Are Queues Superior?

July 2, 2012 in Daily Bulletin

This is Centives’ third time covering Michael Sandel’s book: What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. It is a book that discusses the role of the market embedded into a society. In the book Sandel argues that those who pay others to stand in queues for them are doing something ethically wrong and that this sort of market leads to corruption. Ed Dolan disagrees and highlights:

  • If you stop people from paying others to stand in line for them, you’re saying that the best way to value a good is not how much people are willing to pay for it, rather it is how much time they are willing to spend on it.
  • However both methods have their failings. If you allow people to pay others to stand in line for them (essentially scalping tickets), then it might push up the price of the ticket so high that it is out of reach for a passionate fan of the band, group or team.
  • Yet if you force people to stand in line, then those with lots of extra free time could be willing to spend so much time in line, that it makes it impossible for those who are very passionate about the performance or event, but have limited time, to purchase the ticket.
  • Either method could lead to ‘unfair’ outcomes.
  • Moreover the queues that were prevalent within the Soviet Union demonstrate that lines can be just as corrupting as money.
  • This is not to suggest that if an organizer wants to prevent people from scalping tickets you should disregard their wishes. You should comply with the rules set up by the organizers.

Dolan outlines a nuanced argument, the complexity of which is lost somewhat in this summary. Read his full argument, including some wonderful examples, and fascinating stories, and what the Soviet Union’s experience with queues was like over here.

Source: EconoMonitor