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April 18, 2003

The Rial World

I tipped George the barber 250 Iraqi dinars yesterday. He was pretty happy about it. I thought it was about ten cents in real money, but according to the currency calculators at oanda and, that banknote was worth over $840 US, so maybe there was more than simple gratitude for another addition to his collection behind his effusive thanks. I got it and two other Iraqi bills for five bucks at ebay, so no skin off my nose, I suppose. I'll let my seller argue with xe, if he desires. I suspect that anything with Saddam's picture on it is worthless in any monetary sense, no matter what the convertor programs say.

If you'd like to try your luck on the currency exchange market, feel free, there's still quite a bit of Saddam's money for sale, though the prices have gone up since Baghdad was occupied.

George first cut my hair when I was a freshman at Carolina, almost 20 years ago now. I've been back at irregular times ever since, when circumstances conspired to bring me to Chapel Hill for any length of time. Back then the walls were covered with foreign currency brought in by his customers, hundreds of banknotes under protective Plexiglass. There were three other barbers in the shop, but you still had to call ahead for an appointment.

He lost his wife a year or so ago, and the other barbers had dropped out or moved away over the years, so now there's just George and his banknotes. His kids still live in the area, and you still have have to call a day in advance for an appointment though, so he's not lonely. He disagrees with me one everything, from the war in Iraq to the Matt Doherty firing, but I don't do much arguing. Getting the dander up on the man with the scissors in his hand just doesn't seem sensible, somehow. I don't argue with taxi drivers for similar reasons. One word in the wrong place, and there you are, rideless on skid row, with the gangbangers and bums circling like sharks.

At night, the sewer weasels come.

I'd always wanted to leave my mark on George's wall, but the sheer number of notes already there was disheartening. Every time I thought something on the lines of "Eureka! Lesotho!", there was a 10 maloti note or its equivalent hanging off in some corner, taunting me.

Until last week, when I asked him if he had any Saddam money.

"Nah, can't get it. Arabs don't let their money out of the country."

That may have been true once, and even so bills from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt were already up in the shop. The availability of dinars, rials, and Syrian pounds available for sale on ebay would argue that even if there is an Arab banknote embargo, it's extremely porous, and likely to get even worse if Americans keep paying attention to the Middle East.

It would be an interesting exercise to see how closely the number of auctions on ebay of things like the Iraqi Most-Wanted Playing Cards and other Middle Eastern related items correlated to media coverage of events there. If such a correlation could be established, then people who bought in at the beginning of a particular news cycle could expect to make a certain amount of money before the pool of items relating to any particular news story reached a saturation point. Perhaps not a lot of money, depending on the item, but significant in terms of "mad money."

Case in point: I stopped selling the "First Iraq, Then France" bumper stickers a week ago, figuring that particular meme would face an inevitable downturn once the first part was complete. (If you still want one, however, I've still got a few.) When I first started selling them, there were only a couple of other items for sale in that particular category. Now there's dozens, though it doesn't look like many are still selling. The time to be in that market was a month ago, not now. I didn't make enough to retire on, but I was able to buy a new laptop, with a chunk left over.

The difficulty comes in first predicting which news story is going to have legs, then coming up with a product that exploits it enough to appeal to people. I got lucky once; God only knows if I'll be able to do so again. It's already to late to do anything with SARS, for instance. There's bound to be a way to come up with some sort of equation that could roughly predict which news stories will end up producing sales on ebay, but I don't know enough economic theory to even begin to come up with one.

Little help here?

Posted by Bigwig at April 18, 2003 02:02 PM | TrackBack
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