Saturday, June 08, 2013

The queue

Most of life's goodies are rationed by price.  Economists like it that way.  Without price, we have to invent and defend alternate rationing mechanisms; we also have to somehow find ways to elicit supply.  Scarcity is a hard fact and rationing is a tough problem.

Nevertheless, many people find great virtue in rationing by queueing.  Last Sunday's NY Times Magazine included "Why the simple line is under attack andwhy we must fight to preserve it. ... Lines operate as self-protecting organisms. The line takes care of its own."  The author goes on to beg the question by invoking "fairness" as though that were a simple and trivial matter.  Saying that waiting in line is "democratic" is also rhetorical. Unlike money, we all have equal amounts of time available, so why not use the queue?

Trouble is that not everyone's time is equal. Yesterday, for example, there were a few traffic jams and re-routings in the West L.A. area to accommodate President Obama's visit to raise funds for his political campaigns. That represented the workings of our democracy as well as the fact that his missions are more important than mine; I had to spend my time so that his could be spared.

On a recent visit to London, my wife reports visiting a McDonald's in The City.  She reports that there was an express line and signs that indicated it was for Bond Traders.