Dumpster Diving for Profit

I have worked in finance for most of my professional career and given the complexities and nuances of the field, there is always something new to master. Yet, when looking at the financial markets, I have always relied on demographics and cultural markers to give me an idea on what is trending in the markets.


For demographics, I have been influenced by the teachings of the Catholic Church, the analysis of economist Harry Dent and the writings of Patrick Buchanan.  In many ways, I have synthesized and combined their analysis as a way to look at the world.

For cultural markers, I tend to look at things that are popular and things that are driving the culture. This has given me a sense of what people are thinking and reacting to. For example, I look to movies, television shows, books, tattoos, eating habits, living habits, and new ways that people are making money.

The markets tend to act, over time, in accordance with the dominant demographic trend taking place. For example, the U.S and the rest of the western world benefited from the population boom that occurred after World War II which brought a generation of affluent consumers to the market who previously did not exist. In the U.S alone, the baby boom generation is thought to number around 75 million. As those 75 million people in the U.S. went through their life cycles of buying homes, cars, washing machines, etc., the companies that supplied those products benefited; hence their stock values, and the market in general, rose.

Recently, the so-called “Boomers” have begun to retire. They no longer consume as they once did. Thus the capital that once benefited these companies is now being used to pay for their retirement. One of the reasons we have such a low labor participation rate, 90 million people out of the work force, is due to the amount of people now retiring. Although the stock market remains high, the bottom line revenue numbers over the last few years have been in decline.

During the economic boom which spanned the last 40 years, the U.S. birth rate simultaneously declined. The generation that prospered economically wanted to enjoy their newfound affluence and freedoms and so had fewer children. However, for a country to continue to grow, most statisticians project a necessary average birthrate of 2.1 children per couple. Most European countries’ birth rates are way below that number. While the U.S is also below that number, we have been able to sustain growth due to ongoing Latino immigration.

Europe’s population is now growing albeit from the massive number of Muslim immigrants flooding the continent. Patrick Buchanan, in his seminal book Death of the West, believes a good portion of the European continent will have Muslim populations over 50% by 2050. France, Buchanan predicts, absent a reversal of its indigenous current birth rates will be the first European country to lose its cultural identity by that date.

Buchanan and the Catholic Church both have argued that a healthy society is one that produces and sustains life.  Having children is, in essence, a belief… a bet… that life will be better in the future. Despite current economic hardships in having a large family, there are always ways for conditions to change and mitigate adversity if one is willing to bet on the future. Yet, even though we in the West live in a world that has more conveniences than ever before in the history of the world, we are none-the-less more fearful of our economic future than ever before.

The Muslims currently immigrating to Europe have less economic resources but are having more children. How ironic that the Muslims fleeing to Europe have more hope in the future there than the Europeans in whose lands they seek to reside. Think of it as an invasion; an invasion where no shots are fired.  The outcome of this invasion is that the invading immigrants will be the dominant political force by the mid-21st century strictly due to population increase. These two trends, an older population in the West with a lower birth rate and an immigrating Muslim population with increasing birth rates do not bode well for future economic conditions.

This demographic reality was in my mind when I stumbled across an article in Wired Magazine about Matt Malone, who makes a six figure income from dumpster diving.

The article detailed how many resourceful “entrepreneurs” are making their living scrounging through the garbage of others. Surprisingly, the people dumpster diving for monetary gain are not poor; they are smart, intelligent people who have found a valuable economic opportunity. Most stumbled onto it by chance. For example, Matt Malone started in the business when a store he frequented went out of business. He saw the dumpster located by the store filled with a variety of products that the store was discarding. Malone went through the dumpster, gathered items, and started to sell them on E-bay.

Malone made a nice profit and began frequenting dumpsters of other stores going out of business with similar result. Shortly thereafter, he started targeting stores like Best Buy and Target at night, to see if they might be throwing away valuable items. To his surprise that was exactly what they were doing! Soon he was reselling computers, printers, cables etc. making over $100,000 a year strictly by selling the castoffs of others.

Wired, to its credit, found it so incredulous that someone could actually do this that their reporter tagged along with Malone to verify his claims.  After spending three weeks as Malone’s nighttime sidekick, the reporter was amazed and convinced of the results. On average, Malone made about $2500 per day. The reporter calculated and that if he did this every day for a year he could make close to $600,000 dollars annually! He concluded, to his dismay, that we have become so culturally rudderless that people, as well as companies, now discard things of real value. Because we are no longer a society that can fix things efficiently it is cheaper to discard and replace them.

Wired’s reporter went on to interview the author Edward Humes, of Garbology, as part of further research into this topic and came away concerned.  Wired opined that the way a society’s garbage is handled says a lot about the society. Humes has concluded that every time a society reaches the point where it begins to throw away things of value, the culture inevitably implodes.

In the West, we are under the adverse influence of four factors that point to a significant demographic and cultural upheaval: 1) an aging population; 2) declining birth rates; 3) unfettered immigration with increasing birth rates, and, 4) no longer valuing things as we should.

While in this post I chose to not explore the gravity and future of the economies and financial systems of Western nations, one need only  look at the demographics of these nations, combined with their obvious disregard for things of value, to know that we are in deep trouble.