By now you have heard about the Coronavirus and how it is rapidly spreading throughout the world. I will be the first to admit that post like this out of the ordinary for this column. However, I have noticed a trend, both online and locally.
Profit From Panic
There is a panic around the Coronavirus. So much so that the financial markets have had 1,000 point swings from positive to negative on any given day. It has brought tourism to a halt in some places, and if you want to go to Rome you will be able to get a fantastic deal.
Since it is the current hot topic it seems to be all the media is discussing. The constant reporting of impending doom or a pending apocalypse has driven people into a frenzy. By no means am I saying that the disease should not be taken seriously. It absolutely should and we should all take the necessary precautions. However all of the reports are bringing out the worst in some, and that is really what is driving this post.
Besides posting the occasional funny meme, I have been silent on this virus. I didn’t want to get caught up in the hoopla, but then I went to buy toilet paper. If you haven’t noticed it is being purchased in mass volumes and hoarded like it is the currency of the future.
My wife went to our local Costco and there was none to be found. We are a family of six so we go through a fair amount quickly. The store representative said that it is sold out whenever they open. I then decided to go to the Walmart near work, and once again the precious material was sold out. What I then heard made astounded me and made me cringe. The Walmart representative told me that it was the same people wiping out the stock every day. Why? For profit. Profiting on panic.
What’s The Big Deal?
Some may see nothing wrong with this and perhaps see it as a way to make a few extra bucks. I am not against capitalism and I make my living in the financial industry, but taking advantage of a crisis in an effort to take advantage of people is wrong. Scripture and church teaching both say so. When a hurricane hits people are angry that prices are being gouged, and yet some who complain about that are taking advantage of the current situation. One person who is doing so is a good friend and we have had many colorful conversations about this.
In paragraph 2409 the Catechism of the Catholic Church states,
The church is clear that such a practice is wrong. This section of the Catechism is listed under the church’s teaching of the seventh commandment. That commandment says that we shall not steal. If you don’t believe me then go to Amazon and shop for toilet paper. I had to do this today because every store in my area was sold out. What I saw disgusted me. One seller was selling a twelve pack of Charmin for $60! The average price range for Charmin was around $28 as of this morning. Keep in mind that the normal cost is around $10.
The following are also morally illicit: speculation in which one contrives to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others; corruption in which one influences the judgment of those who must make decisions according to law; appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste. Willfully damaging private or public property is contrary to the moral law and requires reparation.
I feel the need to reiterate that I am not against making money, but am against taking advantage of others. As Christians we believe that everyone is our neighbor. We also believe that we should treat others the way that we want to be treated. Scripture says that our dealings are to be honest.
Deuteronomy 25:15-16 says,
You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the Lord your God. (NRSV)
In ancient time scales were used to weigh currency. To have an honest measure was to maintain appropriate prices when purchasing or selling. In other words a scale would not be weighted to give an inaccurate reading for the purpose of profit. As can be seen in the passage above, the Lord has some very strong words for people who do this. Just because there is a panic does not mean that this goes by the wayside.
Show Christ To Others
We are called to be Christians at all times. If your neighbor is out of toilet paper and you have extra then offer them some. I recently saw a single roll on sale in a neighborhood page (not mine thankfully) where someone was trying to charge $5 for one roll and $15 for a package of Clorox wipes. Maybe you are doing this. If so then I encourage you to do the right thing. Don’t take advantage of others. May we offer help where we can. May people around us see Christ working in us and through us so we can make the world a better place.