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Today, The New York Times has an op-ed by Daniel Gross on the need for credit to power the economy. The piece is accompanied by an illustration. Peruse this picture--a quick screenshot of the Times op-ed homepage--and see if you have the same reaction we did:

It would appear to be a hamster in the middle of a lot of shredded credit cards. We've read the piece--no explanation. Just to be sure, we checked it for reference to treadmills and gerbils as well. Instead, we found Gross going through a detailed explanation for why consumers need to return to credit and spending, and pushing back against the recent demonization of credit, which is, he argues, "both a vital lubricant and the indispensable fuel" for a consumer-powered economy like ours. So what is with this hamster, again? Here are some theories we've been tossing around the office so far:

  • Credit, and opinion on credit, is like a hamster's treadmill; consumers are the hamster.
  • Hamsters live in shredded paper; the U.S. consumer lives in shredded credit.
  • Financial columns tend to be...dry. Why not add a rodent?
  • This is a socialist hamster.
  • The New York Times is cutting costs in its war with The Wall Street Journal by not paying for a traffic-monitoring service. This is a way to see if anyone is actually reading.

Your thoughts, readers?

Update: We have an answer, of sorts, from Jennifer Daniel, the artist who brought us this delightful graphic. For starters, confirmation that the hamster was deliberate:

I nearly acquired a new studio pet to make today's @nytimes Op-Ed. than a minute ago via Brizzly

We promptly inquired as to whether Daniel might weigh in on our little debate, and received this by way of response:

@heathershorn Ha! Sounds like your interpretations are on point. Credit cards are useful after all.less than a minute ago via Brizzly

Finally, cryptically:

@donohoe Loling @ SOCIALIST HAMSTER.less than a minute ago via Brizzly

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