The Progressive Auction

social justice artBy Zach Foster (Originally appeared on Only the Money! Blog)

 Several weeks ago I had the privilege and devious pleasure of attending a political meeting with a good friend of mine.  I won’t say the name of the organization (though it’s easy enough to figure out), since this friend is a member and some of my friends hate it when I write about them and their activities in my blogs (oh well, at least I’m protecting their identity).  Due to being sworn not to “invasively post these details of [my friend’s] life,” I’ll spare the readers all but one detail about this meeting of the Los Angeles-based political organization.  This organization was planning a fundraiser mixer and the members voted on having an auction.  It would feature some books, movie tickets, and small household appliances, all available for the bidding.  Better yet, it was beneficial for the organization, and “good for social justice everywhere.”

 Near the end of the meeting, one of the members highly recommended renaming the feature from “auction” to “progressive auction.”  His reasoning was that auctions are a bourgeois concept of getting people to throw away all of their money in order to obtain a tacky trophy of their wealth.  A progressive auction, rather than being “bourgeois,” was one in which everyone would kick in a few dollars towards bidding on the item, and the last person to put a few dollars into the pot was the auction winner.

 For the sake of drawing donors into a small-time fundraiser, this type of auction is sensible.  However, if this organization adopts this model and applies it to any and all larger fundraisers, it is ridiculous.  Auctions are a model of free market transactions in which supply is low and demand is high.  Everyone will try to obtain a certain commodity, but in the end, one person gets the commodity and that same person pays the money.  Auctions are a way for people to sell something they’ve labored to create, or labored to obtain and sell at a profit.  Wealth is created, and like all free market transactions, both parties came to a mutually beneficial commercial agreement.

 These “progressive auctioneers” can delude themselves that in the progressive auction, everyone only puts in a few dollars.  They have no answer to the question of: what if the person next to you puts in a few MORE dollars than you, and if people are still bidding, still a few dollars at a time, the pot comes back around, you have no dollars left, but the guy next to you puts in a few more dollars once again?

 Clearly, the proverbial “guy next to you” will be the winner, except in this progressive auction, everyone pays money and only one person gets the commodity.  All who do not have a specific item have incurred financial cost so that only one person could have the item.  Forgive me for blaspheming, but this actually sounds more bourgeois and oppressive than just having a regular auction.  After all… everyone loses money so that one person can be a have while the rest are have-nots.  Isn’t this what this anti-bourgeois organization is fighting against?

 And they say free market capitalists have no understanding of political economy…  Ironic, isn’t it?