Market harms and market benefits

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Our actions in the marketplace often harm others. For instance, buying and consuming petroleum contributes to climate change and thereby does harm. But there is another kind of harm we do in almost every market interaction: market harms. These are harms inflicted via changes to the goods and/or prices available to the victim in that market. (Similarly, market benefits are those conferred in the same way.) Such harms and benefits may seem morally unimportant, as Judith Jarvis Thomson and Ronald Dworkin have argued. But, when those harms or benefits are concentrated on the global poor, they can have considerable impacts on wellbeing. For instance, in 2007-2008, commodity traders invested heavily in wheat and other staple foods, caused a dramatic price rise, and thereby pushed 40 million people into hunger. In such cases, intuition suggests that the traders act wrongly. In this paper, I argue that market harms and benefits are morally equivalent to harms and benefits imposed through other means (contra Thomson and Dworkin). I also demonstrate that, in practice, these harms and benefits are often great in magnitude. For many common products, buying that product results in a considerable financial loss for one group and a considerable gain by another. For instance, for every $10 we spend on wheat, we cause the global poor to lose between $5 and $67 (in expectation) and the global rich to gain the same amount. In light of these effects, I argue that we have moral duties to adopt certain consumption habits.
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First archival date: 2021-09-15
Latest version: 3 (2021-12-22)
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