The Ethics of Price Gouging

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Ethics and Political Philosophy | Philosophy


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.


Reprinted in David Schmidtz, ed., Creating Wealth: Ethical and Economic Perspectives (Cognelle Academic Publishing, 2010).

Reprinted in A.M. Viens and Michael Selgelid, Emergency Ethics, Volume I (London: Ashgate, 2012).