Our Economy of Fear

Need evidence of the irrational fear that's driving our markets? In The Washington Post, Robert Samuelson flags a startling statistic: "From mid-September to November 21, there were 50 trading days; on 25, the market moved 4 percent or more (16 down, nine up), reports Wilshire Associates. In the previous 25 years, there were just 25 daily moves of 4 percent or more. We've gone from one a year to one every other day." Americans are tightening their wallets—holiday spending is expected to decline 11 percent—and Samuelson estimates consumer spending will drop by at least $450 billion as Americans shift so saving money over spending it. "If the swing toward saving is too sharp," he writes, "consumer spending wouldn't just weaken; it would collapse."