Our Daily Bleg: What's a Responsible American to Do?

The average responsible, fiscally prudent, law-abiding American can be forgiven for feeling not just battered by the recession but also confused. In recent months, she has simultaneously been frightened into tightening her purse strings while also being scolded for not buying more things so that people can keep their jobs. She is also told that the recession isn’t her fault personally and yet she is made to feel as if she’s bearing more of a brunt than the people who are at fault.

A reader named Carolyn Norton, a “WebSphere Lead Serviceability Architect” for IBM, writes with the following bleg (explained here; send your own request here) that in the kindest possible way gets to the core of the issue:

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

So I’m asking. What can/should we do? Spend? Save? Grow a victory garden?

hall monitor

Let's ask the starting line-up of the Yankees how they plan to get through these tough economic times.

Hall Monitor

Erin N.

I've been asking myself this for a while now. I live in Michigan, where the unemployment numbers are upwards of 11.5 percent. My husband and I both feel reasonably safe in our jobs, and are not carrying an unreasonable amount of debt (one car and student loans).

We are waiting until we have a significant down payment to buy a home, try to shop local and support local businesses, and vote.

What else can we do to help?


I'm going skiing on Sunday to stimulate the economy. I'll take an apple and a granola bar to eat for lunch to stimulate my savings account. Am I evil?


Comment #2 is instructive, a good FUNDAMENTAL plan.

Thanks for bring up this ISSUE: What can we do for our country at this time? President Obama has made this point, talking about the "service economy", but he needs to "resurrect the dead" by HONORING Kennedy with the repetition of Kennedy's TIMELESS exhortation at a TIME of need.

Thank you for keeping our memories green.



this one's easy: spend


Might as well save your money. It's the responsible thing to do. Then again, if you save, you won't be able to get any bailout or stimulus funds, so maybe you should spend.

Diane Roth

I want to amend the last comment somewhat. I think good stewardship is the key. To spend, but to spend wisely, and to save wisely too. It's hard to get awfully specific on that; it will be different for each of us as our means and needs are different. Buy: but if you can, buy ingredients and cook rather than go out to eat. Go out to eat if you can, but within your means. Donate to causes you believe in and want to succeed. Shop locally wherever possible (and if you can).

Also, to regard ourselves not just as consumers but as consumers and creators: who make things as well as buy things.

oh, and talk to your neighbor. ask what they need.

Caliban Darklock

Pretend nothing is happening. Save whatever you would have saved, spend whatever you would have spent, and do whatever you would have done.

Economics are the result of human action, but not human intent. Adding intent to the mix usually makes things worse.


I think the answer is on the "stop asking our country for stuff or to do stuff" side of the ledger rather than on " the do something for your country" side.

We can do things without asking our country to get involved.


Does vacationing in Europe and enjoying a relativity strong dollar count?

J C Scott

Easier yet, volunteer - - - food banks, free transport for the elderly, deliver food to the elderly, offer child care to a working neighbor , , , whatever. Engage yourself in helping others.


The best thing an individual can do to build a healthy economy is to start living within their means. We got into the current crisis because as a nation we were all spending money we didn't actually have. Short term this might mean spending less money while you get your financial house in order, but long term you will be much more secure and the economy (while it might be smaller than it is today) will be much more sustainable.

Ana Moure, a Responsible American

Find an appropriate compromise. For example, buy tons of stuff, - but make sure they are on 70% off sale.


Take care of your physical and mental health so you don't start costing society more than you put in.


Stimulate the housing market by buying a house that you can't afford unless housing prices go up in the future. (You can't live the American dream if you rent--renters like myself are merely second-rate citizens who should be forced to subsidize the real Americans' mortgages whenever their housing gambles don't pay off.)


What we can do is not lose our heads when 'all about us are losing theirs.' We have to do what makes sense for ourselves and our families. Unfortunately, we don't know what lies ahead...supposedly larger paychecks juxtaposed with higher taxes on just about everything from clothes to gas. We have to live conscious, deliberate lives and find happiness in the simple things. We have to try to figure out ways to save for retirement that lie more within our control than our now defunct 401k's. We have to learn to adjust to an economic environment unfamiliar to us. And in coming elections, we have to vote for people who will act on our behalf, not against us, regardless of their party affiliation.


As a software developer, I've never used a tool more bloated and un-"serviceable" than WebSphere. I think IBM could help the economy by dropping WebSphere and encouraging all its customers to try something else.


I think that we should spend enough to cover our basics and provide ourselves with a small amount of comfort while also giving money to the poor or other good causes. We shouldn't be frightened into not spending, but at the same time, we need to be realistic about what we "need" while we are compassionate to those who are without basic necessities.

Eric M. Jones

Comment on #5 "this one's easy: spend"— frankenduf

Spend what? I thought that was the problem?

On a more querulous slant: At many times and in many places the guys at the top have managed to starve the peasant while feasing on the fatted calf. These situations always end badly.

Kevin H

anyone who tells you to buy more than you can afford, for whatever reason is not just an idiot, they are the economic enemy of stable growth, and some of the chief causes of the current problems.