January 4, 2018

QotD: “[G]reedy corporations sacrifice human lives to increase their profits”

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The charge that sways juries and offends public sensitivities, and helps explain the large awards, is that greedy corporations sacrifice human lives to increase their profits.

Is this charge true? Of course it is. But this isn’t a criticism of corporations; rather it is a reflection of the proper functioning of a market economy. Corporations routinely sacrifice the lives of some of their customers to increase profits, and we are all better off because they do. That’s right, we are lucky to live in an economy that allows corporations to increase profits by intentionally selling products less safe than could be produced. The desirability of sacrificing lives for profits may not be as comforting as milk, cookies, and a bedtime story, but it follows directly from a reality we cannot wish away.

The reality is scarcity. There are limits to the desirable things that can be produced. If we want more of one thing, we have to do with less of other things. Those expressing outrage that safety is sacrificed for profit ignore this obvious point. For example, traffic fatalities could be reduced if cars were built like Sherman tanks. But the extra safety would come at the sacrifice of gas mileage, comfort, speed, and parking convenience, not to mention all the things you couldn’t buy after paying the extraordinarily high price of a Tankmobile. Long before we increased automotive safety to that of a Tankmobile, the marginal value of the additional life expectancy would be far less than the marginal value of what would be given up. It simply makes no sense to reduce traffic deaths as much as possible by making automobiles as safe as possible.

Dwight R. Lee, “Sacrificing Lives for Profits”, The Freeman, 2000-11.

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