Concert Ticket Sales Exploit Poverty?

Lynne Kiesling

OK, so ‘splain me this: when is selling tickets on eBay that you’ve purchased for a popular concert “profiteering from misery”? When it’s a charity concert organized by the befuddled anti-capitalist Bob Geldof.

Bob Geldof is a good musician (the Boomtown Rats were one of my favorite ’80s bands), and I recall attending one of the concerts he organized for charity in London’s Hyde Park in 1986. But he’s deeply confused in his economics. Wouldn’t it be better to have the concert attended by the people who most want to be there? If I have a ticket and I’d rather watch it on the TV than attend if the price were right (as stated by one BBC commenter), my selling my ticket to someone else who values it more is going to create a larger net benefit. Yeah, sure, there are people who are too broke to pay more than face (i.e., students, like I was when I attended a LiveAid concert), but they’ve already done the ticket lottery and I’m sure lots of students got tickets and are planning to attend. Artists performing include Snoop Dogg, Sting, and Madonna.

So … ‘splain me where the harm is. I don’t see it.

eBay UK had to yank the auction because (from the Wired article linked above)

On Tuesday, outraged eBay members began flooding the ticket auctions with fake bids that drove prices up to 10 million pounds ($18 million). The phony bids made the sale of tickets impossible, as almost every bid was fraudulent.

Some eBay members used their own accounts, possibly jeopardizing their hard-earned eBay ratings.

Others opened new accounts to place fake bids, including one called live8legalteam, prompting speculation that the bidding was organized by Live 8 itself. …

Unlike Live Aid, Live 8 is not intended as a fund-raiser; rather, Geldof wants to use the concert to inspire the G8 group of industrialized nations, which meets in July in Scotland, to tackle systemic poverty issues in Africa by doubling aid money and canceling debts owed by poor nations.

Such wooly thinking about economics is pervasive, particularly in aid and development. Sanctimonious prohibition of resale is a waste, a foregone opportunity to create value by allowing the tickets to move from people who value them less to people who value them more. Someone else’s judgment or opinion about what someone does with his/her property, which is what this ticket should be considered, should not determine what the owner does with the ticket.

Pathetic.

UPDATE: Randall McElroy at Catallarchy made the same argument in a post last night.

UPDATE DEUX: See also Stumbling & Mumbling’s post along the same lines.


14 thoughts on “Concert Ticket Sales Exploit Poverty?

  1. The view described above is the standard way for economists to analyse ticket scalping. But think about this situation – suppose you organised a small scale charity event, perhaps a local concert. You don’t intend to make money from it. However, someone turns up at the concert and videos it, and becomes a millionaire in reselling the videos. This clearly does not reduce the money raised by the charity. But is completely crazy to think that there might exist a moral obligation on the intermediary to give at least some of the profit he makes to charity? I think that there is something to be said for the moral principle that, if you profiteer on the back of a charitable event, you are under a moral obligation to give some of the profit to charity. But the point is that we are already in philosophical territory here; economic analysis alone cannot help us to answer whether such moral obligations exist. Your quick dismissal of Geldof’s criticisms misses this underlying ethical issue.

  2. I agree that I would hold someone in higher moral esteem *if* this were a charity event and *if* they chose to donate at least some of the proceeds of the ticket sale to the charity. But 1. this is not a charity concert and 2. no one of us is in any position to judge the moral actions of such distant strangers in such a market transaction. And yes, it is a market transaction, however much you want to improperly tinge mutually beneficial impersonal exchange with the standards to which you hold personal exchange. They are different spheres.

    Were it my friends who had gotten tickets through the lottery and then sold them on eBay, I would cast great aspersion on them for not donating at least part of the proceeds, and my aspersion would probably be even stronger if it were a cause of importance to me. But that’s what informal norms are for. Remember Hayek-cosmos and taxis, baby.

  3. Compare and Contrast.

    It can be interesting to see how different papers cover the same basic premise. Back on Monday the Telegraph covered ticket touts. The problem is outlined and a solution offered. The problem, of course, is that the organisers of the

  4. Compare and Contrast.

    It can be interesting to see how different papers cover the same basic premise. Back on Monday the Telegraph covered ticket touts. The problem is outlined and a solution offered. The problem, of course, is that the organisers of the

  5. Ethanol clouds senators’ judgment

    The urge to be seen as doing something about our energy problems is giving rise to
    legislation that has the potential for more harm than good. The ethanol amendment approved by
    the Senate yesterday is a case in point.

  6. Ethanol clouds senators’ judgment

    The urge to be seen as doing something about our energy problems is giving rise to
    legislation that has the potential for more harm than good. The ethanol amendment approved by
    the Senate yesterday is a case in point.

  7. Posted on this topic myself here.

    As a commenter noted, resale of tickets should have been anticipated by the event organizers; and if that was not acceptable, they should have taken appropriate measures beforehand, rather than attempting to impose restrictions after the fact on a completely legal activity.

    Also, please note the nature of Geldof’s accusations. It would have been one thing if he had taken ticket sellers to task for not sharing their profits — that is, failing to help. Instead, he accused them of actively causing harm — a far more serious matter.

    And where Geldof really plunged over the edge was when he turned his sights on eBay, redoubling the vitriol when eBay management offered to donate any auction fees collected on ticket resales.

    In fact, there’s more going on here than meets the eye. As the BBC noted:

    Live 8 promoter Harvey Goldsmith launched a wider attack on eBay, saying the company had [a] general problem with ticket sales.

  8. “But is completely crazy to think that there might exist a moral obligation on the intermediary to give at least some of the profit he makes to charity?”

    Yes, it is crazy. Morals are generally arbitrary. The intermediary may not even care very much for the charity in question, having simply spotted an arbitrage opportunity. If Geldof has an ethical issue with this, then he should be using his bully pulpit to apply some moral ‘suasion against it, but activity aimed at either banning or making such a sale impossible is intereference with the ability to freely contract, which increases inefficiency.

  9. The analogy I drew about the charity concert was imprecise. It was meant to motivate a certain response. Lynne talks of the moral aspersion which she would cast upon a ticket tout. It is exactly that I defend in Geldof’s stance. I defend the legitimacy of such moral censure. I do not defend his ill-informed view that touting is exploiting the poor – the poor lose nothing from touting.

    As for the last comment, either due to a lack of perspicacity on the poster’s part or a lack of perspicuity on mine, I failed to understand how it constituted a reply to the quoted sentence. Saying “morals are generally arbitrary” is not some sort of magic incantation which allows us to forget about morality.

  10. yes, I hadn’t grasped your distinction. but by virtue of what morally significant fact are family members/friends liable to this criticism, and strangers not?

  11. “Saying “morals are generally arbitrary” is not some sort of magic incantation which allows us to forget about morality.”

    Sure it is, Dominic. The answer to your original question is a simple “Yes” or “No” depending entirely on who you’re talking to, with no objective factors involved. You can’t even posit some harm that is being done or some legal right that is being trampled. Is it crazy? Sure, you’re pulling it out of thin air. Arbitrary.

  12. We have quickly moved on to distinctly philosophical terrain. Your saying “no objective factors are involved” is essentially a moral irrealist/subjectivist viewpoint. All I am trying to do is to dispell you of the easy certainty with which you hold your views. You state your position as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. But the sort of understanding of morality which would produce views such as yours is very far from uncontroversial. You say “morals are generally arbitrary” with such confidence, but this is an extremely disputed and controversial view amongst those who have thought about this question. I ask only for you to acknowledge the existence of a legitimate debate on this issue.

  13. Up at 5, caught the train at 6, arrived at Hyde Park at 7 and was waiting outside the Live8 entrance gates at 8am. From 10am we were all crammed shoulder to shoulder, bum to tum for about 2 hours. At 12 they finally opened the gates. Amidst shouts of “slow down” from the stewards, we all rushed forwards, sprinting towards the stage.

    The crowds became denser and denser as we approached, and weaving our way through, we began to feel closer and closer to the stage. When it seemed we couldn’t go any further, I looked up. I was almost at the front. Half a metre in front of me was a barrier. And a vast 300 metres out in front of that was the stage! We wouldn’t be going any further.

    The Golden Circle had claimed its space, and the VIP’s within it their right to stroll unfettered within its confines, enjoying the open space and close proximity to the stage.

    This comment was made later that day by Cold Play front man Chris Martin:
    “’It seemed an awful long distance to the audience. Who were all those people in front of the stage?”

    Those people were mainly VIPs, corporate guests and a select number of competition winners. VIP’s included Posh and Becks, Davina McCall, Bob Geldof’s children, and numerous other z-list celebrities – the usual suspects.

    Once again the class-system wins the day, with the fans (peasants) a safe distance away from the music (wealth), and the VIPs (Lords and Ladies) safely in between them.

    Let me draw an analogy with Africa: the Africans (fans) a safe distance away from any form of wealth or economic stability (music), and the capitalistic world (VIPs) safely in between.

    Bob Geldof attacked Ebay because people were using it to sell Live8 tickets, but then why did he go ahead and sell almost ALL of the specially reserved Golden Circle tickets to purely capitalistic corporations, which were selling these on for £400 each? (A move later regretted by the live8 organisers). None of us die-hard fans even knew about this Golden Circle as it wasn’t even advertised on the Live8 website, and yet somehow people like Victoria Beckham were kept in the loop.

    Well done Bob, you managed to successfully recreate the current world situation in Hyde Park for us all to see. Unfortunately your need to be directly associated with – and gain recognition for – the eradication of “Africa’s problems” has led you to deeply underestimate the problem. This quick-fix attempt may have done more harm than good. By including more African artists (peasants) in the main concert, and reaching out to the true fans (peasants) you would have helped bridge the gap between cultures and therefore planted the seeds of healing for our future generations – for it will take generations to heal.

    Stick to the music Bob…oh yeah, I forgot you aren’t any good at that either! Well, as another Bob once said “You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”.

  14. Up at 5, caught the train at 6, arrived at Hyde Park at 7 and was waiting outside the Live8 entrance gates at 8am. From 10am we were all crammed shoulder to shoulder, bum to tum for about 2 hours. At 12 they finally opened the gates. Amidst shouts of “slow down” from the stewards, we all rushed forwards, sprinting towards the stage.

    The crowds became denser and denser as we approached, and weaving our way through, we began to feel closer and closer to the stage. When it seemed we couldn’t go any further, I looked up. I was almost at the front. Half a metre in front of me was a barrier. And a vast 300 metres out in front of that was the stage! We wouldn’t be going any further.

    The Golden Circle had claimed its space, and the VIP’s within it their right to stroll unfettered within its confines, enjoying the open space and close proximity to the stage.

    This comment was made later that day by Cold Play front man Chris Martin:
    “’It seemed an awful long distance to the audience. Who were all those people in front of the stage?”

    Those people were mainly VIPs, corporate guests and a select number of competition winners. VIP’s included Posh and Becks, Davina McCall, Bob Geldof’s children, and numerous other z-list celebrities – the usual suspects.

    Once again the class-system wins the day, with the fans (peasants) a safe distance away from the music (wealth), and the VIPs (Lords and Ladies) safely in between them.

    Let me draw an analogy with Africa: the Africans (fans) a safe distance away from any form of wealth or economic stability (music), and the capitalistic world (VIPs) safely in between.

    Bob Geldof attacked Ebay because people were using it to sell Live8 tickets, but then why did he go ahead and sell almost ALL of the specially reserved Golden Circle tickets to purely capitalistic corporations, which were selling these on for £400 each? (A move later regretted by the live8 organisers). None of us die-hard fans even knew about this Golden Circle as it wasn’t even advertised on the Live8 website, and yet somehow people like Victoria Beckham were kept in the loop.

    Well done Bob, you managed to successfully recreate the current world situation in Hyde Park for us all to see. Unfortunately your need to be directly associated with – and gain recognition for – the eradication of “Africa’s problems” has led you to deeply underestimate the problem. This quick-fix attempt may have done more harm than good. By including more African artists (peasants) in the main concert, and reaching out to the true fans (peasants) you would have helped bridge the gap between cultures and therefore planted the seeds of healing for our future generations – for it will take generations to heal.

    Stick to the music Bob…oh yeah, I forgot you aren’t any good at that either! Well, as another Bob once said “You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”.

Comments are closed.