Monday, December 31, 2012

Gee, thanks, Santa

Complaint Department
Santa Enterprises LLP
North Pole

Dear Obesity Statistic,

You totally screwed up this year, Fat Man. My pre-holiday letter could not have been clearer: Bring. Better. Times. Instead, here we sit cliff-side, waiting for the world to sour for restaurants and virtually every retail business except pawnshops. Maybe I should add bankruptcy lawyers to the list, too.

If Congress fails to do its job today, and that appears all but inevitable as of noon, disposable income is going to take a short-term hit as tax rates automatically climb. But that’s sort of academic, isn’t it, White Beard? The real economic calamity will be the blow to consumer confidence, which will dash what had been the restaurant industry’s best hope for a rosier 2013.

As the National Restaurant Association noted in its 2013 business forecast, consumers want to buy more of their meals from restaurants, but are too uptight about their financial situations to indulge. Smart restaurateurs will figure out how to “unlock that pent-up demand,” in the words of the Association’s economic Obi-Wan Kenobe, Hudson Riehle.

Now, thanks to the fakers who profess to be the nation’s leaders and public servants, consumers are going to get their biggest fright since 2007. And the dollars fueling the economy will be in shorter supply because the IRS will take significantly more of them. That kicks off a vicious cycle of consumers spending less, businesses cutting staff to protect profits, and the downsized meting out their savings just to survive.

But the damage for restaurants doesn’t end there. The federal food safety and public health watchdogs will have their budgets cut, which obviously means less oversight. The industry has been largely spared food-safety crises like the lettuce and spinach contaminations of 2006. What happens if that lull should end? How weakened will our safeguards be?

The list of aftershocks from the cliff dive is long and sobering. Santa, isn’t there a Naughty Intervention you can invoke to get some decent behavior from our federal politicians?  Maybe threaten them with the possibility of ugly sweaters under the tree next year? Or use their lawns the next time you take the reindeer for a walk?

Maybe you could let them graze a bit, too. If going over the cliff is as bad as expected, reindeer steaks may be the best treat we could afford next Christmas.

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