Nate Silver points us to this government spreadsheet from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, showing Personal Consumption Expenditures by Type of Product. If you scroll to the right, you'll eventually come to the 4th quarter of 2008.
What do you see when it comes to the last fiscal quarter? Nobody's buying things:
Sales of jewelry and watches were off by 7.2 percent in the fourth quarter, the third-largest drop ever recorded. Casino gambling receipts are down about 8.5 percent from a year ago, far and away the largest decrease ever over four consecutive quarters.
Silver focuses on one thing, the sale of beer/alcohol for home consumption. Seems people aren't stocking up much anymore.
Sales of alcohol for off-premises consumption were down by 9.3 percent from the previous quarter, according to the Commerce Department. This is absolutely unprecedented: the largest previous drop had been just 3.7 percent, between the third and fourth quarters of 1991.
Beer accounts for almost all of the decrease, with revenues off by almost 14 percent. Wine and spirits were much more stable, with sales volumes declining by 1.6 percent and 0.9 percent respectively.
It's not all doom-and-gloom, though:
What's doing well? The movies. The movies, also historically a recession-proof industry but not a counter-cyclical one, are doing terrifically well. Motion picture theaters increased their revenues by 10.9 percent in the fourth quarter, according to the Commerce Department.
And to my encouragement, something else remained steady. Actually, it ticked up slightly during the last two quarters of 2008: attendance at "legitimate theaters and opera, and entertainments of nonprofit institutions"