Post-Sandy: A Man-Made Disaster – George Reisman – Mises Daily
What caused the shortages and stops them from being overcome in this way is the fact that the necessary rise in prices is illegal. It is against the law. According to a Bloomberg news release of November 9, 2012, “New Jersey law defines price gouging as an ‘excessive price increase,’ or of 10 percent or more, during a declared state of emergency.” The same news article also reports that “New York law prohibits selling goods or services for an ‘unconscionably excessive price’ during ‘abnormal disruption of the market.’”
Thus state laws are what make it impossible for the market immediately to put an end to the shortages. It is these state laws that allowed the shortages to come into existence in the first place, by prohibiting the immediate rise in prices that would have prevented them, and that then make the shortages persist.
The same state laws make it impossible for the market speedily to restore supplies to their normal level, which would serve quickly to bring down prices from their abnormal heights.
If prices were allowed to be “unconscionably” high, it would be possible to bring in vital supplies that are more costly. For example, gasoline from more remote refineries. At prices of $10 to $20 per gallon, it would pay for tanker trucks to bring in gasoline from several hundred miles away. This would serve to spread the loss of supplies caused by the hurricane over a much wider area, with a corresponding reduction in the severity of loss experienced in the area of the hurricane’s path.