We're going to the poorhouse, with great confidence. That's the message being sent by a pair of seemingly conflicting indicators. The first, which is consumer debt, shows that Americans are deeper in hock than ever; the average household owes more than $52,000. Yet a widely watched index of consumer confidence issued by the Conference Board, a business research group, soared in August to a six-year high. It all makes perfect sense to board economist Delos Smith, who says, "People are using plastic to buy all sorts of things, and they feel good about it." But as that...

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