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How bad is it? Soup kitchen lines vs Black Friday lines
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It's the Great Recession, right?

Everyone says they're feeling it.

So why is a good chunk of America getting ready to partake in a ritual that shouts conspicuous consumption when supposedly we're either on the cusp of being on the street or just one paycheck away from financial disaster?

In the Great Depression there were soup kitchen lines.

In the Great Recession there are lines for Black Friday.

There is nothing wrong with spending money. There's nothing wrong with buying gifts for Christmas. And there is certainly nothing wrong with people wanting to spend a dozen hours or so camped in the shivering cold on Thanksgiving so they can take advantage of loss leaders offered by multi-billion dollar retailers at the stroke of midnight.

What is a bit strange is how we complain bitterly about the economy and then we spend, spend, spend. That is actually a good thing as long as we don't spend like there's no tomorrow. Consumers drive at least 70 percent of the economy. The more spending the more jobs created. The problem comes with the fact that we moan and groan as if economic collapse is imminent and then we spend more like Paris Hilton than we do the Joad family from the Grapes of Wrath.

If you talk to anyone over 75, they probably remember Christmas was often just fresh fruit, some candy and - if they were lucky - a toy or a new pair of shoes. Not all of America's children had such lean Christmases back in the 1930s. But a huge number did.

You can bet one of your flat screen TV sets that Pa and Ma Joad wouldn't be standing in line trying to get a deal on the latest iPod. If they had any extra cash it would have gone to food and other basics.

We complain bitterly about food prices. Back in the 1930s, Americans spent 24.2 percent of their income on food. Today it's less than 10 percent. Those are figures tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

So why are we all having the emotional equivalent of massive coronaries over the economy? These aren't exactly good times especially if you're the one on the economic ropes or have fallen through the proverbial safety net. At the same time, this isn't economic Armageddon either.

But if you're fed a steady diet of doom and gloom via cable TV news, the Internet, as well as other print and electronic media 24/7 you're going to start making Chicken Little seem as if he were on tranquilizers.

If you follow stock movements and such day by day or every waking hour, you'd be convinced we're teetering on the collapse of civilization.

Most of us, though, should ask ourselves one question: Are we as bad off today as we feared we would be two years ago? Again, this isn't exactly a picnic but if it is as bad as we all seem to think it is Apple wouldn't be breaking sales records for an upgraded phone you could really do without and retailers wouldn't be bracing for mobs on Black Friday.

John Steinbeck - if he were alive - would have a real hard time sympathizing with most of our plights today.