When reacting fosters rethinking

Many Americans seem to be short-term reactionaries, making statements of intent to suit the times, and then resuming the pleasant pursuits that life generally affords us here.

Take our collective statements about spending money, compared with our actual behavior as buyers of goods and services.

Some indexes of consumer confidence after Sept. 11 indicated that we reckoned US prosperity was headed south with the Canada geese. Big plants were folding up, and so would our wallets.

But have they?

Anyone who tried to make reservations at a New England bed-and-breakfast - even a $250-a-night room - during the foliage frenzy that is Columbus Day weekend will say no. B&Bs were booked solid.

Restaurants are crowded, at least where I live. So are stores.

Surveys generate stats to play around with. But in uncertain times, the evidence we can see may be a better indicator of what's up on the consumer front.

When pressed, most economists dismiss poll-based statistics as too unscientific. What people say in surveys fairly often fails to match what they do when they hang up the phone or put down the pen.

Major events can shift sentiments on spending. But when does a short-term reaction become a new way of behaving?

Reversing a national drive to live as well as one can - at least in part through acquisitions - is as tough as turning a fully loaded cargo ship.

Today's lead story explores whether the ship may have already begun to turn when the attacks on America occurred last month.

Conspicuous consumption, in retreat since the '90s bubble deflated, may be a particularly hard sell during the war on terrorism.

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