Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cardboard Economy

According to All Things Considered, we are all ignoring one of the best economic indicators - cardboard production. I love hearing stories like this that take a complex financial thing like the US economy and make a clear analogy with something we can all relate to. It makes good sense - if cardboard production is up (I guess it's not a commodity where the price really changes; it's just a question of how much is being made at a given time) then that means manufacturers are making, and therefore selling, more goods, and that the economy is therefore okay. This is a fun way of looking at things, but I did have a couple of thoughts while I was listening:
  1. The fact that manufacturers are making more goods doesn't indicate where they're being sold, or to whom. If they're being sold in the US, it could indicate that US consumers are still spending like crazy even though their mortgages are falling apart - which doesn't make me, a solidly conservative "debt is always bad" sort of saver, feel all that encouraged. We could also be selling all those goods to countries outside the US which are taking advantage of our pathetically low dollar. Neither of these would necessarily indicate a strong economy.
  2. I feel uncomfortable being happy that we're killing more trees to make more cardboard. Shouldn't we be using existing boxes, and making lighter-weight packaging that takes a lower toll on the environment? I guess on the scale of environmentally-friendly packing material, cardboard is pretty good, but still...Of course my friend M says that he buys non-recycled stuff because it encourages people to grow more trees and is actually more environmentally friendly. C and I had a long discussion about this and agreed that this might be true in places where it's all new trees being harvested, but in BC where older growth trees (read: 50++ years, when trees are in prime carbon reduction mode) are being chopped down, we don't really think that's the case.
  3. As the president of President Container spoke about his operation, I once again had to note that there are a lot of people who work in jobs might as well be on a different planet from mine. I'm very glad that I don't have to think about how many yards of cardboard are going through and whether the cutter is going to get jammed, but I do have to keep reminding myself that there's a lot more people like that then people like me.

So cardboard. I guess it's the new gold standard.

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