Middlemen

So there was a storm in North Carolina a few years ago, a hurricane, it ripped through the Raleigh area.
Oak trees were felled by the time the storm passed through Raleigh was like a big bowl of oak spaghetti
of course the power lines  in the area were put in quite a while ago, and Raleigh is pretty densely populated so they are all above ground, or were at the time the storm knocks out the power, and it’s hurricane season so it’s summer.
Now people hadn’t emptied their fridges out in expectation of this, and there were people with baby formula and insulin or just a lot of food that would spoil in the hot humid clime. One solution to this problem is to keep the fridge closed but that will only last so long, the next is to get ice, and since the roads are covered in oak spaghetti no one can drive out-of-town to get ice, and in just a few hours the shops are all out of ice because everyone has this idea, even the shop keepers who has access and took home most of their ice for themselves.
Well a couple of yahoos in an unaffected area near by decide that there is a fantastic business opportunity to be had here. They are going to get trucks and fill them with ice and bring ice to the people of Raleigh. This is a non-trivial task they have here, they aren’t throwing a few bags of ice in the back of a pickup, covering it with the dogs blanket, and heading on into town they go out and rent refrigerator vans at a few hundred dollars a piece and buy thousands of bags of ice.
So they work their way into the city, and in the process they have to take chain saws and cut the trees that are blocking the roads, again they do a lot of work getting there, and finally they get there.
They have spray painted signs and announce  that they are selling ice for $12 a bag.
Normally it’s about $1.50 but they have this huge demand and they did huge amounts of work to get it there, so market forces are in their corner. Even at this price they have people lined up around the block, because ice for twelve dollars a bag is cheaper than ice for infinite dollars a bag.
However, people still remember the old price, and are mad that it’s not ice for $2 dollars a bag
So, customers are buying their ice and glad to get it, those who aren’t glad to get it are welcomed to step out of line and go home empty handed. Well one partially satisfied customer apparently goes home and call the police on the guys.
The police come in and impound the truck, and park it in the impound lot, and turn it off so as not to waste gas, and the ice all melts. The opertunistic entrepreneurs get thrown in jail and get a hefty fine for price gouging. All the customers, who were waiting in line because they all decided that they would rather spend $12 on ice than face up to a few hundred dollars in spoilage, are denied the opportunity to make that deal that will save them money.
Yet when the police put the guys who did the work to make it happen in handcuffs the crowd who is now screwed with out repair claps.
Because people would rather not see someone get a huge advantage out of a situation than be better off themselves. They sacrificed their own well being in order to keep other people from doing well in a bad situation.
Yes charity ice would have been better than gouging ice, but gouging ice is presumably better than puddles of water, and charity ice was conspicuous in its absence.
In 2009 the Democrats in the Alaska House tried to pass an Anti-gouging law on fuel prices, which is exactly what we need, a fuel oil shortage, fortunately it seems to have died in committee.
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About opcnup

Emerson White is a biology student working on post grad while doing private research on the side.
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