:Ben Metcalfe Blog

eBay and Live8 – capitalism vs anti-capitalism

The Live8 concerts are all about putting pressure on the capitalist nations of the West to write off the outstanding African debt.

But recent events around the Live8 ticketing have demonstrated both Bob Geldolf’s and the event organiser’s lack of understanding of basic capitalism – the very concept that generated the wealth that was used to lend money to Africa: that people will always sell goods at a price that reflects the demand.

The public were asked to send texts at £1.50 to be in the draw for the 75,000 pairs of tickets. Of course, those who got tickets have found themselves with a commodity that’s worth a lot more than £1.50 – and the capitalist instinct of many was to flog the tickets to the highest bidder. Auctions were invented around that very concept – selling items at prices that reflected the demand of the market, and eBay is the obvious online incarnation of that principle.

Almost immediately, tickets were put onto eBay for as much as £1000 a pair. Bob Geldof described the people listing tickets as “sick profiteering”. But isn’t that what eBay’s for – “sick profiteering”?

eBay initially said that they wouldn’t remove the bids because selling charity event tickets wasn’t illegal – but that they would donate the listing fee (about £1 from each auction) to the Live8 fund.

However, early on this evening eBay U-turned on one of their fundamental company values – “if it’s legal, you can sell it on eBay”. They have removed all Live8 ticket auctions under pressure from Live8 and the media.

I can’t believe that neither Live8 or eBay realised this would happen. It’s common for most “big ticket” events, like Glastonbury and international football matches, to mark tickets with the buyer’s ID details. Live8 were blatantly stupid for not realising this would happen.

They obviously have the mobile phone number of the recipient of every pair of tickets, and have o2 as a technology partner. Off the top of my head I can think of some rudimentary authentication system requiring the ticket holder to prove they are carrying the mobile phone attached to the tickets. It wouldn’t have been fool-proof, but certainly would have been hard for people to sell the tickets on.

eBay certainly had a lack of prudence here too. They must have known that people were going to sell these tickets on their service – and that negative publicity was around the corner.

Since the Live8 concert was announced we’ve been talking about how much you could theoretically get for a pair of tickets on eBay. eBay should have either decided to change their policy in advance or performed better due diligence in preparation to the damming lines of enquiry by the press and Bob Geldof.

But fundamentally doesn’t this proove that for a large number of people, the substance of the concert is more important to them than the reasons it’s being held in the first place? To many, this is just another concert, not an oppotunity to give money/support to Africa. I think Bob Geldof needs to realise this – and realign his expectations or continue to push the War on Poverty debate.