Punchinello’s Chronicles

December 2, 2008

eBay and Market Regulation

Filed under: Butterfly Wings — Punchinello @ 8:43 am
Tags: , , ,

Watching eBay’s majestic glidepath into the side of a mountain is like watching the slow-motion videos of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Who isn’t familiar with the documentary films showing the airliners smashing into the sides of the twin towers? We watch in fascination, knowing that it’s real; knowing that ordinary travelers were aboard those planes.

We watch the planes hit the buildings, knowing what comes next. Most of us remember where we were that morning. We know most of the story by now, and as we track the initial impacts, we see in our mind’s eye the fire, black smoke, and impending collapse of each tower. We remember the victims; not only the rescue workers, but the office workers trapped in their workaday offices overlooking New York City.

And now eBay is doing its very best to implode. In total contradiction to everything we know about free trade, free markets, entrepreneurial capitalism, and American ingenuity, the company is aggressively driving away both buyers and sellers. Proclaiming brilliant leadership, dazzling innovation, and superb guidance, CEO John Donahoe and his handpicked executive team are perfect harbingers of what’s to come in America.

Like a shabby dowager of a bygone era, eBay has become a caricature of its past glories. Sales have taken on a now-standard crash course, always downward, never upward. Sellers rush through the escape stairwells, leaving in droves. Everyone except the management team sees the writing on the wall. The only thing left to do is watch the crash.

I’m reminded of a story I heard long ago. This guy shows up for an interview with the railroad company, hoping to become the managing director of the West Coast division. During the interview, he’s asked what he would do if he saw two commuter trains speeding toward each other on the same track.

He says that the first thing would be to call the switchman to shunt one of the trains to another track. “But what if the phone lines are down?” he’s asked.

“I’d radio the engineers on both trains, telling them to make an emergency switch to another track,” he responds.

“And suppose the radios are dead?”

“I’d send flagmen running to the tracks to manually try and stop the trains, or change the signal lights.”

“And what if the lights are burnt out and the flagmen don’t get your message?” comes the next question.

“I’d call my little boy,” says the hopeful executive.

“Really? And why would you do that?” asks the interviewer.

“Oh, he loves to watch train crashes!”

So too, there comes a point of inevitability. When anyone assumes that business people are infinitely replaceable, and that when one person stops selling, two will take his or her place, the results are predictable. When anyone assumes that customers will buy things no matter what, the results are likewise obvious.

What’s happening on eBay is a microcosm and harbinger of what’s likely to happen in the coming years, here in America. The newly elected Congress, brought to power by the majority of voters who seem to believe they’re not directly involved, is like the eBay management team.

Lost in a delusion of vainglorious past achievement, today’s congressional leaders can’t conceive of the idea that individual business owners have created America’s historic success, one step at a time. They’ve done so out of personal effort, hard work, and a commitment to what used to be the American dream. Instead, these leaders believe that business “just happens.” Somehow.

The incoming administration is like the terrorist hijackers who flew into the WTC towers. They bask in a fantastical belief system having nothing whatsoever to do with reality. Their goal is to bring down the evils of capitalism, free markets, free trade, and individual ownership. Believing that the end result will be a paradise of equality, they can’t comprehend that the actuality will be a disaster of epic proportions.

Watch the communications coming out of eBay headquarters. Listen to the rhetoric and bombast spewing from the executive offices. Scratch your head in wonderment, as eBay pours gasoline on the fire and raises fees, raises prices, introduces more and more restrictions, and shuts down option after option for those trying to sell anything at all.

Then listen to the news reports coming out of Washington and Chicago. The only difference is that eBay is a limited portion of the overall economy. What Congress now controls is the entire American economy, and a massive proportion of the overall global economy!



  1. Well I don’t know that there is nothing left to do but watch……..you could always send some boxes in to ebay and paypal to show your displeasure 🙂
    Between Jan 20, 2009 and Feb 25, 2009 we are running a campaign to send empty boxes to both ebay and paypal. Feel free to send some their way!

    EBAY ADDRESS: eBay Inc.
    2145 Hamilton Avenue
    San Jose, California 95125

    PAYPAL ADDRESS: eBay Park North
    2211 North First Street
    San Jose, CA 95131

    Comment by Karin — January 9, 2009 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

  2. I’m thinking they’ll need the boxes to pack up their desks when they move to smaller offices. 🙂

    Comment by Punchinello — January 10, 2009 @ 2:39 pm | Reply

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