Friday, October 1, 2010


The economy must be getting better—suddenly, I’m selling a lot more stuff on eBay than I have for the past couple of years. Admittedly, they’re small items, the leftovers of a busy life, consumer items that no longer please or have been superseded. I sold camera batteries to a buyer in Moscow, a CD instruction manual for a home recording system to a Mexican in Guadalajara, a pair of truly awful fake gold cufflinks to a lady in Arizona. There have been nibbles on a couple of larger pieces, including chromed tail-lights for a Harley Davidson motorcycle, the locking mechanism for the passenger door of a Jetta, and an assortment of sunglasses collected over years of Florida travel. I’ve bought six cars, two motorcycles, a trailer and three pairs of inline skates on eBay, and only two purchases were lemons, so I think I’m running about the same average as if I’d bought used locally.

I‘ve been selling stuff on eBay for more than a decade and, to the best of my estimate, have concluded more than 1,000 transactions. I have 100% satisfaction rating, and only twice did I have to use strong language to get satisfaction on a deal. Interestingly, both involved cars. My specialty has been electric and acoustic guitars and amplifiers. I got to be fairly knowledgeable, but when the economy crashed, so did the sale of instruments to would-be rockers and folkies. I know all the ladies at the local post office since I come in two or three times a week with odd-shaped packages going to strange countries.

In recent time, there’s been a move to try to tax eBay transactions. After all, this is a billion dollar, largely un- or self-supervised industry with millions of auctions going on concurrently. A wealth of dollars change hands every second and Congress is smacking its lips in anticipation. But there are some issues involved.

eBay, after all, is nothing more than a glorified international garage sale. Yes, quite a few businesses sell on the site, but these must abide by the standards and laws governing commerce, and they pay taxes on profits. The brunt of eBay sales remains individuals with single items or home-based “stores” that are nothing more than email addresses. If the government decides to tax eBay trade, it will eventually have to begin taxing yard and moving sales, door-to-door Cub Scout enterprises and the local lemonade stand. That’s unlikely to happen. And eBay has some strong supporters who vote. Whether there are enough to make a difference is not something an elected state official will want to test. Which is as it should be. My experiences with eBay have been overwhelmingly positive, and if it ain’t broke, don’t tax it.

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