Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wednesday too...

I watched the video clip of Bam Margera breaking down at the site of the crash that killed Ryan Dunn on TMZ today and I was struck, not so much by Margera's raw and emotional reaction, which I fully expected, but by something that was mentioned at the end of the clip.  Apparently, there have been people going to the crash site and scavenging pieces of the wreckage or any salvageable personal items from the debris to go and sell on ebay.

It was ironic for me to learn this, because I was just having a conversation with Shannon last night about how the recent entrepreneurial growth in our country, in terms of self-starter businesses that average, middle-class Americans can get into and end up making a good living from if they're smart, hard-working and lucky, has been the "scavenger" industry.  I noted this because we were flipping through the cable guide - we haven't had cable in our house for the better part of the last 3 years - and I noticed that there are a ton of shows on TV these days about auction hunting, trash picking, storage raiding, repossession, pawn shops and other businesses that essentially profit from the financial misfortune of others.

I was remarking about how, back before the housing bubble burst, every other show on those basic cable channels was about house hunting, house flipping and other overnight businesses that revolved around ordinary people putting together enough cash or credit to buy a fixer-upper, invest a few grand into remodeling it and then flipping it on the booming housing market for a tidy profit and then rinse and repeat until rich.  I commented how all the people who made a decent profit doing that in the early to mid 2000's are probably the same people who's storage units are being raided now for failure to keep up the payments, or how people who have been laid off or otherwise become a victim of the subsequent recession are the ones selling off their antiques to the collectors to help pay their bills or get out of debt.  In less than 10 years, the trend in "get rich quick" business ventures in America has gone from real estate investment and playing the markets to trash digging, scavenging and picking the bones of other middle class Americans who were chewed up and spit out by the boom and bust economy of the last decade.

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not.  I mean, watching these shows made me want to go to some storage unit auctions and see what kinds of hidden treasures I could find, but it also struck me how the economy has shifted from a predator market to a scavenger one.  Instead of a bunch of lions and tigers and bears (oh... nope, you're not getting that cheap and obvious pun), middle class opportunity-makers are now hyenas and jackals and vultures.  The trend in self-starter business has turned a growing segment of our country into the kinds of people who see a celebrity car crash and immediately think "I gotta get down there and see if I can find anything I could put up on ebay!"

While I admire the inventiveness, the reason why this is such a profitable industry now is pretty depressing.

Basically, these shows and the growing trends that they are profiling exist because so many Americans are in terrible shape these days, financially, that they can no longer afford to maintain their lifestyles.  They have to sell off family heirlooms, priceless collections, jewelry, property, etc. because they are hurting for money.  People have lost their homes, put everything they couldn't fit into an apartment into storage, lost their jobs and could no longer afford to make the storage payments and now a bunch of people are fighting over the right to dig through their personal belongings for anything that could be resold at a profit.  It's not that I'm surprised that there's money to be made in profiting from the misfortune of others, I mean pawn shops have been around forever and there's always been a repossession and collectible-hunting industry, these things aren't new by any means.  Rather, it's the degree to which these types of business have boomed over the last 4 years that's striking.  For the guy who is making his house payments thanks to all the other poor schlubs who couldn't make theirs, things are great right now, but for everyone else who hasn't figured out a way to profit off of the recession, isn't it kind of alarming that so much of the middle class is doing so badly right now that there is a big enough boom in the "scavenger" industry that it spawns a dozen or more different TV shows about all the different ways other people are profiting from it?

Think about that.  So many Americans are being forced to sell their belongings and pawn valuables, so many Americans are finding themselves unable to keep paying for cars, boats and other repossess-able items, so many Americans are unable to maintain storage payments, that it's now creating a gold rush of sorts in the business of getting your hands on those items and flipping them for a profit.  It's gone from house flipping to "everything in the house that you just lost" flipping.  It's gone from house hunting to auction hunting.  From e-trade to ebay.  Instead of people sitting at their computer and day trading stocks, they're sitting at their computer checking craigslist ads and watching their ebay auctions.  The fact that things are so bad across the entire country that these businesses are booming to the point that it becomes engaging television to watch these industries explode is both fascinating and depressing at the same time.

It bugs me that more people don't say "You know what, there sure are a lot of shows on TV about people profiting off of the raping of their fellow middle-class neighbors by the banks, big business and our politicians."  These are industries that have always been around, sure, but not to the degree that they are now, and certainly not to the level of proliferation, where everyone and their mother (literally) are out picking over the bones of the financially downtrodden on the chance that they might find a nugget of gold they can resell on ebay or unload on a collector. 

I know I've made the analogy that the wealthy elite in our country sit up there at their big table, feasting on an overabundance of food, while the rest of us lay at their feet like dogs and fight over the scraps that fall from their table, but that exact scenario is playing out across our country right now and it's become a booming industry.  We have literally become a country of dogs, fighting each other over scraps and scavenging whatever falls from the mouths of our fellow middle-class mutts.  The same way a potential self-starter investor looked at a charming 2br in a desirable southern CA neighborhood back in 2006 is the same way a potential self-starter looks at a Daryl's Mini-Storage with an auction banner out front today.  Instead of trying to climb up to a higher tax bracket through investing and strategy, now do-it-yourselfers are climbing up to a higher tax bracket on the backs of their own neighbors and community.  Fighting over table scraps has gone from being a symbolic analogy of the mistreatment of the middle class by the wealthy elite, to an entrepreneurial mission statement.

I gotta be honest, I don't know whether to hang my head in shame or start combing the classifieds for auction announcements.  I mean, if the majority of the country is content to fight over table scraps while the richest 1% get fat on our work, then I better start staking out the best-looking scraps before they're all gone.  Dammit, if only Ryan Dunn had crashed near my house, think of all the money I could have made scavenging the wreckage!

Yeah, that's the new American Dream, live it baby, live it...

1 comment: