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Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009 06:25 am

How’s our economy doing?

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The Forbes Garbage Index indicates that restaurants are doing better again.
PHOTO BY JILL TOYOSHIBA/MCT

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?

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, as more garbage indicates more customers, says Forbes’ analysts. They 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 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 tony 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 are into wine speculation, but what about ordinary folks who buy wine to, you know ... drink? A good measure of their status might be whether the buyers of “Two Buck Chuck” have moved up to some of the five-dollar wines.

But we don’t need to read Forbes to see how the tippity-top of the wealthiest of the wealthy are doing. Forbes should look at another economic indicator, like the Neiman Marcus 2009 Christmas Book!

For example, what’s better than a good meal and good conversation with friends to warm the cockles of your heart? Well, Neiman’s has it all arranged for you and a guest of your choice at the famed Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Not only will you be served gourmet delights, but you’ll be seated at the historic Algonquin Round Table with eight erudite and witty sparklies, including Nora Ephron, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and George Stephanopoulos. How wonderful is that? And the entire evening is yours for only $200,000. Thanks, Neiman Marcus!

If that seems a bit pricey for a one-night experience, flip the catalogue’s pages to the “Jaguar XJL Supercharged Neiman Marcus.” Yes, the luxury carmaker has created a special vehicle exclusively for you catalogue shoppers. Only 50 will be made, so you’d better call now. The price, if you must ask, is $105,000 ­­— but this includes a five-piece set of matching Jaguar luggage. Isn’t that fun?

But maybe you’re one of those green shoppers. If so, here’s an item that’ll take your breath away: a five-foot long chandelier made of ­­— get this ­­— the bottoms of plastic soda bottles! A British artist scrounged 366 bottles from a landfill to make this masterpiece, which can be yours for $12,000. And think of the righteous glow you’ll get every time you flip the switch, knowing that you rescued 366 bottles from a landfill. Priceless.

This holiday season, the Forbes indicators and the Neiman Marcus 2009 Christmas Book may be fun, but they’re 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.

As unemployment soars past 10 percent, and future employment opportunities continue to look bleak for many Americans, we need a measurement of how Doug and Darlene are doing. For Doug and Darlene, and the rest of us working stiffs, a good Christmas gift would be to see a real economic recovery.

In the meantime, maybe they’ll be buying you a $5 bottle of wine instead of Two Buck Chuck ... if they can afford to buy you a gift at all.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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