The Shopping-Bag Indicator

What we're giving says a lot about where we're going

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The must-have holiday item can tell you a lot about where the economy is headed. In 1983 the mania for $25 Cabbage Patch Kids ushered in the Reagan boom. Four years later, after the Black Monday market crash, Jenga's wooden blocks were everywhere. In good times electronic gadgets sell out. In downturns we retreat to lower-priced toys and other comfort items. So Kindles and iPod Touches sold out in 2007, while our loved ones unwrapped Snuggies in 2008. This year retail expert Gerrick Johnson expects an Angry Birds board game to fly. Jennifer Black, who tracks retailers, predicts people will gravitate...

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