An example of the whiplash of our economic times could be experienced reading a post-Christmas edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. On the front of the Dec. 27 Business section were two stories about America's economic woes. One discussed the pessimism of retailers about holiday sales, "Stores hope for post-Christmas surge." It predicts that only post-Christmas sales can pull retailers out of a shopping slump. The subtext: Get going, consumers! Below that was a story about the dangers of greed and over-consumption, "Credit ratings fueled subprime boom," part of a series by Bloomberg News. The gist of that piece is that people got in over their heads by taking out risky loans, and investors--who knew better--encouraged them to do so in order to make short-term profits. So in one story, people lament under-consumption and pin their hopes on a last-minute holiday splurge. In the other, we're warned of the dangers of such over-consumption which is designed specifically to hurt the little guy. Stories on holiday retailing--the period from "Black Friday" through the New Years Day sales--often have the tone of cheerleading because they feature corporate spokespeople who are, well, cheerleaders for industry. Their message is usually simple: Big retail sales good, slow sales bad. But in the era of the subprime fiasco, couldn't we see such restrained consumption as a good thing? Couldn't slower consumer spending and less use of credit cards be a sign of old-fashioned prudence? The housing balloon is deflating in part because consumers are sitting on the sidelines, tired of paying inflated prices for homes in a market artificially fueled by crazy loans. Isn't that wise? Not by today's conventional wisdom which holds that the answer to every crisis (housing, terrorism, unemployment, credit) is to buy, buy, buy! More likely slow holiday retail sales is a sign that the current economy (high gas prices, slow job growth, rising healthcare and food costs) is punching families in the gut and they simply don't have the cash or credit to throw around anymore. But not to fear, capitalists, because one man's misery is another man's meat. In the same issue of the P-I is a full-page ad from Donald Trump touting Trump University"," a class where Trump promises "If you're not a millionaire by December 2008, you didn't attend my foreclosure workshop." Yes, that's right. Your struggling neighbors who are losing their homes in the subprime fiasco, are easy prey. The ad enthuses that "Foreclosures soared 94% in 2007!" What a paradise for the entrepreneur. The ad features a full-length Trump (who won't actually be at the seminar, by the way) staring you down, challenging you to become as rapacious, amoral, and loathsome as he is. If you don't have the guts to let Donald make your rich at the expense of the suckers of Pottersville, well, you're fired! So here's a year-end, holiday-season question for you: Is there any species other than humankind that spends more time preying upon itself? Some kind of dung beetle perhaps?