Tickets Supply Meets Demand on Sidewalk

Ticket scalping has been very good to Kevin Thomas, and no apologies, he sees sunset as a cia SIC American entrepreneur: a high school dropout from the Bronx who taught himself a trade, works seven nights it week, earns $40,000 a year, and at age twenty-six has $75,000 in savings, all by providing a public service outside New Xork’s theaters and sports arenas. He has just one complaint. “I’ve Leen busted about 30 times in the last year,” he said one recent evening, just after making $280 at a Knicks game. «You learn to deal with it-! give the cops a fake name, and I pay the fines when I have to, but I don’t think it’s fair, I look at scalping like working as a stockbroker, buying low and suing high If peppier are willing to pay me the money, what kind of problem is that It is a significant problem to public officials in New York and New Jersey, who are cracking down on street scalpers like Mr. Thomas and on licensed ticket brokers Undercover officers are enforcing new restrictions on reselling tickets at marked-up prices, and the attorneys general of the two states are pressing well-publicized cases against more than a dozen ticket broker But economists tend to see scalping from Mr. Thomas’s perspective To them, the governments crusade makes about as much sense as the old campaigns by Communist authorities against profiteering Economists argue that the restrictions inconvenience the public, reduce the audience for cultural and sports events, waste the police’s time deprive New York City of tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue, and actually drive up the cost of many tickets It is always good politics to pose as defender of the poor by declaring high prices illegal,” says William J. Baumoi the director of the C. V. Starr Center for Applied Economics at New York University But when you outlaw high prices you create real problems Economists see an illustration of that lesson at the Museum of Modern Art, where people wait in line for up to two hours to buy tickets for the Matisse exhibit. But there is an alternative on the sidewalk: Scalpers who evade the police have been selling the $12.50 tickets to the show at prices ranging from $20 to $50. “You don’t have to put a very high value on your time to pay $10 or $15 to avoid standing in line for two hours for a Matisse ticket,” said Richard H. Thaler, an economist at Cornell University. “Some people think it’s fairer to make everyone stand in line, but that forces everyone to engage in a totally unproductive activity, and it discriminates in favor of people who have the most free time. Scalping gives other people a chance, too. I can see no justification for outlawing it.