Repeat Offenders

It wasn’t in his prepared remarks, but John McCain couldn’t resist one of his favorite economic anecdotes today. A minute into his speech to the National Federation of Independent Businesses he paid his respects to Meg Whitman, his campaign co-chair and the former CEO of eBay. He thanked her for her contributions to the global economy, most notably that “1.3 million people around the world make a living off eBay.”  

As Daniel Gross wrote in Slate a few weeks ago , this is total bunk. The 1.3 million statistic is actually a reflection of how many people “use eBay as their primary or secondary source of income.” About half of those 1.3 million people are Americans, according to a report, and there’s no telling how many are making a living off eBay or merely exercising a hobby. But that hasn’t stopped McCain (or Whitman, who mentioned the same stat in her address to the NFIB conference a day earlier).

For Republicans, the eBay example is a handy one to pull out of their back pocket whenever they start yammering about the economy. The Web auctioneer is governed largely on conservative principles—the company provides a framework for a market, and buyers and sellers take it from there. The auction system means that the market’s prices regulate themselves, without much regulation from a higher power.  

Even better, a market providing eBay services has naturally emerged to complement the traditional eBay market. If you’ve got a limited-edition Beanie Babies hippo you need to sell but can’t keep up with the demand, you can pay somebody else to do it for you. This injects middlemen into the transaction, which, in an ideal world, brings revenue to even more people. Voila! A new market deriving from another market. As far as Republicans are concerned, the more free markets the better.