Scalping Elmo

by L. Neil Smith
Patronize Me!

Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

First published in Issue Number 20, December 15, 1996.

They’re scalping Elmo out there, and America (or at least the silliest of her most hysterical element) is outraged. You’d think they were plucking Big Bird!

I should explain, for the benefit of those who don’t have a seven-year-old, that Elmo’s a little red fuzzy character from Sesame Street, and that a monsterquin manufactured in his likeness (called “Tickle Me Elmo”) is everything this Christmas that the Cabbage Patch doll was in the 80s. News TV’s hairsprayed heads (stimulated by the current Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy concerning mortal combat over a similarly popular plaything) are doing their absolute damnedest to incite riots in every toy section of every department and discount emporium in Clintondom.

Hey, it’s their job.

Meanwhile, individuals with the foresight to have acquired a number of these objects drat are advertising them—in that vile, seething cauldron of unregulated iniquity known as the internet—at prices ranging to $200. (I don’t know what they’re “supposed” to cost—lucky me, my daughter’s still into Toy Story—but it can’t be much more than a double sawbuck.) And, for the first time outside the context of tickets to a theatrical or athletic event, I’ve begun hearing a perfectly commendable free market practice (of rationing scarce commodities by a process of balancing supply and demand through price) being referred to as “scalping”.

My, how sloppy media Marxists have gotten with their camouflage, since People’s Heroic Soviet Chairperson and Mr. Clinton managed to get themselves rebeatified last November by fewer than half of those who bothered to vote. You begin to get an idea what the capital gains tax is really all about. Buying low and selling high—all buying low and selling high—is now by definition “scalping”, to be punished, preferably by forcing all such antisocial miscreants to subsidize the Glorious Collective, through fines levied shortly after the crime, or taxes payable upon excessive success.

Or maybe I’m just being mean-spirited, maligning the altruistic intentions of the moral cannibals who—oops, damn! There I go again—have all but destroyed this civilization in a relentless effort to control my life and yours. (There—I feel better.)

Maybe the moral measure of economic relationships is the “need” of the victims, er … victimized by the unfair practice of selling stuff for more than you paid for it. Maybe that sort of activity is excusable most of the time (as long as you do it in the closet and scrub your hands afterward), but not when … what? When folks need bread and flashlight batteries after a hurricane, and hoard them unless merchants are left to ration them by exercising a natural right to put any price on them they wish?

There I go again.

I confess that, despite its mindless political correctness, I watch Home Improvement, because Tim Allen and Patricia Richardson make me laugh. (My daughter likes Tool Time and doesn’t care to see all that other stuff.) One episode, however, never fails to make me mad: the one where Tim and Al, stuck with sitting through a local production of Waiting for Godot, try to unload a pair of hockey tickets and are arrested by Max Gail, last seen as Wojohowicz on Barney Miller.

Let’s get this straight: what’s at stake here is a cold, hard seat in a huge, noisy structure (where you’re not allowed to smoke) shoehorned full of cretins watching other cretins pushing a rubber English muffin around an arena that would be better used as a Hunter’s Pistol range. The team already has its money, having been happy to sell the ticket in the first place. The second buyer thought he wouldn’t get into this splendiferous event, and is ecstatic to pay several times face value not to miss it. The first buyer—able to dispose of his property any way he wishes—gets what he wants. Who the hell is being hurt here?

And didn’t Walter Block already ask that?

The whole thing’s sillier—if that’s possible—when the commodity is a stuffed animal from a TV show (and network) that’s supposed to be non-commercial, and unconcerned with such vile capitalistic crassness.

Okay, but, just to be fair, let’s give it a final try before we toss this kind of “thinking” into the dumpster where it belongs. A principal objection to Elmo-scalping—judging by responses on a web page dedicated to trafficking cruelly in fake furry flesh—is that it’s unseemly to make a profit from little children at Christmastime.

Somebody call Mattel.

I’m sure you’ve noticed how, more and more, “for the children” is the excuse of preference for every fascistic atrocity—victim disarmament, drug prohibition, internet censorship—professional dogwhistles like William Bennett and Charles Schumer desire to impose on a nation where the highest law of the land was supposed to be the Bill of Rights. I’m sick of hearing it. What I want for my child is a free society to live in when she grows up.

Moreover, I don’t want her used as an excuse to beat up and kill people who refuse to become Bill and Charlie’s slaves. Even at seven, she understands the issue better than the average voter. She doesn’t want to be used as an excuse, either. More than anything, she looks forward, like her dadddy and mommy did at her age, to growing up and controlling her own life. You think I’m a hard case, wait a dozen years. I’d hate to be anyone she finds standing in her way.

But to return to the point, and at the risk of repeating myself, if I buy Elmo, he’s my property, to do with as I see fit. If I buy a hockey ticket—it isn’t me, but an alien imposter; nevertheless—the principle is the same. It’s my ticket, to use, sell, or run through a pencil sharpener and snort up my nose. The trouble with Bill and Charlie is that the only kind of property rights they believe in is a right they imagine they have to own us.

Personally, I think Ayn Rand was onto something when she had the goodguys at the end of Atlas Shrugged admiring a new Constitutional Amendment: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade … “

Better yet, Alice, how about “Congress shall make no law”?