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Is it immoral to keep getting refunds for books you've bought?

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JacobGalt
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This succinctly captures the essence of the difference between egoist ethics and altruist ethics. Egoist ethics -- Objectivist ethics -- is about your actions, in terms of effect on you. Altruist ethics is about your actions, in terms of effect on others.

I'll second that. It also should resolve the discussion. Well done, Dante.

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  • 3 weeks later...

What about it is interesting?

It is probably about as interesting as the return policy on Harley Seat Back Rest Installation Kits once they've been installed on a bike... they can't be returned at all.

I think the only interesting thing that can be gleaned from either example is that different companies have different return policies. Of course, that doesn't really add anything to this particular thread though.

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I had a chance today to spend a little more time taking a closer look at this thread, after having been made aware of it on the "Hiring Moderators" thread, and I have to say that I think that Rand, if she were alive today, would agree with the gist of Mindy's position (while possibly disagreeing with some of her minor details). I think Rand would have disagreed with the opinion that Mindy is "espousing the libertarian ethics, not the Objectivist ethics."

Many here seem to believe that Objectivism holds that a customer is obliged to state his intentions to a bookseller who is giving a 30 day no-questions-asked return policy, and that if the customer doesn't volunteer the information that he has no intention of keeping the book, he is "lying," "evading," and committing theft or fraud if he takes advantage of the bookseller's policy. Objectivism requires no such disclosure. In fact, it sounds rather altruism-based to suggest that a customer is morally obligated to act in a way which protects another party from his own voluntary business decisions.

I think that David Odden succinctly summarizes the opposition to Mindy's views when he says that "Fraud is misrepresentation of a material fact regarding an exchange, in order to obtain consent," though I disagree with David's belief that a customer's not telling his intentions to the bookseller constitute "misrepresentation of a material fact."

Anyway, with that in mind, have you listened to Peikoff's podcast from January 12, 2009, which can be found here? In it, Peikoff expresses his view that when Howard Roark knowingly acted to pass off his work as Keating's, and actively hid his involvement in the Cortland building project from the public and from the people in charge of the project, Roark wasn't being dishonest, but was "simply retaining his right to privacy," and was just "not telling" the public anything; Roark was "not distorting the facts," but just "refusing to discuss them," and his doing so was morally acceptable. Now that doesn't square well with the positions that Mindy's opponents have taken and the judgments they've made of her. By their crtieria, Peikoff should also be judged to be "espousing the libertarian ethics, not the Objectivist ethics." Have Mindy's opponents made such a judgment of Peikoff? Would they be willing to do so here as enthusiastically as he they have of Mindy?

J

Edited by Jonathan13
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This succinctly captures the essence of the difference between egoist ethics and altruist ethics. Egoist ethics -- Objectivist ethics -- is about your actions, in terms of effect on you. Altruist ethics is about your actions, in terms of effect on others.

Should we never take the effects of our actions on others into account at all? Is consideration of others considered a "sin" under Objectivism?

Edited by Maximus
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Keeping silent may be dishonest too.

I agree. I think that Roark's "keeping silent" is an example of dishonesty (even though technically he did not "keep silent" as Peikoff erroneously claimed -- Roark explicitly denied that he had designed Cortland when asked about it by Wynand). More precisely, it wasn't so much Roark's silence that was dishonest, but his action of knowingly passing off his work as someone esle's.

So, the question with the book return is not about silence.

I disagree. If a bookseller doesn't explicitly ask buyers what their intentions are, then any buyer who doesn't volunteer to the seller that he plans on returning books and taking advantage of a no-questions-asked policy is just "not telling" the seller what his intentions are and "simply retaining his right to privacy." The bookseller doesn't have the right to assume that his customers will act in accordance with what he might have intended his policy to be, rather than in accordance with what it actually is, and they're not obliged according to Objectivism to inform him of what advantages they think he may have inadvertantly given them.

I have friends who own businesses who have no-questions-asked return policies, and they're well aware of the fact that a small fraction of their customers will take advantage of it (use products with the intention of returning them), and they couldn't care less. They know that they'll have the customer's money during the time that he has their products, and will be earning a return on it. They know that they'll still be able to sell the returned product to the next customer. In short, they don't need to be protected from themselves by Objectivists.

J

Edited by Jonathan13
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Should we never take the effects of our actions on others into account at all? Is consideration of others considered a "sin" under Objectivism?

I don't think it's a "sin" to take into account the effects that one's actions might have on others. I just think it's rather presumptuous, condescending, and altruistic to assume that businesses need to be protected from themselves, and to imagine that they aren't much more aware than you are of whether or not their return policies are going to have a negative effect on them.

J

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I just think it's rather presumptuous, condescending, and altruistic to assume that businesses need to be protected from themselves, and to imagine that they aren't much more aware than you are of whether or not their return policies are going to have a negative effect on them.

The issue isn't whether the policy as a whole is going to have a negative effect on them. It may very well have been a great business decision; that's not the point. I don't have control over how every shopper responds to the policy. I only have control over how I respond to the policy. And I could not be proud of myself if I responded by engaging in a trade where I knew the bookseller would lose. It doesn't matter if he considers the policy overall as a gain; that's not the choice that I, personally, face. The only thing I can control is whether the transactions I enter into with the bookstore are win-win, value for value transactions. If I take advantage of the policy, they most certainly are not. It's irrelevant to my moral status whether everyone else is honest and therefore the bookseller gains overall; that simply makes me a free-rider on the honesty of others. Not exactly a moral status to be proud of.

You seem to think I'm advocating protecting the bookseller from himself. I have no obligation to do that. I have an obligation to myself to ensure that the relationships I have with others adhere to the trader principle. To say that this particular exchange provides a value to the bookseller, simply because he has judged that the policy overall will be a value to his business, is to commit the fallacy of division.

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Should we never take the effects of our actions on others into account at all? Is consideration of others considered a "sin" under Objectivism?

Of course we should, but the basis by which we judge how important those effects are is the other person's value to us. I should be much more concerned with my actions' effect on my girlfriend than on some random stranger. Others have a place in our value structure, perhaps a very vital one in the case of loved ones, but the fundamental standard of determining that placement is our own life.

Edited by Dante
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The only thing I can control is whether the transactions I enter into with the bookstore are win-win, value for value transactions.

How would you know whether or not your transactions are win-win? As I mentioned above, I have friends who are well aware of the consequences of their return policies. They are trading value for value even with the customers who buy products with the intention of using them and returning them. That's why they have the return policies that they have: they're profitable, they're valuable.

Maybe this is what you're missing: The seller isn't obligated to tell his customers that he expects some of them to buy products with the intention of using them and then returning them. He isn't obligated to inform them that he's making money off of them anyway. He isn't obligated to disabuse them of the guilt or moral rectitude that they feel in imagining that they would not be trading "value for value" by "abusing" his return policy.

To say that this particular exchange provides a value to the bookseller, simply because he has judged that the policy overall will be a value to his business, is to commit the fallacy of division.

So, even when a bookseller can prove that his return policy is profitable and of great value to him, you're saying that it is not of value or that it is improper?

J

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The issue isn't whether the policy as a whole is going to have a negative effect on them. It may very well have been a great business decision; that's not the point. I don't have control over how every shopper responds to the policy. I only have control over how I respond to the policy. And I could not be proud of myself if I responded by engaging in a trade where I knew the bookseller would lose. It doesn't matter if he considers the policy overall as a gain; that's not the choice that I, personally, face. The only thing I can control is whether the transactions I enter into with the bookstore are win-win, value for value transactions. If I take advantage of the policy, they most certainly are not. It's irrelevant to my moral status whether everyone else is honest and therefore the bookseller gains overall; that simply makes me a free-rider on the honesty of others. Not exactly a moral status to be proud of.

You seem to think I'm advocating protecting the bookseller from himself. I have no obligation to do that. I have an obligation to myself to ensure that the relationships I have with others adhere to the trader principle. To say that this particular exchange provides a value to the bookseller, simply because he has judged that the policy overall will be a value to his business, is to commit the fallacy of division.

That's it Dante. How do you think of yourself? is the final arbiter.

Only I can know what my motive is when entering into such a transaction with the book vendor:

Am I honestly intending to take the books 'on approval', likely keeping some, and returning the others;

Or, am I dishonestly intending using the shop as a freebie supplier, while I work my way through their entire Fiction section? At zero cost.

(Interesting how this innocuous and boring seeming topic has become a significant 'premise-checker'.)

As a parallel, I've heard of a shrewd stratagem by couples living beyond their means, who take advantage of the approval policy of antique furniture shops. Come the weekend, and a planned dinner party, they borrow some expensive pieces from a store to 'see how they match' - to impress their guests - and return them on Monday as unsuitable.

Illegal, of course not. Faking it? You bet.

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How would you know whether or not your transactions are win-win? As I mentioned above, I have friends who are well aware of the consequences of their return policies. They are trading value for value even with the customers who buy products with the intention of using them and returning them. That's why they have the return policies that they have: they're profitable, they're valuable.

If that were the case, that even on a return they made money, because they invested it in the meantime, then it would be a value-for-value transaction, albeit an unconventional one. That was discussed earlier in the thread, I believe. If I knew from the outset that he would be gaining value from the transaction, I would consider doing it.

So, even when a bookseller can prove that his return policy is profitable and of great value to him, you're saying that it is not of value or that it is improper?

No, I'm saying that just because his return policy is profitable doesn't mean every single return is profitable.

Now, if your individual return is profitable, because he has the money in the meantime, then its a different story.

Edited by Dante
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If I knew from the outset that he would be gaining value from the transaction, I would consider doing it.

Which is why companies don't go around advertising the fact that they're gaining value even when you buy a product and then return it 28 days later after slightly using it. They don't mind that people think it's an issue of morality. They don't mind that people have mistaken ethical ideas or feelings which prevent them from taking full advantage of the contract or conditions they've been offered. Avoiding freeing people from their misconceptions means more money for the companies.

No, I'm saying that just because his return policy is profitable doesn't mean every single return is profitable.

Now, if your individual return is profitable, because he has the money in the meantime, then its a different story.

So, your view of your morality in regard to your business dealings with others is based on whether or not you can determine if each of your specific exchanges with them is profitable to them? If so, I'd think that you'd have to spend a lot of time investigating businesses' profitability before trading with them, and not just over the issue of their product returns policies. You’d pretty much have to know eveything about their businesses.

For example, if most book stores are selling a specific title for $12, and Jimmy’s Book Store sells it for $6, that should be enough to make you suspicious that Jimmy might be losing money on that title, and that you therefore wouldn't be trading fair "value for value" if you bought a copy from him. If you asked Jimmy how he could cut prices so low without losing money, and he told you that the book in question is one of his "loss leaders" -- an item set at a price which is intended to lose money in order to entice customers to come into the store and purchase other products at full price (or more) -- wouldn't Objectivists be immoral, by the theories being advocated here in the name of Objectivism, to take advantage of the loss leader price without buying additional, full-priced books, and without determining exactly how many full-priced books they'd need to buy in order to make up for Jimmy’s loss on their purchase of the discounted title?

Perhaps a truly moral Objectivist, as defined by certain people here, should always demand to see a store’s owner or manager before shopping, and insist that he charge the Objectivist full price on all items just to make sure all purchases are properly moral based on precise "value for value" exchanges?

And what about free samples handed out in grocery stores, or free all-you-can-eat snacks or snack buffets served at bars during certain hours? Is it immoral for Objectivists to eat even a single peanut if he or she doesn't first ask to speak to the establishment’s owners in order to clearly determine whether or not they will be getting enough value from him in exchange? In order to be a truly moral Objectivist, would a person have to secure a bar owner's explicit, fully informed consent to eat that single peanut if the Objectivist intends to eat it without buying any full-priced items?

Seriously, if someone here barks at me in the name of Objectivism that I had better stop eating free snacks while joining some friends at a bar, while not purchasing any full-priced items myself, because my doing so constitutes "lying" and "evading" and "fraud," then I'm probably going to pee myself with laughter.

J

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Seriously, if someone here barks at me in the name of Objectivism that I had better stop eating free snacks while joining some friends at a bar, while not purchasing any full-priced items myself, because my doing so constitutes "lying" and "evading" and "fraud," then I'm probably going to pee myself with laughter.

J

I don't think anyone here doubts that at all.

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Which is why companies don't go around advertising the fact that they're gaining value even when you buy a product and then return it 28 days later after slightly using it. They don't mind that people think it's an issue of morality. They don't mind that people have mistaken ethical ideas or feelings which prevent them from taking full advantage of the contract or conditions they've been offered. Avoiding freeing people from their misconceptions means more money for the companies.

So, your view of your morality in regard to your business dealings with others is based on whether or not you can determine if each of your specific exchanges with them is profitable to them? If so, I'd think that you'd have to spend a lot of time investigating businesses' profitability before trading with them, and not just over the issue of their product returns policies. You’d pretty much have to know eveything about their businesses.

For example, if most book stores are selling a specific title for $12, and Jimmy’s Book Store sells it for $6, that should be enough to make you suspicious that Jimmy might be losing money on that title, and that you therefore wouldn't be trading fair "value for value" if you bought a copy from him. If you asked Jimmy how he could cut prices so low without losing money, and he told you that the book in question is one of his "loss leaders" -- an item set at a price which is intended to lose money in order to entice customers to come into the store and purchase other products at full price (or more) -- wouldn't Objectivists be immoral, by the theories being advocated here in the name of Objectivism, to take advantage of the loss leader price without buying additional, full-priced books, and without determining exactly how many full-priced books they'd need to buy in order to make up for Jimmy’s loss on their purchase of the discounted title?

Perhaps a truly moral Objectivist, as defined by certain people here, should always demand to see a store’s owner or manager before shopping, and insist that he charge the Objectivist full price on all items just to make sure all purchases are properly moral based on precise "value for value" exchanges?

And what about free samples handed out in grocery stores, or free all-you-can-eat snacks or snack buffets served at bars during certain hours? Is it immoral for Objectivists to eat even a single peanut if he or she doesn't first ask to speak to the establishment’s owners in order to clearly determine whether or not they will be getting enough value from him in exchange? In order to be a truly moral Objectivist, would a person have to secure a bar owner's explicit, fully informed consent to eat that single peanut if the Objectivist intends to eat it without buying any full-priced items?

Seriously, if someone here barks at me in the name of Objectivism that I had better stop eating free snacks while joining some friends at a bar, while not purchasing any full-priced items myself, because my doing so constitutes "lying" and "evading" and "fraud," then I'm probably going to pee myself with laughter.

J

Three things to bear in mind:

This is an endless series of transactions with the book store, not just a one-off. (..."keep getting refunds...")

One's concern is not primarily that the business is getting sufficient value from one. One has to assume reasonable self-interest or pragmatism on their part.

One's major concern is that one is getting something for nothing - continuously - and gleefully planning to always do so..

(Remember that cake, and eating it?)

In other words, Who are you trying to fool?

Evasion is not about one single instance; it's about escaping reality on a long-term basis - it devolves from an action, a practice that becomes a habit, that becomes one's character, and one's view of reality.

And that ain't peanuts.B)

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Seriously, if someone here barks at me in the name of Objectivism that I had better stop eating free snacks while joining some friends at a bar, while not purchasing any full-priced items myself, because my doing so constitutes "lying" and "evading" and "fraud," then I'm probably going to pee myself with laughter.

J

The issue isn't whether you bought any full priced items or not but whether you bought any item of just came in to glom onto the free stuff.

All the bars I know have some stated policy about happy hour promotions- whether that be a one drink minimum or simply a price value minimum.

And yes, if you came into my bar (I own one) with a bunch of friends and started taking the free stuff without purchasing anything you would be shown the door.

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And yes, if you came into my bar (I own one) with a bunch of friends and started taking the free stuff without purchasing anything you would be shown the door.

So, in your bar, the "stuff" isn't actually free. You set up the appearance of free snacks, but you don't mean it. Does that sit well with your own take of the "trader" principle?

Mindy

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The issue isn't whether you bought any full priced items or not but whether you bought any item of just came in to glom onto the free stuff.

All the bars I know have some stated policy about happy hour promotions- whether that be a one drink minimum or simply a price value minimum.

I've been to plenty of bars which don't have a such a policy. They don't care if non-drinkers come in with their friends and eat as much free stuff as they want. There have even been evenings that I haven't felt like drinking booze, and while waiting for some friends to show up, the wait staff, after I tell them that I'm not drinking that night, will give me free glasses of ice water or cola while I munch on their pretzels. I suppose that in the future I should fret about how immoral I'm being in accepting their hospitality without trading value for value?

And yes, if you came into my bar (I own one) with a bunch of friends and started taking the free stuff without purchasing anything you would be shown the door.

Well, I didn't mean to suggest that my scenario was about a group of people showing up en masse to take free stuff without purchasing anything from a bar which requires purchases, but of meeting friends at a bar which has no such requirements, and where some of my friends were buying themselves drinks while I and maybe a few other were not.

If seems that many people here can't get beyond the idea that not all businesses have the same policies or the same reasons behind them. Just because one business has a 30-day returns policy limited to defective merchandise or customer dissatisfaction, doesn't mean that you have to treat all businesses as if their returns policy is limited to defective merchandise or customer dissatisfaction; just because some bars have rules or conditions under which customers can eat free snacks doesn't mean that customers have to follow the same rules or conditions in bars which have no such rules and conditions.

J

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