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Response to “Price Gouging”

Here is a fun experiment you can do all on your own. Go into any store and look at the various items. I am willing to bet some of them have a little sign on which the letters “o,” “n,” “s,” “a,” “l,” and “e,” are written. If you go to a particularly big store, such as Walmart, there will probably be over two dozen items with this sign, and every single one is being sold for under the market price. At this point you may think to yourself, ‘Oh no! What a terrible mistake!” If you head to the store’s manager and point out that they are ignoring the Law of Supply and Demand and need to fix this mistake immediately, nine out of 10 times they will get annoyed and ask you to leave. Eventually, you will get a manager with enough patience to explain to you that many factors are used to calculate the price items should be sold at—only one of which is the Law of Supply and Demand. Now you can return home, happy with the fact that you proved the only argument in favor of price gouging wrong.
I am being completely serious. Any article arguing in favor of price gouging tends to be the author shouting, “Supply and Demand,” and then walking away, as if they just delivered the most persuasive argument since Plato. Our little experiment conclusively proved that there are other factors that need to be considered when pricing goods, yet authors fail to even acknowledge that such factors exist, let alone address how they affect an economy after a natural disaster. Even if they did somehow manage to definitively prove that these factors have no significant effect, it would not matter at all. Not even the slightest.
You see, that is an argument from the field of economics, but objections to price gouging come from the field of philosophy. They are using the wrong field of study! Imagine trying to write a paper on Napoleon using logarithms, or using literary symbolism to cause a chemical reaction. These things make no sense in any shape or form and are so inapplicable that I am hesitant to even say that they are wrong, if only because doing so would imply that these ideas have a meaning that could be true or false. These types of incomprehensible notions are called categorical errors, the classic example of which being the question, “How much money is true love worth?”
Now that I have that out of the way, it is time to finally start talking about morality. Morality is divided into 3 main branches: consequentialism, which focuses on the consequences of an action; deontology, which focuses on the rights and duties people have; and virtue ethics, which focuses on the refinement of character traits.
The most famous and influential consequentialist is easily John Stuart Mill, whose views are usually summed up by the phrase “the most good for the most people,” which means that morality comes from making others happy. It is pretty obvious that natural disaster survivors prefer to not spend whatever little of their life savings they have left on basic necessities that are being sold at 10 times the normal price. So, the moral course of action is to not gouge prices.
It should be mentioned that every now and then someone will offer a twist on the supply and demand argument by claiming that inflated prices will encourage distributors to ship more goods to the decimated area, which can be countered quite easily by simply asking for any evidence that supports the claim.
Moving on to deontology, Immanuel Kant claimed that every human is deserving of respect by virtue of being human, which led him to conclude that no moral person would be so disrespectful  as to treat people as mere tools, only good for achieving some goal and then cast aside to be forgotten. This is exactly what price gougers do. They use vulnerable victims to make money without any regard for the horrible pain they are inflicting.
Last but certainly not least is the virtue ethics of the legendary Aristotle, who differs from other virtue ethicists by believing that in addition to traditional character traits referred to as virtues (such as kindness and honor) a virtuous person must also be a good friend. Actions that strengthen friendships are moral and actions that weaken them are immoral. Considering how the general public agrees that price gouging is a horrible and exploitative practice, it is not that difficult to conclude that price gouging your neighbors will not get you invited to their Fourth of July party.
Of course, nearly every philosopher has had something to say on morality, so no single article could cover all of their positions on the subject. For the most part though, these other theories of morality are similar enough to Mill’s, Kant’s, and/or Aristotle’s that they too would conclude that price gouging is a moral crime.