Is It the Economy, Stupid?
Everyone, it seems, is drawing the same conclusion from two unrelated pieces of business news: They're blaming the economy on the fact that Starbucks reported a 97 percent drop in profits for the fourth quarter of this year and that McDonald's sales rose 8.2 percent in October.
The thinking is that people can't afford a $4 double mocha latte but can afford $3 Big Mac. I'm calling bullshit on this theory. First of all, it's too simplistic. Most results are overdetermined. Second, I think basic human behavior factors into the equation. When people lose their job—or feel like they could lose their job or have to work harder to keep their job—they often turn to junk food for solace. Why do you think they call it comfort food?
Coffee, for all its warm and roasted pleasures, is not a comfort food. It's the stuff we pump into our systems to stay awake, to keep working, to worry over as we answer more and more e-mail.
Not to get too solipsistic here, but I still remember the first time I lost a journalism job. (I've gone through three of these downsizings now, and yet I'm still banging my head in the biz, which is another topic altogether.) It was 1995, and I was working at the Houston Post when the owner suddenly closed the paper. Literally, we walked into the office and had eight hours to gather our shit and get out. There were guards in the parking lot to make sure we didn't steal anything.
At the time, I was eating a very healthy diet of limited fats and small amounts of alcohol. I was thin, maybe too thin. So what's the first thing I did after I grabbed my stuff and fled the bloodbath that was the Houston Post? I went straight to Long John Silver's for a fish-and-chicken platter. It made me feel good—for a few minutes anyway.
What's your theory on this economic news?