Hurricanes always bring the same news story – Complaints of price gouging

Would you rather have NO gasoline at yesterday’s price of $3.89 or a few gallons of gas available today so you can get out of the path of the storm for $6.89 a gallon today? It’s really a simple choice, but we’re already seeing stories about price gouging in south Florida and the Gulf states. Please share this post!

Certainly there may be some retailers who raise prices for the heck of it to earn a few extra dollars, but most small business people are generally pretty smart and have the communities best interests at heart simply because they live and work in the community and will need to live and work in the community after the storm passes.

The legal definition of price gouging in Florida is defined as follows, with my emphasis in bold.

Florida Statute 501.160 states that during a state of emergency, it is unlawful to sell, lease, offer to sell, or offer for lease essential commodities, dwelling units, or self-storage facilities for an amount that grossly exceeds the average price for that commodity during the 30 days before the declaration of the state of emergency, unless the seller can justifying the price by showing increases in its prices or market trends. Examples of necessary commodities are food, ice, gas, and lumber.

Vague enough for ya? Who defines a price that “grossly exceeds” the average price? Who defines “market trends?” This is feel-good legislation that does nothing for you. This law threatens retailers and may leave you without supplies when you need them, thanks to government meddling in the market. I’ll argue that gas stations and retail stores selling necessary commodities really should increase prices just prior to the arrival of the storm to prevent hoarding by those who really do not need the commodity.

Yeah, I’m a mean son-of-a-bitch conservative … who really does understand why temporary spikes in prices can be a very good thing for people. I wrote the following back in Sept. 2008, and since I did such an awesome job explaining it, why not copy and paste?

First, let’s all agree that not having electricity in southeast Texas really sucks. It’s hot in Texas. The only thing worse would be not having any gasoline in your truck to get out of southeast Texas. I’m not trying to make light of the situation in the areas hit by recent hurricanes, only pass on the knowledge that government involvement in consumer pricing will only make things worse.

What it comes down to is this. Would you rather have 10 gallons of gasoline at $7 per gallon, or no gasoline at $4 per gallon?

Quick hikes in the price of gasoline will do two things. First, it will drive people who do not need the fuel out of the market and second, it will improve the chance that gasoline will be available for those who really need it.

The real problems occur when the government forces prices not to increase during a supply crisis. Even threats by government officials to “actively go out and crush businesses that price gouge” can cause supplies to quickly dry up.

As an example, let’s visit with two hypothetical families that were leaving Galveston last week prior to the arrival of Hurricane Ike. Both were headed to College Station and need to travel about 150 miles to get there. Both vehicles get 15 miles per gallon and therefore need 10 gallons of fuel for the trip.

The first family has 11 gallons of gasoline in the tank, plenty of fuel to make the trip to College Station. The second family has three gallons of fuel in the tank, barely enough to make it to the outskirts of Houston.

The first family wants to buy more gasoline – just to be safe – and on the way out of town find prices have shot up from $4 to $7 per gallon. The family is mad, screaming at the owner about gouging them. It’s not fair! They drive off in disgust on their way to College Station.

Family two really needs fuel and pulls into the station after the first family tears away. They find out that the station has 10 gallons left at a price of $7 per gallon. They buy the last 10 gallons, paying that extra $30 for the high-priced fuel.

They are not happy about it and feel that they have been gouged. It sucks, but they make it to College Station before the storm arrives.

Now, what would happen if the government instituted price controls – guarantying a $4 per gallon rate – before the storm? It’s simple, the first family would have purchased the last 10 gallons and the second family would have found the station to be closed and out of gas.

They would not make it to College Station.

Even the threat of criminal investigations by government officials can result in gas station owners keeping prices low and therefore, running out of gas sooner.

So a quick rise in prices – known as price gouging by the emotional among us – can be a very good thing. That’s how a free market without excess regulation works.

As noted above, we’re already seeing complaints of price gouging in Florida and Mississippi. You’ll soon see more.

9 replies
  1. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    Reminds me of the old joke:

    Guy walks into Joe’s butcher shop and sees pork chops for $5/lb. ?He says to Joe: “Fred the butcher is selling those for $3.50!”. ?”So go buy them there” say Joe. ?The guy says “I can’t; he’s all out!”. Says Joe: “So when I am all out, my price will be $3.50 too!”

  2. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    Consider the rank stupidity of using the strategic reserve to buy votes, er, I mean, keep prices “low”….

  3. JBS
    JBS says:

    The “there ought to be a law” bunch just can’t understand how any market works. It is the same group of risk adverse, the “government has to take care of me,” chest thumping blowhards who complain about getting “ONLY!” one-half of one percent at their savings account. You can bet that hypothetical Family One votes Democrat and has union ties.
    Then there is Family Three. Ready for a natural disaster, or any severe problem, Family Three has extra D-cell batteries, fresh gas for the generator, the family car is topped off with gas, food in the pantry, etc, etc. You get the picture. Family Three is also helping the older couple who don’t drive and has taken in Family One’s abandoned and dog.
    NEWS FLASH: It is now Hurricane Isaac!!!!! OMG!!! OMG!!! OMG!!! NOW IT IS TIME TO PANIC!!! Family One will run out of gas on the highway and spend a miserable night in their car. Family Two will get “gouged” and make it to “safety.” Family Three is already at their mountain motel watching the Hurricane coverage on TV.

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