I recall reading in Victor's Education of a Speculator many years ago that one of his more delightful methodologies was some sort of South American cigarette butt index. Wherein, how close a discarded butt thrown in the street was smoked down to the filter was a function of the general health of an economy. The thinking obviously being that the more tobacco left unenjoyed, the more the feeling that there was plenty more where that came from. I presume that the spirited Bo Keely was his man in the field on that one.

This was back in '96 or '97 and having been previously unfamiliar with anything he had written, amusedly thought to myself, OK, this guy is going to drive the professorial drones in the academic industrial complex nuts with this type of stuff.

Ever since that initial exposure to the notion of coming up with one's own metrics for gauging the state of things I've tried to hone an eye for such.

Toward that end, one of the things that I have long noticed is that little cup of pennies that one invariably sees on the counter right next to the cash register. Oftentimes taped to it is a sign saying, "Take a penny, leave a penny", along with a drawing of one of those smiley face things.

The blight of the smiley face cliche always kills me, but I invariably just block it out and instead reflexively think of a lyric from "Ripple", a quite beautiful Grateful Dead song: "Reach out your hand if your cup be empty, If your cup is full, may it be again."

Fine enough sentiment. That said though, I noticed a few years back that amidst the red of these cups' pennies some silver suddenly began to pop up: nickels.

I'm hardly paleolithic of years but I do recall that there was a time not eons ago when one could buy a (tabloid) newspaper for but a nickel, and now they're giving the things away. Smiled one of those little, private, personal perspective smiles the time I saw my first nickel in one of those cups. It was like quantitative easing for the proletariat rather than the princely. A year or so later beheld my first free dime. Thought to myself, OK, logic is going to hold the line on this bonanza right there: At a dime.

Then just moments ago that key resistance level was breached. I'm sitting here in a Dunkin' Donuts as I type this and up in the cash register's penny cup I just spotted atop the smattering of lowly red coins, 3 quarters, looking no less out of place than a robin's speckled blue eggs would have.

The irony being that it wasn't too long ago that the simple black coffee that I'm partial to — none of that cinnamon-topped frappachino stuff — would be a far cry from the $2.49 they just took me for, with refills at full-freight.

Now they purport to give away unrequested quarters by way of karma introduction and get the customer on the back-end, the bloated cost of the actual product.

A mildly insidious business model. Seen much worse.

But should I see at any point soon dollar bills begin to appear in those ubiquitous penny cups I will know for sure that we are in a full-blown Weimar scenario, the intent of the would-be benefactor and price of the cup of coffee notwithstanding.

Ken Drees writes:

This says something to me about the public consciousness of inflation. I mentioned not too long ago the vibe of people talking to me (strangers) at the gas pumps complaining about prices. This seems to be a cohesion type behavior where people use the topic as a bridge to conversation–like a soldiers right to complain about food quality. It's better than talking about the weather.

But as a youth of 12 years as a passenger/helper in a delivery van, the young teenagers/ early 20 year old drivers in the late 70s complained non stop about gas prices and inflation– everyone was talking about it. It was the talk of every bar, every station, and every food stop.

I got the point one day when this guy lit a dollar on fire with his lighter, used the dollar to light his cigarette, and then let the burning buck suck out of the window into the winter wind– he looked at me with a stone cold face and said that the dollar wasn't going to be worth sh*t in the near future. I got the point and started thinking about money.

We are not even close to that point again. 4$ gasoline will start it up.

Easan Katir writes:

Often I carry a pre-64 silver quarter and attempt to purchase something with its melt value, around $5. So far, no takers. When someone finally accepts, I will consider that a tipping point for the fate of the US dollar.





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