Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Signs of bad economic news all over the place: a cranky analysis of indicators you may have missed

Let the economists look at inflation and consumer price indices. Let the Fed look at interest rates. Let market researchers look at focus groups and consumer confidence measurements.

Me, when I want to see how the economy is really doing, I look in my SPAM box. Currently, it reeks of economic desperation. For example...

Restaurants hungrier than you are

“Winter Restaurant Week Extended,” says an e-mail from Capsuto Freres, an upscale French restaurant down in the TriBeCa section of Manhattan that’s pretty good, but that has evidently run into a shortage of well-heeled customers.

Well, New York’s Restaurant Week was designed to let the hoi palloi sample the blessing of haute cuisine and sure enough, a check at the New York boosting website indicates that desperate upscale restaurants are more starved than their customers.

Capsuto Freres goes further. Four days before Valentine’s Day, they still had tables available according to their e-mail. Oh, and although restaurants make the lion’s share of their profits from the bar, Capsuto is encouraging you to BYOB of wine on Tuesday nights. “No corkage fee.” Sheesh!

Marketing strategists in

strategic and financial disarray

I also find interesting economic barometers in obscure trade newspapers. I know you never heard of it, but trust me, the SuperComm telecommunications trade show used to be big. Now, according to BtoB, “The Magazine For Marketing Strategists,” "Supercom has been called off."

Among the reasons were “dwindling attendance and poor financial projections,” says the report. On top of that, the show's organizers began acting like Republicans, “plagued by competing strategic visions and branding.” Well, come to think of it, that’s also like Democrats these days. There’s a lesson in there for politicians and voters.

As the post office goes, so goes the nation

I’m sad to report that the same issue of BtoB bemoans another loud sucking sound coming from the USPS. Neither snow nor rain nor anything else can stop those poor bastards from losing money. Despite rising postal rates, BtoB says they "posted operating revenue of $18.4 billion for their first fiscal quarter ended December 31, down from $19.1 billion in the year-earlier period.

"The USPS continues to struggle with the slumping economy and falling mail volume, as individuals and businesses shift to electronic forms of communication," BtoB adds.

Well of course. As postal rates grow more and more outrageous, even while service shrivels away, distances between mailboxes grow more distant, and mail delivery more infrequent, people look for something cheaper, faster and more convenient. Voila, e-mail!

So to make up the losses, the USPS will raise prices more, reduce service more, and drive more business away. Eventually we’ll have no USPS at all.

But I don’t entirely blame the post office. When the United States was founded, the Post Office Department was a fully-subsidized branch of government, like the State Department. Then some free enterprise idiots (guess which party, mostly?) decided having a free enterprise post office is more important than being able to mail a letter. Very few nations have barely functioning or no post offices, but if you’re looking for some you might start with Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and some areas of Afghanistan. Oh yes, and coming next, that newest of Third World countries, The United States.

You too can be a college grad

earning sub-minimum wages

“Need Writers at $1 per 400 words!” announces a bold headline on That comes to a 1/4th of a penny a word. (During the Great Depression, starving writers were grinding out stories for pulp magazines at two cents a word.)

Not only that, but your stuff had better be plagiarism-free (because they check your copy on copyscape.) And also, it had better have “no grammer errors,” says the spelling-challenged advertiser. You can try out for the job by writing, for free, 100-150 words on "Benefits of Weight Loss Over 40".

After you send it in, run for the bread line. I have a funny feeling it’s getting longer.

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