When is free hotel Web access not free?

How the dismal science applies to your life.
Feb. 1 2006 12:11 PM

How Much Should Hotel Web Access Cost?

Sometimes it's free. Sometimes it's $20 a day. Why?

(Continued from Page 1)

That's pretty good. Unfortunately, when I apply the same theory to an analogous problem, the results are far less satisfying. The other problem is one I revisit every few years: Why is popcorn so expensive at the movie theater?

In every important respect, the popcorn pricing problem is identical to the Internet pricing problem. If Jack will pay $10 to see the movie and Jill will pay $12, but Jack really loves popcorn, then a greedy profit-maximizing theater owner will offer to shower Jack with free popcorn until he's willing to pay $12 to get in.

Advertisement

But if Jack and Jill are each willing to pay $12 to see the movie, that same greedy profit-maximizing owner will charge them both $12 and bleed Jack dry at the popcorn stand.

Sometimes the numbers should work out one way; sometimes the other. Yet in the real world, popcorn, unlike wireless Internet, is never free.

It's logically possible that by pure coincidence the numbers at every movie theater in the world all work out the same way, while the numbers at hotels work out one way half the time and the other way the other half. But "pure coincidence" theory is even less satisfying than the "differential greed" theory. There must be something I'm missing that makes popcorn essentially different from Internet access. I remain stumped.

Steven E. Landsburg is the author, most recently, ofMore Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics. You can e-mail him at armchair@landsburg.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.