10/24/16: on when we can’t afford success

Everything this author writes makes financial sense. That, more than anything else, is proof of why cold, hard economics alone cannot be permitted to run our government, why the banks must be tempered and–yes–regulated by external checks and balances. A businessman like Trump would gladly improve the revenue for a service by making it unaffordable to the poor, but would also ignore the fact that America was not founded on exclusivity, even if it has lately become obsessed with it. That’s not to say we aren’t a culture of ownership and entitlement, but while we can’t all drive an Aston Martin, almost all of us have the freedom to, in some form or another, drive.

Of Hamilton, then, this author has identified an actual problem: tickets are being scalped, and this largely benefits the scalper, not the producers of the actual product being sold. Let’s ignore that this is essentially true of the stock market itself, in which the people actually executing your trades are the ones most immediately profiting from it. Instead, the author believes that instead of making the act of scalping illegal, he feels that the theater itself should counter these scalpers by raising their prices accordingly, such that demand decreases to a point at which those who desire tickets can buy them directly from the theater. That’s a bit like if the government decided to stop drug dealers not by arresting them but by dealing the product itself at a lower rate.

The biggest issue I have with this article is that it implies that the best solution to any problem is the one that maximizes profit for the producer. That’s Shkreli logic. It’s ironic that this is used, of all things, on a show like Hamilton, which spends a great deal of time on the passage of government for the benefit of all. Wouldn’t a better solution be one that adds additional seats to the theater, or moves to a bigger venue? If Louie C.K. decided he were going to perform at the Comedy Cellar, he might be able to charge a premium for each ticket; by choosing a larger venue like Madison Square Garden, he is able to charge less money per ticket and yet still make as much of a profit, even factoring in overhead for the venue, the security, etc. Adding a second date would make it even easier for those who wanted to get a ticket to get one–just as making scalping illegal would help to prevent those fans from competing with those who want not to see the show, but to profit from it.

I’m not against compromise. When I attend Six Flags, I sometimes have to wait longer because people have paid extra for the privilege of waiting 50% to 75% less. When I fly on a plane, I have very little leg room and am often next to a squalling baby. Wouldn’t the best solution to Hamilton, then, be to find another compromise? Where once premium Orchestra seats were enough to satisfy the rich, with the poor increasingly relegated to nosebleed Balcony seats, perhaps we could offer more Livestream options. Those who want to see it up close and in person could go to the actual theater; those who couldn’t afford that might go to a neighboring movie theater. Everybody would still get to see the show–for a popular one, would get to see it many times over–and everybody would profit. Isn’t that, ultimately, what we want from America? A country where everyone wins?

Mind you, we’re talking about something like Hamilton, which only seems essential. What if we were talking about vaccines? If we could only manufacture 1,000 doses a day, would you really want the pharmacy setting prices based on the most money they could get from a customer? Assume, hypothetically, that these vaccines were transferrable (i.e., pills rather than an injection): would you want to have to stand in line along with those who had already received a dose and who were now simply trying to resell additional ones? This economist is in favor of scalpers, then, because they ensure that he–a member of the wealthy–will always be able to get a ticket. What happens, then, to all of those who *cannot* afford those rates? They become dependent on lotteries, on government-subsidized ticket initiatives, or they simply go without. Of course this economist favors that system; he’s basically describing America as it is, not as it is idealized.

 

 

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