Sunday, November 25, 2012

The SMI turns up nationwide

by Clifford F. Thies

The Shopping Madness Index (SMI) registered a 9 this year, an all time high since the index was first compiled, portending a pick-up in the economy.

The SMI is equal to the number of qualifying incidents of shopping madness, including (1) stampedes involving the trampling of of least one person as when store doors open to huge crowds outside, (2) shopping riots requiring the intervention of the police, (3) outbreaks of fighting while shopping, and (4) the robbing of shoppers either of cash prior to shopping or of stuff after shopping.

Since I began constructing the SMI, in 2006, it has proven to be a reliable forecaster of subsequent economic activity. That year's index, 7, was following by a sharp fall, to 2 the next year. Sure enough, the economy fell into recession in 2007. The SMI remained low, at 1, 2 or 3, the next three years. And, verily, the economy, while technically in a recovery since 2009, was under-performing. Then, last year, the SMI moved up to 7, and - in spite of the weakness indicated in some of the traditional leading indicators, the unemployment rate drifted in a generally downward direction which, along with the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy, resulted President Obama's re-election.

With the conclusion of this year's Black Friday shopping, we have the SMI for 2012, an all time high of 9. And, what were this year's qualifying incidents?

In Woodland Mall near Grand Rapids, Michigan, a gang fight broke out resulting in several arrests. At a mall in San Antonio, Texas, a man who was punched by a line jumper, pulled a concealed carry weapon and police were called to the scene. Also in San Antonio, at a Wal-Mart, a fight broke out over iPhones.

Outside a Wal-Mart in Tallahassee, Florida, two men were shot during a fight over a parking space. In Santa Monica, California, a crowd of shoppers injured five people while pushing through the doors. In Omaha, Nebraska, the police were called to Oak View Mall after a disturbance involving a shoplifter.

In Altamonte, Florida, a woman was arrested after throwing merchandise at other shoppers. At Arundel Mills Mall, near Baltimore, Maryland, a group of five men punched a 14-year old boy in the face and stole his shopping bag. And, in South Carolina, a female shopper outside of a Best Buys was robbed at gunpoint of her cell phone and cash.

To be sure, even at 9 the SMI doesn't register the levels I imagine it would have registered during the 1980s and the 1990s, during the heady years of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, when we had the Cabbage Patch doll and Tickle Me Elmo. Even so, it's good, after years of mediocre economic performance, to finally have a reason to be hopeful for next year.

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