September 8, 2009

If you want evidence that our economy may be on the way to recovery, forget about car sales and new home starts and all that stuff — and instead look at men’s underpants. If they don’t have holes in them, good times may be coming soon.

That’s the premise of an interesting theory proffered — at least half seriously — in a recent article in the Washington Post by writer Ylan Q. Mui. “Here’s the theory, briefly,” she writes. “Sales of men’s underwear typically are stable because they rank as a necessity. But during times of severe financial strain, men will try to stretch the time between buying new pairs, causing underwear sales to dip.”

Florida Republican Rep. Trey Radel, the freshman lawmaker who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession last year and then briefly entered rehab, announced his resignation from Congress on Monday. Radel's formal resignation letter didn't mention his guilty plea to cocaine possession in November, but said his "struggles" made it impossible to serve effectively, despite dealing with "those issues on a personal level." Letters to House Speaker John Boehner and Florida Gov. Rick Scott said his resignation would take effect at 6:30 p.m. on Monday. "Regardless of some personal struggles in 2013, this year has already been tremendously positive as I focus on my health, family and faith," Radel wrote. "Unfortunately, some of my struggles had serious consequences. While I have dealt with those issues on a personal level, it is my belief that professionally I cannot fully and effectively serve as a United States Representative to the place I love and call home, Southwest Florida." Radel was caught purchasing $250 of cocaine from an undercover police officer in October, and claimed he was using the drug to help treat his alcoholism.After completing rehab in December, Radel initially vowed he would not step aside, despite resignation calls from fellow Republicans, including Scott. See more excerpts from Radel's resignation letter below. I hereby submit this letter of resignation as the Representative of the 19th District of Florida, effective 6:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, January 27, 2014. On a personal note, Mr. Speaker, to you and our colleagues from both parties, I thank you. Thank you for the tremendous support and encouragement. Oftentimes in Congress, our personal relationships and successes are overshadowed by intense but meaningful and necessary debate. However, I leave the House of Representatives with friendships and memories of great men and women dedicated to helping and improving the lives of our fellow Americans. As an eternal optimist, I know there are great things in store for our country when we find ways to work together. Whether it is as a father, a husband, or in any future endeavor, I hope to contribute what I can to better our country in the years to come."
Florida Republican Representative Trey Radel, who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession last year, said Monday that he's decided to step down, explaining in a letter his "struggles" make it impossible to serve

But now there’s evidence, Mui notes, that the great underwear sales slump may be beginning to ease: Sales are up at Target and Sears, and the consumer researchers at NPD Group are predicting a much slower decline next year than we’re seeing this year. “As with many economic indicators, a slowing of a decline can be welcomed as a step in the right direction,” she adds. (Well, technically speaking, it’s still a step in the wrong direction, albeit a smaller one.)

There’s an appealing logic to the underpants theory, but the track record of these sorts of whimsical economic indicators is mixed, at best. Remember the Lipstick Index? This was the notion, set forth by the chairman of Estee Lauder back in the dogs days of 2001, that lipstick sales would actually go up in a recession, as women who couldn’t afford Manolo Blahniks tried to pamper themselves with cheaper indulgences.

Unfortunately for Estee Lauder, that hasn’t happened in this recession, with sales of lipstick down 8 percent over the past year, as Mui points out. Indeed, as The Economist noted earlier this year, a look at what data we have on the subject suggests that lipstick sales bounce up and down seemingly independently of what’s going on in the economy.

Then there is the Hot Waitress Economic Index, recently put forth by New York magazine writer Hugo Lindgren. As he explained the notion: “The hotter the waitresses, the weaker the economy. In flush times, there is a robust market for hotness. Selling everything from condos to premium vodka is enhanced by proximity to pretty young people (of both sexes) …. That leaves more-punishing work, like waiting tables, to those with less striking genetic gifts. But not anymore. A waitress at one Lower East Side club described to me what happened there: ‘They slowly let the boys go, then the less attractive girls, and then these hot girls appeared out of nowhere. All in the hope of bringing in more business.'”

So how’s that indicator at the moment? Lindgren noted that he’d recently been served by a waitress “who looked like Winona Ryder in her Heathers heyday.” That’s bad, bad news.

On the other hand, I’m thinking about buying some new underwear. So maybe there’s some hope for this economy yet.

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