The latest monthly Conference Board survey indicates a decline in consumer confidence during July, and some economists wouldn't be at all unhappy if it fell further in August.
To some folks, such views might sound almost unpatriotic, accustomed as they've been to hearing nothing but praise for the bounty bestowed by this year's economy, and prayers for its continuance.As the worry warts view the economy, however, you can have too much of a good thing before it begins to lose its luster, sort of like a beautiful spell of gorgeous weather that evolves into a drought.
Already, they see signs of erosion, such as the report showing household savings as a percentage of after-tax income fell to an all-time low of 0.6 percent in the year's second three months.
The opposite of saving is spending, of course, and Americans during that period spent almost all their take-home pay, in spite of a slowdown in the economy and the beginning of doubts about the future.
Oddly, one of the biggest developing doubts concerns future job prospects, even as companies vie for workers with information and computer skills, and retailers post signs in their windows for part-time help.
Declining optimism about jobs hardly coincides with spending increases and savings declines, but consumers in the past have been instinctive about other things. Maybe they sense something.
Strange as it might seem, an economy has within itself the seeds of its own denouement. With unemployment falling toward only 4 percent, there are indications of wage pressures beginning to build.
In the past, upward pressure on wages has generally been viewed as the precursor of upward pressure on prices. You don't have to await the affirmation of official statistics - the help-wanted ads attest to it.
Generally, with a shortage of help comes a decline in the rate of productivity growth. Stated more simply, as wages rise and work-force quality erodes, production costs rise, and price rises could follow.
Any such deterioration is less visible than the effect of job pressures, but don't be surprised if the official statistics, scheduled for release Aug. 11, don't show a decline in productivity growth.
None of this is foreordained and, in fact, a segment of the economic forecasting fraternity believes the possibilities of deflation are just as likely. Still, it's evidence of an economy losing equilibrium.
Since inflation seems to remain the bigger danger to those in a position to do something about it, most importantly Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, a confidence decline might ease price pressure.
In that sense, the appearance of a frown on the confidence index is not the worst news to confront the expansion. It can, as the Fed has indicated, forestall more painful action, such as higher interest rates.
Still, you can't be certain about what consumers might do or think in their search for the better things in life. After declining in January, the monthly index has alternated between pluses and minuses.
Were that string to be maintained, August would be a plus month.