Greenspan’s Underpants

The economy is not doing well.

To be sure, some of you may have already sensed that, what with the bursting of the housing bubble, the bank failures, insurance failures, auto company failures, massive government bailouts,  burgeoning unemployment, and whatnot.  But now we have something really concrete to go on.

HuffPo’s Sam Stein reminds us that Alan Greenspan liked to monitor men’s underpants (or, should I say, their sale) as an indicator of economic health:

“If you look at sales of male underpants it’s just pretty much a flat line, it hardly ever changes,” Krulwich recounted after the publishing of Greenspan’s book, “The Age Of Turbulence.” “But on those few occasions where it dips that means that men are so pinched that they are deciding not to replace underpants. And [Greenspan] said ‘that is almost always a prescient, forward impression that here comes trouble.'”

Well, it seems, underwear sales are projected to drop 2.3 percent this year!  And just months ago, the same company had forcast a 2.6 percent increase! (Which might lead a more skeptical reader to wonder just how good these people are at forecasting underdrawer sales.)

Of course, I don’t know how Greenspan calibrated his BVD-o-Meter.  The theory behind it seems to be that men have replaced their Fruits-of-the-Loom at a steady pace over the years.   But, did he calculate this on a per-unit basis?  Or are gross dollar figures an adequate proxy? After all, maybe prices are simply coming down on Jockeys?  Or people have switched from 2xist to Hanes?  Or perhaps the proliferation of microfiber drawers has resulted in longer life?  Or, again, the underwear forecasting gurus could be wrong.

Again, I’m pretty sure the economy is in fact in rough patch.  And it may be that this is causing men to wear holey underpants (not to be confused with Mitt Romney’s holy underpants).  But I can’t imagine that this is the most reliable statistical indicator.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. sam says:

    Golly, talk about counter-intuitive. I’d have thought, on Wall Street anyway, with the financial markets tanking, the sale of underpants would have zoomed up…

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I’d guess it was calibrated using one of these.

  3. markm says:

    Heh, I use the UPS-o-Meter. It’s a more of a local indicator used to backup what I already know from using my Eyeball-o-Meter.

  4. Assertion 1, under pant sales are flat-lined (I acknowledge the issues that you raised concerning distinguishing between external variables e.g. more men and what is trying to be measured)

    Assertion 2, under pant sales were expected to increase by 2.6%

    Assertion 3, under pant sales are now expected to decrease by 2.3%

    Assuming all three assertions are true, then the definition of “flat lined” includes variation between the 2.6% and 2.3% as normal wobble in the hole.

  5. Drew says:

    Its a shame Greenspan didn’t track women’s panties. Then the accompanying picture could have been more interesting. At least from my point of view….

  6. James Joyner says:

    Its a shame Greenspan didn’t track women’s panties. Then the accompanying picture could have been more interesting. At least from my point of view….

    Indeed. Although Google comes to the rescue here, supplying a picture of a woman in her panties in the ad block below the posts and above the comments.

  7. patrick says:

    Wear a kilt & you can go “regimental” as it were. Of course, one could do the same in bifurcated garments but chafing may be more of an issue.

  8. Drew says:

    “Although Google comes to the rescue…”

    I love Google….

  9. shoey says:

    fiscal prognostication via male undergarments… makes more sense to me than fiscal prognostication by over-educated, under-experienced Harvard-lawyer types, probably more accurate as well.

  10. dutchmarbel says:

    In the UK appearantly they buy pink underpants 😉

  11. sam says:

    BTW, these guys are prone to stuff like this. I was at a lecture given by Peter Drucker during which, as an aside to point I’ve forgotten, he said, “Did you know that when men go into a supermarket, they always turn to the left, women, on the other hand, always turn to the right.” How he came by that “knowledge,” I haven’t the foggiest.

  12. jsallison says:

    Hmm, lemmesee now…(trying to remember the last time I picked up some FotL’s or Hanes)…ummmm, well, uhhh. Hey, they still fit so what’s the problem?