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Monday, August 16, 2010

What's Fair About Fair Market? (A tongue-in-cheek look at a truly bewildering subject for the illogically advanced)

OK, I admit it.  I'm feeling about as sure about this "fair market" thing these days as walking through a bowl of Jell-O that's not quite set.  So whenever I am not sure about something, I just go to the Internet, or perhaps the Thesaurus, and I look it up.  There.  That should do it.  Somehow that little journey makes everything ok again, even if I still have clearly no idea in Hades what the heck something means.  Hey, at least I know where to go to look it up.
    So let's just go to the Thesaurus and say what IT says about "fair market."  The closest meaning is "fair play."  Wow, now I really understand it.  Fair play--isn't that what Mother used to tell me when I went outside to play with the other kids?  "Play fair, now," she would always say.  OK, so the words are in different order, but surely it means the same thing.  Now let's see.  When she said, "Play fair," to me, that meant if the other kid hit me, I should hit her back.  And if it happened to be a him, I had to run and cry to my mother that he hit me."  Of course, she would always say, "Well, what did you do to him?"  Hmmm, I'm pretty sure I am getting the idea now about fair market.
"FM"--who gets the prize for having said these two words the most times since receiving his or her certification? It is really one of those phrases we all accept, but are hard pressed to come up with a really meaningful definition.  Sort of like motherhood, maidenhood, or patriotism.  We used to talk about regional differences in the fair market.  Maybe regions have shrunk or something.  Maybe that is why when I go "uptown," in my area in the morning, I may see a quilt for $1,200, then a come home to my more humble little neighborhood later in the day, and see another quilt that looks suspiciously like the one I saw earlier, only the price tag is now $250.  Wait a minute, what is going on here?  How can there be a fair market when it won't stand still?
Oh yes, and now there is this thing out there called eBay.  Fair?  I DON'T THINK SO!   Gee, there is that same quilt again, or at least it kind of looks like the same quilt.  And now it is getting bids, and wait a minute, it just sold for $49.50!  And on top of that, the bid just went up $10.50 in the last 1/2 minute! Either way, fair is hardly the word I would use for this market.
I dreamed I actually understood FM the other night.  In my dream, appraisers all over the country stood in a big room that looked strangely like the stock market, and a bell rung.  There was a quilt hanging on the wall overhead with an obscure message written on it:  "Fair market: a day without it is like a day without meatloaf."  As soon as the bell rung, all the appraisers began to yell, "Fair market--between $1800 to $49.50!"  I ran out of the room and headed straight for the nearest college, where I signed up for a class in statistical techniques.
I must say, I feel quite accomplished about FM now.  If all else fails, turn it into a statistic.  I can talk intelligently about the median and the mean with the best of them.  Range?  Well, I guess I could keep a heard of buffalo happy in that range.
Perhaps it doesn't really matter if I don't really have a clue.  It's kind of like that "margarine" we got in the 1950s; you know, that white margarine that looked like Crisco, and came with a package of yellow color.  We sat there and squished it all around until it turned yellow.  It looked yellow in the end, but as we ate, we all silently swallowed the fact that it was really white margarine that we just doctored up.  We really had no idea of what white margarine with yellow color was, but in the long run, it looked like something familiar--butter--so we just ate it and kept quiet.  No matter how you chew it, FM still comes out looking like the original words.  Maybe we just have to chew faster.