On Friday, March 13, 2020 at 6:05:17 PM UTC-5, Circus Party wrote:
The hoarding is very strange. Do these people think that TP is made
in China or Italy? Are they planning to hide in their basements for
Some of the hoarding was and is done by profiteers who expected to
make huge profits.
The hoarding is not necessarily irrational. Suppose you've heard that
one possible symptom of COVID-19 is severe diarrhea. You're also aware
that people have been buying up all the toilet paper, and stores usually
have none on the shelves. You're one of the early arrivals at a store,
and lo and behold, they have some toilet paper in stock. What do you do?
What you do is buy much more than you ordinarily would, because you may
be holed up at home for a while, and the next time you get to the store,
more likely than not there won't be any available.
This is a perfect example of what Garrett Hardin called "the tragedy of
the commons," and what Ronald Coase more formally identified as "the
problem of the social cost." In the tragedy of the commons, the commons
refers to unowned grazing land on which anyone may graze his sheep or
cattle. No one has any incentive to limit the size of his herd or
flock, so the land is quickly overgrazed and becomes worthless for
grazing. Why? Because if you reduce the size of your herd or flock in
order to leave more pasturage for the future, it won't be there - the
livestock of all the others will eat it. This is what economists call
an externality. If you increase your herd or flock, you internalize the
extra revenue, but the cost of your larger herd or flock is partially
incurred by others.
The solution to the tragedy of the commons is to privatize the land.
The landowner now has an incentive to limit his own herd size if he has
livestock, or to charge enough money to people who buy grazing rights
from him so that they limit their herd sizes.
The similar solution to the shortages of toilet paper or anything else
is for merchants to jack the price way up - what people stupidly call
"price gouging." If that 30-roll package of toilet paper at Costco now
costs you $300, you're probably only going to buy one. That means there
will be some left over for other people to buy.
There's one more way to look at this, and that comes from Heller's
"Catch-22." There is a scene in the book in which Yossarian's naive and
hopelessly idealistic pal, Clevinger, chastises Yossarian for being
self-interested. Yossarian had already said, "From now on, I'm thinking
only of myself." Clevinger, trying to sound superior, says, "But
Yossarian - what if everyone felt that way." Not missing a beat,
Yossarian replies, "Then I'd be a damned fool to fell any other way,
If you're not reading the New York Times, you're not following the news
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