Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ethics Shmethics

The Freakwenter got mail!
Dear Mr. Freakwenter:

I am considering purchasing a foreclosed home at a sheriff's sale. Advice offered to me so far has been mixed.

A contact with foreclosure experience warned me that I may end up with the responsibility of evicting the tenant. A friend at a holiday party advised against it due to the "ethical implications."

Are there ethical implications and should I consider them?

- reader

Dear reader,

Your question goes straight to the heart of capitalism, like a bullet. Is capitalism ethical? But that’s a whole new boatload of worms, so I’ll try to keep the commentary to your exact situation.

You are faced with three options:
  1. Don’t buy the house.
  2. Buy the house but allow the occupant to stay.
  3. Buy the house and evict the occupant.
To evaluate these options from an ethical perspective, I must know what ethics are. Unfortunately, I do not. But I’ll pretend that I do. Ethics are ways of behaving that support people.

In this situation, who are the key people? There is you, your friends, the current occupant of the house, and the mortgage owner (whoever the occupant owes house payments to). Let’s start with you. You have to watch out for yourself. This probably means you don’t want to do option #2. But then the poor occupant is probably going to get evicted by whoever else buys the house. Luckily for you, and thanks to the mysterious phenomenon of empathy, neither your friends nor I will judge you for not choosing #2, even if #2 is the most generous and most ethical option.

We have limited the options to #1 and #3. Now suppose you do #1. Then everybody suffers. The current mortgage owner gets not quite as much as they hoped for on the sale. The occupant gets evicted by whoever else buys the house. You have to settle for the next best housing deal. Your friends suffer because you don’t have such a nice house to invite people over to. So I think it is obvious that #1 is absolutely the worst option, if you want to talk ethics.

However, as you hinted, if you go with option #3, some of your friends might judge you, potentially causing both you and your friends to suffer, depending on how messy or how public the eviction process is. Of course, any such judgment against you would be highly irrational, in light of the above paragraph. Nevertheless, we cannot discount this judgment. Some people are inherently irrational, such that ignoring their irrational side is to disrespect them as human beings, and disrespect is potentially unethical.

In summary, the answer depends on how irrational your friends are. If they cannot forgive you for doing the rational thing (#3), then it is possible that rational is unethical, in which case you might want to go with #1.


Blogger current typist said...

Or just don't have friends...

3:46 PM  
Anonymous dr perfection said...

there is a fourth option:

4. Buy the house. Let the occupant stay in the house and make payments to you.

This really did happen.

3:34 PM  
Anonymous dr perfection said...

maybe that is what you meant by option #2.

In the case I am referring to, the buyer bought the house because she felt sorry for the owner (who was not known to the buyer) and wanted her to be able to keep her house.

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Perfection, was it you?


7:03 AM  
Blogger KTdid said...

okay, now I'm curious too...


9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps a convention of friends may be arranged, to determine whether the decision should be made by committee, managed by an ad hoc nonprofit, and funded by savvy green investing (GMCR can be both an investment choice and a source of refreshments). Investor meetings can be held monthly on a consensus model including lots of supportive twinkling. Studies by Boston Universities have shown that collective decision making often alleviates thorny issues of "ethics"...but this kind of new activity might affect attendance at an existing tradition i.e. drum circles or bluegrass sessions and may be significantly less fun...

10:01 AM  
Blogger My Freakwentness said...

hello anonymous, what a witty comment! who are you?

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GMCR? Good Mennonite Cash Rightaway, or what?

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Justin Stoltzfus, I am home for the holidays. Mom showed me this insightful blog, I thought I'd put in my two cents - I also like CT's more concise answer....Happy Holidays !

9:37 PM  

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