In the United States, there is a wide range of acceptable price ranges for goods and services. For example, I live in Manhattan in New York City, which is the second-most expensive city in the U.S. When you live, work, and play in New York City, you know that– for better or for worse– you’ll be paying more because it’s New York.
Even with the expected higher prices in certain regional areas, there is a more sinister phenomenon that gained some media attention during the COVID-19 pandemic: price gouging. Basically, price gouging is when someone sells something at an exorbitant price, way above what is logical or fair– usually when those particular products or services are in high demand due to a crisis or disaster.
Price Gouging in the U.S.
Stockpiling and hoarding were also some unfortunate human behaviors during the pandemic; price gouging was a different way some folks took advantage of the situation in order to make more money. Sellers bought up products people needed while in a pandemic like antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, and face masks, and charged extremely high prices for them. In short, they were profiting off of peoples’ basic needs during a disaster.
Although it was particularly obvious when price gouging was happening during the pandemic because the pandemic was spreading across the whole country and the world, price gouging is not new. It actually happens a lot when regional natural disasters strike because sellers see an opportunity to make more money.
What’s really happening when sellers price gouge is that people who have basic needs are being taken advantage of, and many people who need those products no longer have the access to them. Not everyone can afford an extremely high price for basic needs items, especially if they just lived through a disaster and have lost everything.
Though many states in the U.S. have laws on the books about price gouging (and some have introduced new legislation in the wake of the pandemic), there is no federal law and price gouging continues to be an issue in the U.S., with online sellers being the most obvious price gougers in the last two years. A common side effect of price gouging is that when marketplaces and states finally crack down on it, the sellers are left with tons of product that people don’t have access to, and it becomes exactly the same issue as stockpiling.
Price gouging is a serious issue– and God has something to say about it.
God’s Take on Price Gouging
In the Book of Revelation, we read about the seven seals, which are seen in John of Patmos’ vision about Jesus’ second coming and the establishment of the new heaven and earth. When each seal on the book is opened, an apocalyptic event happens. The opening of the third seal is particularly interesting:
When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, “Come! I looked, and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!”Revelation 6:5-6
Charging people a whole days’ pay for just a quart of wheat or three quarts of barley was insanely expensive for those living during that time period. In essence, the third horseman of the apocalypse brings about price gouging. This is especially telling of God’s thoughts about price gouging; it’s an apocalyptic and end of world event, causing pain and mayhem to those that experience it.
The living creatures also care more about the olive oil and wine not being damaged than about making sure people can afford to eat. This is also illustrated as unacceptable behavior, and shown almost satirically to illustrate other sellers’ words and actions here on earth.
This is what happens when money is put before caring for others– people are unable to access what they need, and because people are unable to live, it can literally bring about the end of the world. Consumer culture encourages us to make a profit at the expense of everyone and everything else.
God, however, encourages us to live a different way. We read God’s warning words through the prophet Amos to sellers who make profits at the expense of others:
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,Amos 8:4-8
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.
”The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
It’s clear that God does not like it when people are taken advantage of to make a larger profit. This is not how God wants us to behave. God wants everyone to be provided for so that all people have access to what they need and can have their basic needs met.
Christian Minimalism and Combating Price Gouging
As Christian minimalists, we live simply and focus on what’s most important. Loving and serving God and others is of utmost importance– we strive to serve God and others and make it a priority. This is in direct opposition to consumer culture, in which people are often hurt in the constant effort to make more money. But we as Christian minimalists aim to put God and people above making profits, just as God intended for our world.
Consumer culture tries to convince us that accumulating profits and wealth are most important, but God insists that we are to put loving God and others before everything else (Matthew 22:36-40). Striving to make this world more economically just is God’s work for us. We can make a difference by not participating in stockpiling and price gouging during crises and disasters, as well as serving in ministry and advocacy organizations, sharing with those in need, and speaking up to make sure that everyone has access to what they need to live.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.Philippians 2:4
How is God calling YOU to make a difference and put people above profits?
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