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By Dave Whitney
Guest Columnist

IS YOUR SQUARE GETTING LARGER
OR SMALLER?

Much of my writing over the years has been related to economics and economic conditions. When people ask me what I do I often tell them I am a “theoretical economist.”

Just what is that they ask? My reply: “I study economic trends and try to augur from them some vision of what we might expect to face in the future.”

An example is an annual study I undertook for several years when I owned a newspaper in the Florida Keys. I had a friend who owned a shipping store. During the holiday season – Black Friday following Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve – we would keep track of how much packaging tape he was using. If he used less than the year before it was going to be a slower retail season. If he used more it might be a banner year.

We found the correlation between the amount of tape he used to pack things holiday shoppers wanted to ship very close to what the final retail figures would show each year.

SIMPLE ECONOMIC INDICATORS

There are many such informal economic indicators in our everyday lives.

Take for instance the Carter Days in Washington when interest rates and inflation got out of hand. During that period I watched the average amount of individual living space begin to shrink in the U.S. – down from something under 1,000 square feet to something around 750 square feet.

It was a good indicator of the first real decline in our standard of living in this country since the Great Depression.

Of course, Ronald Reagan followed Carter to Washington and, although he made us love it, taught us how to spend our way out of the decline turning the U.S. from a creditor nation into a debtor nation in the process.

Today many salute Reagan as a great hero of our times, but his legacy may be our final undoing – replacing credit with debt, or, in other words, spending our way to prosperity.

Presidents since Reagan, Republican as well as Democrat, have made the extravagance of the Reagan years seem like pauper’s play. The result has been the crisis in our financial system, the collapse of our housing markets, and the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.

It has been dubbed the “Great Recession.”


SLIDING DOWNWARDS

I haven’t really looked at the average living space figures lately. In fact, I’ve forgotten where I found them years ago. But, my best guess is that they are shrinking again and along with them our standard of living is sliding downwards.

Instead I’ve fallen back on what I call TP Economics and from that can extract a pretty clear trend of economic shrinkage that does not have any indication of going in any direction but downward.

TP stands for Toilet Paper or toilet tissue I suppose in a more politically correct verbiage.

I was a child of the Great Depression and grew up in a rural area where outhouses were quite common. Corncobs often were substituted for toilet paper when toilet paper, if you could get it, was a real rarity.

Sears, Montgomery-Ward, and other catalogs were in great demand and often found stacked in the outhouse.

When you visited the city, one of the greatest prizes you could bring home was one of the thick city phone books. It was added to the stack of old catalogs in the outhouse. Local phones books were so thin in those days they would not last a week as toilet tissue.

As we got indoor plumbing we converted to toilet paper – “musical rolls” as my grandfather used to call them – because catalog pages would have quickly stopped up the plumbing.
They were not the soft double-ply rolls of today, but rather rough single ply often with traces of the wood pulp from which they were made still in them.

When I got in the Army and we went on bivouac, our daily allowance of C-rations contained either four or eight squares of toilet paper for use in the outdoors. Many a young soldier had pages missing from his pocket Bible or diary in those days.

And, then prosperity hit the country and we arrived in the double-ply, double soft world of modern toilet tissue. Square after square of toilet paper – each square pushing five inches a side – in long continuous rolls.

But have you taken a look at the size of a square of your latest roll of toilet paper lately? If not you may be in for a surprise.

Many rolls of toilet paper have been reduced in both length and size. Many have shrunk the size of a square of toilet tissue to as little as 3.5x3.5 inches, only about three-quarters the size it was before the Great Recession descended upon us. And, the price remains the same per roll as before, if not a little bit higher.

To me it’s a clear indicator that our standard of living is declining once again.

Copyright © 2010 —Dave Whitney

###

Dave Whitney is a retired journalist and adventurer who has won many writing awards. He was born and raised in central Ohio, attended school in Missouri, served in the US Army Security Agency, and migrated to Florida a half century ago. Author of four books, he is a former Associated Press writer/editor and has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize during his writing career. As editor and founder of the Free Press newspapers in the Florida Keys he was the first publisher to pick up Frank Kaiser's "Suddenly Senior" column when it entered syndication. Whitney currently resides in Lakeland, Fla., after living 25 years in the Florida Keys. Write him at davewhitney@suddenlysenior.com

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