Part of what bothers people about price discrimination is that, in ethical terms, that’s not how the market is supposed to work. Commerce seems to come with a set of implicit moral commitments: everyone’s money is equal, each transaction is characterized by mutual respect, deals can be complete in themselves and don’t create long-term relationships, prices are honest expressions of value. Collectively, they define a way for buyers and sellers to treat each other with respect and dignity even in an impersonal marketplace where everyone is trying to strike the best deal they can for themselves. The depersonalization is actually part of the moral code; it’s a promise not to act on illiberal (and personal) values like racism.
Price discrimination undermines that ethos by putting the personal back into the picture, and not in a nice way. It’s not about the chef sending out an extra little something for a favorite customer, or about having a long conversation with the hotel clerk. No, it’s about a company deliberately treating some of its customers worse than others by identifying and acting on their personal characteristics. It breaks the moral frames of commerce. Say all you want about efficiencies and distributional gains, it just feels wrong to many people, and that intuition will not go away easily.
None of this is original; it’s just that a few different lines of thought finally clicked together for me.