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What downturn? Most-viewed business stories of 2011

Jeff Chiu / AP

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs inspired strong reactions in life, and this year, in death.

The year in business, 2011, was filled with big stories and storylines. The wafer-thin U.S. economic recovery. A public debate on economic inequality that manifested itself as the Occupy movement. And a debt crisis in Europe that, despite numerous “fixes” applied by Eurozone leaders, still threatens the global economy.

But in the eyes of msnbc.com readers, all that may pale compared to an ATM receipt, and grocers getting rid of self-checkout.

Ok, that may be putting too fine a point on it, but the top 10 viewed business stories of the year generally avoided the more high falutin subjects. Here they are:

10. ‘Little Darth Vader’ reveals the face behind The Force. Volkswagen’s ad featuring a kid in a Sith costume trying – mostly in vain – to use the dark side on among other things, the washing machine and  the family dog, was the smash hit of Super Bowl Sunday. You can check out all its competition here.  But readers were particularly interested when child actor Max Page visited TODAY to disclose, among other things, he’s never actually seen “Star Wars.” He thinks it might be too scary for him.

9. Apple cofounder Steve Jobs dies.  The news was unsurprising, since the CEO had longstanding health issues and stepped down from the job in August. He was immediately praised around the world by Apple Store shoppers and world leaders. President Barack Obama said he “exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity." Jobs had his detractors, but it’s inarguable that he changed how the world felt about, and approached, tech products – altering them from digital devices to highly anticipated fashion accessories.

8. Warren Buffett says tax the super-rich more. "My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice," the 80-year-old "Oracle of Omaha" wrote in an opinion article in The New York Times. Although the sentiment wasn’t particularly out of character for the world’s third-richest man, it sparked a debate that seemed to resonate with many. And it may have helped begin the Occupy movement. That debate at times got pretty heated, and dumb. Just check the 691,000 links Google returns for “Warren Buffett socialist.”

7. Supreme Court sides with Wal-Mart in sex bias case. The court didn’t rule on the validity of up to 1.6 million women’s claims they were denied promotions and suffered through different working conditions than men. It did say the group was too large and diverse to wrap into one class action. Legal observers say it may make it difficult to mount large-scale claims against the biggest companies.

6. Whistle-blowing witch grounded by TSA.  Step onto the mat. Make sure you have no liquids on your person. Take off those shoes. And for heaven’s sake, DO NOT cast spells. As if the Transportation Security Administration didn’t seem to already have a list of misplaced priorities, it canned Carole A. Smith, an agent at New York’s Albany International Airport, despite generally good job performance. Smith practices Wicca. And she has a broom. But she denied putting a hex on a coworker’s car, telling msnbc.com “If I had that kind of power, I wouldn't be working for TSA. I would go buy lottery tickets and put a spell on the balls.”

5. Co-founder of social network Diaspora dies. Ilya Zhitomirskiy was 22. CNN reported it was a suicide. The social networking site was started by four students in a New York University computer lab. This story seemed unusually popular, given that the service, which emphasizes privacy and user control, has only more than 200,000 users, is non-profit and, according to Wikipedia, makes its money off donations and T-shirt sales. Maybe people read the headline too quickly and thought about that other guy who founded another social networking site.

4. Major grocer getting rid of self-checkout lanes. The pageviews were considerable, but the 170,000-plus votes and 21 pages of comments from readers was notable for a story that was just 12 paragraphs long. Of course, the debate wasn’t about Albertsons LLC’s decision, it was a referendum on whether self-checkout was boon or a sign of the Apocalypse. Our personal preference is to have both options – and a special cage for people who write checks.

3. U.S. falls to 5th in global competitiveness. Another short story, this one seemed to be a touchstone for a “What’s wrong with America?” debate – in this case all 2,492 comments. Backers of President Obama generally said the blame should not go to President Obama. Opponents of the president generally said the president should be blamed.

2. Huguette Clark, reclusive copper heiress, dies at 104. This story was the biggest showing on the subject, though other pieces on the ongoing legal travails of sorting out who is due what from her estate continue to do well. The combination of her long, full life, massive wealth, and the intrigue about dividing it seemed the stuff of Hollywood drama.

1. $100 million savings receipt left in ATM. Sometimes, it seems despite world events, there is no substitute for a man-bites-dog story.