A Mechanic In A Hot Spring And The New Economy

By: Steven Gillman

New or not, the economy isn't an interesting subject to most people. Probably it wouldn't have been interesting to Jack, either, so we talked about classic cars and the internet. My wife and I met Jack in a hot springs pool near Canon City, Colorado, where we live. He's a mechanic and auto-body guy who has recently discovered the internet.

"I used to find a car every year or so," he explained. "You know, something classic just waiting to be restored and sold to a collector. I might hear about a 1964 Buick Convertible parked behind some guys barn, for example, and so I'd drive 50 miles to see it, and maybe buy it for $2,000. By the time I was done, a month later, I might have spent another $1,000 on parts, and then I'd sell it for $10,000. The problem was that I could drive all over the state on my days off work and still only find one or two each year."

That WAS the problem. Two years ago, however, Jack discovered the internet, and he saw the potential immediately. The first thing he did was put all his spare auto parts up for sale on Ebay. He made over $20,000 for cleaning out his garage in this way. Previously, he could have spent a lifetime trying to find the right people to buy these things.

Then he started to look at the classic autos that people had for sale on Ebay as well as on the various classified advertising web sites. He found that there were deals to be had within a 100 miles of him, and almost every week. Now, instead of making $6,000 or $7,000 on just one or two cars each year, he could do it every month.

He no longer needed his job.

"I hardly knew how to turn on a computer two years ago," he told me. "The internet has changed everything." It certainly has. I myself didn't know what HTML was three years ago, and now I get to sit here and make a living sharing stories like this online. This is great for me, and great for auto-restorers too, but as I listened to Jack, I realized how big a deal this is.

The New Economy

I have often wondered over the last few years how our economy could continue to do so well with more debt and more government spending than ever. This has been a mystery to me. That day in the hot springs, though, I realized that this "new economy" based on instant information might just be one of the most important pieces of the puzzle.

Consider those auto parts in Jack's garage, and the thousands of cars sitting behind barns and in fields around the country. This capital was locked up before, just barely accessible. Jack could have a door for a 1969 Ford Mustang, but the six people in the country that could use it might all live a thousand miles away. Advertising locally wouldn't get it sold, and advertising all over the country would cost too much, so the door was destined for the junkyard someday. But now Jack can advertise all over the world for free on Craigslist.com or any number of other classified advertising sites. Soon the door is once again useful instead of being garbage.

I was looking at a house with some investors, and they suggested that they would tear out the wood flooring in the bedroom. I mentioned that it might be expensive, and one of them said, "Oh no. We'll just put it on Craigslist and someone who need the flooring will take it out for free." The wrought iron door they replaced was sold online as well.

Previously, you couldn't justify the effort to sell an unusual door that might get $80. It was just too much time and trouble to find a buyer. Instead, you would pay money to bring it to the dump. Now you just sit at the computer for a few minutes and wait for the phone to ring in the next few days. Need to get rid of that old fireplace insert? Get online. I'll bet if you go online right now, you can find someone selling used bricks.

This is essentially turning garbage into wealth. Take a look at any of the major online auction or classified web sites, and notice the variety and volume of things being sold there every day. Much of what you'll see there had no real value until the internet made it possible to sell it.

Small examples? It may not seem such a big deal that a mechanic doubled his income and quit his job due to the internetComputer Technology Articles, or that I tripled mine simply by providing information and stories online. But multiply that by the millions of people online. This is the new information-age economy.

Money Management
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