The following is a scenario in an imaginary world:
A seller is selling all the diamond rings in the world, and the world consists of him and ten other people. All ten potential buyers would like diamond rings, but every time a diamond ring is offered for sale and everyone makes an offer to buy a ring, two of those ten people offer more. This results in a bidding war until the other eight people can no longer afford to buy the ring. Consequently, all the diamond rings go to just two people.
But at the end of the day, these are diamond rings. Who really cares? They could never be considered essential for living the good life.
Also in this world: A seller is selling all the food in the world. In advance, we will rule out “but you can produce enough food for yourself without the seller,” by declaring, as part of the thought experiment, that this would require so much time that people could not work for a living, and it would in many cases require resources (such as suitable land) that people do not have. So this is ruled out.
Again, there are ten people who need food, and they each have a fixed level of purchasing power. The purchasing power of everyone is such that, if they were motivated to create this outcome, everyone could afford enough food for himself or herself to eat and not be hungry. There is enough food for sale to serve this end. Every time an item of food is offered for sale, however, and everyone makes an offer to buy it, two people offer more than the others, which triggers a bidding war, until the point is reached where the other eight people can no longer afford the item of food. This continues every day, using up the food supply. Days turn into weeks, so that literally all the food goes to the same two people and the remaining eight people have no food.
Food isn’t like diamond rings, because food is an essential for living the good life (or indeed, any life), not a luxury.
Now, note the following facts about this scenario:
- Nobody is preventing the remaining eight people from making whatever offer they are able to make to buy food.
- The seller is able to accept the offer of any of the eight people and sell food to them, but they want to make as much money as possible so they choose to sell to one of the two people making the higher offer.
- Nobody is forcing the seller to agree to sell to the two people who are buying all the food.
- The two people buying all the food are not deceiving anyone, nor are they engaging in physical force against anyone (unless somebody tries to take the food they have purchased, in which case they will appeal to their property rights and physically stop people from taking the food from them).
All the moral rules that apply in our world also apply in this imaginary world.
Disclosure: The above thought experiment was prompted by the current situation in the housing market in New Zealand. However, I want you to answer these questions based only on the scenario I have described above. I am asking you about this scenario, not about the housing situation.
Here are my questions:
- Are the two buyers doing anything immoral?
- Is the seller doing anything immoral?
- If there were an authority figure who could successfully command the seller and the buyers to do anything differently, what might they tell them to do?
- If this scenario were taking place within a society with laws and government (inflate the numbers from ten to ten million if you like), would it be OK for laws to be passed to force a change in the behaviour that is taking place in this scenario?
- If your answer to the previous question is yes, what should be done in situations where the person in the situation refused to comply with the legal requirement(s)?
I would love to see what readers think.
Yes – I know I am supposed to be writing some blog entries about some passages of Scripture about women. There are reasons why I haven’t been doing serious blogging for a while, and I still intend to write these.
- A defence of just letting poor people die
- House prices again…. NZ tops the list.
- Gay cakes and business by association
- When good advice is bad
- An Ash Wednesday Reflection 2015