Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Americans Are Money Stupid

Although that comment is not a news bulletin by any means and I have been aware of it most of my adult life it comes into laser-like focus working in any bead and jewelery show. There is an overflowing plethora of cheap, lower grade mostly Chinese-made junk in the form of beads and jewelery findings and some cheap finished jewelery as well as other materials manufactured cheaply. They are also sold cheaply but in such a way as to suggest they are a bargain to the buyer when in fact junk is junk and worth as much. These products are sometimes even misrepresented as containing materials of greater worth than they are actually worth.

This past weekend at such a show this very sort of thing was observed when a fairly unremarkable serpentine material in various configurations was being dogmatically presented to a credulous public as nice jade. This is hardly unique to these shows unfortunately as we see such misrepresentations in the big box stores like Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond where inferior products are presented as being of a higher quality of material and/or workmanship than they often are. This is in contrast to Walmart which wastes no time with such grandiose affectations but is nakedly a shameless extension of the Chinese economy

Another interesting but obnoxious phenomenon to be seen at these bead and jewelery shows are folks having been conditioned by entire tables covered in cheap bead strands being offered for $3/strand or 70% off their grossly inflated price. That $3/strand price comes out of a strand that the seller has 50 cents or less in which makes that strand nothing more than a cheap bauble. That 70% discount is 70% of what total amount? Out of a 400% mark-up of what its true intrinsic value actually is?

These mindless consumer drones next come into my friend Dave's booth at these shows and see bead strands featuring high quality real stones presented as what they actually are and priced quite reasonably but at prices higher than the cheap Chinese crap. They then throw a fit and leave the booth as if Dave's prices are grossly inflated and are a personal insult to these dolts.

These simple consumer creatures believe that they are getting what economists refer to as marginal utility by receiving extra benefit or utility for the cost of less. Actually, they are paying too much to get even less than they realize they are receiving. At any given time only three numbers really matter: the intrinsic value of a good or service and what it will cost the consumer at a given moment and the difference between the first two numbers. That percentage discount foolishness is all smoke and mirrors designed to separate fools from their money. 

That these shenanigans work so well is all a consequence of the cultural conditioning of the masses to become mindless consumer drones. Part of this conditioning comes in the form of a lack of education about finance and economics prior to and entering into adulthood. More knowledge would lead to less consumerism and a smarter form of consumer populating the marketplace.Part of it is mental-emotional laziness and weakness on the part of the Masses. Another part of the problem is how the Marketplace is set up to manipulate the propensities of people.


  1. Oh, Kim. Based on the above, I just know you are going to love this eBay listing: "Wyoming Jade (Agate)" -- huh? Which is it?
    Some gullible person is going to buy it, too, I bet.
    Full listing at:

    Most people do do appreciate hand-crafted items. At craft shows, I always hear people griping about how expensive stuff is, when, in reality, the artist is making below minimum wage. If people were willing to pay fair prices, more of our jobs would still be here.

  2. Gosh, at ten bucks that is such a bargain... but you found it first so you get first crack at it before me. ;-p

  3. Kim,

    I'd love to see you write a follow-up on this post that features the maxims laid out 50 years ago (and still very much true) by Vance Packard in his "The Hidden Persuaders." People, in general, have very little knowledge about just how manipulative those folks on Wall St. really are and using those shoppers noted above, I'd like to see you use those as examples of the psychology behind sales.

    I used to teach this in my English Comp classes and kids were so surprised once their eyes were open to the deviousness of advertising. The American consumer not only buys accordingly, but they are taught what is valuable by strangers who know those consumers better than they know themselves. In fact, the entire advertising world borders on being the worst and most insidious propaganda possible.

    And I do not exaggerate. However, I do think you're the best person to do this sort of thing, because you zone in on the heart of the matter-fast!

  4. Kim and dragonbreathpress, The eBay listing for "WYOMING-JADE-AGATE" looks like tri-colored marble to me. The same type that comes from the Stoddard Wells area. It doesn't even really look like an agate.

  5. Kim,
    loved this post. From over a decade at rockhounding and mineral collecting I recently took to jewelry crafting and have learned so much in the past year and a half about CCC (cheap chinese crap). I stopped buying on ebay for the most part and stick with Fire Mt who is the only one to openly grade most gemstone beads and offers little deception for the consumer (imho). I do often buy my natural pearls at Quartzite and Tucson for $3 to make fun everyday stuff, but when I need good quality, I definitely go elsewhere. I learned that my lapis chip strands $4, from one vendor had started to fade (outrage!), while the expensive lapis $20 handcut and tumbled 16" knot strand material does hold up. I did find "blue quartz" strand at Searles (can you say glass?).
    I find that many vendors have no bloody clue whether their material is real, dyed, baked, etc. At a bead store I was in recently, the owner sold me 3cm chunks of "real" bluish green polished nugget turquoise for .20 a gram (reassuring her skeptical customer that it was only stabilized). I looked very doubtfully at her--a)pretty cheap for turquoise even of unknown provenance b)pretty light, c)I see white in the whole. Mmmm. But I needed it for a necklace. Took it home and drilled a wider hole and surprise! it was white inside and easy to drill! (can you say magnesite or howlite?)
    She was pretty excited on another occasion to show me all her new "natural" gemstones just in. 90% were dyed (I'm sorry--purple and fuschia "turquoise?")????
    Don't get me started on findings of unknown [toxic?] metal provenance.
    thoughtful post, kim. I'll be sure to bookmark this.

  6. Lin, did you watch the lecture I posted in my "We're All Sheeple" post last month? It goes right to the heart of that to which you refer.

    Sidney, I believe you!

    Tina, I'm glad you liked my piece. When purchasing in the bead and finding and jewelery and gemstone market it cannot be overemphasized to follow the ancient Roman dictum "caveat emptor".

  7. animo et facto

  8. Dear Anonymous,

    "CCC" -- I like that, and will start using it. Well, at least you were expecting Tidee Bowl Turquoise.


    Thanks for the lively discussion, especially about advertising. I think we can add that "art" as the fourth type of lie to Mark Twain's original three (lies, damned lies and statistics). This is one reason I stopped watching TV some time ago, especially since I am trying to raise my son with the proper values (and advertisers are exceptionally skilled at manipulating and deceiving children). I just wish that his mother could see this, but she buys into the BS and loves the CCC at Walmart. Oh well, at least I can limit his exposure to crap to half-time.