Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Some Things You Can't Even Give Away

The Lady Marjorie and I have been cleaning out her mother's condo in Philadelphia. And we have learned a few things.

When you are clearing out grandma's house there are three categories of Stuff.

  1. Stuff that people will pay for.
  2. Stuff that you can give away.
  3. Stuff that you cannot give away.
You can get auction houses to come and get stuff that can fetch them a half decent price.  There are all kinds of ways you can do this, depending on who is going to pick up the risk on what it is all going to sell for.

You can take all kinds of stuff to Goodwill and the other charities that accept donations.

But it is the final category that interesting: the stuff you cannot give away, the stuff that you have to pay someone to take off your hands, the stuff that the auction houses don't want and Goodwill won't accept.

In other words, this stuff is worth less than nothing.

Here is what I am talking about. World Book Encyclopedia. Goodwill won't take it, because nobody wants an encyclopedia these days. Golly, I wonder why. Here is something else: electric typewriters. Nobody wants these miracles of mechanical technology any more, not unless it is an antique manual model. What a shame!

OK. So you that throw these things in the dumpster. But there is something more.

Nobody wants wall units, those majestic pieces of floor-to-ceiling furniture that once supported your stereo, your TV and VCR, and displayed your china collection.

You can see why. Encyclopedias? You can get it for free on the Internet. Typewriters? Hey, it's not just that you can type up anything you want on your laptop; you can dictate into your smartphone. You can even dictate into your smartphone and have it translate into another language.

But the sacred shrines of the household, the wall units, what about them?

It is obvious. Today, people hang giant-screen TVs up on the wall, and they stream everything with Apple TV, or Roku, or Amazon Fire. But what about those china collections? I suppose the answer is that china is not an expensive luxury any more. Good china, cups, mugs, glassware are no longer prized possessions. You can get 'em good and cheap anywhere. Who needs to announce their wealth and taste with stuff anymore?

There is more: mattresses, box springs, upholstered furniture. Forget it. You have to pay to get people to take 'em away. And the guy that took ours away says that stuff is worth less than ever before. He used to get $300 for a trucklead; now he is looking at clearing $100. It's hardly worth bothering. So you have to pay him to take it away.

Well, I don't know the moral and epistemological meaning of all this, whether it speaks of our obscene wealth or our obscene decadence.

I only close with this. When the World Bank did a study on wealth (pdf) back in 2000 they found that physical capital from resources, land, and plants and equipment added up  to a minor part of our capital and wealth. In the advanced countries "intangible capital," the stuff between peoples' ears, amounted to about 80 percent of all wealth.

So it really is true what they say. "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal..."

But I say: What about grandchildren? Is it OK to lay up a batch of grandchildren? I hope so.

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