Last night I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band play at an arena just a few kilometres from my house. He was supported by another great 80’s band, Hunters and Collectors, and the whole thing was worth many times the ticket price.

Bruce played for 3 hours 48 minutes, just short of his 4 hour 6 minute record. It was quality, not just quantity, but of course my mind still sometimes strayed into thinking about the economics of what I was experiencing.

Springsteen at AAMI Park, Melbourne, 16 February 2014.

1. Externalities.

Watching the Boss in a crowd of one would be lonely and weird. You need all those other people to sing along, chant, create energy..

While most people in the crowd provide atmosphere, there’s a certain subset of the crowd that is pure negative externality:

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 11.05.33 am

Yeah, you guessed right. I’m not very tall. Still, I think tall people disproportionately enjoy live music and show up in disproportionate numbers. Could you create a simple market for live music that lets the short buy themselves a decent view?

2. Enforcement in the absence of clearly defined property rights.

Before the start, we were about six metres back from the fence in the general admission area. People guarded their space jealously. There were tiny pockets of space into which people from the back would push. The only way they could get away with it was by affecting the face of someone looking for someone, and loudly saying, “he said he was right here,” then looking at their phone. That created enough uncertainty to buy them time.

But if people – especially tall people – just muscled through and stood, it was another matter. There were two guys who looked like US professional wrestlers who stood right in my view, and this guy who looked like a retired orthopaedic surgeon tapped them on the shoulder and gestured violently that they better not stand there. It was beautiful.

3. Complements.

For some people, beer and music go so well together that they are willing to forfeit watching great chunks of an act they have paid $128 to go and see. They’d rather push through a darkened and tightly packed crowd, stand in a beer line and then carry beer back through – a mission of 20 minutes a time. Amazing. Perhaps this is actually a lesson in how some people don’t understand opportunity cost.

4. Diminishing marginal returns.

Bruce and the E-Street band played for over an hour before announcing they would play their 1975 hit album Born to Run from cover to cover. They played it. Then they played for another hour or so. That was when I first saw someone leave. Then the band left the stage, came back to start an encore, played a few songs, announced there was now just twenty minutes left, played a few more songs to use up that 20 minutes, played a super-long version of crowd-pleaser Dancing in the Dark, played traditional ending song Twist and Shout, did a huge finale, bowed and accepted the applause of the crowd. More of the crowd left to beat the rush. The entire E-Street band left the stage and just as Bruce was walking back past the drum kit, a roadie’s hand reached out with an acoustic guitar, he strapped it on and gave us one more song. Parts of the crowd audibly groaned. (Not me.)

The full setlist can be seen here.

5. For some people, a retirement age is a terrible idea.

Bruce is 65. He doesn’t look ready to start drawing down his super.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

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