Most economists, media outlets, and politicos judge economic performance by such statistical indicators as the Dow Jones Average. Aren’t there better indicators than stock prices?
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Forbes.com has found several that it says could be more accurate – such as the size of restaurant garbage piles. The bigger the pile the better, for more garbage indicates more customers, says Forbes’ analysts, who report that things are picking up from last year’s severe downturn, with garbage now amassing to the telltale point that “this summer it was stinky again.”
I think Forbes is onto something by using sociological observations to determine economic well-being, but its love-the-rich bias causes it to overlook even more telling indicators of how things are going for the un-rich. For example, its “stinky index” would’ve been enhanced by a count of the number of people rummaging through those garbage bins to find something to eat.
Forbes also put a lot of stock in the autumn sale of wines at Christie’s, the toney auction house. Wine bidders, reports a Christie’s official, are often speculators looking to buy low and sell high. At this year’s autumn wine auction, sales nearly doubled last year’s low volume – a clear sign of an improving economy, Forbes tells us. Well, maybe for the swells who’re into wine speculation, but what about ordinary folks who buy wine to, you know… drink? A good measure of their status might be in whether the buyers of “Two Buck Chuck” have moved up to some of the five-dollar wines.
The Forbes indicators are fun, but like the Dow Jones Average, they miss the economic realities experienced by the workaday American majority. That’s why I think we need a Doug Jones Average. Yeah, an index to tell us how Doug and Darlene are doing. Now that’d be economic information worth knowing.
“Uncommonly Cleaver Economic Indicators,” www.forbes.com, September 18, 2009.