Is Christmas consumerism the answer?
Those economists who have not found the wildly optimistic stock market to be signal enough for the end of the recession are now waiting to see how the Christmas trade goes.
We're here to report that the goodies are on the shelf, and everything is being done to convince Americans that it becomes practically their patriotic duty to go on a buying spree for the next five weeks.
As our contribution to this program of gifting-our-way out of the recession, we've jotted down a number of items that all of us may want to purchase in order to register on Dec. 25 the strongest possible vote of confidence in the coming prosperity.
To count down to the boom ahead, what could be more appropriate than a watch? May we suggest the platinum Rolex, ticking for $27,000 at your neighborhood jeweler's?
You can write your check for that gift while testing a $6,000 solid gold Montblanc fountain pen from an adjacent counter for another friend's little Christmas surprise.
If your friends already have platinum watches and gold fountain pens, the recession - which you're certainly doing your best to end - may have hit them in the wheels. Anybody you pretend to call a friend ought not to have to putt around, with a Rolex on the wrist and a Montblanc clipped to the pocket, in a 1969 jalopy with a backfiring muffler and shock absorbers that ride like a rogue camel. Not while you're there, priming the pump. If your friend's a bit of a Spartan, willing to rough it, the automobile market offers a stripped-down, bare-basics Dusenberg for $101,000. Not the ultimate perhaps, but certainly an improvement on your friend's old heap, we'll just bet.
Now that you've checked your best friends off the shopping list, you can get down to family. For a stocking stuffer on Christmas morning, what could be more agreeable to a spouse than a Texas ranch? The Robb Report - the magazine for the man who doesn't have quite everything but is working on it - notes that the Southern Cross Ranch, not too far from Dallas, is on the market for not too far from $2 million. If your spouse happens to be a ''discriminating individual who has the desire to possess that which others can only dream of,'' a nice little Aegean island is also listed. No price given, but the color snapshot ought to sell itself.
The subject of ''His and Her'' gifts brings a shopper, of course, to Neiman-Marcus. Who can forget the ''His and Her'' buffaloes of Christmas 1976 or the ''His and Her'' dirigibles of 1979. What prosperity-indicators they were!
We're just a little disappointed in the ''His and Her'' gifts for 1982 - a $ 20,000 exercise bike, fitted up with radio and television and a device known as ''Laser Tour.'' While you pedal, a road unrolls before you on the screen. But how many times, we ask, would you want to cycle through southern California canyons or ''elegant Beverly Hills'' or even the ''multi-segment fantasy tour''? It could drive you back to counting cobwebs on the basement ceiling.
Physical-fitness gifts are certainly ''in'' this Christmas. If you can't afford a ''Laser Tour,'' Abercrombie & Fitch has a budget exercise bike for $4, 000, boasting a gadget that counts the calories burned as you huff and puff.
After the huffing and puffing is over - on the ''Laser Tour'' bike or the Sportech electric treadmill ($1,995) or whatever - Kohler suggests post-exercise comforts, ranging from the ''Infinity Bath Whirlpool'' ($4,000) to ''Environment ,'' a steam bath, sauna, and solarium combination that will sweat $21,000 out of any gift-giver.
With all this treasure around the house, your friends may feel - unless they're on the Aegean island - that they need ''Janus,'' a four-foot robot who not only vacuums but answers the door to greet guests while repelling ''intruders'' and detecting smoke on the side. How Janus discriminates between guests and intruders is never explained. You'll just have to pay your $7,995 to Hammacher Schlemmer and find out for yourself.
If you have doubts about Janus, you can always give as your final gift a ''Golden Gun,'' a 24-karat Colt that will hold you up to the tune of $10,000. But are guns really full of peace-on-earth? For that matter, is all this super-consumerism in the Christmas spirit?
The ironies of the commercial Christmas are wearing thin.
Even that Victorian sentimentalist Tiny Tim knows there has to be a better way to celebrate Christmas.
Even that 19th-century economist Scrooge knows there has to be a better way to end a recession.
As for us, when will we finally acknowledge that those two questions are not unrelated?