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Flinging Moral Condemnation Is Cheap

Here’s a letter to one Paul Constant:

Mr. Constant:

You write in your recent essay criticizing columnist Tim Worstall (“Hurricane Harvey and the Failure of the Free Market”) that “When you argue that selling $99 cases of bottled water in a disaster area is a good thing, you need to reinvestigate your humanity.”  I’ve a question for you: How much bottled water have you personally delivered this past week to the people of south Texas?  I suspect that the answer is “none.”

You, like many of us, perhaps contribute money to relief efforts.  But you also, like most of us, remain comfortably at home, far from the devastation.  A handful of people, though, actually are on site and actually are exerting the effort to actually supply bottled water and other desperately needed goods to Harvey’s victims.  Your failure actually to make available bottles of water at prices lower than $99 per case to people who are paying $99 per case means that you, in effect, are charging those people prices higher than $99 per case for bottled water.

What is the minimum price-per-case that would entice you to spend the time and suffer the trouble actually to bring bottled water to Harvey’s victims?  $100?  $199?  $1,999?  $10,999?  Whatever that price is, if you haven’t personally undertaken or directed efforts actually to supply bottled water to Harvey’s victims at some price lower than $99 per case, then, again, you are effectively charging Harvey’s victims a price for bottled water that is higher than is the $99 price that leads you to fling your moral condemnation at people who are doing what you are not doing – namely, actually making bottled water and other needed goods actually available.

If it is, as you suggest, inhuman for someone to charge $99 per case for bottled water, then what word shall we use to describe your practice of charging a price even higher?

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

(I thank Robert Coli for sending to me a link to Mr. Constant’s criticism of Tim Worstall.)