The Real Problem, According To Ydstie

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Michel Martin is out sick today (feel better, Michel!) so I asked TMM guest host, and NPR's resident economy expert, John Ydstie to share thoughts about today's program ... and today's news. Take it away, John. And thanks for stepping in.

I didn't expect to be hosting Tell Me More when I went to bed last night, but I got a call about 2 1/2 hours before showtime this morning saying regular host Michel Martin was under the weather and asking could I make it in.

I was still in bed when I took the call, but threw on some clothes, drove through a couple of "pink" traffic lights and made it just in time to pre-tape TMM's economic roundtable. We had some terrific guests: our regular money guy Alvin Hall, Marcus Mabry, International Business editor from The New York Times and Sylvia Maxfield from the Simmons School of Management in Boston.

My regular beat here at NPR is economics so the subject matter was familiar, but when you hear three really savvy people break down the economic mess we're in it's still sobering. Marcus Mabry summed it up vividly describing the current economy as "snow rolling done hill faster and faster .... getting bigger and bigger ..."

That's a very appropriate description as more and more businesses, and people, get run over by this swift collapse. And, despite the huge job losses that we've seen so far, things will almost certainly get worse before they get better, despite the passage of the stimulus package. And as our guests pointed out, there's still much to be done to deal with the toxic assets dragging down the banks and the restructuring of the auto industry.

The real problem we face in turning this economy around is that the natural response for most people is to be very cautious, to hunker down and save money. But the economy needs us to continue to consume — not at the ridiculous rates we were buying houses and cars and stuff during the bubble, but at a more reasonable, moderate rate. But as our guests pointed out, until people feel a bit more secure that they're job isn't the next one on the chopping block, they're going to keep their wallets closed.

In any case, it was fun parachuting into a show with such a great staff. They had the scripts in order, briefed me quickly on the subjects I had to deal with this morning and fed me great questions. Big props for the TMM staff, it was a pleasure.

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