George Will

WASHINGTON -- Greed, we are agreed, is bad. It also is strange. It has long been included among the Seven Deadly Sins, which suggests that it is a universal and perennial facet of the human fabric. But the quantity of it, at least in America, responds to political cycles. Greed grows when Republicans hold the presidency. They did so throughout the 1980s, and no less an authority on probity than American journalism named it the Decade of Greed. Furthermore, everyone knows we are in our current economic pickle because greed, which slept through the Clinton administration, was awakened by the Bush administration's tax cuts and deregulation. The day after the 2008 elections, The New York Times (see above: probity, authority thereon) ascribed America's economic unpleasantness to "greed and an orgy of deregulation." The political pendulum swings, so Republicans will capture the presidency now and then, igniting greed revivals.

Greed is difficult to define but we know it when we see it. That person is greedy who earns, or wants to earn, more than is seemly. Unseemliness is difficult to define but we know it when we see it. A seller of something we want to buy is greedy if the price he is asking is not reasonable. Unreasonableness is difficult to define but we know it when we see it.

In the secondary market for tickets to entertainment events, an arena of people sometimes called scalpers, greed exists. So everyone knows that government regulation is required. Everyone except David Harrington, a Kenyon College economist. Writing in Regulation quarterly, he argues that deregulated markets punish greed. Markets know it when they see it.

Studying the Internet site Stubhub, which is owned by eBay, Harrington monitored the secondary market in Ohio State University football tickets for the Oct. 25, 2008, game against Penn State that was attended by a record crowd of 105,771. Stubhub acts as a broker, charging 15 percent from buyers and 10 percent from sellers, who can charge whatever they choose. Generally, a ticket's value depends on the seat's location -- the lower in the stadium and the closer to the 50-yard line the better.

Harrington collected two sets of information, one on Oct. 13, 12 days before the game, the other on Oct. 21, four days before. On Oct. 13 there were 346 sellers offering 682 tickets. Eight days later, 411 sellers were offering 845 tickets. In the interval, Ohio State beat Michigan State and undefeated Penn State beat Michigan, intensifying fans' interest in the game.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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