Monday, February 13, 2006

Homeric Greek for fun and profit

I agree with Kelly over at Bark at the Hole that there ought to be the equivalent of the Global Ideas Bank for those "someone should really do a study on this" moments.

Well, I think that someone should do a study on little trading ecosystems that develop in small (non-financially motivated) groups. Actually, they probably already have. But I'm too tired (read: lazy) to do a trawl through the economics and/or sociology literature such a thing would be hiding out in.

I think it's a pretty interesting topic, all the same. Case in point: the Homeric reading group I attend. There are four little trading systems that have sprung up among this group of approximately 15 people. The first is a widespread and fairly official one, whereby everyone who isn't a student contributes a dollar or two per session to a central fund which is then used to help classics students attend conferences and so on.

Then there's a not-for-much-profit thing organised by one of the elderly men, who photocopies each week's lines and enlarges them to sell to the other elderly group members who find it hard to read the small print found in most editions. He charges $1 per 100 lines, which means he probably makes a few dollars profit per week.

One of the women in the group has an enormous lemon tree in her garden, and brings in bucketfuls of lemons every few weeks. These are offered for free, but with the implicit obligation that takers will bring in samples of anything tasty they bake using these freebies.

Finally, one enterprising group member makes pots of marmalade (possibly with the help of some of these "free" lemons) and brings in five or six pots to sell each week. I think they are bought by people who take pity on her, mainly.

Each of these little subsystems is kind of surreptitious, in that it doesn't intrude on the actual meeting time, but takes place through furtive exchanges of coins and mysterious assignations in the corridor before or after the session. A newcomer to the group would probably take a few sessions to become aware of any of them at all.

Presumably these little black economies have sprung up organically, and perhaps the existence of each one makes the next more likely to arise. If we hadn't had the semi-officially sanctioned students' conference fund, I wonder if the marmalade woman would ever have considered hawking her wares? And I wonder to what extent these sorts of trading circles help cement the group and give people a feeling of being a part of more than just a circle of like-minded Homer freaks...


shrinkykitten said...

This is only vaguely related. When I flew to my mom's house for xmas, I sat next to a beautiful geek boy. Oh was he beautiful. At one point near the end of the flight he asked if he could tell me something. Well, anticlimactically, he wanted to tell me about some video game where you could get things like swords or powers or stuff like that. Apparently these things (even though they are virtual and don't really exist) are being sold on ebay. He noted that they are bringing in more money than some people in poorer countries make in a year.

Sadly, I had absolutely nothing witty nor charming to say in response.

StyleyGeek said...

I saw something about that in the news. And people in poorer countries are being paid to play these games all day, "camping out" in places in the game where it is possible to get the most valuable items, and collecting them for their employers to sell on ebay. It really pisses off the people who want to play the game seriously.

It's so sweet that he felt he needed to tell you about that!