Host Kai Ryssdal heads out on a shopping trip to help uncover problems with the consumer economy as we know it today. - 

The consumer economy -- a pesky little critter. 

Consumer spending in the U.S. has jumped from 61 percent of GDP in 1960 to around 71 percent today. During that time, debt levels rocketed to new heights to help keep that engine running.

Oh, and a few years back there was that little thing we affectionately call "the financial crisis." Conventional economic wisdom keeps telling us: To get back to where we were, we need to spend, spend, spend.

 Can we afford the consumer economy? Marketplace explores how we consume, what we get from it, what it costs and whether we can keep it up. 

Explore the whole series and play the game.


Here at Marketplace, we churn out figures daily to let us know how our spending (read: the economy) is doing -- the Consumer Price Index, auto sales, new home starts... All we need to get back to normal, they tell us, is for spending to get back to normal.

We can't help but ask: Really? Didn't that turn out not so well the last time? 

We'll look at all the pieces of the consumer economy puzzle: from businesses that obsess with bumping up share prices; to workers trying to  live their lives on part-time hours, to parents who feel that urge to buy their kid an iPad so his classmates don't leave him in the dust.

All week, we also want to hear from YOU, the consumer. Why do you make the spending choices you make? Do you always want more? How much is enough?

Get ready to be CONSUMED. Stay tuned. 

 Help us launch be answering a simple question: What's worth spending more on?

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