mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Can eBay save the economy? No, but it's not worthless either...

Via a thread on Fatwallet comes this Bloomberg article berating McCain for advocating eBay as a means of earning an income.

Do I think that a large number of people can quit their day jobs and sell on eBay? No. There's only so much merchandise to sell, and so many buyers, that at some point there's no more money to be made. But a not-insubstantial number of people have found full-time employment selling on the 'bay, and a much larger number - including myself - have found eBay a great way to supplement their day jobs, to pick up a few extra dollars. My friend bsom's mom, after retirement, turned to eBay as something to do and a way to pick up a few extra bucks, and she's done quite well. If it wasn't for eBay, people like her probably wouldn't have that extra money.

My main problem with the article is this quote:

`In terms of jobs, there's no net increase in GDP that comes from trading stuff that's already made,'' said Stevenson, author of a study on the Internet and employment levels. ``New people selling stuff out of their closet on EBay isn't growing the economy.'

The problem with this statement is twofold. The first is that eBay sellers who do it for a living or as a serious hobby aren't just selling stuff from around their house - they are going out and buying goods from other places specifically for the purpose of selling on eBay. Some of this is new product that wouldn't be made or sold without eBay. But much of it is used items - sourced from places like auctions, wholesalers, yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores, and a variety of other places.

So eBayers aren't just selling junk out of their closets- they are selling stuff out of other people's closets. And that's a good thing. How does this increase GDP? Because eBayers aren't selling goods - they are selling a service. They are going out and finding hard-to-find items for you, cleaning and fixing them up, and listing them on eBay so you can easily go and buy them.

Right now on eBay, I've got a pair of Bose speakers ($15 from a hamfest), an Onkyo reciever ($3 at a yard sale), and some Dell laptop accessories (from a $20 "contents of 3 shelves" at an auction). Prowl a ton of yard sales and you may or may not find any of these items - I wasn't looking for them when I bought them, I was just looking for stuff that I knew was worth more than what the seller was asking for them. What you are paying me for isn't a receiver or a docking station, but my going out and finding them. Without people like me buying stuff from yard sales and like, people wouldn't have them, and lots of that stuff would get thrown out. The people I buy from get money for junk they didn't want, the people who buy from me get an item they were looking for at a price that's below buying it new, and I get a few extra bucks. Everyone wins, and real value is being produced that otherwise would be lost.

So eBay does contribute to the economy. It may not be the answer for rising unemployment, but for people like me it's the difference between having some money at the end of the month to put into my savings account or living paycheck to paycheck. And that's not something to mock.


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