Should she have danced all night, or sat down

9th August, 2008

While at a recent Elton John concert, I observed a heated altercation between two ladies. The younger lady wanted to stand up, dance and sing along with Elton. The older lady, seated directly behind her, wanted to stay seated, watch the band and enjoy the music. The older lady asked the younger to sit down, but was told that she should also stand up and dance. An argument quickly broke out. Any thoughts on how they might have resolved the conflict without swinging handbags?
David Walker

Dear David,

I blame Elton John himself, since he apparently did not clearly define property rights, contrary to the recommendations of the great economist Ronald Coase.

Should a concert seat come bundled with the right to get up and dance, the older woman could have offered to pay her tormentor to sit down. Conversely, should a seat come bundled with the right to an unobstructed view, it would have been the younger woman offering the bribe. Either way, the dance would have continued only if the dancer’s enjoyment outweighed its victim’s frustration. Perhaps the bargaining might also have involved swapping seats?

Sadly, with no clear property rights, there was no basis for a deal. No wonder the night turned out to be all right for fighting.

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