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November 27th, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #677 'The shopping paradox'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: I don’t know if the president does any of his own Christmas shopping. I mean, he’s a big internet user, and you can shop for pretty much anything there, so who knows?

Dear Mr. President,

Our extended family on my side has opted, at long last, for a name-drawing system for Christmas gifts. I don’t think any of us are too keen on it, but most of the grandkids are grown now and in this uncertain economy (and considering the cost of shipping packages to a far flung crowd) plenty of relatives are mindful of their money. So we’re going to give it a whirl and see if everyone can live with it.

Heaven knows most of us have everything we truly need, so the cutback in gifts is not the issue. I think the unease comes more from the concern that families already have enough things tugging at their time and commitment to each other, and letting go of any connecting thread is disquieting.

That said I assume you must be watching the retail sales numbers pretty closely this weekend. After all, for an awful lot of stores out there, the next four weeks are sink-or-swim time. I heard a report that the average consumer is planning on spending a few dollars more this year on Christmas than last year, but the margin was so small I’m not entirely convinced. I suspect we’ll see pretty much a status quo season.

I think that is less a measure of how much money people have than it is about the uncertainty they are facing. Yes, many people have already lost their jobs and they may have no choice but to keep their spending in check. But scads of other folks are just uneasy. They’re not confident that the economy is really rebounding yet, and they certainly don’t trust that their jobs are secure.

And of course, that is the conundrum. If people won’t spend, businesses can’t recover, and if they can’t recover, they’ll keep laying off, and “since I’m about to lose my job…well, I better not spend too much!” It’s a whirlpool of economic doubt, and even if you feel pretty good about your situation, you can’t help but fear getting sucked in by the current.

My advice? You can’t really do anything to change the hardware at this point; so go for the software. Every day between now and Christmas, I think you have to get out some kind of message that says to everyone, “Hold on to hope. We’re going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. Everyone give a little, and we all might gain a lot.”

Now that would be a wonderful gift. If you decide to go to the mall, give me a shout and I may tag along. We can get hamburgers afterward.

Regards,
Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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