PORTLAND, ORE. — I'm not too worried about how the NYSE is doing these days. Ditto for the S&P 500. Even if business appears sluggish in some sectors, help is on the way. In a few weeks, merchants all over the country will be getting a huge monetary boost from the BTS (Back to School) factor.
The influence of the BTS kicks in around the middle of August, when schools begin sending out packets of information about the coming academic year, and each packet contains a copy of The List. It's an assortment of personal supplies that every student must bring to class on the first day. Many stores provide extra shelf space to accommodate the enormous volume of merchandise that is needed to satisfy BTS consumer needs.
During the past few years, while shopping with other parents, I have noticed an intriguing fact: The List is the same everywhere. Each school puts out its own version, so the actual document may differ in size or color. But the specific items, and the order in which they are listed, seldom show any variance. To me, it's clear that some central authority is involved in preparing The List.
Why have the conspiracy theorists not jumped on this bandwagon? The invisible hand of corporate-globalist power must surely be involved in the explosive growth of BTS commerce during the past decade. You don't have to be an honor student to see what's going on. The Freemasons, Federal Reserve Board, and Trilateral Commission have obviously formed a secret pact with penmakers, paper mills, and even Elmer, the Borden-glue mascot.
Their penchant for subtle monetary manipulation is reflected in the numbers on The List. It may, for example, tell you to obtain 18 pencils.
Then, to your chagrin, you discover that pencils are only available in packs of 12. This disconcerting distortion of supply and demand holds true for many other classroom necessities.
The conspiracy crowd should target their deepest suspicions toward the Crayola company. Has anyone in recorded history ever used up an entire crayon? No, crayons get worn down until they are about half their normal length, or they break into smaller pieces, and eventually they get tossed into a plastic bag which is put away and soon forgotten.
Suspicion, however, is not a useful response to the BTS factor. A more productive approach would be to ride with the social currents. Instead of berating the Crayola company, I should be buying their stock right now.
So long as student achievement and academic standards remain hot-button issues, it seems likely that most BTS-related businesses can look forward to many upcoming semesters of sustained prosperity.
Thank goodness this is a subject with no final exam, because I would miss the entertainment I get each year from doing firsthand research.
It's part of my ongoing education in the school of real life.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor