Home/Daniel Larison/More on Richert-Akin

More on Richert-Akin

Should he [Scott Richert] choose to continue the discussion, I would be very interested to hear what he might have to say to two of the points that I raised:

1. If the just price concept is to play a moral restraining function and not be identified from or solely from the free market price of a good and not be identified through a series of price controls then what criteria does Mr. Richert think that a merchant should look to that do not substantially involve considerations of the item’s supply or the needs of those who purchase it?

2. Does Mr. Richert acknowledge that by asking for a just price to be determined that is not substantially affected by “scarcity or the special needs of the buyer” that he is asking for a price to be determined in a way not substantially affected by considerations of supply and demand? ~Jimmy Akin

Before I begin, I would like to thank Mr. Richert for his link to my original post on this debate and the very kind words he has written in his latest post.

In looking for a mechanism other than state price controls for enforcement, it seems that we have excellent mechanisms in the form of social pressure, the disapproval of the community and the conscience of the seller. The seller might measure whether or not he is charging unduly high prices by what his customers are telling him about his unduly high prices–admirers of the market are frequently enthusing about its capacity to transmit information very effectively, so why should consumer resentment at high prices not be a significant part of the exchange of information? He could then keep his prices at a level as low as he could without suffering a loss. It might also occur to a seller in a time of rising prices that his efforts to keep prices moderate will be rewarded by consumers both in the short and longer terms.

His ‘incentive’ to do this would obviously have to be rooted in some sense of concern for the welfare of his neighbours and an appreciation that they, upon whom his firm depends, have just the same limited resources and are facing the same price crunches. Much of this strikes me as common sense. Alas, it is not economically rational, perhaps because men are not widgets. Nothing in it requires elaborate government intervention or monitoring. To the extent that laws or regulations might be needed as mechanisms to punish those who do attempt to take advantage of their neighbours, it goes without saying that they ought to be determined as locally as possible to match local needs (since what might count as high food prices in New Mexico will not be the same in Nebraska or Texas).

As for the second question, I do not presume to be answering for Mr. Richert, but I do have a few thoughts. It seems clear that “scarcity and the special needs of the buyer” are nothing other than levels of supply and demand respectively, and that, yes, just price does require pricing to be basically independent of these considerations. This is because commerce and exchange are social relationships, and not simply the transfer of material goods for currency, and actions taken in the marketplace have consequences for society and the common good of which ‘economically rational’ decisionmaking takes no account, because they are fundamentally extraneous and valueless to the extent that no one is willing to ‘pay’ directly for them. But the integrity of society and the common good ought to take priority, or one may quickly find local communities bereft of all productive employment, because their flourishing as communities was not considered important or valuable enough in comparison with aggregate levels of productivity and growth.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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