Robert Louis Stevenson offered an interesting paradox in which you are offered to buy, for whatever price you wish, a bottle containing a genie who will fulfill your every desire. However, there is a catch... The bottle must be resold for a price smaller than what you paid for it, or you will have bad things done to you for eternity.

Obviously, it would be a bad idea to buy it for 1¢, because you would have to give the bottle away, but no one would accept the bottle knowing that he would be unable to get rid of it. Likewise, it would be a bad idea to buy it for 2¢, and so on. However, at some reasonably large amount, it will always be possible to find the next buyer, thus the bottle will be bought.

Please note its similarity to The unexpected hanging paradox.

Once it eventualy becomes free, then you just need to start selling it for -$0.01, -$0.02, etc (giving money along with the genie bottle). Essentialy everyone continues paying a single cent for the use of the genie who fufills all your desires.. not a bad deal, especialy since in some countries a loaf of bread costs 50,000 basic monetary units, and one of your desires is undoubtedly that you'd like a good deal of money.

This isn't really a paradox - it's simply a statement that people can miscalculate. I bet if I bought it for $3.00 I could unload it on someone for $2.99, and so on... it might begin getting difficult around $0.05, just because it becomes harder for someone to miscalculate when the negative consequence is a lot closer.

So, if you're in a society of people who all think ahead all the way, no one will buy the bottle. Since most people in any other society aren't going to think ahead all the way, there is some point at which the consequence can be pushed far enough back that someone will think that someone else will buy it for less than they did. This person could very well be wrong, but if you manage to sell it to them, whatever price you picked was the right one.

Lastly, it is misleading to even think that there is anything to do with money really in this problem. Ariels msged me mentioning a "Fair Price". The problem might as well be phrased as "You can only give this bottle to someone who has climbed fewer mountains than you had when you got the bottle."... and the problem comes out the same (though a lot more tiring).

While I'm at it, there are a couple of silly ways around this (easily avoided by clarifications of the rule):

  • Inflation One dollar keeps on dropping in value, so you could argue that selling it for the same numeric price will actually be a decrease in value. Note that if you hold onto it for a fairly extended period of time, this is a quite marked effect.
  • Here, take this! Sell it to someone without explaining the disadvantages.
  • Oooh, shiny! Sell it to someone who does not understand the consequences.
  • Yeah, Right Sell it to someone who could understand the consequences but doesn't believe you. If necessary, give it to them.
  • Abuse of wishes "I wish I paid $50.00 for this bottle" no one is ever REALLY screwed - they just need to sacrifice some amount of money and screw around with the timeline. Okay, this could cause problems.
  • Let's get organized here As an extrapolation on the first idea, you could arrange to be inventing smaller and smaller units of currency to handle the accounting of the sale. Of course, then the IRS will come in, claim the bottle was sold for less than it was worth, which constitutes sales tax evasion, and impound the bottle. The last holder has bad things happen for eternity.
A creative person can continue at this for some time longer, I'm sure.

The root of the problem is the assumption that everyone will try to avoid the bad outcome at all costs. As Stevenson shows in the original story, that's not necessarily the case.

One possibility is that the buyer considers his own salvation less important than the things he can wish for. A pragmatist (or a Vulcan) could buy the bottle for an arbitrarily low price, wish for world peace, and call it a day. Even if he gets stuck with the thing, this is a positive outcome in his belief system.

Another outcome is that the buyer is doomed to suffer the penalty anyway, and so has no reason to eschew the deal. In the original story, the bottle ends up with an old sailor, who has lived an unvirtuous life. He reasons that his life has damned him to hell already, so he might as well pay one centime for the imp, and at least make the rest of his life comfortable.

In a story by Robert Louis Stevenson, the reader is presented with the paradox of the bottle imp who will fulfill ones every wish, the catch is that if one dies with the bottle in ones possession, one will experience the tortures of hell forever.

The real catch however is that in order to get rid of the bottle, one has to sell the bottle for a lower price than one bought it for.
The paradox is that because the one buying it for 1 cent cannot sell it anymore, he should not buy it for fear of suffering in hell; and no one should buy it for 2 cent, because there would be no one to sell it to for 1 cent. By mathematical induction we can reason that no one should ever buy the bottle at all.

Like many logic problems, this assumes that all participants are sufficently informed, completely rational and bright enough (if not infinitely rational) not to buy the bottle. If one assumes that there are at least some people who are not afraid to end up in hell, then you may still buy the bottle and may hope not to get stuck with it.

Another take is that in practice, there is no paradox here at all, for economic reasons:
If you made use of a genie to wish for earthly possessions, the number of goods on Earth would skyrocket, leading to deflation - a lower price being paid for everything, which would lead to the creation of smaller units of currency, which you could then use to sell the bottle for.
This just goes to prove that the economy is a self-regulatory system with a negative feedback loop.

Of course one would run into practical problems like the mass of Earth increasing with each item the bottle imp gave out, but hey, it is not like the prospect of Earth turning into a black hole has ever stopped human economic theory (cf. how the Club of Romes book Limits to Growth was received by some of the public).
Earth economy would be faced with the prospect of shuttling all the free junk off into space or selling it to aliens, essentially proving that the paradox is not that easily dispelled. Finding accountants willing to keep track of ownership of all the zillion goodies that the bottle imp gave out also might be quite a challenge.

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