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The Ethics of Price Gouging

Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 347-378, July 2008

33 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2008 Last revised: 25 Jul 2010

Matt Zwolinski

University of San Diego; University of San Diego School of Law

Abstract

Price gouging occurs when, in the wake of an emergency, sellers of a certain necessary goods sharply raise their prices beyond the level needed to cover increased costs. Most people think that price gouging is immoral, and most states have laws rendering the practice a civil or criminal offense. The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the philosophic issues surrounding price gouging, and to argue that the common moral condemnation of it is largely mistaken. I make this argument in three steps, by rebutting three widely held beliefs about the ethics of price gouging: 1) that laws prohibiting price gouging are morally justified, 2) that price gouging is morally impermissible behavior, even if it ought not be illegal, and 3) that price gouging reflects poorly on the moral character of those who engage in it, even if the act itself is not morally impermissible.

Keywords: Business Ethics, Price Gouging, Exploitation, Coercion, Efficiency, Hayek

Suggested Citation

Zwolinski, Matt, The Ethics of Price Gouging. Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 347-378, July 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1099567

Matt Zwolinski (Contact Author)

University of San Diego ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-4094 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States

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