These are exciting times to follow the economy. Interest rates are on the tips of everyone's tongues, oil marches higher by the day, and Ben Bernanke is getting more face time than Lindsay Lohan. With all of the blabber about recession vs. recovery, inflation vs. stagflation, Chuck Norris vs. the credit crisis, and bailout vs. bankruptcy, keeping track of the latest economic news can be a Herculean task.

Fear not, Fools. In this regular series, we're here to compress the week's economic developments into a simple-to-understand summary. And we promise to keep it completely free of the hieroglyphics and eight-syllable words that weasel their way into standard academic forecasts.

Here's the latest.

These guys aren't hurting
The troubled housing market hasn't been hard on everyone. Hedge fund manager John Paulson took home an astounding $3.7 billion in 2007 by betting that mortgage-related products would fall in value.

To put that in perspective, $3.7 billion is more than $10 million per day, or $422,000 per hour. It would take an average Joe earning a $50,000 salary more than 200 years to earn what Paulson pocketed every 24 hours. I don't think even Scrooge McDuck makes that kind of money.

The three highest-paid hedge fund managers earned an aggregate $9.4 billion in 2007, or in the neighborhood of what Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), eBay, Yahoo!, and Amazon made combined in profits during the year. I just want to know whether they get paid during their lunch break.

Who's paying these bills?
The nation's trade deficit -- or the difference between what we import and export -- ballooned to $62.3 billion in February, according to the Commerce Department. Oil imports sank 10% over the previous month, even with the surging cost of a barrel of black gold. Exports increased to $151.4 billion, while imports swelled to $213.7 billion.

The trade deficit has a number of impacts on the economy. A weaker dollar makes exports more competitive in the global economy and can thus benefit multinational corporations such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) and Boeing (NYSE: BA). Unfortunately, higher deficits that lead to weaker dollars could curtail foreigners' willingness to fund deficits and could ultimately punish the economy if not controlled.

Food prices causing havoc
Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, called for drastic action to stymie the rapid increase in the price of food worldwide. Food shortages have caused riots in many developing nations, where as much as 75% of income can be expected to go toward food.

What lies behind the surge in food prices? Many factors, of course, but some have pointed to the falling dollar -- which is used to price some universal commodities -- as well as increased demand from budding countries such as India and China, and continued demand for ethanol that sucks up vast amounts of corn production.

Although on a much different scale, rising inflation is taking a toll on businesses, too. As fellow Fool Kristin Graham pointed out earlier this week, Cheesecake Factory (Nasdaq: CAKE) and Chipotle (NYSE: CMG-B) both had to raise prices to combat the inflation bug.

No love for the housing market
A poll conducted by The Associated Press and AOL Money & Finance found that as much as 60% of people "definitely" won't purchase real estate in the next two years. The poll also suggested that around 25% of current homeowners think their homes will fall in value.

None of this is good news for a number of industries, where everyone from Home Depot (NYSE: HD) to the Wall Street banks have felt the wrath of a crumbling housing market. A fall in real estate prices can have a serious impact on the vital banking sector, which in turn can take the rest of the economy down with it. For more on the state of the housing market, check out the Fool's Housing Roundup.

Bankruptcies on the move
The slowing economy saw almost 851,000 individuals and businesses claiming bankruptcy in 2007, a 38% surge from the year before. If that weren't bad enough, some observers expect the number to mushroom past 1 million in 2008, as a battered real estate market forces homeowners into foreclosure.

Years of cheap debt allowed consumers to binge on everything from mortgages to credit cards. Now that those days are long gone, the reality is setting in of how extended some people have gotten.

That's the latest for this week. Check back next Friday for the latest economic roundup.

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Apple is a Stock Advisor pick. Chipotle is a recommendation of Rule Breakers (the regular shares) and Motley Fool Hidden Gems (the B shares). Home Depot is an Inside Value selection. Try any of these market-beating newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns shares of Procter & Gamble but none of the other companies mentioned in this article. He appreciates hearing your questions, comments, and complaints. The Fool's disclosure policy is all about investors writing for investors.