Using the the Criminal Activity that Results from Prohibition to Justify Prohibition

Apparently, Los Angeles has tough anti-ticket scalping laws.  This means that one is able to resell virtually any item one owns but no longer has a use for except tickets.  In this case, government officials yet again don't like someone who places little value on an item selling it to someone who places more value on that item (a concept that is otherwise the basis for our entire economy).  We can see the effect of such laws in London, where stadiums full of empty seats are juxtaposed against thousands who want to attend but can't get tickets, all because for some reason we have decided we don't like the secondary market for tickets.

A great example is embedded in this line in today's LA Times about crackdowns on scalping:

Jose Eskenazi, an associate athletic director at USC, said the university distributed football and basketball tickets free to several children's community groups but that scalpers obtained those tickets and sold them "at enormous profits."

I like the coy use of "obtained" in this sentence.  Absent a more direct accusation, I have to assume that this means that scalpers bought the tickets from the community groups.  Which likely means that strapped for cash to maintain their operations, these groups valued cash from the tickets more that the ability to send kids to a USC football game  (in fact, taking them to a USC football game would involve extra costs to the community group of transportation, security, and feeding the kids at inflated stadium prices).  It was probably entirely rational for the community groups to sell the tickets -- this is in fact a positive story.  Selling the tickets likely got them out of an expensive obligation they could not afford and generated resources for the agency.  Sure, USC was deprived of the PR boost, but if they really want the kids to come to the game, they can do it a different way (e.g. by organizing the entire trip).  This is not a reason for curtailing my right to sell my tickets for a profit.

Anyway, I have ranted about this before.  Sports team owners and music promoters have out-sized political influence (particularly in LA) and have enlisted governments to clamp down on the secondary markets for their products.

What I thought was new and interesting in this LA Times story was the evolving justification for banning ticket scalpers.  Those who have followed the war on drugs or prostitution will recognize the argument immediately:

Lee Zeidman, general manager of Staples Center/Nokia Theatre and L.A. Live, said in a separate declaration that scalpers "frequently adopt aggressive and oftentimes intimidating tactics.... To the extent that ticket scalpers are allowed to create an environment that makes guests of ours feel uncomfortable, harassed or threatened, that jeopardizes our ability to attract those guests to our property."

In court papers, prosecutors accuse scalpers of endangering citizens, creating traffic hazards and diverting scarce police resources.

"Defendants personally act as magnets for theft, robbery, and crimes of violence," the filing states. "Areas with high levels of illegal ticket sales have disproportionately high levels of theft, robbery, crimes of violence and narcotics sales and use."

Wow, you mean that if we criminalize a routine type of transaction, then criminals will tend to dominate those who engage in this transaction?  Who would have thought?  If this were true, we might expect activities that normally are run by normal, honest participants -- say, for example, alcohol distribution -- to be replaced with gangs and violent criminals if the activity is prohibited.

It's amazing to me that people can still use the the criminal activity that results from prohibition to justify prohibition.

Update:  John Stossel has an article on the London ticket scalping ban


  1. None:

    Don't know which olympics you've been watching but the events I actually went to were certainly packed out with VERY few empty seats. I have no problem with people selling one or two tickets forward if they genuinely cant make it for whatever reason, but there is a very definite problem when large swathes of tickets are bought at lower prices precisely with the intention of selling them on at a larger price. The idea of the lower priced tickets being available are for people less able to pay for them (but still wanting to be there) to be there in a mild form of lottery. The ones scalping large quantities of tickets are depriving the less able to pay of their "lottery" chance, for their personal enrichment.

  2. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    Interesting enough, right now Carpe Diem has two articles regarding scalping right now, one focused on the Olympics:

    Not Even a Bronze Medal for the Command-and-Control Approach to Olympic Tickets in London

    Coin Scalping: A Dime Sells for 16M X Face Value

  3. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    None: the issue with that solution is that it creates a secondary market because some will apply for it, then sell their tickets to scalpers if they win the lottery. Scalpers will even recruit people to apply even if they have no interest in the venue.

  4. Wasil ibn Ata:

    Jose "Ask a Nazi?" I don't know how seriously I can take him.

  5. Andrew:

    If tickets were priced by the market in the first place there would be no market for scalpers to exploit.

  6. Bob Smith:

    "The court filing also claims that scalpers are "unfair competition" for legitimate ticket-selling vendors."

    If scalpers really are selling tickets at outrageously high prices, how can they possibly compete with licensed vendors selling tickets at face value? Something is fishy here.

  7. Joe:

    1) Didnt we learn something from prohibition - I am strongly opposed to drugs, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, etc. However, the criminal activity associated with the drug trade is far worse.
    2) Scalping - unless the event is highly desirable (7th game of world series, super bowl not so much), then the scalped ticket are often priced well below face within few minutes of game time. (the only issue I have is the possibility of the ticket being counterfit.

  8. chuck martel:

    Ticket scalpers are providing a necessary service or they wouldn't exist. They wait around for hours on street corners, buying tickets from those that no longer wish to attend the event and then selling them to those who'd like to go but have no tickets. They're simply engaged in retail trade. How can anyone logically object to these voluntary transactions?

  9. Curtis:

    In general, I agree that scalping should be legal but if USC donates tickets to a charity on the condition that the tickets are for children to attend the games, then that is USC right. The charity gets to accept the tickets on USC's conditions or not. If this cost of transportation makes this not work for the charity, it should talk to USC or turn down the tickets. The charity is despicable to renege on their deal.

    Part of the reason USC donates the tickets is to receive good publicity with lots disadvantage kids in the stands. That is OK and within their rights.