Can We Bear To Keep Buying?

If jolts like last week's 299-point stock drop spook consumers into closing their wallets, that could endanger the robust U.S. economy

How rich do you feel? That's the boom-or-bust question for the U.S. economy as Wall Street stumbles through a summer of pratfalls. The great bull market of the 1990s has pumped $9 trillion into investment portfolios and encouraged Americans to spend some of their gains--a trend that has helped sustain prosperity. But the "wealth effect"--the term economists use for the urge to splurge when we feel rich but to pull back when we feel poorer--could pound the economy if we see more days like last Tuesday, when the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 299 points. It was the Dow's third-largest single-day...

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