Cleaning up the Economic Doo-Doo

They used to say war is good for the American economy, but like "When you grow up you can be anything you want", "The harder you work the more money you'll make", and "It's the funniest comedy of the year!", you can't believe anything anymore.

It's true the economy was tanking before the tanks started rolling, but since then it's only gotten worse. Now the economy's shrinking faster than a cheap T-shirt that says "My parents went to a refugee camp in Afghanistan and all I got was this lousy T-shirt and some peanut butter and jelly."

That's why the Federal Reserve Board keeps lowering the interest rate. It's supposed to be the incentive that kicks us out of the door and into the stores where we buy lots of nice, new, expensive things we can't afford and don't need. At the rate it's dropping we're about two weeks away from going into negative numbers, which will spawn an entirely new marketing concept: "Buy a new car and we'll pay you 4 percent interest a month!"

In the meantime a lot of businesses are being hurt. Airlines, restaurants, cruise ships, and even Disney World are suffering. Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Kleenex and Scott toilet paper, saw quarterly profits fall for the first time in three years. Kimberly Clark the porn star, by the way, is doing just fine. The company blames the falloff on the fact that people haven't been using as much toilet paper since September 11th. It turns out that in times of crisis, personal hygiene is the first thing to go. Just kidding. Actually it's second. The first is being able to tell the difference between anthrax and the flour you just spilled on the kitchen floor.

The truth is, hotels, airports, and office buildings haven't been buying as many rolls of toilet paper as they used to. Yes, it turns out it's the businesspeople and tourists who let their personal hygiene go to hell at the first sign of a crisis.

It's not only toilet paper that's going down the drain. Kodak reports that their sales dropped 13 percent because people are staying home and don't think taking photos of the family sitting in front of the TV watching the new fall TV season flop is something they'll want to remember the rest of their lives. This is an example of wrong thinking. If you don't take photos how do you expect to remember one flopping season from the next?

Meanwhile other companies are doing well. Campbell's soups are flying off the shelves as people restock their fallout shelters and storm cellars. Since they're staying home more they're renting more videos, which is why Blockbuster's quarterly earnings almost doubled over last year's. Cocooning has turned into blockading, rubber glove manufacturing is way up, and thanks to the gloves and respirators, everyone is starting to look like Michael Jackson. You can't say the guy wasn't a trendsetter. The next thing you know we'll all be putting out CDs no one cares about.

Because business is down, a lot of people are being laid off, and it's not just here in the U.S. Remember, we live in a global economy now, which is a fancy term for Follow The Leader. In France, for example, the men who operate the motocrottes are about to hit the unemployment line. Motocrottes are the bright green motor scooters with a built-in vacuum cleaner -- officially called caninettes -- which zip around Paris sucking up the dog crap. Or should I say, some of the dog crap.

Paris, in case you've never had to spend time in a charming little hotel on Rue St. Jacques cleaning your shoes in the bidet, is known for its mongrel minefields. Dogs leave a whopping 16 tons of waste on Parisian streets every day. That's a lot of crap, maybe even more than Geraldo Rivera shovels on any given night. Maybe. It's 480 tons a month, 5,840 a year, and more than Oprah weighed at her peak. Though not much more.

It's not as if they don't try. After all, the city spends $10 million a year attempting to keep the dog doo off the streets. But since there's no law forcing Parisians to clean up after their 200,000 dogs, it's bound to pile up. This is about to change. As of January 1st the same people who hand out parking tickets will also be passing out tickets for not scooping the poop. The first offense will set you back $180, subsequently rising to $420 and no Jerry Lewis for a month. Actually this is a bargain when you realize that in London it can cost $750. And you have to watch Mr. Bean reruns until you actually laugh.

This is going to be tough on the people of Paris, where the rallying cry is still: Liberté! Fraternité! So what's it to you? But like the rest of us, they need to tighten their belts while the government saves money and boosts the economy. Now if the Federal Reserve would finally lower interest rates enough that we do actually go out and buy all the crap they want us to, we could hire all those unemployed motocrottes. After all, we're going to need people to help clean up all that crap. See, the global economy really can work.

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