Matt’s Traditional American Values: Why Vanderbilt should allow ticket resales for the Biden lecture


Matt's Traditional American Values

Matt Colleran

I strongly support the free exchange of ideas, so I have no problem with the school inviting Joe Biden to speak as part of the Chancellor’s Lecture Series, even though I do wish the series were more even ideologically.  Joe Biden is a very well-known public figure, having served as the 47th Vice President of the United States under former President Barack Obama. Given his stature, it makes sense that there was great interest in the student body in seeing him speak.  As students attempted to resell tickets for up to $500, the administration took a stance and imposed a prohibition on resale, stating intentions of economic inclusivity. Let me show with a couple examples how these policies hurt students, regardless of economic status.

The theory of free markets would say that should we allow resale of tickets, the tickets would wind up in the hands of the students with the highest utility for hearing Biden speak relative to their utility for more money, which represents all other goods one could buy.  Let’s start with the example of a student with a decent level of financial means who would gain extremely large utility from a Joe Biden lecture, likely due to being inspired by him in some way. However, in this example, another student initially obtained the ticket who was only mildly interested in going and would not have gone had there been a price tag on the lecture.  That person values having additional money more than he or she values hearing Biden, while the first person values hearing Biden more than having additional money. It makes both parties better off to trade money for a Biden ticket, and there are no drawbacks to this transaction.

I know that some will respond, “What about poorer students who could not afford to pay for a ticket?” I argue that allowing resale would make them better off as well.  This is because they can make a significant amount of money from the resale of their ticket, as they will likely have a higher utility for the money than for a ticket, which will drastically improve their financial situation on campus.  The key to understanding why the resale of tickets should have been allowed is that the result would have been that the people in the crowd would have been those who most valued attending the lecture relative to all other goods.

I will also say that the initial allocation of tickets should have been through a random lottery instead of first-come-first-serve for something that would sell out in three minutes, but that difference is not one that changes the economic math that the free market would distribute tickets the best.  Ultimately, this should teach liberal students who support socialist economic policies a lesson. This is because socialist policies imposed by a university (a governing body) prevented students from seeing a prominent left-wing speaker (or making money), despite the fact that a transaction would have made both sides better off.  Oh, the irony!