Building Consumer Confidence

June 25, 2008: 11:32 AM ET

I've read a bunch this morning about how we're all losing our consumer confidence. It's no wonder. I don't have to tell you the reasons. People have confidence when they have a feeling of stability. When the bedrock under your feet starts to shift, you lose that confidence. Between the price of fuel, the value of our homes declining, and the raft of daily bad news we are now addicted to shoving into our faces every day, it's almost inevitable. 

Just think back the days when we didn't have cable news, didn't have online updates, didn't have BlackBerrys or cell phone alerts. We woke up. We had breakfast. We went to work. We came home. Maybe we checked in with the news now and then, either on all-news radio or on the nightly network news program, delivered to us by some gray avuncular presence who always played it pretty much down the middle and seldom, we believed, reported total hooey. 

Flip forward. Addicted to the CNBC crawl. Glued to stations that blare BREAKING NEWS about stuff that isn't breaking one bit. Trends played like forest fires. Buttheads opining like giant flaming gasbags 24/7. Newspapers competing with bloggers to see who can catch the common attention for the next five minutes. Is it any wonder we're freaked out? 

Sure, there is a reality that we're all aware of, and it does certainly bite. But doesn't reality always kind of suck? If you lived during the Crusades and were forced to march to the Middle East to kill total strangers because they were not Christian, would that have been a better time in which to live? If you were kicking around in the 1950s and had to offer loyalty pledges every day at your job, wondering all the time when the big mushroom cloud would blossom over the city around you, would that be better? How about the 60s? Was that better? Or the 90s, where a fine mist of greed suffused the air and working people had to watch as their companies were gobbled up by guys who are now widely perceived as philanthropists? 

Look. Throughout the course of human history, life on earth has been a struggle, a disappointment to most, a tragedy to some, a triumph to a few. But for most of us, the small things in life make it worthwhile, not the megatrends that make us nuts and take place around us. People managed to live through the plague years in Europe 500 years ago. Aren't things better than that now? We have IPods. 

After all the windbaggery, all the "news" offered by the depressed and desperate people who work in the media business, all the grotesque ploys being foisted upon us by oil barons, hedge hogs and other forces of chaos, there is still every reason to have confidence, if we want it. 

Here's my recipe: 

  • Drive less
  • Keep your home until it regains its value. You know it will. 
  • Stay in your job and try to be as happy as possible. 
  • If you don't have a house, now is a good time to buy one. 
  • Don't buy stocks. Only people who run the stock market profit by it. 
  • Invest in only safe, insured vehicles that you don't need to watch every day. 
  • Get out there every goddamn weekend and pump as much money as you can back into the economy. 
  • Stop watching cable news, financial news outlets, and get off the frickin' blogs, except for this one.
  • Use the Internet to buy things. That's what it's for. 
  • Wait until things get better. 

They will. They always do. We can, in fact, hurry that process up. Three-quarters of our economy is built upon our willingness to part with our money in exchange for goods and services. We can affect that metric. But only if we have the confidence to do so. 

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