Thursday, April 21, 2005

Buyer's Rights?

So my friends were having this conversation at school. They are going to this sale where some designer plops stuff out and it is cheaper than it usually is. Apparently they bring out boxes and it is sort of a 'if you grab it you got it' type deal. Apparently there is rampant elbowing and pushing and the like going on. Also apparently if someone sees that you have what they want they will follow you around hoping you put it down. I then suggested that you could make money by grabbing stuff and if someone is following you around waiting and hoping that you put it down then you sell them the right to buy this.
I was immediately called out for being truly unethical and basically an all around horrible person for suggesting this. I like to think of it as entrepreurial genius. They said that you have no right to do this until you actually purchase the said product and want to sell it. Here is what I think. From the start the designer is offering these products as first come first serve. So whomever picks it up first can then walk to the register and purchase it. You have acquired, by picking up the product, the right to purchase it. You can then sell that right to purchase to another shopper. You are not selling the product because you don't own it. You are merely selling your right to purchase, which you have the right to do.
I think it is fairly analagous to the legal situation of someone who steals something. The person who has stolen the item has a right to keep you from stealing it even though the person that actually owns it can take it from them no problem. They have a superior right over you even though someone has a superior right over them.
I know it is not exactly analogous, but I think this helps us frame the issue. Yes until you actually purchase it you have no right to resell it, and often when you buy things you don't actually buy the right of resale. Either way the owner of the items puts them in the stores and says the first to pick it up can take it to the register and buy it. The reason it is so important is because there is a limited stock. It is not like in a regular store where there are 30 more items hanging on the shelves. Here there is a limited variety so when you pick it up and gain that right to buy you have a right to sell that right. I think this is a recognized property right and it is perfectly ethical to do this.
I know people will disagree, but think of it like this. What if you were walking around with an item in hand and someone comes up to you and proffers 20 dollars if you will hand them the item? This is the same situation except that they are initiating the sale instead of you. You have the right to say no as do they if you offer them the same deal. Ethically there is nothing wrong with it. Once that right is created then you can sell that right and it is ethically sound.
The obvious argument against this will be that you don't have the right. The problem with this is that it is wrong. Otherwise you couldn't buy the item. There are more nuanced arguments saying that all you have is possession and the right not to be harmed. These together keep people from taking the item from you. I would say that you have a right. Anyone has a right to buy, but there right is not qualified until they pick up the item. Then they have the right to buy plus possession. This means their right to buy is now worth something because they have possession and they can sell that right. I can't think of anything ethically wrong with selling a right. We do it all the time. One easy property example is someone selling an easement. That is selling a right.


At 2:59 PM, Blogger Not Quite Elle Woods said...

Your argument that you would be actually selling the right to purchase is novel, but I think it is flawed. Using the Kate Spade sample sale (which is a really good situation to study the junction of economics and psychology), if A and B both want the same bag of which there is only one at the sale, and A has it, you are saying that A has the right to purchase and B doesn't, and thus B can purchase A's right. But B, by being a customer who wants to give Kate Spade money in exchange for the bag, has the right to purchase the bag also; the problem is that there is only one. Further, if A does not really want the bag and is only holding on to it to "sell it" to B, A really doesn't have the right to purchase b/c it seems that Miss Spade and other merchants would be reluctant to allow someone who had no intention of giving money for the purse anyway...i.e. A doesn't really want to buy the bag, A just wants to sell her supposed right to purchase the bag to B.

Additionally, there seems to be something really ethically vapid about taking advantage of someone. You see that someone wants something that you want less (as exhibited by your desire to sell your right to it for profit) and instead of being altruistic, you are profiting off of it. It is almost like when grocery stores that sell clean bottled water raise the price after a hurricaine.


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