Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vacation Rate and Consumer Confidence

“Hey, Jimmy! You wanted to see me?” Jimmy no longer worked in the auto industry, so I wasn’t sure why he had invited me over to his new office along the docks, but he seemed more relaxed and content than I’d ever seen him.

“Hey, Rick, thanks for coming over. Have a seat. You’re looking good. This is the life, huh?”

“Well, I’ve been having a nice, relaxing summer — is that what you mean?”

“Exactly! No more calling all the car dealers on the phone to get them to promise something you know they can’t deliver, no more walking over to the factories, and — what was that you were always trying to tell me about the factories?”

“Um — that you had too many of them, and they would drive the company into bankruptcy?”

“Well, yeah, and —?”

“Uh, you ran the assembly lines too fast, and the pace of movement clashed with the natural rhythms of the human mind, body, and spirit, leading to angry confrontations, repetitive stress injuries, and bad morale.”

“And you were completely right about that! I mean, look, we’ve gotten another 100,000 people out of those factories, and now the whole town feels so much better. I mean, look, I have time to sit on the dock and catch fish, and you’re obviously in better shape than you were when you were working all the time.”

“Well, yeah, but — a lot of people are out of work — I mean, I’m not working so —”

“Oh, yeah, eventually you have to work on something, but still, it feels good to be out of there. I mean, what’s that big hit song of yours?”

“Hit song?” I paused for a second. “How did you hear about that?”

“I have time to get on the Internet now, and listen to music. That’s what I’m talking about!”

“Oh, yeah, of course. I think the song you’re referring to is ‘Quit Your Day Job,’ with the famous line, ‘Log out, shut down, stand up.’”

“Yeah, and then you got everyone in town into the arena to chant, ‘Q-U-I-T Quit.’ How did you do that?”

“That’s just me and my dog, amplified to sound like an arena full of people. But if I ever get popular enough to play arenas I’m sure everyone will be chanting along just like that.”

“And they’ll all be smiling too, and you know why? Because the idea of quitting your job just feels good. Why do you think consumer confidence is up so much this month?”

“Because one of the questions in the survey is, ‘Do you think this is a good time to make a major purchase, like a car?’ and everyone who just bought a car in the Cash for Clunkers program is answering, ‘Hell yeah! One last time!’”

“Oh, well, yeah, there’s that, but consumer confidence has been going up for months — because more and more people are losing their jobs. And it feels good, especially right now — people get to relax and enjoy the summer. I mean, admit it — do you really wish you were back working for the Emergency Inventory Reduction Task Force again? Like, this afternoon? I hear they’re boosting production again, so by around December or January —”

“Sitting in a hot abandoned dealership with a desk and a phone and a list of phone calls a mile long? That was terrible!”

“Exactly! And with more and more people not working, consumers will be feeling better and better!”

“Hmmm. I see what you’re saying.”

“You’re an economist. Why can’t you come up with a more positive-sounding term for ‘unemployment rate’? When you put it that way, it sounds like something people should worry about — like they should interrupt their vacations to go worry about not having a job.”

“Well, I suppose we could call it the ‘vacation rate.’ Then, when we have the headline that says, ‘White House projects higher vacation rate,’ it will be easier for people to feel good about it.”

“Oh, well, I didn’t mean to put you to work here. — I have another fishing rod, if you want to try to catch something.”

“No, thanks. I’m not so good at anything that’s based on sharp points and edges. — Maybe I’ll just write another song. How does this sound: ‘Sittin’ on the dock of the river’? — no, that’s not quite right.”


“Well, how about this then: ‘I hope I never see another car for the rest of my life’?”

“Now you’re talkin’.”