|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Pre-dawn pandemonium and violence erupted at two Mays Landing stores as thousands of shoppers eager for Black Friday sales overwhelmed retailers and police.
Customers trampled, shoved and assaulted fellow shoppers and even fought police in "their race to be the first in line" for discounted electronics at Circuit City and Wal-Mart on the Black Horse Pike, said Police Chief Jay McKeen.
Trouble began shortly before 6 a.m. at Circuit City when employees handed out pamphlets to shoppers at the front of a line of about 1,500 people. Customers further back, mistakenly thinking vouchers for limited-supply items were being distributed, rushed to the front.
"The lemming-like action of the entire crowd resulted in injuries to several shoppers who were pushed to the ground and trampled, or crushed against the doors at the front of the store," McKeen said.
Two women were hospitalized for rib and other injuries. At least three other shoppers suffered minor injuries.
A half-hour later, some 1,000 shoppers began forcing their way past employees, security workers and police at Wal-Mart when doors opened.
In Orlando, security guards at a Wal-Mart wrestled a man to the ground after he cut in line to get a discounted laptop computer, according to WFTV-TV crews who captured the brawl on videotape that was broadcast nationally. An elderly woman was trampled by shoppers at a Sunrise outlet mall; she wasn't seriously hurt.
At Sawgrass Mills outlet mall in Sunrise, Josephine Hoffman, 73, was trampled at the entrance to an electronics store as a crowd rushed the metal security gate.
"I was trying to get out of the way, but they knocked me down. I hit my head on the floor and people stepped on me. I don't understand why people do these things," the Coconut Creek resident told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as she rested on a box at the BrandsMart USA.
Erik Turk, 38, left the Grandville store in an ambulance -- but with a $400 laptop computer. Deja McHerron, 13, shopping at the Cascade Township store, wasn't so lucky. She only got a trip to the hospital.
They were among a dozen or so people trampled at local Wal-Mart stores as shoppers rushed through the doors at 5 a.m. Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. They fell like dominoes, with other shoppers going over and around the downed individuals to get to the merchandise they sought.
The bargains were so good at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which offered better deals than last year, that things got out of hand. In Cascade Township, east of Grand Rapids, Mich., a woman fell as dozens of people rushed into a store for the 5 a.m. opening. Several stepped on her, and a few became entangled as a man pushed them to the ground to keep them away.
By the time the rush ended, the woman and a 13-year-old girl had suffered minor injuries.
Sergeant Paul Cline with the Renton, Washington Police Department said, "People pushing and shoving and starting fights. That’s something that we really ant to avoid. People are getting a little out of control wanting to get the best buys to the counter."
"We have a very accident-prone economy," Mr. Kasriel said. "We have the most highly leveraged economy in the postwar period, and the Fed is increasing rates. In the past 30 years or so, whenever the Fed has raised interest rates, we've quite frequently had financial accidents."
Much has been written about the deeply indebted consumer, of course, and even more about the bubble in real estate. But Mr. Kasriel is especially persuasive because of the data he presents to support his gloomy view.
If a financial blowup occurred, the unhappy fact is that few consumers would be able to walk away unscathed. After all, over most of the last five years, American households have spent more than they earned. In contrast, for almost 30 years beginning in 1970, the opposite was true: households earned more than they spent.
Here's a stunning figure: In the third quarter of 2005, Mr. Kasriel calculates, households spent a record $531 billion more than their after-tax earnings, on an annualized basis.
These nonstop shoppers have propelled consumer spending to a record high as a share of gross domestic product - 76 percent in the third quarter, Mr. Kasriel said, up from 73 percent in 2000.
Real trouble could begin, Mr. Kasriel fears, with a decline in property values, the assets backing the enormous debt of consumers and banks alike.