Monday, October 28, 2013

Why So Little Turkey Day Gouging?

If you've ever forgotten to pick up that extra tin of spicy desiccated bread Stouffer's so generously describes as "stuffing" on the morning of the fourth Thursday of November, you might know what it means to be coerced by circumstance, particularly if Aunt Gilda is into her fifth glass of Bordeaux and creepy uncle Lester has already started to tell the kids stories about the time he spent in Cambodia.

But hold the phone. The fact that most folks have already done their shopping implies that the demand curve enjoys countervailing pressure, perhaps even enough to offset the corresponding jolt to the supply curve (employees taking the day off to suffer... er, I mean enjoy the fine day with their beloved families). But after all that, we've still got an interesting issue where only the least-picky, most desperate shoppers are out scrounging for supplies. Does that not sound an awful lot like grounds for the "exploitation" we see in the aftermath of natural disasters?

No, and here's why. The thing about natural disasters that isn't like the holidays is a matter of scheduling. Prices are information.

Let me type that again, this time in all caps: PRICES ARE INFORMATION.

In the case of fire, flood, earthquake, or Godzilla, the necessary information is that there's a surprise shortage of wood or generators or whatever it happens to be. Customers get the hint that they need to more carefully ration the existing stock, to apply resources to their actual high valued use, and suppliers get the hint that they need to get more of that good to the affected area, pronto. It's not about exploitation, it's about coordination.

Contrast this with the harried husband in fuzzy bunny slippers out picking up a can of jellied cranberry sauce. It's a crisis for him, sure, but there's no supply chain stress, no coordination mismatch. The food is on the shelf. All is well. He can saunter in and make his last-minute purchase and rest easy knowing that even though it ain't euvoluntary for him, no one need bother taking advantage of that.

And that's what I mean by directional meta-euvoluntarity: general practices and institutions that support a greater variety of euvoluntary exchange all around. Thank you sir, I want some more.

h/t M. Giberson & JR

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?