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Editor’s note: Listening to our economic conscience

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When I was growing up, I learned there were two ways to look at the world.

My mom was the optimist. She looked on the bright side.

My dad, just the opposite.

I probably lean toward my mom in outlook, if only to keep my fatalism at bay.

Which probably explains why I feel so unsettled about all the economic news of late.

Just when I was beginning to feel good about where we are, come plenty of reasons why caution seems to be warranted.

Gas prices are high. Wage increases are low. And the pace of hiring is still too slow.

The headlines continue to hint of possible troubles ahead. A nationwide strike in Greece last week illustrated once again the fragility of the global economy, while here at home, a Labor Department report found prices on many consumer goods going up.

Not surprisingly, we are spending less. Car sales have slowed — no doubt the earthquake in Japan played a role — and appliances, flat-screen televisions and other big-ticket items are all sitting on shelves longer.

For a while, it appeared the Washington area’s nexus to the federal government was insulating us from the pain felt elsewhere. But Uncle Sam is growing stingier these days, as folks grow weary of stimulus and government spending.

Collectively we are turning cautious.

The optimist in me says this is not altogether a bad thing. The good times earlier this year didn’t really seem as good as the stock market suggested. Best not to get ahead of ourselves and sidetrack a slow but steady recovery.

Only, that can be tough medicine. I much prefer watching my 401(k) balance grow, and seeing my neighbors pull into their driveways in spiffy new cars. I’d rather see commuter- clogged streets than what I witnessed on a recent trip to the Midwest: unemployed men standing aimlessly on street corners.

But I tell myself if we learned anything from the recent downturn, it is that we should always listen to our economic conscience. If something seems too good to be true it probably is. Be patient, keep working hard and hold on to your wallet, my inner voice says.

Now is that my mom or my dad talking?

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