Economists are alarmed. Americans aren't spending. And since their spending drives two-thirds of the economy, economists warn of dire consequences should this trend become permanent.
(Of course, they have warned of the dire consequences of not saving as well. Hence the title of this post.)
I would love the opportunity to ask these economists (many of whom, it must be remembered, are policymakers) why they suppose Americans aren't spending.
Could it be that with memories of the Great Recession fresh in our minds, and of the vicious and wholesale job-shedding that followed, private-sector Americans have realized exactly how tenuous their livelihoods are?
Is it possible we have finally come to understand that most of us are merely expenses to our employers; expenses to be winnowed down and/or eliminated lest shareholders become upset at not being made exponentially wealthier than they were last month?
Or that, with the inevitable passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership looming, we will become more vulnerable still?
Why, exactly, should we spend? I mean, who does it benefit?
China? Bangladesh? Mexico? Some tax-dodging executive suite shoveling cash at Republican misanthropes? Perhaps E-bay is the biggest beneficiary—at least when we desire to rid ourselves of the junk we've accumulated.
I was once an enthusiastic consumer, and for that I have been rewarded with a lifetime supply of underemployment after committing the unforgivable sin of being unemployed when the Great Recession hit. (I was preparing for a cross-country move, if you must know.)
It is fairly sobering to realize the economy you once so obediently served now wants nothing to do with you. To think nothing of the money spent on entities which now refuse to even consider hiring you.
It is also a powerful incentive to save.
Our captains of industry have been repeating a thinly-disguised threat for years, that the American worker needs to remain competitive in the global market place or face extinction.
And the American worker responded. American workers are among the most productive in the world, even as the buying power of our wages remains flat or even falls.
But—big surprise—it isn't enough.
Without the one-hundred percent profit margin, business is just having a really tough time making this thing work. How are they to pay living wages and buy our elected representation?
However easy their virtue, you should know Congressmen don't come cheaply.
Business' solution is to outsource jobs and re-locate corporate headquarters to foreign tax havens as their increasingly contracted and part-time work force requires government assistance and health insurance.
It is the most indefensible kind of cost-shifting.
In the end, what is really curious is that even as the American worker becomes ever more marginalized, the American consumer is apparently still very much in demand.
Does anyone—anyone at all—see the disparity?