Who rewrote the rules of the market economy?

The basic principles of the market economy used to be simple…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

The basic principles of the market economy used to be simple; provide a good or service – especially a basic one – at a fair price and you will find success.

A popular saying was “build a better mouse trap.” Build a product, or improve an existing one, and you will make a good living – maybe even your fortune.

But, as the saying goes that was then, and this is now.

And “now” is a crazy place.

If you thought surging prices in the stock of GameStop were wild, if not impossible, what do you think of $500 (with some copies listed online for several thousand dollars) for a copy of On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Suess? Spoiler alert; it was available at garage sales or even online for one dollar or so just a week before.

Did those Dr. Seuss books change in intrinsic value in those few days? Does anyone “need” any of those books? And why have they overwhelming increased in value so abruptly?

Or how about a Tom Brady card going for over 1.3 million dollars?

These are not essential items by any stretch.

In fact these are more like examples of some kind of economic delirium.

Money, in this new economy, has little, if any, correlation to inherent value, or utility, or necessity or cost of production or even potential future value or profit.

Market cost seems to have little relevance to any standard markers of value.

Some Dr.Suess books are on the market for the price of a used car.

How could a Tom Brady card cost more than a house?

Behind the hoopla, there is a larger story (or two, or twenty) and many questions; is this an example of people with too much money buying the most frivolous items they can find, driving up prices and distorting standard market forces.

We have seen housing “bubbles” where prices grew exponentially and then “popped,” collapsing and leaving many homeowners and investors “under-water” (an ideal metaphor if there was one).

Is this the new “investment” model where we invest in the most irrelevant item, from sports cards to children’s books to GameStop stock and generate enough “buzz” (as opposed to actual increased value) while attracting even more “greater fools” to invest and then we pull out before the curtain falls?

To put it mildly, this no way to run an economy.

But from Bitcoin to hand sanitizer, we have somehow transitioned into an economy where value, like everything else it seems, from news to political opinions are up for grabs, variable and subject to the latest rumor or speculative fantasy.

Our economy, like many others, used to be based on an objective standard – the price of gold.

We held, and for the most part still hold, massive gold reserves.

That gold, by design, doesn’t do anything. It “represents” value.

We are decades from the gold standard of course, and in our current economy fortunes are made and lost in nanoseconds.

A simple shift in the economy, or a power outage or a viral outbreak can change not only the previous values, but also the entire rules of the game.

Elon Musk, for example, lost $27 billion in just a few days not long ago. (https://nypost.com/2021/03/08/elon-musks-fortune-loses-27b-as-tesla-stock-plunges-report/)

That’s more than the net worth of many nations (and for a little point of reference, a billion seconds is about 32 years).

These numbers boggle our brains and we can’t even make sense of them. Here’s an article that might help: https://www.thoughtco.com/millions-billions-and-trillions-3126163.

But adding zeroes to our budgets, individual, corporate or national, only adds to the abstraction of it all.

What, after all, does add value? What holds value?

I remember (more than) a few years ago when people spoke of their current or upcoming job prospects by using terms like “six-figures” or even “seven-figures” to describe the pay scale.

Developing skills, contributing to the community, carrying on a family tradition or even doing what one loves was secondary or even neglected entirely.

Tony Campolo had a book written many years ago titled “Who switched the price tags?” The premise was very simple, those things humans have always valued, like family and community, even friendship and individual health are, in our society, negotiable in pursuit, or exchange for things of passing, or even contrived value.

Who values, or even imagines value, in time spent alone? Even bored?

Who of us is comfortable in silence? In a time without distractions.

I walk in my neighborhood a lot lately. I see people with ear buds or on their phones.

I like the silence or the distant chirping of birds or the bark of a bored neighbor’s dog.

In a way, walking undisturbed is the ultimate luxury. Many celebrities cannot “afford” this luxury.

I like being anonymous. Going to a public place, a restaurant, a store, a club or a park and spending your time as you want is a gift few of us appreciate.

If you know anyone in a health crisis, just pure mobility, from walking to driving is something like a miracle.

To read a book, with no beeps, chirps or flashing lights is almost remarkable in this era.

Thinking an uninterrupted, extended thought is nearly inconceivable in our frenzied, noisy distraction-based culture.

In our current high-intensity culture, $500 for a child’s book that sat in a box for decades, cost fifty cents, and holds little to no intrinsic value, almost makes sense.

If we were stranded on a desert island, would we want that book? Or a Tom Brady sports card? Or even a box full of cash? Or a bag of gold?

I think I’d prefer a safe and secure water supply over any of those.

And in my current life, (not stranded on a desert island) I’d prefer a good friend, good health and a safe place for any children in my life over any of those things.

Whatever you think of our current economic system, or whatever name you want to call it, I think we’d all agree that we have entered a season of delirium.

The “greater fools” somehow have come to dominate our economy.

Somewhere there must be some adults out there.

Cynics used to say that the stock market was a casino. Now it seems that everything is.

From toilet paper to children’s books, value and cost float, expand and explode.

We have adopted the economic principles of the roulette wheel; round and round it goes; where it stops nobody knows.

Millions and billions, even trillions have given us a lot of zeroes.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d sleep a lot better with fewer zeroes and more real numbers.