Friday, August 19, 2022

Measuring economic pain

I think many of us carry around the mental picture of a hot-air balloon sinking and the crew frantically jettisoning unneeded ballast and heavy, low-value cargo to avoid hitting a looming hazard.

The same thing happens as families experience economic stress. In fact, a time-honored way to assess how much economic pain is being felt in your community is to drive around and count the number of items parked beside the road with a "For Sale" sign in the windshield.

Since gas is expensive, a cheaper way to do the same thing is to go to your local Craigslist and type in certain keywords. Then, week-by-week track how many of those items are for sale by local owners.

Examples from the Lansing, Michigan area Craigslist on August 19, 2022:

Boats - by owner: 84 

Trailers - by owner: 75

ATV, UTV, Snowmobiles - by owner: 65

Ford cars-and-trucks - by owner: 52

Camper - by owner: 45

Motorcycles - by owner: 44   (Proposed by The Old Man in comments)

Lawn mowers (farm & garden) - by owner: 23 (Proposed by The Old Man)

ERJ Total pain index = 100,000 times 321 key items for sale in the Lansing Metro Area divided by a population 326,000. Multiplying the result by 100,000 makes the index more intuitively pleasing. The ERJ Total Pain Index for Lansing on August 19, 2022 is 98.4

It will be interesting to track this up to the mid-term election and then afterward.


The media focuses on "Wall Street" and jawbones about "Main Street". The ERJ Total Pain Index is an effort to capture what is happening on "Maple Street" where regular folks live.

Boats and ATVS, UTVS and Snowmobiles are seasonal but tend to offset each other.

Most of the items on the list can be characterized as "toys" or discretionary items. Ford cars-and-trucks were included even though vehicles are almost a necessity because some households have a "spare". Also, as the recession deepens and people lose jobs, the second vehicle becomes a luxury and that "spare" that can be sold to temporarily make ends meet. If you choose to replicate the index for your own area-of-operation and you live in a "Blue" area, choosing "Toyota" or "Honda" instead of "Ford" will be a better measure.

"Ford" was included to enable additional diagnostic flexibility as the recession progresses. As starvation progresses, at some point the patient runs out of fat and starts metabolizing muscle and internal organs.

Craigslist allows shoppers to specify whether the seller is an owner or a dealer. I chose to look specifically at owners as I think that is a more responsive metric. Dealer inventory can float or shrink for various reasons other than economic pain.


  1. Sounds like a good idea.
    Unfortunately many people out here no longer us CL and other sale venues are not as easy to count.

  2. I was going to point out that in Michigan it is common to see people unloading campers and boast as summer winds down but you should see an offsetting change with snowmobiles.

  3. I hadn’t thought of this. No CL here, but (another guilty pleasure, for all the things I wanted years ago but couldn’t justify or afford new, so I frequent) ebay locally and nationally is showing a serious increase not so much in the large (vehicles, boats) category, but the (maybe more indicative of seriously struggling) sales of new/nearly new consumer electronics, clothes and valuables (jewellery, watches, etc.).

    I get the impression a sizeable number here are searching their drawers and dressers for something/anything they can sell for cash (after probably already having sold off the big ticket items). I'd seen it, recognised it, but hadn't thought of the reasons and consequences.

    e.g. The ‘used’ custom quality tools market has taken off like a rocket, so I’m assuming even the relatively well-off skilled amateurs are deciding to sell their prized possessions to make ends meet. Not a good sign (these generally aren’t a ‘luxury’ purchase, more so a once in a lifetime, fulfilled dream one - you managed for years with a mass-produced Stanley plane, but always wanted a Clifton or Veritas, and finally got one, only – now imagine having to sell it off).

    It would be interesting to see/compare a wide-scale plot of your index, to get a better idea of who and how bad it really is (something neither .gov or MSM will ever let us know).

    I’m not ‘enjoying’ the obvious suffering but … seeing a ‘certain type’ of ladies wearing the same outfits to go out week after week (something they’d have died before doing only a few months ago) and both less often, if at all, and to cheaper venues, ‘is’ perhaps a welcome dose of reality being introduced to so many who’ve never suspected it existed for them, let alone faced it.

    I wonder how long we have before more and more are forced to resort to selling off 'necessities' rather than just luxuries?

    Those Gods of the Copybook Headings are here again, and their coming will be an ‘unpleasant’ experience for all of us, just more so for some.

  4. This is a really interesting observation Joe. I'm going to set up a list and update it monthly, or bi-wekely, and see how it works out over the rest of the year. ---ken

  5. I'd be tempted to add motorcycles and riding mowers/tractors to the list of watched items. Tougher to seasonally adjust bikes, but maybe snowblowers too.

    1. I like the way you think.

      I will add them in as provisional categories.

  6. Tracking things for sale is a temporary metric for economic pain. Eventually people run out of things to sell or pawn. As for what happens after the midterms.....expect things to get worse. I suspect the left will steal enough seats to maintain control of Congress and will then ramp up the assault on our freedom and the economy. If by chance they lose control the lame duck Congress will go scorched earth in the interim to destroy as much as possible. Gas prices....which are being heavily manipulated to fool the gullible into thinking they are going down will skyrocket after the midterms with no reason left to pretend any more. Inflation will continue.... and probably worsen. You can't print trillions in funny money without consequences.

  7. Dan does have a point, and I'd expect those numbers to drop month over month as stuff gets sold off.

  8. "As starvation progresses, at some point the patient runs out of fat and starts metabolizing muscle and internal organs." Actually, white fat is generally not to be metabolized first, it is highly resistant to be used as a food supply. Your muscles and connective tissue and brown fat, some organ degeneration are the first to be attacked and eaten. At some point will the white fat will be metabolized but not after you are weakened and possibly sicker.

  9. Heh !!!!
    I've never any "extras" to start with !!!!

  10. I like this idea, and I'm going to consider how to sell it on my blog to make ends meet. :-) Seriously, great idea and I'm going to think about how to use it in my AO. I always keep an eye on toys for sale, but this gives that "getting a feel for the market" a data point twist that I like.

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  12. This article was interesting to say the least. On the way in from town tonight I noticed the next door neighbor has his motorcycle out by the road with a for sale sign on it. He sold his boat last week. He sold his bar last year and now works a job - job somewhere. It will be interesting to see what else gets parked out front, he has a lot of "toys". I will have to look at CL tomorrow.


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