Springsteen used to sell tickets to his concerts for very low prices because he wanted ordinary working men and women to be able to afford them. What actually happened: Ticket resellers bought up all the tickets. So a ticket with a face value of $30 went for $100, except $70 of that went to a third party. At some point it occurred to Springsteen that if tickets to his shows were selling for $100, it didn’t make a lot of sense for $70 of that to go to a middleman who not only didn’t write “Born to Run,” he didn’t even write “Workin’ on a Dream.” Years ago, Springsteen dropped his “friend of the working man” pricing policy, which is why the last time I went to one of his concerts the face value of the ticket was $350. Is Springsteen guilty of “price gouging” for denying ticket resellers the opportunity to make gigantic profits from his work and artistry? Were those resellers guilty of “price gouging” for selling those tickets for what people were willing to pay?
Some guy who bought $70,000 worth of hand sanitizer and wipes with an eye toward “price gouging,” i.e. reselling these items for whatever the market determines their worth to be at this moment, should be drawn and quartered after he is tarred and feathered but before he is hanged from the nearest lamppost, say social-media users. Wrong. These items were selling for less than their market value at Dollar Tree and Walgreens, where the guy snapped them up. When retailers don’t charge market rates, middlemen naturally step in to ensure proper pricing. Would we rather he store the stuff in his basement and not share it with the community, which is what ordinary Costco hoarders are selfishly and mindlessly doing as a group? Why shrug at hoarding but be cross with the anti-hoarder, the reseller? Value is, as always, highly contingent on time and place, as you would know if you’ve ever bought a happy-hour drink, a Tuesday night ticket to the movies, or an off-peak train ticket.