Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Profiting Off Suffering

There's a big debate over at Catallarchy about the ethics of profiting off suffering. A lot of people consider profiting off suffering a self-evident evil. Naturally, I disagree. Let me offer a Reductio ad Absurdum to show the flaw in this position. Let's say someone with a migraine headache goes to a pharmacy and the pharmacist sells the suffering patient some aspirin. Is that wrong? No doubt the patient is in terrible pain. If so, then much (if not all) of our health care system is based on evil. The Catallarchy debate is a bit different though, since they're discussing excess profits being made because of the storm and the urgency surrounding it drives up demand and thereby driving up the price. First of all, from a consequentialist perspective, the profits might be good since the seller will likely use them to restock inventories in case another big storm comes. Plus there's another problem, what happens if you try to introduce the government into the mess so the state can regulate profits? I'm no expert, but to the best of my knowledge, if profits are regulated many economic transactions will go into the black market. If you disagree with me or if you want to debate further, feel free to discuss your opinions in the comments of this post.

Update: The Mises Institute discusses price gouging in a bit more detail.