Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Taking a Store's Profits

I was thinking a few days ago about the following thought experiment:

1. Suppose you are in a store and you have a coupon (expiring today) for $10 off any purchase. You can't find anything you want in the store. Would you consider giving the coupon to someone who is waiting in line to make a purchase?

2. Now suppose you are in the store and never had the coupon. Assuming there was no chance you would be caught, would you reach into the cash register, take out $10, and hand it to a stranger in line?

I think most people would probably consider #1, and would be outraged by #2. But interestingly, both actions have precisely the same economic outcome for all parties involved. Thus, it seems that the logical conclusion to be drawn is that it is morally wrong to give the coupon to the person in line. And yet I think I have done this on several occasions and felt good about it.