Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Of Hurricanes and Price Gouging...

It's been a while. Since Tuesday is normally politics and economics, I'll throw some economics in. However, I really want to talk about life in Florida lately.

With Ivan bearing down on Florida (at least potentially) last week, many of us here were panicked, upset, irritable, and generally stressed out. I was among those for a while. I had just paid more than I wanted to for a roof repair from Frances and now Ivan was coming. Three hurricanes in a row seemed to be too much. After realizing I was stressed and irritable, I took some time to consider my situation. Here are my conclusions.

1. I'm stupid. I chose to live in a state that has hurricanes. I then get upset when they come. It's the equivalent of living in Minnesota and cursing the snow.

2. I'm selfish. I was irritated at having to repair my roof when many had no home left, much less a roof. I think the worse place to be, attitude-wise, is between normalcy and total devastation. If things are normal, we're fine. If we have nothing left, we resign ourselves to it and move on. In between those two, we still have enough of a reminder of how things should be but don't have the normalcy we crave. It's here that we're most selfish and irritable.

3. I'm small and ultimately powerless. For people who haven't watched several days of news coverage showing you exactly how and when you will be homeless, you may not fully grasp the feeling of total impotence that comes with it. We're nothing more than ants in the grand scheme of things, and the feeling of a huge juggernaut of natural destruction bearing down on you gets that across pretty well.

Economically, it's been interesting to watch the shortages around the area and still hear the adamant stance against price gouging. The only reason shortages exist is because of price controls. I stood in line for 4 hours to get plywood Saturday morning because of price controls. Keeping the price from increasing, as it naturally should due to higher demand, gave suppliers little incentive to ship more than they did down here (it costs them more but they can't charge more- why do it?) and made it so we had to ration (10 sheets per customer). If prices had gone up according to the higher demand, you wouldn't need to tell people not to buy 75 sheets. They couldn't afford to. This would force people to self-ration, and the higher prices would attract more supply. For a great column on this, click here.

Ivan has gone west for now, but another hurricane will be coming, sooner or later. I should expect it, accept it, and prepare for it. Beyond that, I have no right to complain.

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