Since the decorrelation of the Covid-19 pandemic, the normal life has been disrupted, and people have adjusted to new daily outlines. Among the changes are the mandatory curfews, states of emergencies, quarantines, and lockdowns across cities and countries. These measures con-occurs with other events within societies that are possible to probe through various disciplines and theoretical perspectives. This paper focuses on stockpiling scenario that happened in the United States on March this year, through the act utilitarianism theory.
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At the beginning of March, the pre-lock down period, Moy reports that people began to stockpile from supermarkets in the New York City due to the declaration of a state of emergency (Lufkin par 4). She tweeted a picture of hundreds of people pushing trolleys carrying bottled water from shopping malls. The toilet papers and milk stock were depleting exponentially, and most vegetable aisles were empty. The situation was prevalent in other nations such as the United Kingdom where hand sanitizers went out of stock at an alarming rate, and Singapore, where the demand for rice and noodles surged within days. Besides foodstuffs and essential commodities, the supply of all consumables, medicines, and masks had declined. According to the San Francisco-based infectious disease research firm Metabiota., the American mask supply was rapidly depleted as people bough multiple masks for themselves, leaving barely non for the health workers (Lufkin par 15). Lufkin adds that the situation was a psychological reaction to the Covid-19 outbreak, which is associated with irrational panicking, or a type of preparedness. Also, panic buying – stockpiling, is a common issue in a real-world crisis (Lufkin par 7).
Stockpiling is a response strategy to the foreseen crisis. According to Lufkin, it is a psychological intervention towards anxiety, and willingness to incur costs that would assure them of safety in future. In a way, it is a means of regaining control and assurance of good life in future amid crisis. While stockpiling is not entirely a solution to the fear of unknown future or anxiety due to crisis, it is worthwhile than not doing something. For instance, one can save money on commodities before their prices are hiked. Besides, one is assured of easier survival through the crisis with the items they buy. Also, one can enhance safety. For instance, amid the Covid-19 quarantine ensure, it is prudent to avoid moving out of homes, which may be difficult unless one is prepared with enough stock of consumables and essentials. Therefore, stockpiling results in the best results regarding the survival of people amid crisis.
The theoretical justification
Stockpiling is further justified in the theoretical perspective of the act utilitarian. The act utilitarian theory states that the actions of a person should create the best results for a given circumstance (Burnor, and Raley chapter Seven: Consequentialist Ethics: Act Utilitarianism). Therefore, the morally right or wrong action is identified after assessing the outcomes of situations, and that which produces the best results is regarded as right. Some of the significant act utilitarian theorists like Jeremy Bentham argued that a morally right thing to do is that which leads to “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” (Eggleston 4). That is, an individual has a primary obligation to ensure well being and happiness. According to Eggleston, an individual influences the moral value of an act where they decide actions to take depending on the overall good or harm that the act may cause.
Regarding the stockpiling situation, individuals who cleaned shopping malls shelves acted morally right. That is, they stockpiled to ensure that their families or neighbours would not lack during the quarantine or lockdown period. Besides, early stockpiling saved them money amid the tough economic situation caused by the Covid-19. As a matter of emergency preparedness towards a quarantine that would last for an unknown period, the best result would be securing enough essentials and food. Besides, the American food system has remained resilient and robust and may not run out of food easily (Ansah et al. 1998). Therefore, stockpiling would not inflict harm on anyone, and was morally right in the act utilitarian perspective.
Criticism of Act Utilitarian
Besides the moral consideration of the best outcome, act utilitarian has several shortcomings. First, it is most likely to give a wrong answer regarding morality. For instance, it may permit actions that everyone regards as morally wrong to be done. In the stockpiling situation, the act utilitarian justifies the actions, but they have fundamental demerits such as the depletion of stock for workers who are committed to long working hours, or those who may not afford to stockpile. Secondly, the theory is too general to offer definite answers or guidance. For instance, the term “best” is relative depending on personal perspective or worldview. Therefore, what one may justify an act as best and morally right through act utilitarian, but be regarded as wrong over other theories and frames. For instance, while one may justify stockpiling for future wellbeing, it is wrong by virtual ethics since they disregard other’s access to the same crucial shopping.
Ansah, Isaac Gershon Kodwo et al. “Resilience And Household Food Security: A Review Of Concepts, Methodological Approaches And Empirical Evidence”. Food Security, vol 11, no. 6, 2019, pp. 1187-1203. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1007/s12571-019-00968-1. Accessed 6 May 2020.
Burnor, Richard, and Yvonne Raley. Ethical Choices. 1st ed., Oxford University Press, USA, 2010.
Eggleston, Ben. “Act Utilitarianism”. The Cambridge Companion To Utilitarianism, 2014, pp. 125–145. Philpapers.Org, https://philpapers.org/rec/EGGAU. Accessed 6 May 2020.
Lufkin, Bryan. “Coronavirus: The Psychology Of Panic Buying”. Bbc.Com, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200304-coronavirus-covid-19-update-why-people-are-stockpiling.
Nguyen, Terry. “Health Care Workers Are Calling On People To Donate Face Masks”. Vox, 2020, https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/3/20/21188369/face-masks-short-supply-coronavirus-donations.