Addison Wiggin

“Commerce and religion and patriotism are all part of what we have come to know as the holidays,” opines Leigh Eric Schmidt, a humanities professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Consumption during the holiday season has come to have a kind of patriotic quality in the United States,” he tells The New York Times.

And it didn’t start with George W. Bush — who, as it turns out, never did tell Americans after Sept. 11 and in the midst of the 2001 recession to “go shopping.” What he did say in December 2006, as it was obvious to everyone the housing market was rolling over, was this:

“As we work with Congress in the coming year to chart a new course in Iraq and strengthen our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home. This work begins with keeping our economy growing. …and I encourage you all to go shopping more.”

“Party on!” we ad post-epochally.

As with many unintended phenomena in America, the idea that we can consume our way to wealth rooted itself firmly during the administration of the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“FDR,” says Harvard historian Lizabeth Cohen, “and many who advised him, felt that the best route out of the Depression was putting money in consumers’ pockets so they could, in a sense, buy us out of the Great Depression.”

In 1939, he went so far as to move up Thanksgiving that year by one week — from Nov. 30 to Nov. 23 — thus extending what’s come to be known as the “holiday shopping season.”

Eighteen months later, he acknowledged the scheme failed. “The experiment had not worked,” The New York Times reported in May 1941. People bought no more in 1939 than in 1938, extra shopping days notwithstanding.

The myth that consumers can spend their way out of a recession goes along with a half-truth repeated every time the media reports retail sales figures.

“Consumer spending drives nearly 70% of economic activity,” said a CBS News report when the numbers came out last Friday.

Well yes… if you consider the formula for GDP to be a valid measure of “economic activity.” Which, for various nefarious reasons we explored yesterday, it’s not.

But far be it from us to bust economic myths this holiday season. Our friend John Papola makes the point far more entertaining… and helps puts today’s 5 in the holiday mood:

Program note: We’ve recently teamed up with John and his crew at Emergent Order for several video projects. Among them is our documentary project Risk!. They’re going to help us take Risk! over the finish line. We plan to begin airing episodes of the new film early in 2013… stay tuned!

Cheers,
Addison Wiggin

The preceding article was excerpted from Agora Finacial’s 5 Min. Forecast. To read the entire episode, please feel free to do so here.

Addison Wiggin

Addison Wiggin is the executive publisher of Agora Financial, LLC, a fiercely independent economic forecasting and financial research firm. He's the creator and editorial director of Agora Financial's daily 5 Min. Forecast and editorial director of The Daily Reckoning. Wiggin is the founder of Agora Entertainment, executive producer and co-writer of I.O.U.S.A., which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the 2009 Critics Choice Award for Best Documentary Feature, and was also shortlisted for a 2009 Academy Award. He is the author of the companion book of the film I.O.U.S.A.and his second edition of The Demise of the Dollar, and Why it's Even Better for Your Investments was just fully revised and updated. Wiggin is a three-time New York Times best-selling author whose work has been recognized by The New York Times Magazine, The Economist, Worth, The New York Times, The Washington Post as well as major network news programs. He also co-authored international bestsellers Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt with Bill Bonner.

Recent Articles

Can Money Printing Cause Deflation?

Marc Faber

"There has been an issue that has preoccupied my mind for a long time," writes Dr. Marc Faber. "In economics, it is generally accepted that if the quantity of money and credit is increased, prices will rise… However, since economics is so complex… I question whether the expansion of central banks' balance sheets and policies of zero interest rates could have a deflationary impact…" The good doctor wrestles with the question, in today's essay...


Forget the Oil Crash – Crush the Market With Biotech Stocks

Greg Guenthner

The Biotech iShares ETF is up 23% since the Oct. 15th bottom. No, that is not a typo. Biotechs have torched the S&P over the past two months--more than doubling the returns of the big index. And biotechs as a group are up more than 38% year-to-date. In fact, since we first highlighted the June comeback, the Biotech iShares have gone nowhere but up.


How Low Will Oil Go – And What Can You Do?

Matt Insley

The oil market has been under siege for six months. From service providers to producers this downturn has been painful. Of course, we’ve known all along that oil prices were a little toppy over the summer. In fact, when asked just how low oil prices could go I usually answered with a simple “lower than you’d expect…”


Cuba’s Berlin Wall Moment

Peter Coyne

Our forecast that Cuba would be open and integrated within 5-10 years is on track after yesterday's big announcement. Ahead of schedule, even. Click here to see how some investors have profited and what the island's likely future is...


The $4 LED Trend You Don’t Want to Miss

Chris Mayer

The opportunity to sell and install LEDs is enormous. We’re talking about over a billion lighting fixtures. And the areas with the largest potential -- like parking lots -- have barely begun to change. Banker to the presidents Chris Mayer says you could triple your money in this new tech trend. Here's what you need to know.


How to Make the Casinos Pay You for a Change

Greg Guenthner

It's a theme we've shared with you since April. And it's only gotten worse. The gaming industry has come under all sorts of pressure--a situation I first noticed in the charts. The powerful, multi-year uptrends started showing cracks. And it wasn't long before those cracks turned into gaping holes you could drive a friggin' truck through. That's where things stand today.