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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The free market goes, when the hurricane blows

I'm always amazed how quickly people turn into bloody communists when something bad happens. People who have no complaints about Wal-Mart exploiting sweatshop labor in China and abusing their own employees here, and who plan to vote for Bush-Cheney even though they funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to criminal corporations like Halliburton, seem to be the first to scream "price-gouging" after a blackout or hurricane hits. The NY Times has an article about such "gouging" going on in Florida now.
Janet Snyder, a pharmacy technician in Cape Coral, said several men in two pickup trucks spotted her roof damage and offered to lay down a temporary covering of plastic sheeting. They wanted $600, about four times what she figured was the right price, based on 15 rolls of plastic that usually sell for $10 each.
So don't pay it, Janet, and let the rain destroy thousands of dollars worth of carpeting and furnishings in your house. This is called the free market working--try asking them if they'd do it for $400. Or wait for someone else to come along, or do it yourself. Or just say "no," and take your chances. But unless you're willing to support a socialist revolution in this country, quit your bitchin'. When demand exceeds supply, prices go up.

I was appalled during the blackout here last summer that Governor Jennifer Granholm seemed to think that preventing gas stations from "gouging" motorists at $5 a gallon was the most important thing she could be doing. Five dollars a gallon might be enough to discourage unnecessary trips, cut down on the number of accidents at intersections where the lights aren't working, and ensure that there is actually some gasoline available for those who really need it. Forcing stations to keep their prices down in the face of skyrocketing demand only guarantees shortages and the rise of black markets.

The market certainly can't solve all problems, and shouldn't be expected to. But in cases like these, it brings needed goods and services, like those roofers, quickly and efficiently to those who need them. It can also force people to consider alternatives they should have considered anyway. If they aren't calling the state attorney general daily complaining about the high cost of housing and caviar and Cadillacs, I don't think they have much of a case for complaining now. We've got giant monopolies controlling much of our food, water, electricity, and even job markets in many areas, in many cases blatantly violating numerous laws and getting away with it. Two unemployed guys from Georgia with a pickup truck, who took a chance and stocked up on plastic sheeting at Home Depot and headed for Florida this week, are not criminals. Pay 'em what they ask or not, but don't try to have them arrested!