OpportunismApril 9th, 2010 by ftobia
I’m not sure whether or not vending machine sniping is ethical. You know what I mean, when someone else’s snack gets stuck in the machine, and you buy another one so you can get two. Twice already this semester I’ve made a vending machine purchase to obtain not one but two snack items. In both instances I probably wouldn’t have bought anything if not for this free lunch.
Yes, I act opportunistically. It’s unreasonable not to. Maybe my willingness to pay for snacks is somewhere between the full price and half price. Maybe the idea of getting something for nothing induces a predictable irrationality in me. Now, if I could easily find out who lost their money to the machine, this would be a different story. Then I think I would have a moral obligation to return what’s not rightfully mine. But it’s infeasible to find this person. The welfare loss has already happened. There is no way for me to rectify the situation.
Somewhere, twice this semester, someone has been made worse off because of a vending machine. I had nothing to do with that. But once we accept that their loss is necessarily someone else’s gain, why shouldn’t it be mine? Is that really so terrible?