Höga priser i nödsituationer

I ”The Ethics of Price Gouging”, publicerad i Business Ethics Quarterly, argumenteras mot uppfattningen att det bör förbjudas och att det är omoraliskt att höja priser i nödsituationer:

In this paper, I have presented a qualified defense of price gouging. I have done so by arguing for three claims. First, I argued that even if price gouging is immoral, it ought not to be prohibited by law. Existing laws against price gouging either fail to provide clear guidance to sellers or fail to take account of all the morally significant reasons which could underlie a price increase, and it is difficult to see how laws could be reformed to avoid this dilemma. Furthermore, any legal prohibition of price gouging will create disincentives for individuals to engage in economic activity which helps those made vulnerable by emergencies. Because laws which prohibit price gouging thus harm vulnerable buyers and are unfair or unclear to sellers, they are immoral and should be repealed. Second, I argued that price gouging is, at least oftentimes, morally permissible. Price gouging is not inherently coercive, and if it is exploitative at all it is so in a way which makes it difficult to see why it is wrong (or, at least, more wrong than the actions of those who do nothing to help victims of emergencies). Moreover, price gouging can serve morally admirable goals by promoting an efficient allocation of scarce and needed resources, and by creating economic signals which will lead to increases in the supply of needed goods available to desperate populations. When it does so, I have claimed that we have good reason to think of price gouging as morally permissible. Finally, I argued that even though those who engage in price gouging might do so from morally despicable motives or characters, we cannot assume that all of them do so, since there are morally virtuous (or at least morally acceptable) motives which might drive individuals to engage in the practice as well.

Det jag särskilt finner tilltalande i denna argumentation är kopplingen till Hayeks analys av prissystemets informationsspridande funktion (t.ex. i ”The Use of Knowledge in Society”, publicerad i American Economic Review). Dvs. att hindra priset att stiga vid plötsliga efterfrågeöverskott förstör ett signalsystem som kan lindra en problematisk bristsituation:

The lesson we can draw from Hayek’s insight is that markets are dynamic, and that our moral intuitions often fail to consider this dynamism. When we think about price gouging we often imagine a small, fixed supply of resources being distributed among a group of people. If a high price is charged, the rich will get the goods, and the rest won’t. … But here, as with many other cases involving markets, our intuitive moral response is driven too much by what we can visualize, and not enough by what is harder to see. It is easy for us to visualize the zero-sum relation between the individuals fighting over a small immediate supply of ice. It is more difficult for us to see the way in which the market forces at work in that scenario operate to increase supply and to spur the discovery and improvisation of substitutes, such that what is zero-sum in the microcosm is positive-sum in the macrocosm.

En klok insikt, tycker jag.