Vicious Circles

Last September, President Bush asked Americans to keep shopping. It was our patriotic duty. Attractive pricing and financing helped sell thousands of automobiles and other big-ticket goods. By waving the flag in one hand and a Visa card in the other, we'd show those b***ards who would come out on top. And what good patriots we are: Consumer spending is responsible for two-thirds of our economic activity, and it kept the 2001 recession from becoming a full-blown disaster. But while consumers took the President's message to heart, many corporations didn't. Scandals aside, the stock market is still a mess, and the typical corporate response has been the short-term fix: Slash the workforce, cut projects, scale back R&D investment, eliminate capital expenditures. Of course, this makes profit margins look healthier (even without suspicious accounting). Cutting excess fat makes sense, but

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