7 Bizarre Trends That Predict an Economic Collapse
If you popped out of a time machine at a random moment in history, how would you know whether or not the country was in a recession? There'd be obvious signs, like lots more ads for payday loan joints and offers to buy your gold for pennies on the dollar. But there are less obvious, much weirder clues all around you.
After all, did you know that when the economy is bad ...
Mosquito Populations Surge
The tanking economy is causing huge swarms of insects in suburban areas, namely mosquitoes. Now, if you're the clever type you might have already thought, "Well, that probably makes sense -- cities are probably cutting their mosquito-control programs because they don't have the funding." And that is certainly happening. But there's another reason for the mosquito baby boom that we're betting you'll never guess.
It's all the foreclosed houses.
Mosquitoes are very much into the real estate market right now.
Think about it. A lot of houses have pools, and when the bank comes a-knocking, pool maintenance falls to the lowest priority on everyone's list. And as anyone who has ever owned a pool or been involved in maintaining one will testify, those bastards will go rank in a heartbeat if left to their own devices. Even a drained pool can collect stagnant rainwater, after all. And whose job is it to patrol all of these thousands of pools to keep them disinfected?
So, a whole bunch of foreclosed houses end up with musky, slimy cesspits of hell-water in their backyards. If you know anything about swamps, you know that filthy, standing water is the perfect breeding ground for the little blood-sucking bastards.
Still, this is just an increase in annoying bugs we're talking about here. Surely, that's relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things. It's not like they're carrying any potentially lethal viruses or anything.
Waitresses Get Prettier
You're ordering at a coffee shop (or if you're fancy, a cafe), and you notice that the barista is surprisingly attractive. Ordinarily you would chalk that up to a nice moment in your otherwise mediocre day, but hang on a tick. As you look around, all the employees are really good-looking. What is going on? What time is it? Are you drunk already and you just forgot? There's no good reason why all this beauty should be wasted on angry caffeine junkies.
You've stumbled into a sci-fi universe, that's all. Prepare to be culled, ugly!
Well, this phenomenon (assuming you aren't actually drunk) might be an incredibly reliable, vaguely sexist indication of how the economy is faring.
It's called the Hot Waitress Economic Index, and it goes like this: In our often unfair society, really attractive women are unlikely to work as waitresses, as they have an easier time finding other, better-paying jobs (we're not saying it's right, we're saying it's a statistical truth). When the economy goes belly-up, attractiveness isn't as valuable as actual skill, and attractive people get laid off just like everyone else -- so they temporarily drift back to a job that doesn't require schooling but offers great tips if you have a nice smile. When the economy picks up again, they return to higher-paying jobs.
Like posing as a waitress for stock photo libraries.
The Hot Waitress Economic Index was coined by New York magazine financial columnist Hugo Lindgren in 2009, and it has since received enough credibility and attention to feature in Investopedia, CNBC, Time Moneyland and Business Insider, to name a few. For obvious reasons, not everyone in the media takes it seriously, but the curious thing is that, apart from the odd blogger playing the sexism card, no one seems to be running to debunk it. In today's media environment, that speaks volumes about the plausibility of the theory.
So the next time you're at a restaurant and a swarm of models are mixing up orders or breaking plates, there's a chance that this may be one of the last times you have the luxury of eating out, because those women are the harbingers of an economic apocalypse.
The four horsewomen will ride tonight: Death, Famine, Botulism and OSHA Non-Compliance.
Tie Colors Turn Bland
Without even knowing it, every person wearing a suit to work is offering a daily barometer for their sense of financial security, right around their necks.
"We lost your 401k, but here's an alternate retirement plan."
Here's a quick crash course on Tieconomics: People have an inherent tendency to wear bright, bold colors when they feel good and confident. You know this already if you have done even a cursory study of pimps. But when those same people are anxious about their financial well-being, the opposite happens -- they are naturally drawn to drab, bland colors. If that seems oversimplified, take a look at fashion through the last few decades:
Clockwise from left: '70s flop, '80s boom, early '90s flop. Or: bargaining, denial, depression.
There's a good reason why the color changes in business are specific to ties. You're probably not going to replace your whole wardrobe based on how you feel about life, and it's not really acceptable to wear a bright yellow suit to work (again, unless this is a pimp situation). So the change tends to get restricted to ties.
So, the next time you wonder whether big businesses are about to make it rain or drop the axe, take a walk and pay attention to the suits on the street. If the ties are all pink and bright, it's probably safe to breathe easy. If they're drab beige, however ... well, it might be time to hone your boxcar-jumping skills.
"Man, that's really gray. Your business must be doing terribly."
Crime Takes a Turn for the Weird
It's no surprise that a failing economy affects crime rates. What is surprising, however, is the type of crimes committed ... and not committed. We would expect crimes fueled by desperation and alcohol to be on the rise in hard times, but statistics say otherwise. DUI cases are actually on the wane, having gone down as much as 30 percent. Property crime, along with crime in general, is at the lowest it's been since the 1960s, thus handily slapping both common sense and criminal theory in the face.
Preconception-smashing assault is eight to 10 years.
And what crimes are up? Dognapping, of all things. Out there in the streets right now there are people stealing other people's pets for profit, somehow. There are perfectly logical reasons for all of these trends, if you know where to look.
For example, there's a negative correlation between number of puppies and your level of financial depression.
The kind of people who drive under the influence are probably just as ragingly drunk as usual, but they're staying home because even a drunk knows that gas is goddamn expensive. The lower property crime rate is most likely explained by the complete and utter distribution of poverty. While some people have lost everything and were forced to turn to a life of crime to cope, their potential targets have been hit equally hard. It's hardly worth robbing a house when all that house has to offer are stacks of unpaid bills and an old 14-inch tube TV.
"Oh God. They took all the kindling."
As for the dognapping trend, the reason is as simple as it is sad: money. Turns out dogs are trusting, fairly easy to grab and lucrative, as the thief can either pretend to "find" the pooch and return it for reward or just flat out sell it to new owners. The fact that we now apparently have a freaking black market for secondhand dogs depresses us more than a recession ever could.
Advertisements Get Nastier
During a bad economy, advertisers have figured out that the best marketing strategy is a big, fat "Fuck you."
Usually, there's a line drawn in the sand between competing companies that keeps everything fairly civil. Commercials tout how superior their product is without explicitly naming the competition. But when the economy tanks and times are tight, that line gets erased and all bets are off. Livelihoods are on the line, and they need to capture the consumer's attention by any means necessary, sometimes even using murder. So traditional "Our product is the best" advertising becomes the much more sordid "Everyone else's product is the worst, and they probably give you gonorrhea."
"I've just got the clap, but that Geico bitch has straight-up syphilis."
In January 2010, for instance, Unilever jumped in Smart Balance's throat with an advertisement in The New York Times that basically called Smart Balance a bullshit hack product. Weight Watchers and Nestle's Jenny Craig division have been publicly pile-driving each others' diet programs both in and out of court, what with the latter running TV ads that were pissing all over the former. And so on.
You may remember this Marine Corps TV spot from 2002. It featured a free climber in the desert scaling a vertical rock face. When he got to the top, it meant he was allowed to be a Marine. Sure, the commercial was a flimsy metaphor, but it was also pretty optimistic regarding the possibilities in military service:
Now compare that to the ad that debuted in 2009 that does everything it can to make the Marine Corps look like torture, stopping just short of calling you a pussy:
It's not like the Marines are competing with anyone. Well, their reason for nasty advertising is somehow even more dickish. They advertise that they don't need you. Military recruitment ads tend to evolve with the needs of the military itself, instead of the trends of the public. And since people join the army a lot more when times are tough, their ads also get tougher and more bile-inducingly realistic. Their recruitment market is pretty much saturated due to the job situation and they can afford to be picky. Or pricky.
Romance Novel Sales Spike and Playboy Models Get Heavier
It's all about escapism. Or rather, a very specific brand of escapism that is specific to tough economic times.
Soft core porn, it turns out, is the cockroach of publications; it just won't die no matter what happens. Producers of porn are remarkably good at adapting to all circumstances, so when faced with a crisis as big as an economic meltdown, they have contingency plans already in place. All those Fabio-embossed paperback fantasy stories slip into plots that are a little more real, and Playboy starts featuring bunnies with a little more girth and years under their belt (assuming they're wearing belts).
Eh, close enough.
Let's start with the ladies: Romantic fiction has always been about providing affordably priced happy endings. And as lame as it may sound on paper, during tough times people are biting into it like there's no tomorrow. That's why instead of joining the slump that is the book industry during a recession, bodice-ripper novels enjoy a steady rise in sales. More importantly, the industry actively encourages buyers by setting the stories in more realistic circumstances ... at least, realistic in the context of absurd hump-fantasy. The publishers expand their offerings from the basic Ye Olde Timey Romance and Italian villa settings to stuff that speaks to the economically depressed reader, like The Heart Surgeon's Baby Surprise and, we shit you not, The Aristocrat and the Single Mom.
Romance novels tend to follow Snakes on a Plane-style self-explanatory titling.
Meanwhile, men also prefer a little more realism in their sexual fantasies when facing hardship. Sure, they're still reading their Playboy and doing some daydreaming of their own -- but instead of dreaming about that impossibly measured Playmate, research suggests that under economic duress, men prefer drooling over taller, older and more realistically proportioned Playmates. Indeed, Playmates of the Year during crappy fiscal years have been consistently older and heavier, with larger waists and waist-to-hip ratios than their good-economy counterparts.
Cynthia Wood in the 1974 recession, Donna Edmondson in 1987.
The researchers use this fact to support what they call the Environmental Security Hypothesis. It states that men who live in tough times prefer "women who are good at production, generally older, taller, heavier, less curvaceous women. In good times, they will prefer women who are good at reproduction, generally younger, shorter, lighter, more curvaceous women." Times will never be so tough that men stop masturbating to pictures of beautiful women, but it's kind of endearing to know that when the shit hits the windmill, guys fantasize about someone who's good with a shovel to help clean up the mess.
Men Have More Affairs
You'd think that during times of economic distress, couples would stick together like glue, though admittedly sexless glue. After all, divorce is expensive, and if you're barely maintaining one household, splitting up would be like taking on yacht payments just as your unemployment runs out. Who has time to think about affairs when everything else is falling apart?
"Well, if this boat is getting seized, then I may as well rub my dick all over it."
Lots of us, apparently. Because both men and women are more likely to get their freak on outside the marriage during desperate times. The phenomenon is known as low survivability mode, and the logic behind it goes like this: When men are stressed, or their self-esteem is low, or they think things will never get better, they get super horny. It turns out there's this evolutionary push to spread those seeds as fast as we can when we think we're done for.
That's why you ejaculate when threatened.
And in case you assumed men were the only ones having affairs during recession, there's a spike in female infidelity as well. Everybody loses, and no one wins, except for maybe extramarital affair websites, and possibly seedy motel tycoons. Curiously, though, research suggests that all this extracurricular banging isn't doing as much damage as you might expect. Forty percent of couples reporting infidelity managed to stick out the marriage. Surely those people just don't have enough money for divorce though, right? Actually, no: "About 30 percent think [unfaithfulness] only caused temporary tension," according to Reuters.
Thanks, global recession!
For more signs that times are bad, check out 5 Bad Economic Indicators for the Criminally Insane.
Check out the movie version of David Wong's first book John Dies at the End, starring Paul Giamatti.
What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror, the third book in David Wong's John Dies at the End series, is available now!