First come, first served

This is the default for allocating something that’s scarce.

It’s also rarely the fairest or most efficient alternative. And it’s sort of lazy.

I called a service provider yesterday and was told that they had a two-year waitlist.

They could sort the list by who needs what they do the most.

They could sort it by which sort of client would be the best fit.

They could even sort it by which client would allocate the most resources to be next in line.

Any of these choices would be more useful to them and to their clients than the semi-random solution of handing out numbers at the deli.

It feels more fair because we’re used to it. But it’s actually less fair to just about everyone involved.

When a luxury good is allocated based on time invested by the purchaser, it may seem that rewarding someone who stayed up all night to wait in line makes sense. After all, they traded the one commodity that everyone has the same amount of to signal their desire to be in the line.

But perhaps there’s someone who would put the item to better use. Or consider the utility of allowing people who want something to trade time spent as a tutor or in a food shelter for priority instead.

The internet allows us to transcend time and space. We can collect information and connect people who aren’t necessarily first in line.

Every time we choose not to, we’ve chosen to ignore the value that could be created.