Over at The Acton Institute, Jordan J. Ballor responds to my Christmas tree post:

We might observe that the buyers of the Christmas trees also faces dilemmas…maybe not between going without a new septic tank or fixing a roof, but certainly with the prospect of fewer presents underneath the tree or fewer dishes to pass around the Christmas dinner table. And in some cases, a deal on a Christmas tree might actually mean the difference between having a live tree at all.

This is in large part what motivates the buyer to seek the lowest prices, “whatever the human expense.” The buyer knows best and most personally his or her own “human expense,” and trusts that the seller has entered into the agreement willingly, having counted his or her own cost in bringing the tree to market. Much of this calculation is represented in the price function, just as the impact of supply and demand influence prices. The buyer, in reality, often has no practical way other than prices to make a basis for judgment.

I think Ballor and I more or less agree that a market economy is a good system that takes into consideration certain truths about human nature (such as our selfishness) that other economic systems ignore. And I agree with Ballor regarding the dilemma of buyers and that, as he puts it, the “buyer knows best and most personally his or her own ‘human expense,’ and trusts that the seller has entered into the agreement willingly.”

But just because the market has already “calculated” my selfishness–that I will buy products at the lowest price possible–does not mean that it is always right for me to do so. One of the weaknesses of the modern market economy is that it makes it easier for me to wrongly believe that I can be as selfish as I want because that’s how the system works! That selfishness is even good!

This is a moral problem more than an economic or political one, and it is not solved through facile solutions like always buying local, as I suggest in the original post, and as Ballor seconds, but that does not mean that as a buyer price should always be the only determining factor.