Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at Forbes.
ESPN is reporting there’s outrage among some observers that people are scalping their “free” tickets to Ali’s memorial service in Louisville. Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as a free ticket to a memorial service.
ESPN quotes several people who disapprove of the buying and selling, including an Ali family spokesperson who is “disgusted and amazed” by those selling tickets given that “Ali wanted this to be a free event, an event that was open to all.”
Unfortunately, it’s an event that can’t be “open to all” because the arena will only seat about 15,000 people according to ESPN. At a price of zero dollars per ticket, there are more people who want to attend than there are seats in the arena.
If people are not allowed to pay with money, they will pay with their valuable time. ESPN reports that “People started arriving outside the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville late Tuesday, hours ahead of the ticket distribution,” and the time they spent waiting in line to get tickets to the memorial service was time invested in what’s basically a resource-wasting staring contest.
Imagine tickets to the memorial service priced at $40 each. Now imagine someone who would be willing to pay $40 to go to the memorial and who values his time at eight dollars per hour. He could work for five hours and use the proceeds to buy a ticket to the memorial service. The world would be better off to the tune of the $40 worth of goods and services produced in returned income he needed to buy a ticket.
The tickets, however, were not selling at a price set by the market. They were being given away. Now how might our boxing fan pay $40 get a ticket to go to the memorial? If you cannot pay with money, then he can compete with others who wish to go to the memorial by expending time and other resources. At eight dollars an hour, he would be willing to wait in line for five hours for the ticket. During the five hours, he isn’t actually producing anything. Instead, he’s consuming his valuable time, and when he gets his hands on a ticket we don’t really have anything to show for the five hours he just spent in line.
A lot of people object to the buying and selling on equity grounds, claiming that tickets to the memorial should be available even to those of limited means and not available only to those who can pay the market price. If the market price of a ticket is $40, then even someone who is given a ticket is still “paying” $40 to attend the memorial.
How do I know? How can someone pay $40 for a “free” ticket to a memorial service? Suppose someone offers him $40 for the ticket as he is walking to the arena. What does it cost him to attend the memorial service? He can either sell the ticket and pocket the $40 or keep the ticket, forgo the $40, and attend the memorial. The decision to attend the memorial costs him the $40 he could have gotten by selling the ticket. Even “free” tickets are free, and someone who chooses to attend the memorial gives up the next best thing you can do with the ticket–in this case, sell it for $40.
Whether it is tickets to a memorial service for the Greatest of All Time, a mass by the Pope, or something more pedestrian like a concert or a sporting event, there is simply no way around the fact that some people will go to great lengths to be able to attend. If they can’t pay with money, then they will pay with something else that’s valuable—their time.