Many amusement parks offer fast passes. This option costs a premium over a regular guest pass and allows a fast pass guest to cut in front of a regular guest in line for rides.

An argument that this is unethical could go like this:

There is some amount of enjoyment at the park that is an aggregate of all guests' enjoyment. For this argument, we'll assume that this is a constant. When one guest pays a premium for more enjoyment, their increase in enjoyment is a direct result of the decrease of enjoyment from another guest or guests.

  1. Equal dispersion of enjoyment among guests is good.
  2. Disrupting this dispersion is inherently bad or worse than the alternative.
  3. Fast passes disrupt the equal dispersion of enjoyment.


  • Fast passes are bad or worse than regular passes and therefore unethical.

What is a way to rebut this argument?

1 Answer 1


Your utility assessment does not include the utility of the amusement park owners/operators. Under the premium pass scheme they earn more money, which (presumably) provides them with utility.

You can also argue this in a slightly different way, using the idea that one man's premium is another man's discount. Given that the owner is able to charge a premium for fast passes, it is likely that they could increase prices overall and still make out economically. This uniform price increase would price some people out of the market all together. By offering what can be considered a discount from this higher price to people who are willing to wait, the owner is offering his/her services to more people overall.

Finally, you could argue that the utility for a person is not linear. Suppose that you were able to quantify the "degree of amusement" and found that getting 3 or 4 rides/hour generated 1 unit of utility and getting 5 rides/hour generated 9 units of utility (people with fast-passes come out even happier since they weren't frustrated by waiting in line). Then even if there is some cost for dispersion between the guests, there can be conditions where some dispersion maximizes utility. This points out one of the main difficulties in utilitarian assessments: what is the metric that we can use to adequately compare different features of our experience?


At first I though the non-linear utility argument would be simply a pedantic ploy, but now I think it might have some sense (for some people). For long enough wait times, the enjoyment derived from the ride itself doesn't outweigh the frustration from having to wait for so long, i.e. there is some sort of cost to waiting too long. To me at least, waiting for one or two cycles really isn't frustrating at all, so at that rate of throughput, there is zero "frustration cost". Between these two extremes the utility will rise more than linearly with the inverse wait time: a linear part just from the fact that you can hit more rides if the wait time is shorter, and then a "bonus" that your degree of frustration decreases as the wait time goes down. So it is not totally implausible to invoke the non-linear utility argument.


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