Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Morality and Markets

Barbara from Mahablog has directed my attention to the recent work of Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Gary Cohn's work on the continuing use of asbestos over at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.  Please read it.

While the horrible health effects of asbestos are tragic and well-documented, it is still in regular use in Asia. 

"India, China, and other countries on the continent continue to use – or in some cases, even increase – their dependence on asbestos for cheap roofing insulation, in cement, and other widespread applications."
As a result, the expectation is an epidemic of mesothelioma.

Yes, shame on Asian governments and industries for putting profits before human life and public health.  But it gets more complicated when we ask where the stuff came from.

"Canada, which has largely banned asbestos for domestic use, is the second-largest exporter of asbestos to Asia, behind only Russia... 'It is taking it (asbestos) out of Parliament buildings but willing to sell it overseas.'"
The claim by public health experts is that knowingly selling materials that will cause illness is immoral.  The free market folks would argue that the moral responsibility is on the consumer, those who are buying it and subjecting their fellow citizens to the risk.  The Canadians didn't expose the workers to the substance, the line goes, they are just filling demand in the marketplace.  So, are you responsible for effects that come from selling something to someone else if the consumer is a responsible adult?  Does it matter if the negative outcome is foreseeable?