Property Rights and Movie Seats

I’ve been meaning to mention this weeks ago, but I never got around to it.

First, there was this interesting post by Tom Bell about surfing property rights. Then there was this post by Don Boudreaux about parking lot spaces. They both involve how people spontaneously create and improve rules around allocating scarce resources (like rideable waves, and limited parking spaces) without legislation.

I’m sure you can think of many more examples.

One that I’ve been thinking about is movie theater seats.

I go to a lot of movies with my son, and we get there early to be sure to get seats that we like. Often, the theater gets crowded and sometimes there are some empty seats adjacent to us. Many times, people who show up shortly before (or after!!!) the movie begins ask us to move in order for them to sit together.

My first inclination is to try to be polite and accomodating and to go ahead and move. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal to move over a seat or two.

But, part of me is annoyed. We chose those seats specifically for their location. We got there early so we’d be likely to have that choice.

Why should we suffer for other people who didn’t make the effort we did? Are they taking advantage of our politeness; expecting other people (who paid for their good seats with their forgone time) to give up their seats so that they won’t have to pay for them with their own time? Would the world be better if more people refused to move?

What do you think?


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