Walter E. Williams

Early in our marriage, 40-some years ago, Mrs. Williams would return from shopping complaining about the unreasonable prices. Having aired her complaints, she'd then ask me to unload her car laden with purchases. After the unloading, I'd ask her: "I thought you said the prices were unreasonable. Why did you buy them? Are you unreasonable? Only an unreasonable person would pay unreasonable prices." The discussion always headed downhill after such an observation. But let's look at prices.

I don't know about you, but I always try to get the lowest prices for what I buy and the highest prices for what I sell, and that includes my labor services. Is such a practice immoral? Nobody is forced to sell me anything at my preferred price, nor are they forced to buy from me at my preferred price. If we indeed transact, the only thing a third party could conclude is that we both saw ourselves as being better off than our next best alternative, or why would we have voluntarily transacted?

You say: "OK, Williams, you're right. But where are you going? How many times have we heard the accusation that a corporation moved overseas to take advantage of lower-priced labor or hired cheaper-priced Indians with HB-1 visas to replace higher-priced American high-tech workers? You'd think that a desire for lower prices is somehow immoral. Why should a preference for low prices be OK for you and me, and not so for CEOs?

Another thing I wonder about are those life insurance company advertisements where they offer reduced rates for nonsmokers. Here are the facts. According to an article in Social Science & Medicine in 1991 titled, "Life expectancies of cigarette smokers and non-smokers in the United States," the life expectancy difference between never-smokers and current smokers is about seven years at ages 25-29, and three years at age 75 and older. Thus, it makes actuarial sense for life insurance companies to charge smokers higher premiums.

According to a study titled, "The Longevity of Homosexuals," in the Omega Journal of Death and Dying in 1994, the median age of death from AIDS is 37 and death from other causes 42. In another study, "Does Homosexual Activity Shorten Life?" in Psychological Reports in 1998, the average life expectancy of homosexuals is 20 to 30 years less than heterosexuals.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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