The Moral Status of Pecuniary Externalities

Originally published in Journal of Business Ethics

Pecuniary externalities—costs imposed on third parties mediated through the price system—have typically received little philosophical attention. Recently, this has begun to change. In two separate papers, Richard Endörfer (Econ Philos 38, pp. 221–241, 2022) and Hayden Wilkinson (Philos Public Affairs 50: 202–238, 2022) place pecuniary externalities at center stage. Though their arguments differ significantly, both conclude pecuniary externalities are in some sense morally problematic. If the state is not called on to regulate pecuniary externalities, then, at the very least, individuals should be conscious of how their productive and consumptive decisions affect others by changing prices. We disagree. Both arguments fail, in that neither gives us reason to think pecuniary externalities are cause for moral concern. Unless a new argument emerges, pecuniary externalities should be left alone.

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