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Friday, March 18, 2005

Ethics of Ebay

My daughter is currently caught up in the craze of selling through eBay (Note: Selling, not buying; thank God for small mercies!).

Last year, she went on an unchecked spending spree (she calls it her "retail therapy") when she was able to earn quite a bit of money. Finding herself without many bills and having just discovered the supposed "wonders" of the consumer credit system, she amassed for herself "bargains" from such brand-names as Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

Now that her credit card bills are catching up on her she is beginning to see the errors of her ways and have begun to let her prized-collection go via eBay auctions.

Because all of the items she is auctioning off are genuine brand-name articles that she picked up at so-called "discounts", she is getting bids that are now equaling or surpassing what she originally paid for the items, even though the retail prices are even much higher.

The past few days, she has been sitting by the computer, with her eyes transfixed on the screen Gordon Gekko-like, watching the bids climb steadily, every now and then letting out an occasional whoop of joy. (Come to think about it, this is not too dissimilar to bloggers watching their sitemeter stats click over oh goodie, here's another referral! And another page viewed! hooray! - how we wish those numbers are our stock portfolios, eh!? Or, maybe not!)

Her excitement has spread throughout our household as we rejoice with her as she gradually knocks off the balances from her credit cards.

For one of these items, a bidder recently emailed her requesting that she close the auction off right away if she offered her a higher price. The price they are talking about is way above what she paid for, and my daughter is a little perplexed.

She asked me, "Is it right, daddy, for me to sell the item at such an exorbitant price? After all, I only wanted to get my money back for the item..."

After a short discussion, we agreed that as long as both parties are in agreement, any price is acceptable. We decided that in an auction, it is up to the seller to try to get as high a price as possible for the item and the buyer to get it as low as possible. It is a negotiation game, somewhat like playing poker.

I didn't think much about it at the time.

However, now in my more reflective moments, I am beginning to think, is this the Christian way to conduct ourselves, especially in business transactions?

What is the Christian response to economics, pricing, value and fairness?

My daughter's internal radar was sensitive to the morality under girding the economics of pricing, value and business. Yet, have I distorted it by unthinkingly endorsing and promoting a free market style of thinking?

Will she learn to properly apply good judgment and ethics in her business dealings later on? Does it even matter in this case? Am I just being a worry-wart?