Welcome to the Frozen Economy

Not since the Depression have financial difficulties so immobilized spending and credit. Listen to the talk at a diner in Maine

The polar ice cap may be melting, but the U.S. economy is frozen, starting right here in my small town. Gradually rising levels of dismay at the gas pump and in the supermarket gave way to paralytic shock last week when "lock-in" notices from the local fuel company arrived. This year's advance price for home heating oil is nearly twice what people paid last year. A collective gasp of disbelief from my tough, resourceful Maine neighbors echoed across the meadows and up the rocky coast. Many claimed they would never sign the contract. "What's your alternative?" I asked a friend.

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