“You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.”
110. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?
Not only such theft and robbery as are punished by the magistrate; but God views as theft all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we seek to draw to ourselves our neighbor’s goods, whether by force or with show of right, such as unjust weights, ells, measures, wares, coins, usury, or any means forbidden of God; so moreover all covetousness, and all useless waste of His gifts.
The issue has come up recently whether or not it is Biblical to engage in price gouging. The thinking on the part of some is that price gouging is always perfectly legitimate except possibly for cases where charity is needed for the poor.
I, however, do not agree with that reasoning. I believe, based on a principle that is found in the Deuteronomy passage above that price gouging while allowable is not universally allowable.
In the passage above having different fiscal dealings with different groups of people is clearly limned as acceptable. A foreigner may be charged usury because in such a way a foreigner is decapitalized in favor of God’s people who are capitalized. Usury was a means of taking dominion over the wicked and God’s law clearly allows for such dominion.
“the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous”
However, that very same usury could not be practiced on someone who was part of the covenant community because at that point the person charging usury is capitalizing himself at the expense of his brother.
It seems, therefore, we have a principle here that would apply to price gouging when it comes to fiscal interaction. Price gouging is acceptable when practiced upon those outside of the covenant community but when practiced on someone who shares a common faith in Christ it is not acceptable lest God not bless in all that they undertake.
So, the law concerning usury was kinda a split the difference approach establishing a key spiritual principle of distinction between those inside and outside the covenant/national community. Here we must articulate that with regard to this law, the covenant and ethnic/national community were basically treated as synonymous. This is to say that the covenant community that we are not allowed to decapitalize is inclusive of those who are part of a shared people group but who may not affirm the Christian faith. Even here, not all of Israel is of Israel so to speak. This is as simple as to say that a son would not price gouge his mother even if she didn’t share a common faith.
Per the Heidelberg catechism quoted above, I think a strong argument can be made gouging is a form of theft, especially when used against one’s own people, analogous to the usury case cited. We must be on guard certainly against the market idolatry so prevalent among Libertarians today and strive to look at the matter from a Biblical perspective. The market, comprised as it is of buyers and sellers is not Sovereign if only because the Market is comprised only of humans. To make the Market sovereign then is to make man sovereign then and is to give us a form of humanism. While the dynamics of a free market must certainly be taken into consideration those demands do not get the final word. Entrusting everything to a sovereign market only turns man into Homo Economicus wherein the only consideration is shekels.
For the Christian man as Homo Economicus is to be eschewed as economic theories centered on man as Homo Economicus (economic man), is a concept that teaches that humans are consistently rational and as such are narrowly self-interested actors who consistently pursue their subjectively determined self-centered ends. Yet, the Christian is to be the man who pursues not only his own needs but also the needs of his brethren. Price gouging those who have a shared faith and / or a shared ethnicity is hardly a case of not thinking only of our own needs but also the needs of the brethren (Philippians 2:4). We must not fall into the Gordon Gecko thinking that “greed is good,” forgetting that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”
It is interesting that the same people making videos explaining the goodness of all price gouging are the same people who support usury hammer and tong.
Price gouging has been practiced repeatedly in history. In 1862 Major General Ulysses S. Grant issued general order #11 prohibiting the presence of all Jews in the theater he was serving in for the precise problem of the price gouging in cotton in which they were involved.
Likewise, Carpetbaggers and Scalawags took advantage of price gouging during the era of deconstruction to decapitalize the defeated Christian south and in the usage of this price gouging, Southern Christians went from being the head of the social order to being the tail of the social order. This proves, as mentioned earlier, that price gouging, like usury, decapitalizes who is subjected to it and capitalizes those who use it.
So, to make this all concrete let us consider an example. If one had ice in an area that had no power that ice becomes important to someone who needs to store insulin. For Christians selling ice their consideration, per the Scripture above, would be to consider the needs of the household of faith by charging a few lesser shekels vis-a-vis the household of those outside the covenant who would be able to pony up with a many more shekels. This would fulfill God’s command to the Church to ‘care for one another.’ In this example, the Christ hater would have to pay a more substantial per unit price of whatever product is being sold. The Christian, on the other hand, should be given a break and sold the same product as still for a profit but a lesser profit than what would be asked of the buyer outside the covenant. In the former case the Gougers makes a profit in the latter case profit is still made but not as much.
I will gladly concede that in a social order like ours it is extremely difficult to make these distinctions once the gouging begins, but I would hope that some effort to that end might be employed. For example, a Christian who owns a hardware store or gas station in the affected area could go out of his way to not make as great a profit of off fellow members of his Church as he would those he knows are opposed to Christianity but still make a handsome profit.
Now having said all this I do not think the State has any place making laws against price gouging. Anti-gouging laws would likely make the prices even higher because laws against gouging increase the risk and with an increase of risk the prices go up correspondingly to offset the risk involved. Also, all because anti-price gouging laws exist, doesn’t mean that gouging won’t happen. The black market (which is the free market) will always exist.
Gouging is likely an inescapable reality. It is the way the market works and you can’t make the market unwork by making laws. But woe is the man who prioritizes his huge profit at the expense of those who share a common faith.