Friday, May 3, 2019

Economic Rights

The eBay auction blew up in my face.   Time to start over!

The auction ended with a bang.  Less than an hour before the end of the auction, I got an e-mail from someone in California asking me to call them, saying they were "very interested" in buying the camper - and they bid $11,000, which is far more than it is worth.   Their feedback was zero, because their userID was only minutes old.   I cancelled their bid and the next highest bidder won.   Turns out he was from California, too - some sort of Dentist or something, based on his feedback profile.   Why would someone from California bid on a camper in Georgia?  The answer is, of course, they don't.   Either his eBay user ID was compromised, or he was one of these people who just randomly bids on things for funsies.  He didn't pay or even contact me, which is odd.  Usually people do both within minutes after the auction ends.

When you see an eBay ID that is a random collection of keyboard characters, you should be wary.   His ID was something like "Joeruqeyqkjhbdakj" which tells me it was a throwaway ID and that when he gets negative feedback as a buyer, he just dumps one ID and starts another.   Funny thing, the system seems to protect the fraudsters, but punished the innocent and honest.

Craigslist isn't much better.   I tried listing the camper there, only to have it "flagged for removal" because (I am guessing) I had links to my videos in the listing.  I removed the URLS and shortened the listing and guess what?   Flagged for removal.   Funny thing, too, there were 12 fraudulent listings for Casitas that were shown under "RVs for sale".   Not hard to spot these - someone offering a $12,000 Casita for $2435 with an embedded e-mail address in the image.   Again, the honest are punished and the fraudulent are rewarded.

You may very well wonder, how does Craigslist make its money?  I mean, are they running a charity or something?   The answer is, of course, that they accept payment from dealers for dealer listings.  So they have a vested interest in catering to dealers.   And dealers have a vested interest in seeing that no one buys from an individual.   So if you put lots of fraudulent listings in there and allow them to fester, it drives home the message to buyers - don't buy from anyone but your trusty local dealer.

The net result is - and this is not by accident - it is harder than ever for an individual to buy or sell something from one individual to another.   I recounted before how in Virginia, we used to go to the Safeway parking lot and look at cars for sale by local residents.  I sold a car or two there myself.   You put the car out by the road with a "for sale" sign and you got phone calls.   The local merchants didn't care because there was more than enough parking and it actually generated foot traffic into our little strip mall.

But the local used car dealer?   He wasn't very happy that people were buying and selling cars and he didn't get a taste of the action.   So the local car dealers association sent a letter (via their lawyers) threatening the strip-mall owner with legal action unless he put up signs forbidding "For Sale by Owner" cars on the lot and started towing away cars left for sale.   Their argument was that under Virginia law, if you had more than three cars for sale, you needed a dealer license, and since there were five to seven cars on the lot on any given weekend, the strip-mall owner was running an illegal dealership (!!!).

Of course, it was just nonsense.  The mall owner wasn't selling the cars, individual people were.  And if it was illegal to park your car with a for-sale sign in the window, then it calls into question, can you even drive around with one?  Because if you have a "for sale" sign on your car, and you park in a parking lot with more than four other cars - just to stop and get groceries - under this bogus legal argument, you are breaking the law.

But of course, it is bogus.  The real issue is that the car dealers want to have a monopoly on car sales, and one way to do this is to drive other people out of business.   If you make it a pain-in-the-ass to sell your car, then people are more likely to "trade in" which means another profit opportunity - a big one - for dealers.   Trade-ins are great for dealers as they can obscure the price of the new car in a number of ways.   Since the retail price of a used car varies depending upon condition (and location, demand, and whatnot) the dealer can either pad the price of the new car, pad the price of the trade, or mess around in other ways.  The more complicated you can make any financial transaction, the easier it is to screw the customer.

People like to talk about "freedom" in this country, like it is some sort of thing independent from economics.   Courts talk about "free speech" versus "economic speech" as if somehow the grubbiness of economics isn't worthy of any rights.   But of course, this country was founded on economic freedoms - protests by colonists over taxes on tea among other things.  And the bloodiest war we ever fought was about economic freedom.   Slavery was an economic condition where one could not profit from one's own labor - something that we deemed to be un-American and ungodly.

But to hear some tell it, freedom exists in the abstract, and economics is something totally unrelated.  Give someone freedom of speech, however, and they won't mount the soapbox in the public square to talk about abstract freedoms.  No, they will immediately complain about taxes, government spending, and prices - all economic issues.   Even things like Abortion, Gay Rights, and whatnot, are not abstract arguments about "freedom" but rather economic ones.   The debate about Abortion comes down to the right not to bear children, which can be an economic hardship for an unwed mother.   The entire gay marriage thing wasn't about making religious people "accept" homosexual relationships, but rather the right to inherit your partner's 401(k) without having to pay 1/3 of it in taxes, or the right for survivors benefits from Social Security.   Yes, you can argue there are moral issues involved - and there are.  But there are economic ones as well.

Economic Rights are Human Rights - and vice-versa.  The "refugee crises" that is going on worldwide right now is mostly about economic rights - people are struggling to get by in war-torn countries or countries ravaged by corruption, fundamentalist religions, and gang warfare.  People "migrate" to Europe and the United States not because of some abstract concept of "freedom" but because of economic freedom - the freedom to flourish economically.

I will re-list the camper and see how it goes.  But it is disturbing that it is so hard these days to dispose of personal possessions.    Even having a yard sale is getting harder and harder to do - many homeowner's associations and Condo boards prohibit or limit how you can sell your own chattel on a weekend.  Even here on our little island, you have to get a permit to put up a "garage sale" sign.

Of course, this all can backfire badly.   Once people find it harder and harder to buy things and even harder to dispose of them, they will become less inclined to consume.  Why buy something when your only recourse to dispose of it is to donate it to charity or throw it away?   Why buy something when dealers and retailers have sewn up all the avenues of commerce with price-fixing arrangements?

Most of what we consume - as we discovered in 2009 - are wants and not needs.   And as I noted before, things that are needs like gasoline or groceries, seem to be sold competitively in our country, with prices clearly advertised for everyone to see.  Wants, on the other hand suffer from price opacity.  And when it becomes harder and harder to acquire and dispose of wants, people may stop wanting.

UPDATE:  In the time it took me to write this, over a dozen new fraudulent listings for Casitas appeared on Craigslist in Jacksonville.   They have bots that put up the ads and even as C/L deletes them, they upload them faster and faster.   In the meantime, the one legitimate seller (me) is locked out.   Maybe Craigslist is obsolete.