Economic Indicator: The Price of a Haircut on Craigslist?

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Among the data that may give some indication of how the economy is doing: Sales of generic toilet paper and cheap liquor, how new your underwear is, and how hot your waitress is, and how busy the fast-food drive-thru is at breakfast time. Also: passenger subway traffic near San Francisco’s Union Square, and perhaps even the asking prices for haircuts, concert tickets, and other goods posted for sale on Craigslist.

Those latter examples come from a WSJ storyexploring different oddball data that economists are using to gauge how, say, a city’s sales tax revenues are doing:

Ted Egan, chief economist in the San Francisco Controller’s Office, said he could wait six months for California to release the detailed sales-tax data he needs for city revenue projections. But it’s quicker to look at passenger tallies from the station closest to the Union Square shopping district, which generates roughly 10% of the city’s sales-tax revenue. The Bay Area Rapid Transit District releases the data within three days, he said: “Why should I have to wait?”

Egan’s the one who is interested in tracking the going rates for goods on Craigslist:

Mr. Egan said he would like to build software to monitor Craigslist prices for furniture, concert tickets, haircuts and other goods and services to measure changes in local prices. The online classified-ads site, he said, would give a quicker and more detailed read than the bimonthly data from the Labor Department.

Now, if he could only create some software that would gauge the hotness of waitresses: That’d be good for economists trying to track the job market and the overall economy, not to mention good for business at the restaurants where those hot waitresses work.

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