Opportunism and the free market
Capitalism survives in the space between the value of commodities produced by workers and the amount one has to pay those workers in order to produce. Most people don’t think of their wages like this – they think of them in terms of the purchasing power such wages bestow. If one can live comfortably, surrounded by material goods considered requisite then one is happy. If not, then one is not happy. How should Marxists relate to the ‘consumerist’ position of so many people?
It is hard, when considering instances where capitalism strikes directly at the purchasing power of the consumer, not to be reduced to talk of morality. Secondary ticket markets, such as Seatwave, which purchase tickets for concerts and then sell them on at a large mark-up, are effectively making money for no work. They make life harder for normal people whilst contributing nothing – not to the performer, the venue or the fan base. Such an industry is the ultimate parasite.
Recently the Commons’ committee on Culture, Media and Sport rejected the case for tighter regulation on such services. For the life of me I can’t see why such ticket touting is legal in the first place; it’s a multi million pound honey pot which attracts major venture capitalist firms and makes money out of making culture inaccessible to the poor. The call by ‘reputable’ parasites for industry-determined regulation and a voluntary code of practice are ridiculous – and so are the capitalist justifications.
On Radio 4’s consumer rights programme, a seller of these tickets declared that the free market should be allowed to operate. His argument was that if the tickets will sell at the higher price, then the tickets are undervalued anyway – and this is a self-correction of the free market. For me, this calls into question the point of a free market if only in this one area. Shouldn’t the economy serve people and not vice versa? The arguments of the Adam Smith institute that secondary selling is good for fans doesn’t stand scrutiny.
“An open and secure secondary market has got to be good for fans. Seatwave, for instance, offers a guarantee that the tickets it sells are genuine, 150% refund if they do not arrive on time, and a full refund if the event is cancelled (which is more than you get from many promoters).”
There is simply no mention of the fact that tickets which should cost £30 are being sold for £180 via these companies like Seatwave. How is that good for fans? As I have said, the money is not going to the venue, it’s not going to the performer, it’s not even going to the promoters, it’s pure profit being scammed off people by buying up a large proportion of tickets, narrowing the amount that can be purchased for £30 and then squeezing those people who were trapped on jammed phonelines and didn’t get tickets.
Also, a large proportion of these tickets are acquired via corporate malpractice. Various corporations will acquire free tickets for events, tickets which should not be sold on because by so doing it opens the gate to the touts. Supposedly tickets are acquired via ‘fan clubs’ in the same way, since these clubs might have deals to get X number of tickets to distribute to members. These get sold on – and the best the House of Commons can do is recommend a levy on online ticket resales.
The seeming immorality of the whole thing disgusts me – but immorality is not an easy word for Marxists to use. Perhaps a more appropriate manner to express this disgust is through anger at the gross exploitation of popular participation in culture. Adorno might be correct in his assessment of the culture industry, that it creates more consumer desires that must be sated, replicating itself in a manner that will never end – but in a world which cries out for a social nexus, even the basics of social interaction are worthwhile.