Sunday, March 13, 2011

It's almost an ethical dilemma.

I have a friend who makes geiger counters. Excellent geiger counters – compact, no-nonsense, very reliable things. He sells them on-line, and they sell quite well among the sorts of people who like geiger counters. I always thought of them as a wacky survivalist thing - I've got one myself. They've always been quite popular in Japan.

Over the weekend they've suddenly become VERY popular in Japan, and he's up to his ass in unfilled orders. So he gave me a call, because sometimes I help him build sub-assemblies. It's one of the rarer but more profitable recurring gigs that come my way, and one of the few that occur comfortably indoors.

So normally I'd be very happy about this. But one thing I've always been able to say about my line of work, whatever it happened to be at the time, is that I don't profit from the misfortune of others. Look, I'm not a saint, and maybe it's neurotic. But I almost feel like I'm profiting from other people's troubles.

That's silly, I know. I haven't melted down a nuclear reactor in just YEARS, and wasn't anywhere near Japan at the time. In fact I'm just doing well by doing good. But still...

It's also kinda weird, as I ponder it. Here I've immured myself on a ridge in the high desert, as far away from interesting times as I could get myself. An hour ago the earthquake, tsunami and meltdown were just far-away tragedies, to be read about and tsk-tsked but not fretted over. And suddenly I'm kind of involved. Weird.


MamaLiberty said...

Yes, Joel, that is a bit silly. Should farmers feel guilty that they are profiting from the hunger of their customers?

You are producing a product that they both need and want. If they are willing, able and EAGER to pay for it, so much the better.

That's called the free market.

Anonymous said...

Further, tho....there are probably very few people who really NEED a Geiger counter than *want* one. And the amount of people who really NEED one who can't, because of too high of a price, would probably be near zero. So, as a way perhaps of ameliorating a guilty soul, perhaps it is that the counters that you will help make will be mostly *wanters*, which is perhaps a bit less of an ethical problem. Ramble...mumble...


Anonymous said...

Hey Joel,

Don't be an obstruction!

Get the hell out of the way of someone you don't know "needing" the comfort of stuff.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to assist in answering their cry from the wilderness for an extra nice piece of stuff.

It would be an ethical problem only if you absolutely knew the geiger counter you were assisting to produce was unable to geiger or to count.

Hey, if you can make a buck by assisting in fulfilling their desire, well, why not?


Anonymous said...

You're not profiting from the misfortune of others. You are a participant in the most amazing economic engine in the history of mankind.

Within hours of a terrible disaster this economy was re-ordering priorities, changing the allocation of resources, and calling up seldom-used reserves such as your labor and skills.

No government programs, no official direction, no tax looting. Just people making peaceful, mutually beneficial trades and making the entire world a better place in the process.

Don't be troubled. Be proud. You get a ringside seat as the market produces order from chaos. You are re-ordering your own life and time to serve those who want these products. You are doing so on short notice. You are doing it despite your remote location and your hermit lifestyle. Do your part with pride.


The Grey Lady said...


My Two cents,

Needs and wants, who are we to say which it is. If your making the parts of a Geiger counter for a mamma that is worried about her babies and radiation, if it will put her fears at rest so she can have ONE less thing worry over and get on with other aspects of her situation?????

Pas de problem...make the darn things.

winston said...

Reminds me of a freind of my parents, who specializes in taking care of problems which involves getting rid of unsightly tree stumps for a small fee, or the slightly rarer opportunity to get rid of trees that fall over during storms for a much larger fee.

He's up front about the fact that he prays for foul weather. And he isn't kidding...if you heard him talk about it you'd be 100% convinced that he goes to church on sunday and asks god for big ice storms. Wonderful guy and all, and a very reasonable businessman...but it's still funny.

Ken said...

You have skills which you exchange on a mutual and voluntary basis for payment, so that the product you help make can be sold to other voluntary exchange participants. I wouldn't worry, apart from sending prayers/good thoughts out Japan way.

Ken Hagler said...

You're profitting on the hysterical overreaction of others, not the misfortune. Nothing wrong with that.

Scott Lowther said...

Doctors. Morticians. Coroners. Police. Firemen. Car mechanics. Tow trucks drivers. Home repair specialists. Bullet proof vest manufacturers. First aid kit manufacturers. Pharmacists. Veteranarians.

Lots of people "profit from the misfortune of others." In fact, society would probably kinda collapse if it didn't have people who got paid, and paid well, to pick up the pieces after disasters large and small.