Last month, our neighborhood had its huge annual garage sale. More households than ever participated; even our kids purged their rooms for stuff to sell. I call it my “biggest shopping day of the year.” We even had relatives come to stay with us and join in the hunt for bargains.
In years past, we’ve scored athletic shoes, skis, camping gear, nearly new books and music and computer games, hand tools, garden tools, power tools, lightly-used furniture; I could go on and on. Thus, with record participation, we fully expected to rake in useful household goods for a fraction of their retail prices.
Honestly, it was kind of a bust.
This year, most of the stuff I was looking at was either just as old and decrepit as the things at home that I wanted to replace. And the prices of the “new” things were so close to retail levels, they weren’t worth buying.
What could explain this shift in merchandise quality, I wondered. Then it occurred to me: When the economy shrinks, my neighbors don’t consume as much. And when they don’t buy new things, they don’t casually get rid of their old things, which I look forward to getting for ten cents on the dollar. Dang.
I got to thinking about this again when I saw a recent video on PJTV by Bill Whittle, looking at statistics of those considered poor in the US. It turns out that a surprising number of the poor have amenities that royalty couldn’t have hoped to enjoy just a short time ago. One example Whittle gives is of air conditioning: Whereas only a third of all Americans had it in 1970; within a decade, more than that percentage of the poor were chillin’. How awesome is that?
Now consider iPads, which are still too rich for my blood. They came out last year, and already have a newer version with more functionality and capacity at a lower price than the initial offering. Competitors have entered the field, putting pressure on Apple to lower the prices even more. But here’s the cool thing: Now that there’s an iPad 2.0, well-heeled gadget freaks are willing to part with their 1.0’s pretty cheaply. A quick perusal of Craigslist puts a 64GB iPad at about $400, which is half its price from just a year ago. Sweeeeet!
There’s been so much talk lately of the disparities between rich and poor, and the need to redistribute wealth so things will be more “fair.” Well, “fair” is actually a bad thing. It brings us all down to the lowest common denominator, because no matter how hard we work, we’ll get the same money as the guy who goofs off. Thus, it discourages invention, which makes things possible at all. Then it dampens competition, which brings prices down to where even the “poor” can afford them.
Rich people are wonderful. They create a market that drives innovators who want to sell new, cool things to them. They pay high prices, which brings competitors running. Rich people unload their ‘old’ stuff on happy bottom-feeders like me. Before long, the new thing is a common thing and we all can afford it, even unused. Bless you, Rich People!
My formerly-affluent neighbors are now consuming at my level. They’ve joined my standard of living. Classism is dead; we’re equals now.
Elise Cooke is the national award-winning author of Strategic Eating, The Econovore’s Essential Guide. Subscribe to her free monthly newsletter at SimpletonSolutions.com.