High spirits at the top, but not for us 


If you want to know how the economy is doing, don't bother checking the Dow Jones Average or tracking the unemployment numbers. Instead, consult the spiritualists.

Not the tarot card readers or those who have extra-sensory perception and commune with the super-natural, but the people of crass commerce who deal in liquid spirits — i.e., booze. Despite our nation's relentless and depressing "jobless recovery" (or perhaps because of it), spirits are on the rise. Overall sales of liquors were flat during the Great Recession, but popped up by 2.3 percent last year to a total of more that $19 billion.

Within that general number, however, lies a more telling economic indicator: Consumer spending on the cheaper stuff is down by nearly 2 percent, while the super-premium goods had an 11 percent hike in sales in 2010. This sales data is consistent with the ongoing decline in working people's incomes — they're in a downward spiral that leaves them shopping for even cheaper buzzes than Two-Buck Chuck, even as the affluent few are trading up to single-malt scotches and boutique bourbons.

Then there are the imbibers at the tippy-top of America's economy — the Wall Street bonus babies and your billionaire class. They enjoy a constant liquidity, showing few ups and downs on the booze index, because ... well, because they're always rich.

These swells buy spirits from the locked cabinets of exclusive liquor dealers, taking home a case of, say, the 2005 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti. It's $4,000 a bottle. Perhaps the redundant use of the name Romanée-Conti doubles its price, but if you have to ask what it costs, you're in the wrong zip code.

Yeah, times are hard for most folks, with no relief in sight, but I'm sure that you take treat comfort in knowing that those at the top are always in high spirits.

Don't you?

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.


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