Maybe thrift isn't dead after all. The Year of the Bottomless Bailout has yielded a much needed correction in the lives of ordinary Americans. While fiscal restraint is AWOL in Washington, individual frugality has made a cultural comeback. Better late than never.
In large and small ways, we are cutting back. An online Zogby International survey this week reported that 70 percent of households are foregoing movies and restaurants. Forty percent of those polled said they were delaying the purchase of major items such as automobiles, home entertainment electronics or a computer; the same percent said they were giving up vacations. Notably, Reuters pointed out, "nearly 80 percent of younger adults, aged 18-29, said they have scaled back on going out, compared to 55 percent of people 65 years and older."
Pollster John Zogby called the results "depressing." I beg to differ. Out of necessity, a consumption-based society is learning to live within its means. For decades, government policies fueled that insatiable appetite -- and new government programs are desperately trying to preserve it. But the Obama administration's frantic efforts to encourage more brainless home buying, car buying and consumer borrowing aren't producing their desired results. Generational theft, it seems, has a silver lining.
The phenomenon is spreading beyond America's borders. London-based economic journalist Hamish McRae recently observed: "We may be on the cusp of a big socioeconomic shift. We have had half a century when the developed world has gradually moved away from regarding thrift as a virtue. It has moved at different speeds in different countries, faster in the U.S. and UK than in Germany or China. … We have created the institutional structure that has supported this shift: from credit cards to collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). The world has clearly reached a point where it can go no further down that road. … The pendulum will swing back. How far and how fast we cannot tell, but we can be sure that debt will be regarded differently a generation from now."