What’s a Fair Way to Make Money?

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

I grew up hearing about this lady that sued McDonald’s over hot coffee. She won a few million bucks over something that should have been obvious. McDonald’s had been wronged by someone who was looking to use the law to make a quick buck.

Except that’s not what happened. The jury saw a company not treating injuries to people like, well, injuries to people. Despite knowing that its coffee could burn human flesh, McDonald’s kept it piping hot.

Underlying all of this is an assumption: McDonald’s made its money fair and square. Ms. Liebeck, the woman who had to get skin grafts and new sweatpants, was unfairly enriching herself. It’s okay for a company to make millions of bucks by keeping coffee hot. It’s not okay for people injured by that coffee to try to stop it from happening to anyone else.

The McDonald’s coffee case fascinates me because it serves as a good example of how skewed my society’s views of fair dealings are. It’s okay to donate money to those in need when they go viral on social media. It’s not okay to have an economic system which lets them earn enough money in the first place.

Except, it’s not foreign to people to think that people should be able to earn a living wage. It’s not foreign for people to think that it’s wrong for people to just keep hurting others. So how does the perception of fairness change?

I feel like the answer to that question might help people get past some of the current miseries they are forced to cope with.

8 thoughts on “What’s a Fair Way to Make Money?

  1. These aren’t accidents, of course. We’re conditioned to believe things that benefit particular groups. Have you noticed how much of British literature is designed to propagate the idea that higher social class means more virtuous?

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  2. Here in Finland we often wonder and even make jokes about US products, that have warnings written all over them. Do not use this small aluminium clip meant as a key ring for climbing. You should be aware, that the objects in the rear wiew mirror seem closer than they really are and so forth… As if the consumer was a total moron. I do realize that this is because of the judical system and insurance policies, and that they are not meant for the grand majority of population, but for the least fortunate of us in brainpower, but it still seems like the audience to wich they were meant consisted of absolute nincompoops. Perhaps, the variation from dumb to dumber is bigger in bigger populations and the extreme groups who also deserve the same protection (as provided by common sense and education for the rest of us) is more ignorant and stupid and larger than in smaller populations?

    I do appriciate your point though. Perhaps, it is only natural that in a culture, that sees making money as the ultimate virtue in the first place, the person who makes more money is more virtuous than the person who makes less money, even if it were a lot for the rest of us? It is, naturally also about who owns the media and what sort of ideological message they want to send out, that then molds the culture to a certain direction. Dictators rely on this, why not capitalists?

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    • I used to think similarly about warnings until I got to law school. Warnings might seem excessive (people joke about them here, too), but they are more efficient compared to other methods of protecting all consumers. Instead of having to make a product that could survive stupid people (which is harder than one might imagine), print a warning and let that person deal with the consequences.


  3. I think this is an excellent example of two former British colonies evolving very different concepts. It appears that in the US, cases of personal injury are resolved through litigation, whereas in NZ it’s not possible to sue in cases of personal injury.

    There are two separate issues here (from a NZ perspective). (1) Personal injury, and (2) unsafe practice by McDonalds.

    In the case of (1), all medical costs, loss of earnings, long term care etc would be covered under our universal no faults accident compensation scheme.

    In the case of (2), punitive action could be undertaken by health and safety regulators. That could either be civil or criminal depending on which was more appropriate. Usually as part of any court action a proportion of any penalty is paid to those who have been adversely affected.

    The authorities often take an educative approach and prosecution occurs only for repeat offenses or for willfully breaching regulations. Even if only an educative approach is taken, the authorities might expect the offender to make some payment to those who have been harmed. If the McDonald’s situation had occurred here, I suspect it would be the educative approach that would have been taken

    Is our system any more fair than the American system? Possibly not. But it does avoid the excesses, and it also makes the outcome more predictable.

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    • Actually, most cases are not solved through litigation here. Our private remedies that exist outside of court cases don’t get mentioned very much. We do have some funds which cover certain kinds of personal injury. Many other cases settle between parties prior to court proceedings. Even after initial filings, there’s also mediation and discovery to go through.

      U.S. regulators also can take action through civil and criminal means. Often this is a policy decision, and federal regulators won’t do anything unless there’s a threshold that’s met. State regulators vary in their diligence. Some of them work very hard to protect consumers, though their resources might be limited.

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  4. Some fair way to make money is by legit, understand your vision, understand your niche, follow only your mind, get a mentor, follow simple life instructions, get a business, take risks, get out of debt fast, implement new innovations


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