There are many ways to measure the economic prosperity of a society: gross national product, manufacturing, growth, exports and so on.
But an entirely new measure has been developed by Dr. I.M. Kookie, the renowned expert on lots of stuff.
At a recent meeting of the Economics Club of Milwaukee Avenue, Dr. Kookie discussed his finding.
"I was idly flipping through a catalog for a clothing company," he said. "It was called J. Crew, which my wife told me was a fashionable kind of outfit.
"I came to a page where they showed bluejeans, the traditional denim pants. The pants came in three basic styles.
"First, there was a spanking new pair of bluejeans, wrinkle-free and neatly pressed. They cost $34.
"Next, there was a pair that was already faded and old looking. These cost $38.
"And finally, there was a pair that was faded and old looking and it also had a hole in the knee, kind of a frayed slash. And these cost $44.
"Then I flipped to another page, where they sold flannel and denim shirts. And the most expensive ones were faded and had frayed collars.
"I am not the kind of person who is on the cutting edge of fashion, so I found it surprising that a pair of old, beat-up pants with a hole in the knee would cost more than a pair of fine new ones.
"Or that the kind of shirt that an honest working man used to wear would cost so much because it looks frayed and worn out.
"So I did some research on this, and I discovered that this is not something new in the strange world of fashion.
"I am told that it started with very young people of the upper-middle class, which is not surprising, since they are known to be dimwitted and for taking great pride in their sad mental condition.
"It seems that some of their screeching cultural icons who are on MTV wore clothes with holes that made them look like bums and poor urchins, and this became very popular among young people. It is fortunate for the rest of society that none of the stars of MTV wear diapers with doo-doo or we would have a real sanitation crisis on our hands.
"My research also showed that in most prosperous suburban communities, the wearing of neat, new-looking clothes is considered, to use a French phrase, dee-classy. That means it does not have class.
"The goal is to look like a hard-working person or a homeless person, but without having to actually do any hard work or sleep on a grate.
"So now we have the sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers and business tycoons who look like they have just finished a hard day of putting up steel girders, when the truth is that they have just carefully dressed for an evening at the Hard Rock Cafe.
"I have documented evidence of a genuine old bag lady taking pity on a rumpled wretch she saw on the street and offering to share her meager possessions, only to discover that he was a graduate student in the school of business at Northwestern University. Sly lad that he was, he accepted her offer of help, took a set of her long underwear, and was the fashion hit at his fraternity's next shindig.
"This is known as making a fashion statement. What this fashion statement says is: 'Hey, look at me, I'm 25 years old and I am still playing show and tell.'
"All through the prosperous communities of America, old clothing is in great demand. Not underwear, of course, since the well-born are finicky in that regard. But their outer wear must look tattered and torn. Many young people rush from resale shop to resale shop, hoping to find the ideal knee-hole or broken zipper fly.
"But at the same time, in genuine working-class communities, the demand remains for new garments. To offer a parent a trouser with a hole in the knee is to insult and seek a punch in the chops.
"So we have a strange coming together. The young and prosperous of our society want to look poor and hard-working, while the working class wants to look prosperous. This explains why so many people of modest means try to dress like professional golfers.
"And so I have developed my Theory of Reverse Prosperity. It holds that a society is in great shape when its most prosperous young people can afford to spend extra money to look like they are downtrodden and pretend that they have calluses on their hands instead of their back sides.
"In many parts of the world, a new shirt or pair of stockings is a luxury item out of reach to most.
"Here well-fed people compete to see who can look the most hungry.
"This is proof positive that we are a great society. Or maybe feebleminded."