What is it “worth”; does someone really want it?


I buy and sell my used astronomy equipment on a dedicated site called “AstroMart.”  I’m no extreme bargain-hog, so don’t really dicker much at all.  If something I want and can afford comes up at an OK used price – I just offer “on your terms; Immediate PayPal” and generally get it.  Seller and buyer happy.  If I’m selling, I put a relatively low “Great Deal” price so it’s up and sold almost instantly.  So as a “user” (not a dealer), I’m willing to leave some $ on the table to just get in and out and allow good feelings on the part of the seller or buyer.  That of course also gets me +++ ratings, which help a LOT next time I propose buy or sell.

Psychology is a wonderful study; ditto economics, altruism, selfishness, anger, regret … all ultimately based in reductio upon self-centered human nature.  The cynical might even argue that we give to charities more because it makes us feel good about ourselves, rather than true empathy with the downtrodden.  So I get to pondering the words of that famous philosopher Zjabstotle, paraphrased here, [“I’ll bid something low but half-way reasonable, just to keep the stingy bargain-hunters honest].  I understand and agree – sorry if I butchered the bard’s exact words.

So I gets to pondering an extreme case of such justice as a seller.  I here and now formally coin the term “Gallagher Auction.”  I am using a famous comedian/philosopher’s tradename in a non-obvious context – so believe I am OK regarding originality.  The concept goes something like this:

“Step right up, ladies and gentlemen:  I offer here my Minty Meade 14-inch ACF telescope with all the extras…low undisclosed Reserve and my unique method of dealing.”  So the bidding begins and the offers climb --- eventually hitting top bid.  Me again: “Going once, going twice…” – and here comes the unusual part.  “I will now reveal whether my modest reserve has been met…obzoive!”  At this point I get out a maul (like you split wood with) and step up to the item.  I plant my feet and prime for my trademark full-bore swing… If the Reserve is met, I swipe to the side and declare, “Congratulations, sir/madam – you are the new proud owner of this beauteous telescope!”  If the secret reserve is not met, I demolish the thing with one unabated swing.  This brings aghast cries, “But I would have given you $1800!”

The psychology here is called “minimization of maximum regret” … on the part of prospective buyers.  People want to get a great deal --- but are really disturbed if they see something “wasted” when they could have had it for a price they would have considered an extreme bargain.  They wind up really pissed off – even though they are no further ahead or behind than when the auction started.  What has evaporated is their opportunity to get what they wanted for a price they would have been gladly willing to pay.

Let’s examine the economics of this a little more closely:  You know the type.  People who will eat the extra food on the plate even though they are already overly-satiated and maybe even feeling sick to their stomachs.  People who will stop and grab a “free” roadside trash chair – simply because it is free.  People who will suck down open-bar drinks just because they are “free.”  Like the hangover and puking bile the next day simply indicate the bargain-hunter in them.

The value of the destroyed item is not lost.  All that has happened is that the other similar items have gone incrementally up in value because they are incrementally rarer now.  So I have not thrown away value – I have simply, even generously transferred to others having similar items.  Ditto if I burn a $100 bill in front of an audience.  But alas – if the Feds print more money than degrades --- they of course are dollar-for-dollar taking it directly from everyone in the world who holds currency!

I might try the $100 thing someday just to see the reaction.  It would have to be in front of a reasonably-sized inherently-stingy group to make it worth the personal loss.  I am not rich – but would sure enjoy getting my $100 worth in condemnation.  I guess I’d have to pass the bill around with a flourish first and have someone read the serial # etc. to confirm it’s not a magic trick.  I would then give my talk on some astronomy topic.

See, my Ego is big.  The above would assure my having given a talk would be forever remembered by all.  So what if they would call me "Tom Dey that a-hole."  That would even add to the sweetness.


© 2013 Thomas Dey - 10/16/13

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