So many questions, so little time:
The $119 desk sets that Andrew R. mentions tells, I think, a different story than frugality. In economic terms, it would be far better to have a low-paid tool-savvy eBaysian assemble the desks than a highly paid two-thumbed vice president. The story here, rather, is of egalitarianism, which suffused early eBay. The awfulness of the dot-com years was not excessive spending—most companies never got the opportunity to blow millions of dollars—but rather that there was no "there" there to begin with. The key to eBay's success, like that of the other entrepreneurial successes, was not single-minded penny pinching (which can kill small companies), but rather that its virtual auctions were truly a killer business model.
For me, the most astounding revelation in The Perfect Store was that, even after the initial heady year, founder Pierre Omidyar and his trusty No. 2, Jeff Skoll, didn't recognize that the eBay model was big, even huge. Their intention was to become a software company selling auction systems to other companies. Nor did the vaunted venture capital community jump in when eBay was still a micro-business, but instead waited for eBay to take in a few hundred thousand customers. Rather than an initial flash-of-genius insight, this random walk to success (aka good karma) seems to be the real entrepreneurial strategy at work here.
I think it's time to slap Andrew C. around a few times. What are you thinking? As far as I can tell, bodies have nothing to do with community (well, excepting conjugal community). I thought it was touching the spirit of other human beings, which in fact we are doing right now electronically and asynchronously in the absence of embracing and weeping, n'est pas? Internet usage has its downsides, and eBay for some individuals has troubling similarities with gambling, but to trash the early "devoted users" of eBay as abnormal and unsociable (i.e., the opposite of "normal, sociable") … yes, some people might deserve such a pejorative depiction, but it would certainly be the small, small minority. (Note to Andrew R.: I have been writing this in my tighty-whitey BVDs. I'm not joking. It may be disgusting, but "soulless," I think not.)
I hope we can make up after this outburst. Here, let's all have a group *Hug*.
Now to the Amadou Diallo door piece and pieces of Elián González's hair. I don't agree that the sale is necessarily "ill." It depends, of course, on the reasons for the purchases, which isn't divulged in the price. Taken in a certain light, obsession with the Shroud of Turin is a bit creepy (think how much it would get on eBay). If the bidding was solely speculative or from disaster artifact collectors, I agree with you, but people attach deep personal significance to all sorts of things that others cannot fathom (like my beloved Charlie Horse doll). Divining the reasons for what others buy on eBay is a treacherous business (and I have no idea why half of the crap that sells, does), and I plan to tread lightly there.
My beef with the "perfect market" myth of eBay is that perfect markets should set perfect prices. The evidence Cohen adduces regarding eBay's prices is: 1) The "hard close" auctions on eBay (i.e., fixed time) gives rise to all sorts of misbehavior such as sniping (jumping in at literally the last second with a winning bid), and 2) Jaron Lanier showed that for his sales of musical instruments, the prices fell on either side of "ideal," due to either "dumb buyers" or "dumb sellers." How close do you guys think eBay gets to the perfect price? Heck—what the does "perfect price" mean, anyway?
Some financial advice to Andrew C.: The book is yours. Don't discount your earnings in the bill to Slate. I am toying with the idea of selling my final posting on eBay, but I don't plan on cutting Slate in on the take.