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Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2003 / 6 Teves, 5764

Walter Williams

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Consumer Reports

Some things I wonder about | Early in our marriage, 40-some years ago, Mrs. Williams would return from shopping complaining about the unreasonable prices. Having aired her complaints, she'd then ask me to unload her car laden with purchases. After the unloading, I'd ask her: "I thought you said the prices were unreasonable. Why did you buy them? Are you unreasonable? Only an unreasonable person would pay unreasonable prices." The discussion always headed downhill after such an observation. But let's look at prices.

I don't know about you, but I always try to get the lowest prices for what I buy and the highest prices for what I sell, and that includes my labor services. Is such a practice immoral? Nobody is forced to sell me anything at my preferred price, nor are they forced to buy from me at my preferred price. If we indeed transact, the only thing a third party could conclude is that we both saw ourselves as being better off than our next best alternative, or why would we have voluntarily transacted?

You say: "OK, Williams, you're right. But where are you going? How many times have we heard the accusation that a corporation moved overseas to take advantage of lower-priced labor or hired cheaper-priced Indians with HB-1 visas to replace higher-priced American high-tech workers? You'd think that a desire for lower prices is somehow immoral. Why should a preference for low prices be OK for you and me, and not so for CEOs?

Another thing I wonder about are those life insurance company advertisements where they offer reduced rates for nonsmokers. Here are the facts. According to an article in Social Science & Medicine in 1991 titled, "Life expectancies of cigarette smokers and non-smokers in the United States," the life expectancy difference between never-smokers and current smokers is about seven years at ages 25-29, and three years at age 75 and older. Thus, it makes actuarial sense for life insurance companies to charge smokers higher premiums.

According to a study titled, "The Longevity of Homosexuals," in the Omega Journal of Death and Dying in 1994, the median age of death from AIDS is 37 and death from other causes 42. In another study, "Does Homosexual Activity Shorten Life?" in Psychological Reports in 1998, the average life expectancy of homosexuals is 20 to 30 years less than heterosexuals.

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Here's my question: How come life insurance companies don't advertise lower life insurance premiums for heterosexuals? After all, life insurance companies do ask applicants about other forms of behavior that have an impact on life expectancy, such as: Are you a pilot? Do you abuse alcohol and drugs? And do you have DUI arrests? Why not also: Are you a homosexual? I think I know the answer. Life insurance companies would be charged with lifestyle discrimination. But isn't it also lifestyle discrimination to charge higher premiums to smokers, airplane pilots, drug and alcohol abusers, and drunk drivers? None of these lifestyles has the devastating impact on life expectancy that homosexuality does. The only answer I can come up with is that some forms of discrimination are politically acceptable, while others aren't.

I also wonder about judges. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City purchased a brand new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On his first trip, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver's seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. The R.V. left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the owner's manual that he couldn't actually do this. The jury awarded him $1,750,000 plus a new motor home. Winnebago changed its manuals. I wonder why. Anyone so stupid as to leave the driver's seat is probably also too stupid to read a manual.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate