Economics Reporter Sniffs at U.S. Consumerism, Harkens Back to 80s "Age of Greed"

Economics reporter Peter Goodman, who in December pondered whether the free market was a false idol, snagged Tuesday's off-lead (competing with the big primary day) with "Economy Fitful, Americans Start To Pay As They Go - Living Within Means - Easy Credit Era Over, Some See a Trend Back to Thrift."

From Goodman's Tuesday front-page story (note the barely concealed tut-tutting of American profligacy):

"For more than half a century, Americans have proved staggeringly resourceful at finding new ways to spend money.

"In the 1950s and '60s, as credit cards grew in popularity, many began dining out when the mood struck or buying new television sets on the installment plan rather than waiting for payday. By the 1980s, millions of Americans were entrusting their savings to the booming stock market, using the winnings to spend in excess of their income. Millions more exuberantly borrowed against the value of their homes.

But now the freewheeling days of credit and risk may have run their course - at least for a while and perhaps much longer - as a period of involuntary thrift unfolds in many households. With the number of jobs shrinking, housing prices falling and debt levels swelling, the same nation that pioneered the no-money-down mortgage suddenly confronts an unfamiliar imperative: more Americans must live within their means.


While some experts question whether most Americans, particularly baby boomers, will ever give up their buy-now/pay-later way of life, the unraveling of the real estate market appears to have left millions of families with little choice, yanking fresh credit from their grasp.


Many times before, of course, Americans have found innovative ways to finance spending, even when austerity seemed unavoidable. It could happen again.

The Me Decade was declared dead in the recession of the early 1980s, only to yield to the Age of Greed and later the Internet boom of the 1990s. Over the longer term, the economy should keep growing at a pace that reflects improving productivity and population gains.