction evolved in the 70's through the present with an attitude of entitlement. "You deserve it" is not only the banter of the advertisers, but the expectation of those to whom the attitude of greed is promoted.
We are a consuming society, not a producing society any more. The chickens are coming home to roost. It will take something on the order of WWII or mega-9/11, or a really wicked depression to shake us out of our slouch into Gomorrah, as Bill Bennett so aptly lamented.
If current economic events help us straighten out our personal and national priorities, that is a good thing indeed.