So its Thursday – sue me.
Since its easier to plan my posts here with an editorial calendar – and since I’m having success with my regular Friday series Deep Music Criticism - I figured that I would dedicate my Wednesday’s here to political, economic or social themes from now on. I can’t exactly call my music “edgy, political prog rock” if I don’t get political once in a while.
Today’s post crosses over all subjects – music, politics and economics.
One of my favorite bands, Rush, has begun a world tour in support of their recent album Clockwork Angels. I’m hoping to see them live – the first time since their 1989 “Presto” tour.
Scouring the blogs and the tour website, I noticed the subject of ticket scalping coming up. Patrons are warned: “One ticket per transaction limit is strictly enforced!”.
The guys in Rush should be heartened and thrilled – having a scalping problem means your shows are getting sold out, you have enthusiastic fans. No doubt many fans are hoping and wishing that scalpers are at these sold out shows since they’ve lucked out of getting a ticket themselves through approved channels.
The presence of ticket scalpers at shows represents a “black” market, and what any contrarian economist will tell you is that black markets only surface when the laws don’t support a free market. Freedom is missing – but freedom to do what? Scramble to buy tickets from venue owners at published rates then gouge the poor fan too late to catch a deal? How in the world is that fair?
It ain’t fair. But it ain’t the scalper’s fault. Its the venue and promoter’s fault. And the law’s fault.
Here’s the deal (the following is a summary of Walter Block’s chapter on scalping from his master work Defending the Undefendable):
- A moral principle that I believe in is the undeniable primacy of the voluntary transaction. Whatever reasons I may give for why scalping is ok and overall beneficial to society or fans or bands – this is all irrelevant to the fact that a scalper and his customer are trading voluntarily and peacefully. Any law that restricts this is anti-liberty (and anti-human in my view).
- Why are ticket prices fixed? Why on earth wouldn’t a promoter want ticket prices to fluxuate according to demand, like company stock prices? By dynamically adjusting prices to demand in real-time (which is easy to do with modern trading systems), promoters could let the market decide what a bands’ live show was worth. Bands like Rush – and their promoters – would earn a great deal more this way. But why don’t they do it?
- Promoters play games with smaller venue sizes and low ticket prices early in a tour, to encourage “Sold Out” status for that tour. Selling out early dates cheap creates a frenzy for fans to lock in late dates (at now-higher prices).
- Since promoters feel they can gain more by encouraging the criminalization and moral condemnation of voluntary scalping transactions and playing this fake scarcity game, they ignore the potential opportunity of a free market for ticket prices. Enlisting the strong arm of the law to kill your competition is the lazy man’s approach to business. But we live in an age of lazy business men, especially in the sclerotic, stagnant old music industry.
But we’re stuck with this stupid system. When such absurdly small areas of economic life like live entertainment are regulated with freedom-stifling laws, we are tending to the totalitarian world where “Everything not forbidden is compulsory”. Scalpers and all actors in black markets are unsung heroes who should be defended and lauded for pricking the veil on the rotten regime, on tiny bit at a time.