Scalping of tickets to Scalia lecture is justified

Some of these customers just didn’t believe that I was hawking my hard-earned tickets, and others weren’t interested in shelling out $10 when they could spend an afternoon in Keefe lobby instead. But I suspect some of the people who glared at me were feeling moral indignation: “I’m still waiting for tickets so I can see the lecture, but this jackass has his and doesn’t even want them himself?” Such anger would’ve been misplaced. I didn’t cheat; I got my tickets from the authorities, and from people who had gotten them from the authorities. More importantly, though, I’m confident that scalping tickets actually would’ve done more good than harm, even if every ticket was used regardless. Consider: if scalping a ticket to person B for $10 means person A doesn’t get it, because A didn’t want to pay $10 for it, society overall has benefited: The ticket is consumed by B, who valued it at $10 or more, instead of by A, who valued it at less than $10.

Even if you’re skeptical of this basic microeconomic analysis, though, there’s another good reason to support scalping: it could’ve made ticket distribution more fair. As it was, in order to get a ticket, I had to plan my day around ticket distribution in Keefe, and if I had a 10:00-11:20 a.m. or 11:30-12:50 p.m. class, or worked during that period, I would have been out of luck. Through the magic of re-selling tickets, people not fortunate enough to have the perfect schedule (or to be the best, best friend of someone who did) would still have a chance to see the show, because scalpers who didn’t even know them would have an incentive to seek them out and sell them tickets.

“But,” you protest, “the College gave tickets out for free.” The flaw with this thinking is that the College did not give them out for free. They gave them out at the cost of as much as a few hours wait in a cramped, unpleasant line at an inconvenient time of day. If you wouldn’t voluntarily wait in a cramped, unpleasant line for no reward, then the cost of waiting in a cramped, unpleasant line is more than zero. If I was working at the federal minimum wage instead of waiting in line, I might’ve had ten bucks by the time I’d finished, and I value my time higher than the federal minimum wage anyway. If there were some people who would rather have dropped a few dollars than run the Keefe Campus Center gauntlet, they should’ve been able to, but they would’ve needed the help of scalpers.

Scalping could’ve turned the mess of ticket distribution into something both more efficient and fair. But we wouldn’t have needed it if the tickets had just been distributed more intelligently in the first place. First of all, the school could’ve sold the tickets (a few fee waivers could’ve been available). The College paid for Scalia’s travel expenses (and pays fees for many speakers), and that means we had to pay for it one way or another, either through tuition or ticket sales. Remember, this guy is so extreme that the whole LJST department (among others) elected to miss his talk instead of engaging him on the arguments. Are we still to believe that his appearance is such a huge public good that students should subsidize it even if we don’t see it? At just $5 or $10 a ticket, students could have decided for themselves whether they wanted to bankroll Scalia’s future ruminations on the “homosexual agenda” of the federal courts-and, in all likelihood, the lines would’ve been shorter and less painful. Second, why not have ticket reservations by e-mail, as with the five-college musical? That way, only people who’d actually reserved would have had to physically pick up tickets, and they wouldn’t have had to show up 40 minutes in advance. In fact, there are probably many ways the College could’ve stream-lined the ticketing process, if someone had given it a tiny bit of thought. But until then, keep scalping.