Thursday, June 09, 2016

Criticizing the selling of Ali's memorial service tickets ignores economic reality

I submitted this to the San Antonio Express-News

At first glance, it might seem awful that some people were selling free tickets they had gotten to Muhammad Ali's memorial service Friday (June 10) in Louisville ("Some trying to profit off funeral," sports, June 9).

An Ali family spokesman said he was "personally disgusted" by this and that Ali "wanted this to be a free event, an event that was open to all."

Another person, who wanted to attend the service, said "The Greatest wanted his funeral to be accessible to everyone." Another fan, who was lucky enough to be given a ticket by someone else who had waited in line said "I'm glad that somebody has a heart out there" (as opposed to those who sold their tickets).

But the arena holding the service only seats 15,000. People started lining up the night before tickets were given out and thousands left empty handed.

That also seems heartless, to have people wait so long and come up empty handed. If tickets were sold for money, that would have been avoided.

Luckily the high temperature in Louisville was only 77 that day. But the next day it was supposed to be 85 and the day after 92. Just imagine what might have happened if people had waited hours in the heat and gotten nothing.

Anytime we don't allow a product to be sold (or sold for its market price)  some other mechanism will allocate goods and services. It could be on a first come, first serve basis, like in this case. That is, who waits the longest gets it.

Or, as happened in Rhode Island in 2006, two police officers used their badges to cut in line to buy the Playstation3 video game. The selling price was not high enough on the first day, so, like in the case of Ali's memorial service, people waited in line all night.

We should not be surprised when people sell "free" tickets. This happened in 2009 when comedian Jay Leno gave away free tickets to unemployed workers in Detroit. Some sold them.

Leno was not happy about this. But he required no proof from recipients that they were actually unemployed. And if a truly unemployed worker sold a ticket, maybe they needed the money more than Leno's jokes.

Free items can end in tragedy. This happened in India in 2004 when a stampede occurred while free saris were being given away. Twenty-one women and children (mostly poor) were killed.

Mr. Ali may have had a noble sentiment by insisting that tickets to his memorial service be free. But "free" items cause problems.

Some people were paid to stand in line. Although tickets might not be sold in those cases, it violates the spirit of what Mr. Ali wanted. But detecting such activity might be difficult.

Paying people to stand in line is common. Lobbyists have paid people to wait in line for them to get a good seat at Congressional hearings. Kathleen Elkins of Business Insider reported last year that there are companies that employ professional line sitters.

This happened up in Austin. People got paid to wait in line at Franklin Barbecue.

Calling the profiteering (selling free tickets) despicable, deplorable and heartless just ignores reality. Supply and demand set a price and when that is ignored, strange things happen.

Right now price controls are causing a human tragedy in Venezuela. The government mandates low prices and businesses can't make a profit. So they have shortages of food and medicine and other essentials. If they only allowed some "disgusting" profiteering, things might be better. 

Here are some related links:

People are paying up to $1,500 for someone else to take their place in line
Franklin Barbecue bans professional line-sitters
Cops in Trouble for PS3 Line-Cutting
Stampede for free saris kills 21 in India
Some looking to profit from free tickets to Ali services

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