Is controlling the commodities market child’s play?

Given the events of the past few years, it’s no surprise to see a one-man show exploring the nature of commodities and how we place economic value on items beyond their intrinsic value.

It is, however, a little surprising to see this show based around Ram-Man.

A British man is attempting to buy up every Ram-Man action figure (from the original 1980s manufacturing run) in an attempt to control the market and drive up the price of his existing collection, which now stands at 150. It’s not purely a retro-based get-rich-quick scheme though.

Jamie Moakes is attempting to draw parallels to the value placed on gold. Advocates of commodity investments argue that precious metals are in limited supply and thus aren’t at risk of losing their value to inflation in the same way as cash (and electronic money) if governments increase the supply. But Moakes argues that gold has little intrinsic value (jewelry won’t be much use after an apocalypse) and is only valuable because society treats it as such.

Moakes has now developed the idea into a stage presentation about his attempts to transform the market for Ram-Man figures into an equally valid and valuable commodity market. His logic for the choice of toy is that he couldn’t use something still in production (Barbie manufacturers would respond to a massive spike in value by making even more dolls), but that He-Man himself wouldn’t work because there’s a much higher existing demand (people who simply want one figure from Masters of the Universe for nostalgia purposes will nearly always pick He-Man.)

After a month-long run of performances at the Edinburgh Festival (at the end of which he auctions off one of the toys), Moakes has attracted attention from the financial media including the BBC radio economics show More or Less. Economists have said there is at least some logic to Moakes’ tactics, particularly the fact that he has chosen a commodity where the supply can’t be increased: Mattel could make new toys, but they wouldn’t be the 80s originals in question. A Financial Times writer noted that one trader’s attempts to quietly build up control of the copper market failed when his success in raising the market price meant mining companies found it viable to expand production.

There do appear to be a few flaws in Moakes’ plan though. One is that by doing the show, he’s making people aware of his strategy and thus undermining the likelihood of people seeing Ram-Man prices rising and considering them a worthwhile investment, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The other is that with an estimated two million Ram-Man figures in circulation, Moakes currently controls approximately 0.007% of the market and it appears unlikely he’ll be able to afford to get to a position where he has genuine and sustained market interest.

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