Parents may despair of their children thinking, eating and breathing Pokémon cards. But perhaps they are learning some of the most valuable lessons they'll ever have, writes BBC News Online's Giles Wilson
As an introduction to the reality of economics, Pokémon - following where Panini football stickers and even Beanie Babies went before - is a pretty comprehensive taster of the real world.
- Economic theorists like to assume that consumers have access to all market information so they can make rational decisions. But the world's not like that, and people who are genned up - the early adopters - can have a real advantage. For "someone who bought a studio flat at the right time" READ "a kid who'd been on holiday to a place where Pokemon was big before the UK and so bought cards early".
- You have to speculate to accumulate, adults are told. And children know it too - much better to buy a pack of Pokémon for Ł2.99 from the newsagents and find a rare card than to save up and pay top dollar from an internet auction site. Buy cheap, trust your luck, know your moment.
- The demand for Pokémon cards has been so high that production has been unable to keep up with it. In a "perfect" market, this would mean that the cost rose so that the supplier could maximise their profits. In playground economics, the cachet of owning cards can act as a substitute for monetary value, and problems getting hold of cards certainly increases their desirability. It also has the implication of creating a black market in forged cards - trading standards officers have warned of an influx of counterfeits. Children with valuable cards have, reportedly, been mugged at knifepoint by other children.
Supply and demand
- An important difference between Pokémon and the old football cards is the other aspect of scarcity. It used to be perfectly possible to collect all the cards in an album - not least because you could send off for them. But some Pokémon cards - such as Charizard or Mewtwo - are deliberately rare. So if you should have the good fortune to get one in your pack of cards, it is worth much more than a common card.
- When you're swapping, everyone becomes a buyer and everyone becomes a supplier - it's an economics purist's dream. Just like adult consumers, collectors have their priorities, with some cards definite "must haves", others "wants", and a surplus of "swaps". Not for nothing is the Pokémon slogan "Gotta catch 'em all". There is logic behind the manufacturers organising swapping events. Which inevitably leads to...
- If some cards are more common than others, then like disused airfields filled with unsold cars, economic theory says they will not be so valuable. Just as a pound sterling is worth so many zlotis, a Kadabra will be worth so many Pikachus. If the UK does join the European single currency, then this could be a valuable lesson for the thousands of Tuscany-holidaying children for whom exchange rates will become a foreign concept.
- The most timely lesson of all, perhaps. In the cold light of day, it would be madness to bet the Matchbox farmyard set on something that doesn't have any intrinsic value or any prospect of profits. Much better to stick to manufacturing standards like Lego. And yet the buying goes on. Wiltshire police have advised parents not to let their children go out with valuable cards "until the craze begins to die down". Yet once the craze dies down, the card won't be valuable! You might as well proudly flaunt a lastminute.com share certificate round the City of London.