Sunday, August 29, 2010

American Malaise

Here's an interesting factoid from Daniel Gross in an article in Slate magazine:
Air departures from the United States to Europe were down 6.2 percent in 2008, 4.2 percent in 2009, and were off another 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2010. Should that decline hold up, 2010 would see U.S. visits to Europe down 17 percent from 2007 levels.

This is clearly bad news for souvenir hawkers, street performers, and the proprietors of the few brasseries that soldier on through Paris' August doldrums. And it's a sign of the malaise and fear that have gripped consumers since the onset of the great recession of 2008-09. Trends in foreign tourism are pretty good coincident signs of a nation's economic confidence. When you and your neighbors are feeling flush and optimistic and your currency has some swagger, you're much more likely to plot an ambitious foreign jaunt. Given the slowdown in growth, the punk jobs and housing markets, and the generalized fear of the future, splurging is out—up and down the income scale. For some, last year's private jet to Lake Como has been replaced by an SUV ride to Lake Michigan. Many Americans are rediscovering the charms of their backyards.
But he finds a silver lining in that threatening economic cloud:
And in the first half of 2010, when foreign tourism spending in the United States was $65 billion, up 7 percent from the year before, tourism generated a $14 billion trade surplus for America, up 29 percent from the figure for the first half of 2009.
I guess that's the "growth industry" of the future for the US: pandering to tourists come to see the threadworn glory of Imperial America in its decline.

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