How much is a paper clip worth?

Does one red paper clip equal a house? It does if you give it a year, and a lot of trades back and forth, and some word of mouth marketing that starts on the blogosphere and moves into the so-called “mainstream media.” Kyle MacDonald of Montreal, who decided in a moment of boredom to try and trade his way up from a red paper clip to a house, got his wish last week when the mayor of tiny Kipling, Saskatchewan offered him a house in return for a role in a movie with Corbin Bernson (a role that will go to the winner of an American Idol-style contest).

I like the red paper clip story for a bunch of reasons. For one thing, it’s just plain weird, and I like that. I also think there’s a lot of power in what some call “lateral thinking” or ideas that come out of the blue, like Kyle’s. And I think it’s an amazing testament to his own innate marketing ability that he was able to pull the thing off, and a testament to the power of blogs to “seed” ideas — even weird ones — that are in turn picked up by the regular old media.

But on a deeper level, as Kyle has also pointed out, the red paper clip idea is about what I like to call the theory of economic relativity. As Einstein reportedly said, relativity is easy to understand: put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour, but sit beside a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity. And it affects our economic behaviour too. Is a walk-on role in a movie worth the same as a KISS snow globe? It is to Corbin Bernson, who has been in lots of movies but has a passion for collecting snow globes.

Now that he has his house, it will be interesting to see what Kyle does next. One of the first things he is doing is having what he’s calling the largest housewarming party in Saskatchewan — inviting anyone in the world who wants to come for a giant Labour Day party. If I wasn’t busy, I would think about going.

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