From paperclip to house

From paperclip to house

This is the sort of thing that only the Internet could make possible. Showing a keen grasp of market economics (“the value of a thing is dependent on the one who wants to buy it”), a Canadian fellow is looking to barter his way to a new house, starting with one red paper clip.

Here’s how it works. He had a red paperclip that he was willing to trade for something “bigger & better.” Someone offered him a fish pen. He traded the fish pen for a door knob shaped like a face. He traded the door knob for a Coleman stove. He traded the stove for a generator. He traded the generator for “one instant party,” i.e. a Budweiser sign, a beer keg, and an IOU for a keg’s worth of beer. He traded the instant party for a snowmobile. He traded the snowmobile for a trip to Yahk, British Columbia. He traded the trip for a used box truck. He traded the truck for a recording contract. He traded the contract for one-year rent-free in Phoenix in a furnished apartment plus roundtrip airfare for two from any major airport in North America. Now he’s looking to trade up. His goal is to trade for a house by July 12, 2006, one year to day after he began with one red paperclip.

Now, obviously, the uniqueness of the circumstances plus the media coverage is allowing him to make big swaps: after a keg of beer for a snowmobile is a big jump. On the other hand, it demonstrates the economic principles at work. To the guy trading away the snowmobile, he’s not just getting a keg, but he’s also getting to participate in the swap (an intangible) and since he’s a radio personality in Montreal, the use of the swap as a promotional gimmick for his show. That’s got to be worth something too.

I love the idea, but like so many others (e.g. One Million Pixels), the first guy to have the idea is the one who will reap all the benefits. The value to copycats will decline precipitously. But so what? You may not be able to trade up from a paperclip to a house, but maybe you can swap some old thing that has no value to you for something that has no value to someone else.

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1 comment
  • I thought they called this “garage sale”, Dom, but maybe I’m just out of date.

    In my Red Hat group we call it the white elephant gift exchange.  After all, what else is a red feather lamp good for?

    Some folks around northeast Ohio even manage to make a living riding around in a pickup after dark the night before garbage day, collecting things to sell at flea markets.

    Some folks on one of our side streets apparently remodeled their bathrooms, because two toilets were sitting out by the curb one day as we drove by.  A pink one and a beige one.  A couple hours later when we drove by on the way home, we noticed that the beige one was gone.  When the folks who provided this windfall discover the vagaries of the 1.6 gallon flush, they might even be willing to pay a premium to get their beige commode back. 

    The perception of value truly is in the eye of the beholder. The paperclip that became a house might even look like a valuable exchange in the reverse direction once the inadequacies of the house acquired are discovered.  It is just possible that a house exists that is not even worth the value of a red paperclip.

    But what a story to tell the grandchildren!