Sunday, September 04, 2005

'Three Cheers for Price Gougers'

Tech Central Station has an excellent article reminding us that economic reality isn't suspended in catastrophes, just because we wish it were so; and trying to do so is no public service. Click on the headline to go to it.

On the other hand, the Evangelical Outpost has a good thread, now pretty lengthy with posts, on the morality of looting, and our response to it. Is it okay to shoot looters? Is it ever okay to loot?

The latter is an easy question: necessity knows no law, as St. Thomas Aquinas said: one who is truly hungry is justified in doing what is necessary to eat. But one should pay if possible, and eschew violence where possible.

And yet, "shoot to kill" orders are justified on the grounds that when police can't arrest someone, what real deterrence can they offer? Warning shots are meaningless without the threat of something more to follow; and "shoot to wound" is hard to modulate.

All so confusing, isn't it? Sometimes moral reasoning is hard!

But I'd unravel it this way. The price-gouging scenario presumes several things: a seller is actually selling; a minimum level of law-and-order, allowing exchange to take place; and that there are choices possible: buy now, or later? pay $X for this desired commodity, or keep the money for something else? The question of stealing necessities comes into play when even these minimums have disappeared.

Ultimately, it comes to this: all goods of earth are provided by God for the benefit of all; if there is scarcity or hardship, all share it, although it is right that the burden be borne to some degree unevenly: a child or an ill person may need food or water more than someone full-grown and healthy. Losses and sacrifice, likewise, should not be borne just by certain unfortunate folks, but we should all share the burden.

1 comment:

Martin said...

I think an economist would sell his own mother for the right price. Though economists can tell you lots about how prices are set they deliberately avoid the question of parity, fairness or better yet brotherly love.

So what happens when the man who needs gas to go get his insulin cant afford the gas? Is it justice when gas prices are driven higher by rich people driving bigger and bigger cars for vanities sake and the poor are left to fend for themselves.

The economist is right. Freezing gas prices is a useless gesture, harmful even. But Christians can re-evaluate their "needs" and find better ways to share their worldly goods.
cf. The book of Acts.