Misadventures in Capitalism

(Illustration: Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Every time there is a great advance in communication technology, we tell ourselves the same lie: that it is going to be put to some high purpose. In the early days of radio, people honestly thought that radio would be used mainly to bring the world’s greatest musical ensembles and university lectures into the households of middle-class people and working men. The same thing was said of television and then the Internet. Johannes Gutenberg probably didn’t foresee that the most profitable uses of the press would one day be celebrity diet books and pornography. The major change of the Internet era isn’t that you can listen to MIT neuroscience lectures on your phone — it’s that there isn’t really any money in pornographic magazines, any more. Playboy, once a cultural powerhouse, is today very little more than a T-shirt company.

I have a weakness for techno-optimism, but I am getting over that with some help from the eBay marketing department, which today sent me a solicitation for something called Bulq. Bulq, identified by eBay as a company with which it has an “exclusive partnership,” is a service whereby people can to go eBay and buy things via eBay in order to . . . sell those things on eBay. The proposition here is basically price arbitrage for blithering idiots: Buy goods being liquidated at wholesale prices and then try to sell them at the higher prices at which they did not sell earlier. This is classic greater-fool stuff, and nobody ever thinks he is at the end of the line of the great fools, the apex bozo.

When your local campus knucklehead Marxist talks about the “decadence of Late Capitalism,” this is what he is talking about: buying stuff on eBay to sell it on eBay.

Signs and wonders, etc.

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