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Friday, November 12, 2010

Still not a Kantian

A couple of weeks ago in pricing class, we had a lengthy discussion about pricing ethics. My professor posed the following situation: you're driving along and you see a yard sale, given by a farmer who is selling everything he owns to feed his family. Among the sale items, you see a painting that is priced at $15.00... but when you look at it you know it's really valuable (a Picasso or a Monet or something along those lines). So... the ethical conundrum is, do you pay the asking price of $15, or do you pay the real value?

Kantian pricing, my professor explained, would demand that you do the right thing and pay the full value. When people in my class started to argue, he just laid on the guilt ("His children are starving! His goats are starving!!" etc). Soon we moved on to Rawles, which was even more awesome. I loved this discussion because philosophy and ethics rarely come up in my classes, at least not directly. Mostly we seem to take it for granted that people will do the right thing.

Anyways, the point of all this is, last weekend I encountered a Kantian pricing conundrum! I was visiting my fiancee at school and we went to one of our favorite places in town, a coffee shop-slash- used bookstore. I think I've previously documented my obsession with books, so no need to explain why I love this place. As I was perusing the Literature section, I came across an old hardcover volume of a book by one of my favorite childrens book authors. It was a 1905, first edition with plated illustrations, in great shape except for the binding which is a little bit falling apart.

I really wanted this book...like REALLY wanted it. The victorian style illustrations and adventureous verses pretty much epitmomized for me what childhood should be like... I started having daydreams of reading them to my kids from this awesome-looking volume, and passing it down to them to read to their kids etc. Only one problem - there was no price marked. I assumed it would probably cost more than a grad student with no income should be paying for one book, but I figured I wouldn't hurt to ask so I took it up to the front desk.

I handed it to the hipster-looking college student manning the cash register/coffee bar, and explained that I'd found this book without a price, and wondered how much it cost.
"Hmm..." she kind of half glanced at the book. "What section was it in?"
"Literature."

She opened a couple of pages and leafed through them for a maximum of 2 seconds. "I dunno," she shrugged. "Five bucks?"
DONE.

I immediately thought about the farmer and his painting - had I just done something horribly immoral? Well... the store obviously wasn't aware of the true value of that book, so they weren't any less happy with the sale... and I was enormously happy getting something I really wanted for far less than it should have cost me, so I figure overall happiness was increased. And at that point offering them more money would have just looked weird.

Needless to say, I spent the whole walk back to Ben's apartment telling him about Kantian pricing and the ethical dilemma of the farmer. Poor Ben. I'm almost as sorry for this as I was for subjecting him to my Managerial Accounting spazzes last spring.

In other news, Maggie is coming to visit this week! Maggie is my parents cat... I think she's awesome, but the last time she was here she hid under my bed for two straight days (unintentionally useful for dusting under there haha). Wish me luck!

2 comments:

  1. Just consider the consumer surplus benefit. So much utility in one little book!

    ReplyDelete

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