An anecdote about allocating resources by means other than prices:
Since I am moving to Ghana, I am trying to get rid of my furniture so that the roommate who is replacing me will have space to move her stuff in. I got the furniture for free, and as far as I was concerned at this point, it had negative utility-- meaning it was a market "bad", not a market good; I would have been willing to pay someone to make it disappear for me.
As such, I placed an ad on Craigslist for free furniture, available to anyone who would come by and pick up the stuff. I was surprised at the response: I posted the ad at 11pm, and by 9:00 the next morning I had 15 responses from people who wanted the furniture.
I ended up allocating the furniture on a first come, first served basis, but the economist on my shoulder is giving me the evil eye and telling me that it would have been more fair to use prices-- by charging for the furniture, I would have allocated it to people who valued it more greatly.
April 20, 2010
Washington, D.C., and New York, N.Y.
I’m not even out of the country yet, and my trip is already proving to be eventful. Who would have guessed a volcano in Europe would prevent me from getting to Ghana? An eruption in Iceland has dispersed ash throughout the Gulf Stream region. The ash is concentrated at 20,000 feet—roughly the altitude at which passenger jets fly. Airspace over the UK is completely shut down, and unfortunately, I was scheduled to fly through Heathrow to Accra.
After arriving at JFK in New York, I spent two hours in line waiting to talk to a British Airways agent. Most of the other people in line were Europeans, trying to get home. I suppose Americans going on vacation had wisely decided to throw in the towel. The group directly behind me was French, and the French clearly have a different idea of personal space than West Coast Americans. (In Idaho, an intimate greeting is honking your car horn. I don’t know what’s with you Easterners who insist on actually touching each other.) I tried to inch my luggage cart forward with every opportunity, but they persisted in compromising my personal bubble. A child in their group bounced around, occasionally ricocheting off of me. After 30 minutes in line, I felt uncomfortably like a single-celled organism being engulfed by an amoeba. If amoebas spoke French. After an hour in line, they were leaning on my cart and using it as a book stand for their New York City tourist guide. I finally gave up and ceded my cart and cultural norms to them, and started chatting with them about travel conditions. However, it was with relief that I was able to extract my cart and myself from their group to speak with the gate agent, who was mercifully separated from me by a nice wide desk.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I was able to get a flight directly to Accra on Thursday on Delta. Passengers trying to get to Europe were booking tickets for mid-May. British Airways apparently has almost no planes left in the U.S. (They’re bringing them back to the UK and keeping them there; what purpose this hoarding serves, I have no idea.) Other airlines are struggling to accommodate their own backlogs, and aren’t taking British Airways rejects. I heard that British Airways was putting passengers on flights to Morocco, to drive from there to European destinations. The French amoeba wanted to know if they could go to Ghana too. The moral of the story is, clearly the movie 2012 was right: when natural disasters strike, go to Africa.
The Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull