What's the Matter with Price Gouging?

Business Ethics Quarterly 19 (2):275-293 (2009)
Abstract
When prices for basic commodities increase following a disaster, these price increases are often condemned as ‘price gouging’. In this paper, I discuss what moral wrongs, if any, are most reasonably ascribed to accusations of price gouging. This discussion keeps in mind both practical and moral defenses of price increase following disasters. I first examine existing antigouging legislation for commonalities in their definitions of gouging and then present arguments in favor of the permissibility of gouging, focusing on the economic benefits of price increases following disasters. I argue that gouging takes the form of a specific failure of respect for persons by undercutting equitable access to essential goods. While I discuss anti-gouging legislation throughout this paper, my aim is to give an account of the moral wrongs associated with gouging rather than guidance for developing morally defensible anti-gouging legislation.
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