Unfortunately, this is how my mind works…
Something about last night’s post on the despicable practice of tip-baiting to lure financially desperate Americans to go grocery shopping for the tippers bothered me, and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. The thought that I was missing something kept churning in what I laughably call my brain (my wife calls it an ourdated hard drive that has never been cleaned of junk, cookies and malware and is going to crash any day now). It kept me awake tonight: I’m at my keyboard out of desperation. Weirdly enough, I kept thinking about the Civil War. Why was that? There had to be an ethics connection somewhere.
Ah HA! Got it.
Isn’t paying someone else to risk infection by the Wuhan virus like the Civil War practice of allowing conscripted men in the Union and Confederacy to pay substitutes to serve in their places? The practice is regarded repugnant today as ugly classism, and it was pretty unpopular at the time. Future President Grover Cleveland was one of those who paid the going rate ($300, about $5000 in today’s currency) to someone otherwise exempt from the draft to go to war; so was John D. Rockefeller. (Technically, so was Abraham Lincoln, which takes a bit of explaining.)
Isn’t paying someone to take a risk that you are just as capable of taking yourself and is your personal responsibility at very least ethically dubious? I was impressed with all the Instacart shoppers in various articles talking about the danger they were courting for the promise of a big tip. Here’s one:
“I don’t pretend to be a hero, like a nurse in a hospital … but I literally am exposing myself [to coronavirus] and when I return home, exposing my own family to the possibility of transmitting this disease. When you know that it’s somebody who’s just doing it to game the system and to get their order when they want it, it’s really frustrating.”
Wait—you put yourself and your family at risk of infection for a $55 tip? Is that really a wise gamble?
As for the one who is paying–isn’t shopping your responsibility? Just because you have more money than your personal shopper, is that a good enough reason to induce her to risk her own health and that of her family’s to do your job?
At very least, isn’t this the ugly side of capitalism, bringing to mind not only the Civil War draft substitute practice but also NFL owners paying players to turn their brains to mush, and paying addicts and drunks to humiliate themselves for someone’s amusement? This is a legal use of financial resources and a common use of financial resources, but is it an ethical one in an epidemic?
The counter arguments are obvious. Nobody is forcing the shoppers to take these risks. If they think it’s in their interest and that of their families to trade increased risk for needed income, why would it be unethical to give them what they want (as long as you don’t cheat them, as described in the tip-baitingt)? This is free will (though is it truly voluntary?) and freedom of contract.
You know, like John D. Rockefeller paying someone to get shot at in his place.
The various ethics systems aren’t much help here, either. The Golden Rule? Useless. Kantian ethics dictates that it is unethical to use a human being as a means to an end, but who’s using whom? If this is just another utilitarian trade-off, what’s being traded?
Maybe I’m crazy to let this keep me awake. I’m going back to bed now, but here’s the poll: