April 30, 2008

AP Descends into Gloom over Growth of Second-Hand Goods Market

You have to wonder if the Associated Press felt the need to find an exceptionally gloomy story to write when it learned that the economy would probably show positive growth in the government’s first-quarter GDP report. That report was released earlier today — and came in at +0.6%.

If so, this article by the AP’s Anne D’Innocenzio (HT to a NewsBusters e-mailer) does the job:

The for-sale listings on the online hub Craigslist come with plaintive notices, like the one from the teenager in Georgia who said her mother lost her job and pleaded, “Please buy anything you can to help out.”

Or the seller in Milwaukee who wrote in one post of needing to pay bills — and put a diamond engagement ring up for bids to do it.

Struggling with mounting debt and rising prices, faced with the toughest economic times since the early 1990s, Americans are selling prized possessions online and at flea markets at alarming rates.

To meet higher gas, food and prescription drug bills, they are selling off grandmother’s dishes and their own belongings. Some of the household purging has been extremely painful — families forced to part with heirlooms.

Besides the engagement ring noted above, D’Innocenzio cited just one other heirloom: a $6 grandmother’s teakettle.

For that matter, the AP writer cited very few “prized possessions,” including:
- “pricey Dooney & Bourke handbags.”
- “Hermes leather jackets and Versace jeans and silk shirts.”

Far be it from me to debate the definition of “prized.”

I am not denying that people occasionally come onto hard times, nor am I denying that most who do deserve our sympathy and, where possible, charitable help. But one person cited in the article got into the difficulties she is in because her live-in boyfriend left her. Another couple is in a tough situation because the husband became disabled. Can these unfortunate events be traced, as D’innocenzio seems to claims, to horrible economic conditions in general?

D’Innocenzio also cites heavy sales of used “recreational vehicles like campers and trailers, cars and trucks, and boats” — items which she acknowledges are likely being unloaded because of how expensive it is to keep some of them fueled. But with gas prices where they are, this would likely be happening even if the economy were booming.

The question that D’Innocenzio does not answer is whether the explosive growth in the market for second-hand goods at sale and auction sites like Craigslist, AuctionPal.com, and others is a product of truly tougher-than-usual times, or instead a positive reflection of the benefits of Internet-driven economic efficiency. After all, about the only ways to sell “stuff” 20 years ago were to hold a yard sale and/or place expensive classified ads, meaning that a lot of “stuff” either never got sold, got sold at fire-sale prices, or was thrown away. People going through a difficult stretch are probably better able to get their hands on needed cash by selling “stuff” when they have to than at any other time in history. I would suggest that this is a good thing, and can, to an extent, soften the blows people take when their financial circumstances sour.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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2 Comments

  1. Problem with using anecdotal “evidence” like this is you can find that kind of evidence in good times and bad. Every year there are people holding garage sales to get rid of stuff they probably shouldn’t have bought in the first place. There have alway been and will always be boyfriends who leave and husbands who become disabled.

    Comment by largebill — April 30, 2008 @ 3:11 pm

  2. #1, exactly, Bill. It’s where you go when you don’t want facts and stats to get in the way of a good story.

    Comment by TBlumer — April 30, 2008 @ 4:55 pm

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