What does it mean that the Dow closed below 10,000 today -- returning to levels first seen nearly a decade ago, in early 1999? Many interpret it to mean that the stock market is finally reacting to the credit crisis. A more accurate assessment is that it's finally catching up to the consumer crisis.
After the market closed today, Bank of America announced a significant deterioration in people's ability to repay credit-card and other consumer debt.
The central fact is this: Consumers in the real economy are coming to the end of their capacities to keep spending. They can't take on any more debt. And with the costs of energy, food, and health insurance all soaring, they're doing the only thing they can. They're pulling in their belts. They're leaving the malls. They're not buying a new car or TV or anything else they can do without.
For years, regardless of the business cycle, American consumers were the Energizer Bunnies of the world economy. Their spending kept it going. But now the Energizer Bunnies have turned into scared rabbits, and they're going back into their holes.
Yes, we need better regulation of Wall Street in order to avoid the sort of bubbles and distrust that have generated a credit crisis. But even more than that, we need to get money back into the pockets of average American consumers -- including major investments in infrastructure, affordable health care, and a more progressive tax code.
Also on Robert Reich's Blog.