When I couldn’t find an Indiana-Jones style leather jacket for this Halloween, I turned to a charitable champion of the secondhand economy: Goodwill. While I couldn’t find a leather jacket in a reasonable price and size range (the store may have been Goodwill, but it’s also located in posh Palo Alto), I did manage to come across a nice brown jacket that fit the bill for a fairly cheap price. As a result, I and the rest of the second violin section of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra brought scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark to life in the annual intra-symphony costume contest (we were the clear winners, of course).
That experience of rapidly biking to Goodwill last-minute brought to the forefront of my mind the idea of the secondhand economy, of which many often partake in. Companies such as and similar to Goodwill have made use of peoples’ desire for bargains to bring the sale of secondhand goods into a mainstream business culture. Many mom & pop thrift shops and flea markets do the same, albeit on a delocalized level.
However, these areas are not the ones in which I usually engage in the secondhand economy. Instead, I find myself utilizing the Silicon Valley companies of Ebay and Facebook to find what I need. Ebay is a more obvious example of the secondhand market emerging, though in recent years companies have begun to use its framework for the sale of new goods. On the other hand, people often underestimate the immense changes Facebook has brought to this economy. At Stanford, for example, the two groups “Free & For Sale” and “Textbook Exchange” are very popular. People post just about everything on Free & For Sale, from cars and apartment rentals to a $5 skirt and assorted cheap dorm decorations. Textbook Exchange is perhaps the more interesting one for me to watch with an economist’s lens. In here, you can discern the popularity of classes and necessity of items by watching how the prices of similar items converge to an equilibrium over the course of the school year. For example, when a class demands the newest edition of a book that just came out, the prices of previous editions drop rapidly.
It’s interesting to watch the recent trend of bargain-hunting and thriftiness as trendy in our society. What was once a necessity of the average middle-class college student has become a multibillion dollar industry with branches extending into all demographics nationwide.