Por: Rolando Kattan
Like a truck without brakes, COVID-19 struck the world and has taken many lives in its way. To ease the collision produced by this monster of nature, authorities order their people to stack up in face masks and other biosecurity equipment. In spite of Pope Francis' call for solidarity in this “epochal challenge”, to many, this was the opportunity to fulfill material aspirations, by hoarding products such as face masks, hand sanitizers, and even toilet paper for reselling at ridiculous prices. Is it ethical to sell face masks and other safety equipment in such desperate times, at such irrational prices? Is it ok that only an elite minority can access this emergent necessity, while the less fortunate are left to the will of the winds and faith? Popular opinion says that if a market is free, the consumer has a predetermined choice, therefore consent justifies actions.
Majoritarily, this is what has driven our markets in recent decades, Adam Smith, the so-called father of modern economics even labeled empathy as counterproductive in the economics of a society, claiming that self-interest is what ensures the efficiency of the markets. The works of Adam Smith inevitably lead us to questions like that, of whether a coffee producer in a Central American country like Honduras, with improper agricultural means, should be equally seen in the eyes of the market compared to a foreign fully industrialized company. This type of free-market has led to unjust prices of Central American coffee, leading to economic stagnation, and an increase in poverty, and a spike in infections due to lack of proper biosecurity protection.
However, a strict rule that controls the free market, which endangers competitiveness, motivation to take financial risks, and betterment of product quality, should not be implemented. Aristotle said ethics was about having the right character—displaying virtues like courage and honesty. But how much good virtue, can a businessman hold when he is losing money? The reader might be thinking that one can be charitable to a certain extent. However, Aristotle thought there was a golden mean between the two extremes, and finding it was a matter of fine judgment.
It is that golden mean, where all our creative efforts should be placed on. As rational beings, we should not be herded like sheep by a list of concepts or even ideologies. Instead, we should evaluate each situation with its respective uniqueness. Since no concept can hold a universal status in this changing world, except the one that forces us to take every factor into consideration to take the asserted decision that the situation calls for. When we as a collective start to segregate ourselves from ideological lines that are meant to facilitate thinking and actually start making decisions based on the utilitarian wellbeing, consensus will be much more achievable and we will reach the envisioned efficiency of Adam Smith with the good virtue of Aristotle.