Sunday, November 16, 2008


The majority of readers -- 64 percent -- who participated in an unscientific poll on my column's blog didn't see anything wrong with taking goods from public-dump swap shops, turning around and selling them on eBay or Craig's List.

Some questioned the practice: "I would think very poorly of an individual who deprived a would-be needy user of the free item by taking it to sell for his or her own personal gain," writes Phil Clutts of Harrisburg, N.C.

But William Jacobson of Cypress, Calif., sees nothing wrong with it.

"These swap shops are merely repositories for items that would otherwise be destroyed," Jacobson writes. "If the new owner can resell them for a profit, more power to him. Capitalism is founded upon the notion that one man's junk is another man's treasure."

Alan Sechrest of Mission Viejo, Calif., agrees.

"If the items are offered by the dump with no stated preconditions such as `only for personal use,' then the items may be sold with no ethical concerns," Sechrest says. "It's like a gift: Once received, the recipient is free to do with it whatever they please."

Check out other opinions here, or post your own by clicking on "Comments" or "Post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

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