Americans would do better to spend more time being thankful, less time buying stuff

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
December 1, 2002

Now into our third day of leftover turkey, we are officially into the holiday season. Well, at least the retailers want us to think we are in the Christmas season. I even saw a 6:00 AM crowd at Proffitt's last Saturday ' much like the crowds on the Friday after Thanksgiving, only a week earlier.

We have our holidays reversed. Both in their order and their importance.

First, we spend four days of Thanksgiving ' recognizing the divine gift of life and the unexplained, undeserved blessings we all enjoy.

Then we spend an entire month concentrating on all of the stuff we and others want. We search for the perfect gifts. We negotiate visits to the in-laws. That's all backwards. We ought to spend a few days worrying about what we want, then take a month to reflect on our gratitude.

The energy we do spend on giving to others during December is more than offset indoctrinating our kids with Santas at every location of commerce, focusing our children on all of the stuff they don't have.

Anyone reading the Business section of this paper is blessed ' and not because you can afford a two dollar newspaper. Americans have more material 'stuff' than anyone else in the world, and we ought to set aside more than a couple of formal days to reflect on it.

Instead, retailers are worrying about the effects of Enron, employment and irrational exuberance on their holiday sales. With the NASDAQ still down 70 percent from its all-time high, it may be tempting to focus on some of the things we want - like a stock market recovery. But we still have plenty. More than most, in fact.

Consider:
Despite the seemingly daily reports of layoffs, US unemployment is only 5.7 percent, still about the rate most economists used to consider the theoretical lowest possible rate.

Over the last 20 years, the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased more than 11 percent a year - slightly above the 100-year average stock market return. (And I have no reason to think the average return over the next twenty years will be significantly different.)

Borrowing costs are at historic lows. Houses may be more expensive, but financing them has never been cheaper. Home sales are still strong - both for existing houses and new construction.

Low interest rates may help borrowers, but not savers. But the lowest inflation in almost 50 years has protected the purchasing power of a dollar.

Our medical care in the US is a lot like Winston Churchill's description of our form of government: it is the worst in the world, except for all the others.

People risk their lives every day to reach our borders, even while it seems much of the world is determined to destroy us. John Walker Lindh notwithstanding, more folks want into the US than Afghanistan or Nigeria. Or England, Russia, Canada, Mexico, Germany and Iran.

If you watch the news, you would believe we are in the middle of an economic meltdown. Yet the economy is expected to grow almost three percent next year. Most countries would love to have such "meltdowns." Be thankful. And do so for longer than two or three days.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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