On toilet paper, price gouging, and the free market | Rooney

By Matt Rooney
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Price gouging is back in the public discussion, Save Jerseyans, as a Coronavirus-inspired consumer panic continues to cause a major run on some basic household items including… toilet paper. Why toilet paper? Maybe it’s because toilet paper is something we, as humans, feel we can control in a crisis. Or perhaps being without it during a two-week quarantine is a little much for many people to contemplate. Who knows. I probably don’t want to know. 

What’s resulted is a classic lesson in supply and demand. Thousands of Americans are hoarding teepee at the moment so, naturally, the price that merchants are charging for it is skyrocketing. There’s less supply to keep up with a rapidly-growing demand. One joker (?) on Ebay is trying to sell a 48-pack for $100,000. I wish him the best of luck. 

Here’s a couple visuals of the carnage closer to home:

https://twitter.com/Equuslimits10/status/1238256648587816965

Price-gouging is a favorite obsession of public officials during a crisis.

It’s what THEY think they can control. It’s their version of toilet paper (I guess).

“We’re working with NJ businesses to ensure the private sector is acting responsibly during the state of emergency related to #COVID19. But some are looking to profit off public fear,” N.J. AG Gurbir Grewal declared on Thursday. “We won’t let them get away with it.”

But is “profiting off public fear” really what’s happening here? I wrote about this phenomenon back in March 2017 as a Nor’easter pounded our Garden State. My points back then still apply today, arguably even more so:

  • Relax: as supply inevitably ramps up again (companies which produce tissues and toilet paper, for example, are playing catch up as we speak and ramping up production), profit will simultaneously stimulate competition. These coinciding trends will cumulatively bring prices back to earth over time.
  • This is a biggie: scarcity encourages conservation. Unless you’re planning on riding this thing out with a diet of only black coffee and burritos, I’m fairly certain you don’t need 50 rolls of toilet paper to survive a hypothetical two-week sick leave. Plan smarter and buy only what you actually need and HOW MUCH you really need rather than buying frivolously driven by fear and unchecked impulse. That’s what the market is telling you. Listen.
  • Conversely, artificially low prices (defined here as below what the market demands) only encourage more stupid spending and reckless, selfish, annoying hoarding habits.

Get it?

Price gouging isn’t “good” or “bad.” It is, and some of what it is in actuality helps regulate bad behavior and encourage better outcomes than an attorney general and his edicts ever could.

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Save Jersey’s Founder and Blogger-in-Chief, MATT ROONEY is a nationally-noted and respected New Jersey political commentator. When he’s not on-line, radio or television advocating for conservative reform and challenging N.J. power-brokers, Matt is a practicing attorney at the law firm of DeMichele & DeMichele in Haddon Heights (Camden County). 

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