An example of one of the dilemmas in ethical economics

When I started in 2014 writing the draft of this article I cleaned and filled my fountain-pen. It worked straight away. No need for me to have to purchase a new nib. Or a new reservoir. It’s nearly 65 years old but still as good as new.

But then I switched on my computer to start to commit it to the web: and dire warnings appeared saying that I should continue to use it at my risk. Though less than 10 years old I should either pay $200 or so to upgrade the operating system or purchase a new computer. That, and probably also purchase new versions of the programmes I have happily been using.

If I want to look up the address of an old Christmas card contact, a former client or whatever I use programmes I wrote some 30 years ago. For most of my (and I suspect most people’s) needs we are quite happy with what we have. We are happy to be ahead of fashions or behind them, but not to be “with it”. We don’t have to have super-fast gamer’s graphics. We DO dislike un-necessary throw-aways. And we might well have more limited budgets than when we were of the age of those who now determine that our equipment (and probably we as well!) is archaic. The same kind of thing happens with Hi-fi equipment. And.. And..

Yes, computers have gone down in price. Yes, and they and the new programmes might well be more efficient. BUT…

In many poorer countries $200 might be a month’s income. However many of those making the decision to make operating systems obsolete – $200 is less than an hour’s earnings. Mind you many of these horrors have been acted upon by parts of the computer industry. They are now supplying “ageless” software. Until Technology supersedes conventional computers and their associated equipment. I can still (so I understand) get parts for my old Hi-fi valve amplifier.. All is not bad!

The writer used to work for a company guilty of similar practices. He was part of a marketing team selling coffee vending machines. Salesmen who persuaded customers to rent machines for a short period were paid much higher commission than they were paid if the machine was instead sold. Why? Simply because in 3 years time of so there was a good chance that the “old” machine could be replaced by a new one (and the “old” one scrapped). More turnover and profit for the company! But was that good for the customer – or for the environment?

Which gets to the very heart of ethical economics: simply to improve the profitability of companies – and hence both share values, dividends and executive bonuses – what are the ethical considerations of such? Should not the economic effect to end user also be of concern?

It’s not just a problem with near-monopoly operating system suppliers. Many professions by restricting membership make their members well-off whilst disregarding the effect high fees have on the “general public”. And related side-effects.

Consider, for example, the General Practitioner doctor in the UK. Some are said to be earning around £250,000 ($400,000) a year. If they halved that pay then another 3 hospital nurses could be afforded: and they would still be very well off: Much better than many equally dedicated, equally highly-skilled engineers, for example.

This is not a paper calling for a theoretical communist-style economy. No, it is asking simply for all to consider the effects their decisions – and their earnings – have on others, frequently far more than than upon those of their own restricted circle.