The evolution of hand washing or the inefficiency of the French language may not seem like topics for an economist to examine.
But for A. Gary Shilling, who analyzes and interprets economic statistics, government policies and investment tactics for clients, this sort of thing is a regular part of his reports to clients.
Mr. Shilling, president of A. Gary Shilling & Co., Springfield, N.J., is also a keen observer of societal and demographic trends. Even though seemingly trivial matters may have no immediate or direct impact on the economy, over time they often become a prelude to changes in economic activity.
Mr. Shilling's reflections on a broad range of topics beyond economic and investment analysis are contained in a book of his essays, titled "Letting Off Steam," published by Lakeview Publishing Co., Short Hills, N.J.
In "The Evolution of Hand Washing," for instance, he contemplates "how long it has taken plumbing fixture manufacturers and buyers of their products to adopt to the efficiency made possible more than a century ago by the advent of indoor plumbing." He reflects on inefficient sinks and notes that it took "only about 100 years after it could have been introduced" for the single-lever faucet to emerge.
In "English, the Efficient Language," Mr. Shilling notes that "English is a lousy language because of its inconsistent grammatical rules and unpredictable spelling, but it also has an efficiency "over other languages" which "may have something to do with (its) global dominance." In the essay — which predates the recent acrimony between France and the United States — Mr. Shilling compares the efficiency of English to French and other languages like Chinese.
Sometimes, however, Mr. Shilling is off track. In one essay, he predicts that no politician would go after McDonald's over the issues of fat, cholesterol and obesity. Although the issue hasn't reached the political stage that tobacco has, "fast food" and "the super-size portion" has come under attack in Congress in terms of nutrition.
That and his other essays are something to ruminate on.