Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Issues

How many people do you know have actually bothered to take the time and go through the political candidate's websites to discover the issues on their political platforms? Not that many, it would seem. If people did, endorsements wouldn't matter.

Being a politically minded individual, I feel excitement towards the current presidential campaign season and I am constantly finding myself in the middle of political discussions. It surprises me, however, how so many adults don't know much about how politics work or what platforms the candidates stand for.

Today for instance, I overheard my boss say to the guy next to me, "I'm excited about the Super Bowl." I countered, "I'm excited about Super Tuesday." He gave me a befuddled glance and said, "Taco Tuesday?" (which is a bar nearby that has a cheap taco special, on you guessed it, Tuesdays) . "No, Super Tuesday." He inquired, "What's that?" And this is from someone who openly discusses politics with me and my neighboring cubicalites.

Another situation:
"I'm going to vote for X," the zombie voter states.
"Why do you like that candidate over the other ones?" is usually my first response.
"Well... umm.. I think s/he will do the best job," the zombie voter fires back.
"Based on what?"

::: cue the crickets :::

This is something that really bothers me because people will blindly vote for a candidate because of their speaking ability, good-looks, religion, a joe-blow endorsement or the two newest characteristics, race and gender. (Clearly W was not voted into office based on the first two). People are also heavily influenced by their friends. Of course, the problem there is that their friends probably aren't more well versed in the candidate's issues than they are or the friend might favor a candidate based on a bias from list I just provided.

So, here I propose a solution: Require a multiple choice exam on the candidate's issues before being allowed to cast a vote. Here's how it would work. Imagine a voter showing up at the polling station:

"Hi, I my name is Walker Bush and I'm here to vote," said in a charmingly redneck accent.
"Wow, any relation to the current president?" asks the polling official.
"Oh god no!", Fred snaps back, and then adds, "But I get that all the time, some say his mother and I have a strong resemblance. My mustache hasn't lost all its color yet though. Ha Ha Ha," followed by a hoarse phlegm encumbered cough.
Wiping her face, as she pretends to scratch her eyebrow, the polling official informs, "Well, as you may now know, all of our automated polling machines have a little pop quiz that will test your knowledge of the candidate's issues. You must score at least 85% correct to be allowed to cast a vote. But don't worry, if you fail, you can go study up on the issues either by visiting the candidate's websites, or you can go to where all the candidates are juxtaposed and then come back. We have a group of internet connected computers right over there."
"Well, I was going to vote (insert political party affiliation here) no matter what."
"I'm sorry sir, the passage of 'Sheepole Slaughter Act of 2008' now requires an informed voting populous," the official politely explains.
Fred acquiesces only to return later to the same polling official, "By golly, I had no idea that candidate Y had made it his primary platform to farm baby chinchillas and then steam roll over them as a new national holiday celebration! After learning about what the candidates actually stand for, I have since changed my mind and now have an informed opinion. Maybe this new rule ain't so bad if it makes people know why they are voting for who they are voting for."

But then again, we can only dream. This is only America after all.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ebay's Veiled Fee 'Reduction'

I have long been outspoken about Ebay's ridiculous selling fees. A seller puts up money to list an item and then has to pay a percentage in final value fees. There are also myriad options to go with the listing, such as if you want to put up multiple pictures, display a gallery, have your listing put in bold lettering, use templates, have a "buy-it-now" price where the buyer can skip the auction waiting period and much more. All these extras come with a price, of course.

If the item doesn't sell, no problem Ebay will gladly charge you another listing fee for the next time (refunded if sold the second time). If the seller uses the preferred payment method of PayPal, which is owned by Ebay, another fixed fee and percentage is subtracted from the amount paid to you. The final percentage that the seller gets leeched out of him or her from the time the item is listed until the time that the money ends up in his or her possession varies with the price of the item. The lower the item price, the more the seller is screwed due to the nature of the fixed fees in relation to the small item price. However, after combining all the fees and percentages together, a 10% EBay-skim is not unrealistic., another one of their subsidiaries, is even worse and leeches about 15%. And to top it off, they take 25% of the shipping charge the buyer pays for. Gee thanks.

The problem has been that prices have constantly gone up. Most of us are familiar with prices going down after a product is introduced.

So, in today's news article EBay announces that the seller fees are being reduced! Yip-eeee! Wow, up to 50% off the listing fee! But wait... there's more! The final value fee goes up 67% for the first $25 of an item!

"A majority of sellers will see their fees go down," said company spokesman Usher Lieberman.

I did some calculations and found that fees will go up for those listed items less than or equal to $68.75. So clearly there are some winners and losers with this new policy. If an item sells below $68.75 such as many of the items you'd find under specific categories like music, books, and clothing, then those sellers will begin bleeding more.

I think this will be a move that will increase revenue for EBay because I think there are many more lower priced items being sold than higher priced items. I haven't checked but for every sold auto, I would guess that there are 1,000 items of clothing sold (autos are usually listed multiple times because a 7-day period is too short and it is not sold).

What EBay needs is a competitor, because currently they are a monopoly. They benefit from a network externality where sellers will sell because that's where the buyers are (buyers incur no fees to buy).

There used to be Yahoo! auctions, but for some reason it never really took off. I didn't even hear about it until its death was announced. and Craigslist are the only real alternatives but they do not have the auction feature and craigslist is largely regional. A nice benefit of is that the item lists for $1 each 30 days and there is no final value ripoff.