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Subj:     Econ 101: supply, demand and prayer
          From: pns on 2/8/2003
          by DAVE BARRY

The U.S. economy is in trouble, as evidenced
by the new Merrill Lynch slogan: ``Please
Buy Stocks Or Our Children Will Starve.''

Yes, things are bad. The question is, how
much worse will they get? Will we see a
repeat of the Great Depression, with
business people leaping from window ledges?

What if they work in modern buildings where the windows don't open? Will they hurl themselves, like disoriented chickadees, against the windows anyway, only to bounce off, suffer neck injuries, and sue the window manufacturers for pain and suffering? How would this affect the NASDAQ? Would ''Disoriented Chickadees'' be a good name for a rock band? What about ``Pain and Suffering?''

These are the questions that ordinary Americans like you are asking about the economy. You are sick of ''mumbo-jumbo'' from so-called ''experts'' with their so-called ''facts.'' You want simple, straightforward, completely unresearched information about the economy, and you want it -- above all -- in the Q and A format.

Q. What, exactly, is wrong with the U.S. economy?

A. The best way to understand the economy is to think of it as a horse. This economic ''horse'' has four legs: (1) Government spending, (2) Business spending, (3) Consumer spending, and (4) eBay. If you remove any one of these legs, the horse will run slower; if you remove two, the horse, which is not a complete idiot, will bite you on the arm and attempt to hop away, generally in a circular pattern.

Q. Are you going to get irate letters from PETA?

A. Of course. But the point is that the U.S. economy is now teetering on one leg, which is: consumer spending. Despite the fact that their financial outlook is dire, American consumers are still buying things, and for a very sound economic reason.

Q. They have tiny brains?

A. In many cases, yes. But the main cause of consumer spending is the superb work of the Federal Technology Obsolescence Board, or FTOB (pronounced ``ftob'').

Q. What is the FTOB?

A. It is a secret, quasi-governmental body whose mission is to convince consumers that they need to buy things to replace perfectly good things that they already own. The FTOB got us out of the recession of the early 1980s by promoting the compact disc; this caused Americans to buy CD versions of all their record albums, spending, according to the Department of Commerce, $117 billion on Fleetwood Mac alone. The FTOB is currently stimulating the economy with a bold three-pronged program designed to convince consumers that they must: (1) replace all their CDs with something called ''MP3''; (2) replace their VCR machines, and all their videotapes, with something called ''DVD''; and (3) replace their film cameras with ''digital'' cameras, which consumers believe are technologically superior, despite the fact that only 3 percent of all consumers can figure out how to get the pictures out of the camera, which means most people show you their vacation shots of the Grand Canyon by making you squint at the little screen on the back of the camera, which is the size of a Cheez-It. The entire U.S. economy is now based on consumers buying these things. Ski resorts will soon be built on mountains made entirely from discarded, but fully functional, VCRs.

Q. What does ''quasi'' mean?

A. Nobody knows. It's like ``paradigm.''

Q. I have noticed that, the longer I stay alive, the less money I have saved for retirement. Why is this?

A. You probably have a 401(k) plan, which is a type of plan where your balance gets smaller each month and eventually disappears altogether, like a pizza in a men's dormitory. Financial experts recommend the 401(k) as an investment vehicle for people who are going backward in time and plan to retire in 1973. People going FORWARD in time are better off with the 401(j) plan, which actually gets larger each month.

Q. How do I get one of those?

A. By writing to PETA.

Q. What do you see ahead for the economy?

A. I see a period of belt-tightening.

Q. You mean consumers will have to budget carefully?

A. No, I mean they'll have to use homemade tourniquets, because they won't be able to afford health insurance.

Q. But with the market down, isn't this a smart time to buy stocks?

A. Definitely. There has never been a better time!

Q. Which ones do you recommend?

A. I will sell you mine.

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