Of course, I hold Wal-Mart completely responsible for the tragic death of an employee who was trampled to death by a line of 200 people who were waiting for the store to open the doors so they could get the early bird specials. They know what kind of crowds show up, and in fact, they go out of their way to advertise their specials in a way to encourage out-of-control behavior.

But I can't help but point out that this death is an ominous sign of the times. We're all hearing the reports---travel's down, spending's down(my extended family isn't coming to Texas for Christmas this year, for instance)---because people are finding that their money doesn't go very far, and there's concerns about job security. Are people especially desperate to buy gifts that are drastically marked down, so that Christmas isn't all socks and polo shirts? I can't blame people for wanting to avoid that. The pill Americans need to swallow appears to be bigger and more bitter than we imagined.