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Tuesday Talk: Did we learn our lesson?

November 30, 2010 By Rachel Weeks, Communications Specialist

For the next month, news wires will be filled with analyses linking holiday shopping numbers to the health of our economy. The recession has driven these numbers down for the last two years, but talk of "pent-up demand" has retailers feeling more optimistic this year. Minnesotans’ spending cautions have remained strong -- leading many to wonder what the future holds. If our attitudes toward spending have truly changed, then what other types of commerce will fuel the economy? What do you think?

Does the way forward involve a return to spending or has the recession permanently altered our purchasing patterns?

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • Arvonne Fraser says:

    November 30, 2010 at 9:52 am

    We are learning, despite all the media reports of spending on Black Friday.  This morning’s NY Times reports on diminishing credit card use.  As a child of the 1930s real Depression, I know that lessons learned during bad times last a lifetime.  I get real satisfaction out of recycling, reusing, not wasting.  It’s sad that we have booms and busts every few generations, but it does promote re-thinking.  The old saying two steps forward and one back does mean we made one step forward. 

    Thanks to MN 2020 for stimulating rethinking, not just on this issue but many others.

  • Mary G says:

    November 30, 2010 at 10:08 am

    I believe this depends on whether the economy recovers enough, and corporate greed decreases so that wages keep better pace with real inflation (which is currently measured incorrectly, in my opinion).  If neither of these things happen, then consumer spending declines will become permanent, if not get worse.  For many, the declines already have them spending at rock bottom.  I know, because I am one of them. In addition, I personally don’t believe we can count on signs of recovery if they do not include an improvement in the price of and sales of homes. I also predict that if the lame duck congress does not let the tax breaks for the rich expire, our economy has little to no chance of really coming back at all, so the middle class and the poor must continue to spend almost nothing.  Sad commentary, isn’t it?

  • Mary Torgusen says:

    November 30, 2010 at 10:17 am

    I would love to believe we have altered our way of spending, but I really do think that Americans live a fantasy the minute something improves for them in even the littlest way and go back to the same old habits.

    Many couples will find themselves with only one working adult in the home.  This can be a nightmare, paying for medical insurance, life insurance, car insurance, mortgages, and other necessities can seem impossible without two adults working per household.
    I am a single Mom who has been working 55 hours a week for my entire 32 years of working life and struggling through each crisis that comes along, even though each crisis adds a dynamic that makes it harder to recover.  Medical disasters for two of my children have forced me to miss work unpaid in a job with no FMLA benefit for many months in the last 9 years and mostly in the last 2 years.  Bankruptcy may be my only solution, and the solution for many others.

    So no, I don’t believe many have learned unless they are jobless.  Those with jobs still don’t see the storm that’s still out there.  They get too comfortable and then it could easily hit them too.

  • Deborah says:

    November 30, 2010 at 10:19 am

    I think there is a seriously larger group of people who have learned the credit lesson.  I also think that our society is built on pressuring you to concede to a perceived “need”.  The two sides duke it out and there will be winners and losers.

  • Mike Downing says:

    November 30, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Materialism & consumerism over the last 30 years has destroyed many families who think that more goodies will make them happy. Studies show that this certainly is not the case.

    I, for one, hope that families have learnt a “tough love” lesson and start saving for their future instead of participating in the short lived gratification of having one more thing.

  • Larry says:

    November 30, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I like the newer frugal me!  I get almost as much pleasure out of contemplating a purchase as actually buying stuff.  Somehow, last year’s winter coat seems warmer with extra money in the pocket.  It’s comforting to have money to spend for tomorrow.  Looking stylish today has as much to do with how I feel about yourself as it does wearing new clothes I don’t really need.

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    November 30, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Yes to all today’s commenters.  I learned “the lesson” during a period of unemployment in the ‘80s when I taught myself to read an entire newspaper or magazine without letting my eyes fall on ads. I would recommend that shoppers take only cash on their buying trips and spend knowing that their limit is that amount. 

    Credit card companies are the enemy unless you can afford too pay off your bill every month and thus avoid interest, which is collected in one way or another from those too poor to use this method. 

    Regarding “perceived need,” I can’t remember the writer’s name at the moment, but he warned in the 1960s that large corporations first decide what they want to build or sell and then use advertising to create consumer “need” for exactly that product.  Gas-guzzling pickup trucks and SUVs come to mind.

  • Jeffrey Briggs says:

    November 30, 2010 at 10:50 am

      When the Stock Market and big Banks and Mortgage Corporations were in trouble we imediately stepped in to help them. When people started losing their jobs and then their homes you talked about helping them as they lost there homes. Where is the help for Joe Average? All we received was “talk”. People have lost faith with both parties who care for their own agenda’s more than they care for Joe Average! All the Banks did was give people the run around and make them jump through hoops only to have those same people lose their homes in the end.

  • Mary S says:

    November 30, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Yvonne and others have summed it up well. For those who are foregoing using their credit cards and avoiding going into debt over frivolous consumer goods, the economy has improved. Unfortunately, many are still overcharging, overspending and taking on loans and debt that they cannot repay. Althoiugh I’ve tried to be frugal and environmentally aware, I still find that new products are always tempting and advertising continues to lure us into wasteful spending.

  • Allyson says:

    November 30, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Even if average Americans have been forced to change their spending habits temporarily, the American mytholody regarding money/spending/happiness remains firmly entrenched and it has a powerful effect on thinking and behavior. I see this in my own life: While I haven’t shopped retail at the holidays for years, I still find myself overspending as an antedote for all sorts of other problems. I think it’s going to take a revolution in the consciousness of more Americans to break us of our voracious appetite for stuff (e.g. happiness). The media could help this along by focusing on the people who are making the switch to an alternative economy and who are learning to live more simply and still enjoy life.

  • Ginny says:

    November 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    We can’t continue to consume at current levels; it’s not sustainable. We are running out of resources, for one thing, and we cannot buy our way out of a depression.
    I think we will eventually have to rethink our whole economy, or at least big chunks of it. Cooperatives have been around for a long time, especially in MN with the agricultural coops, but I think they are getting even more popular. I belong to a coop and I’d be happy to see more established.
    Another possibility—not new ground but it has promise—are workers owning or co-owning their business. Having a substantial share in it at least.
    That still leaves a lot of questions for which I have no answers, but I’m sure creative minds, economists, innovations of technology and beyond can help us sort this out. What is clear to me is that unbridled capitalism does not work.

  • Dick Coad says:

    November 30, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Snake oil has had many names. Like Gertrude Stein’s take on this: “A Rose is a Rose is a Rose.” Same goes for Snake oil; it’s never gonna be a Rose.
    Two things seem to matter: First we are either creating new wealth or, at least, adding value. We have a number of candidates in these categories, none root in the present “status quo.” Look up Hegemony and the status quo for starters.
    Candidates: What percent of the Sun’s energy passes by Earth. What might we be thinking, what therefore might we begin doing?
    Another candidate: How many square miles of roofs are there on Earth? Found this question online. What could that mean?
    Look up “Passive House” and “Passive Solar House.” There is a Passive House in Hudson WI.
    Question: How much human toxic waste to we presently generate annually? Without orbiting crud, how much might we safely dispose of using Solar gravity and at least as much Apollo 13 ingenuity?
    Otherwise our “widgets” will continue to be a no sell item, neither here at home, nor around the world.
    Continuing issue: Balance of trade categories went Internationally red in 1972, when Agriculture joined Chemicals and the rest of our categories in the Red. If our entire balance of trade was red, might want to take a look at World Bank and IMF. Have we paid our dues to NATO yet? See whose hands are in our pockets these days.
    Frames of reference issues and veritas. Look for entities that are piling up cash and what that might mean. Questions for our present time are not, by any means, new. Eh?
    Roundup question: What is our International consumption of Snake oil these days?
    Thanks, dc

  • WAYNE says:

    December 6, 2010 at 3:20 pm