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What's the Matter with Price Gouging?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2015


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 anti-gouging 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.

Copyright © Society for Business Ethics 2009

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