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WaPo Jumps On "Underwear As Economic Indicator" Beat

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The Washington Post has some good news for everyone during these recessionary times: your recovery may be jobless, but more and more, people are buying underwear.

Prosperity is just around the corner!

The growth in sales of men's underwear began to slow last year as the recession took hold, according to Mintel, another research firm. This year, Mintel expects sales to fall 2.3 percent, the first drop since the company started collecting data in 2003.

But the men's underwear index -- or, conveniently, MUI -- may also have a silver lining. Mintel predicts that next year, men's underwear sales will fall by 0.5 percent, and as with many economic indicators, a slowing of a decline can be welcomed as a step in the right direction.

Just what in the world is this report even talking about? Well, it's all complicated economic theory, naturally. I'll try to be brief:

As chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan was known for using quirky, proletariat metrics to judge the temperature of the economy. The most famous of these, as recounted by NPR's Robert Krulwich in January 2008, were the sales of men's underwear. If the economic scales dipped even the slightest, Greenspan reasoned, it was as sure a sign as any that people were truly feeling the pinch.

"If you look at sales of male underpants it's just pretty much a flat line, it hardly ever changes," Krulwich recounted after the publishing of Greenspan's book, "The Age Of Turbulence." "But on those few occasions where it dips that means that men are so pinched that they are deciding not to replace underpants. And [Greenspan] said 'that is almost always a prescient, forward impression that here comes trouble.'"

That's from our own Sam Stein, who examined the Underwear Index back in April. Back when the crisp, taut weave of the economy wasn't as visible. Back when it took guts to size up the distended, worn elastic of our fiscal health, and stare at the tracks left behind in the wake of our financial crisis, to size up their breadth and density!

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