Sunday, January 15, 2012

Spend, Spend, Spend. It’s the American Way.

GRIDLOCK in Congress implies that there won’t be any collective decision to spend more as a nation to get out of our slump. Increases in deficit spending seem unlikely, and so does the balanced-budget stimulus I’ve been advocating in this column. For now, we must pin our hopes for a robust recovery on the willingness of millions of consumers to spend substantially more.

But what really drives consumer spending? Economists are reasonably good at divining how consumers tend to react to changes in government policy, but in the absence of such policy, and when the economy is in the doldrums, they aren’t very good at predicting spending shifts.

A new book, “Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves” (Princeton University Press), offers some insights. It was written by Sheldon Garon, a Princeton professor who is not an economist but rather a historian with a sociological bent.

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