I’ve been a Craigslist fan for years, using it for everything from snagging free goods to securing new jobs to buying baby strollers to selling baby strollers—you name it. Yet even as I’ve become somewhat of a Craigslist veteran, swapping this for that and that for this, each experience brings with it a new set of surprises and takeaways, particularly when it comes to the way I view trade and exchange.
Alas, in today’s giant global economy, it can be all too easy to feel like robotic worker bees or petty consumer fleas in a big, blurry economic order. We shouldn’t need reminders that daily tools like pencils and smartphones don’t just appear out of thin air, but based on the protectionist ethos that dominates our discussions on trade, it appears that we do.
In a way it’s understandable, what with all the conglomerates conglomerating and such. The bulk of Western society is no longer confined to bartering at the village market, nor are we bound to spend our days planting seeds and reaping harvests in a badda-bing badda-boom sort of way. Value creation, even at its largest margins, is increasingly difficult to spot.
And it is precisely here, I would argue, that bottom-up trading tools like Craigslist serve a bigger purpose than ridding our attics of stinky old mattresses. There’s something special about hum-drum personal exchange that reacquaints our economic imaginations with basic beauty of it all, cutting through and tearing down whatever pessimistic zero-sum mythologies we may be constructing. (more…)