• 11.21.08

No Capitol Gains: eBay Bans Sales of Inauguration Tickets

Under pressure from Congress, online auction giant eBay agreed to ban the re-selling of free tickets to the Presidential Inauguration ceremony in January. But doesn’t this move stifle the free market? If people are willing to pay, why stop them?

This week, eBay is getting some positive feedback from Capitol Hill. The online auction giant recently agreed to ban the sales of tickets to President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony in January, in cooperation with California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D). Sen. Feinstein is drafting legislation to make the scalping a crime, so eBay is putting their foot down on peddling the free tickets (available through your local member of Congress). This comes after some tickets — which have yet to be distributed — were selling for as much as $40,000 a pop.


There are only 250,000 tickets to be had, but District and federal officials are expecting up to four million people to descend upon the Mall on that chilly January morning. Since there are sixteen times as many expected viewers as there are available spots, shouldn’t ticket “prices” be sixteen times greater? Perhaps it is wrong to exploit such a momentous occasion, one that truly shouldn’t have a price tag, but scalping is a staple of public gatherings in this country. While scalpers might be irritable and generally unpleasant people, they are simply playing the numbers: price goes up with demand is much higher than supply. Yet, scalpers aren’t allowed to “re-sell” tickets to the Inauguration, because Sen. Feinstein and others believe that the tickets are initially free and should remain so.

So the tickets will officially remain free of charge for all spectators, not just those lucky few (well, few hundred thousand) who managed to call Rep. John or Jane Q. Congressperson on time. But what about scalping in general? Why no outcry from Congress when people are illegally reselling tickets for sporting events or concerts all over the country? If John McCain was elected president (assuming the same number of people were planning on attending the inauguration), would Sen. Feinstein have put the kibosh on eBay aiding scalpers? Methinks not. Though her actions were noble, it seems like this decision sets an uneasy precedent for the US government to intervene in the Invisible Hands that govern e-commerce.

Or, perhaps, the US will never see this much interest in an inauguration ever again. In that case, problem solved. What do you think?