I think people are willing to help others when things are going good, but when times get tough they collapse within themselves and start to look out only for themselves or their immediate family. It's ok to support social programs or disaster relief when money flows freely, but when the spigot turns off you start to regroup and dig your heels in.
I have recently been more personally privy to the side of this economic downturn most affecting unemployment and welfare recipients. There seems to be a very prominent attitude of disgust toward the rich, anger toward the government, and helplessness. My husband, who is a solo-attorney, has been contacted an uncountable number of times from potential clients seeking things like "free counsel" on how to make "work-related" injuries seem worse so that benefits will be further extended. I have also been wrongly accused of "not having to worry" because my husband is a lawyer, so we "must be rich."
Most of the country is blissfully unaware of the fact that financial difficulty is hitting nearly everyone, and does not exclude the independent professionals who are likely still paying back exorbitant educational loans (doctors, dentists, etc).
I think America was in a position of spoiled-brattism (if you'll permit the term) in many ways, just before this economic crisis hit. We are no where near the crisis levels of the Great Depression, yet our media and society would have us think this is exactly where are at or are headed. Unfortunately, the America of 1929 was much more prepared to handle it. Families and communities were stronger, the church was stronger (as a social welfare outlet, even), and people generally expected less.
For many people, this has been a forced opportunity to change our perspective about "wants" vs. "needs." I'm not sure, however, that the idea is catching on completely.
As others have said the current economy in the United States has forced many of us to face decisions on what are truly needs and what are simply "wants". I have seen this have an impact on our children in that what they used to simply take for granted that we would purchase for them, they are now talking about is this something they really need right now.
On a personal note, like bullgatortail, my own views have changed given the state of the world financially. In the past, I have had no problem spending money on things I simply did not need. Now, with children and the state of the financial world, my views have changed dramatically. I do not shop at the name-brand stores, I take my lunch to work, and I shop a lot on the Internet.
Given that this new attitude has been fueled by my own financial stresses, I simply cannot look at the world in the same way.
One of the very positive benefits of being "compromised" economically is that as consumerism diminishes, often appreciation of the true values of life emerge. Time and time again, sharied memories of friends always point to their happiest Christmas season as the one in which they had very little. For, they made things for their loved ones, or--better yet--they performed acts of kindness for them. For example, children do the household chores so their mother can be "Queen for a Day." Inevitably, the family is drawn together when members assist one another and display their love through little acts of unselfishness.
Certainly, the points of Post #1 are valid; again, the emphasis is on true values: the work ethic, integrity, and a sense of community.
On a more personal note, my wife and I have made many financial cutbacks during the recent national economic downturn. Shopping for unnecessary items have been reduced, as have excessive travel and vacations. We eat out at restaurants more rarely, and we have put a hold on our collecting hobbies. It's hard to save a dollar without making such cutbacks, but we both are hopeful that good times will return again.
There can be many answers to this question, depending on the person and the way in which they experience "the economy."
For example, people in a country that is industrializing may have their values and attitudes changed by the demands of industrial work. They might have valued family and social relations above all in their pre-industrial society. As their economy industrializes, though, they have to stop thinking in this way and start to value things like being on time and going to work every day. They can no longer simply go to a feast for a few days so as to cement social relationships. Now, they must go to work no matter what that does to those relationships. This is a major change in values and attitudes.
Another example could be of people in a rich world economy like the US in which the economy is currently having problems. These people's attitudes may change as the economic situation continues to be bad. They might turn more toward religion to ease their worries over the state of the economy. Alternatively, they may seek scapegoats to blame for their problems, turning on others who are "not like us." This sort of change in attitudes can weaken a democratic society.
So, the answer to this question depends very much upon the situation in which people are being impacted by the economy.