Each time the stock market falls out of bed, as it did last week, I check the financial analysts to learn what signs and portents they see in their tea leaves.
This is seldom a rewarding undertaking because each analyst works with a different set of leaves, and even if you could get two of them to analyze the same set, they'd probably get contradictory messages from it.
This month's issue of Money magazine attempts to reduce the arcane art of economic forecasting to a rational basis, and thus advise investors whether this is a time to buy or sell. The magazine sets forth a list of key economic questions, then applies the latest available data to answer those questions. The result (are you ready for this?) is inconclusive. Money magazine deduces that this is neither a time to buy nor a time to sell.
Gold's Economic Law, one of the many subsections of the all-encompassing Gold's Law, holds that when economic experts are in agreement, the investor's safest course is to go the other way. When the experts disagree among themselves, the layman must look for guidelines of his own.
In other words, when you can't understand what the instrument panel is trying to tell you, you must learn to fly by the seat of your pants.
Let us therefore consider three pieces of information that have recetnly come to my attention.
The first is a letter from karen Calloway who says:
"Two years ago, I worked at a recreation center in a junior high school in Prince George's County. The custodian in charge of lost-and-found told me of the large quantities of items that always remain unclaimed at the end of each year.
"The quantity of clothing alone was astronomical - 75 pairs of sneakers, for example. Because the custodian had no authority to give these useful and valuable articles to the poor or to a charity and couldn't continue to store ever-mounting quantities of them, he incinerated them! Perhaps if you were to say something in your column about this, people might be reminded to claim their property before it goes up in smoke."
The next piece of intelligence we can consider is news that the Washington Gas Light Co. is offering a bonus to its employees for information about illegal gas connections. An employee who tips off the company to a case of illegal gas usage (in other words theft), will get a reward of $20.
Why is this new policy being instituted? Because illegal hookups designed to "cheat the meter" are on the rise, and what's more they are not confined to homes occupied by lower income families.
Says Washington Gas: "It does spill over to some of the company's more affluent customers who are now starting to feel the pinch of higher gas bills."
Finally, we can take note of a letter from Marion E. Arlington, who writes: "We own a '73 Toronado Olds, and at this writing have just been ripped off for our third set of hubcaps.
"The figure quoted me for replacement is $54.50 apiece.
"Also, we have just purchased a '77 model, so now they can rip us off eight at a time."
Well, what message do these tea leaves bring us? We're so affluent we can afford to abandon great mounds of clothing and other items of value, which are thereafter incinerated. We are so poor we risk explosions and jail sentences by trying to cheat the Gas Company with home-made gas hookups. And we are so unmindful of costs that we support an auto industry that puts $54.50 hubcaps on its vehicles and doesn't bother to devise a security system aimed to foiling thefts. What does all this add up to?
It seems to me that we have two indications of an affluent society and one indication of trouble ahead. So if we have either a boom or a recession in the next year, don't say I didn't warn you. Gold's Law never misses.