Monday, January 12, 2015

Some thoughts on what it means to be "ripped off"

What follows is my Op-Ed in the January 10, 2015 edition of The Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy.  Or not...

Last week, I attended the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl with my 14-year old son. As fans of the Minnesota Gophers, we were excited to spend the day together in the newly renovated Citrus Bowl. Of course, as anyone who has attended an event there knows, the parking has not been renovated, so I braced my son for what could be a tough search.

As it turned out, it was a day for learning about the difference between free-market entrepreneurship and government inefficiency.

When we exited onto Tampa Avenue, within seconds a man came running alongside my vehicle telling us to follow him if we wanted to park. I had seen signs for $25, but as a typical economist, I think 25 cents for parking is worth haggling over; $25 is worth driving a few miles away.

I asked the man his price as he ran, sweat pouring from his face; $20 was his offer. I countered with $15, and he agreed and instructed me to follow him.

As I turned right onto a side street, I saw a police officer on a motorcycle who, with the aid of a loudspeaker, said, "Do not pay to park on the city streets! If you do, you are being ripped off!"

When the man who led me to a parking spot — on the city street — guided me in, I asked him if this was what the officer meant. Another officer came by proclaiming the same, and the fellow I agreed to give $15 to quickly left — with none of my money.

When I got closer to the stadium, I spotted him and gave him money anyway. The way I looked at it was simple: He and I reached an agreement through the spirit of mutual self-interest. I did not agree to pay $15 as long as the parking was not on the street. I agreed to pay $15 for help finding parking. His service was worth it to me: I did not have to keep driving, and he guided me to a great spot. The police officer had no business telling me I was being ripped off when I was fine with the arrangement.

Bear in mind, millions of dollars of taxpayer money went into the remodeling of the Citrus Bowl. That includes some dollars that could be used for city services. After these tax dollars are taken from us to make the stadium nicer, the city allows corporations to come in and charge $11 for a beer and $25 for cheaply-made T-shirts, to name only two items that folks could claim are priced at "rip-off" levels.

During the game, my son and I sat in a section in the upper deck. The section next to us was filled with beer-swilling Minnesota fans — most of whom looked much closer to 18 than the legal age of 21. By the third quarter, public drunkenness and profanity filled that section.

A few feet away, an Orlando police officer stood by. Near my section, not the Minnesota kids'. I walked over to him and asked him how often he finds himself thinking, "There is no way that person is 21."

He said he finds himself thinking that he missed his days in college — but he did not do anything about the possibility of underage drinking or drunkenness.

So I wonder, in which case was the city of Orlando served best — by the young man who ran alongside my truck to help me park on the taxpayers' streets, or the person paid by the taxpayers to maintain order?

Perhaps the phrase "ripped off" is appropriate after all.