Stop the World We're All Watching the O.J. Trial

January 22, 1995|By JOAN BECK

CHICAGO — Chicago. -- Trial of the year. Trial of the decade. Trial of the century. Whatever history's verdict on double-murder charges facing O.J. Simpson, it must also record some of the staggering costs.

Mr. Simpson's phalanx of top-dollar lawyers is widely believed to cost a convenient round number: everything Mr. Simpson has, a figure often put loosely at about $10 million.

The cost to taxpayers is harder to estimate, much of it buried in routine budgets and salary schedules of the County of Los Angeles, but obviously reaching into the millions of dollars.

That's just the beginning of the toll.

For example, the nation's productivity is expected to drop by 1.043 percent this year because the trial will distract so many workers, according to the Center for Insupportable Statistics.

Record numbers of people will call in sick so they can stay home to watch TV on key days of the trial. Televisions and radios will be turned on in the workplace wherever possible, disrupting work and diverting workers. Coffee breaks and lunch hours will stretch to accommodate the O.J. news, O.J. gossip and O.J. jokes. O.J. talk will crowd e-mail.

Exports will slump along with productivity. The balance of trade will grow worse. Housing starts will decline, as people focus their attention on TV. So will sales of existing homes. Unemployment figures will rise, as many jobless people decide to postpone job searches until the trial is over.

Retail sales will slip except for TVs and radios. Retail stock prices will decline, as analysts revise their earnings estimates downward. Car dealers will find showrooms and used-car lots empty during the hours when the trial or reruns or recaps or talk shows or commentary or call-ins dealing with O.J. are on.

Newspaper and magazine sales will be up and stock in media conglomerates will rise, according to the Bureau for Convenient Numbers. Sales will be off for sporting goods. So will attendance figures at sporting events. No one will miss spring baseball.

However, the stock market as a whole will reach new highs. Analysts see the slump in productivity and the sag in retail and auto sales as indicators that inflation is not sneaking back and that the Federal Reserve will take a pass, for now, on its expected boost in interest rates.

But the daily stock-market volume will be unusually light during the trial -- fewer than 180 million shares a day, according to the Office of Future Facts. Many traders will be sitting on the sidelines watching the trial, not the ticker.

Fast-food sales will boom, says the Center for Edible Predictions. Consumption of snack foods will approach Super Bowl Sunday level over the duration of the trial. Takeout and order-in meals will become standard fare in millions of households -- time-saving eating patterns that may persist even after the O.J. verdict.

Consumers will use less gasoline but more electrical power, as people stay home more to watch every scrap of televised Simpsoniana. Hospitals will see declines in their bottom line as elective surgeries are postponed. Tens of thousands of dental checkups will be canceled.

As parents and sitters find it hard to resist TV's fixation on the trial, the impact will show up even in the vocabulary of toddlers, according to experts at Sell-It-To-Kids Inc. The first word thousands of babies say is likely to be ''O.J.'' or ''Ito'' instead of ''Mom'' or ''Dad.''

Even the birthrate nine months from now will be affected, predicts a spokesperson for Habit Trackers Associates. Watching the trial will be so emotionally draining and fill up so many non-work hours that fewer people will be in the mood for love.

Teachers will find it difficult to get students to concentrate on school work or do homework and will be forced to use the trial as the basis for assignments. For example, teacher-support groups are suggesting using spelling lists from words used at the trial -- ''glove, blood, knife, lawyer, defendant'' -- and math problems based on how many minutes Mr. Simpson spent doing what last June 12.

For Republicans in Congress, the Simpson trial will be both bane and blessing. The case will pre-empt enormous amounts of media attention that the new House and Senate majority would ordinarily receive and some newly powerful Republicans seem to crave. But it will also preoccupy the opposition and the public.

After the verdict is in and the last analysis of the trial has been telecast, the public will begin to shake off its fixation on O.J. And it could find that by then the Republicans will have lowered the capital-gains tax, set term limits for members of Congress, sent a balanced-budget amendment on to the states, cut back the welfare system, put in a flat income tax and cut $200 billion out of entitlements.

Joan Beck is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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