Last weekend, I had the unpleasant experience of visiting a grocery store in Frostburg. I’m a creature of habit.

I plan meals for the week, make a list and head to the grocery store on Saturday to get the ingredients I need and anything I’m low on. (I’ve got one extra roll of toilet paper on hand.) So, into the store I go, steno pad, pen and reusable shopping bag in hand and the quest begins. 

Soup for a casserole? Good luck with that. Bread? No way. I wander over to the instore bakery to check out the “artisanal” loaves they make. Price jacked up. On the way I pass a shopper with one of the “double decker” carts, the top of which is filled with at least six cartons of eggs. Dude, even at two a day, that’s enough for more than a month—and get your cholesterol checked.

Finally, I head toward the aisle I’m dreading. TP? Fugeddabout it. Shelves completely bare, as they were the previous Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Not being happy with the prospect of using newspaper — and not for reading — in the bathroom, I asked to speak to the manager. My question to him: is there some reason you are continuously out of TP?

His response: people are buying all of it. Well, duh. I “get” that. I’m an economist. My (rhetorical) question to him was how are those who need it supposed to get it? His response? There is no TP at any store in town. Again, tell me something I don’t know.

Seeing this conversation was going nowhere, I left. The point I wanted to make with my initial question was: Could this be a management problem? What business model calls for shelves to be empty, for extended periods, of goods that customers want? The old Soviet communist model is the only one I can think of.

Unlike the Soviet Union, these shortages are not the result of supply problems. They are the result of irrational panic buying. I know I cannot tell anyone what they “need.” The benefit one derives from the goods they buy is known only to themselves.

A reasonable observer would conclude that this spike in demand is not based on need alone.

I claim that each of us eats about the same amount of food every day and uses the bathroom some number of times.

So what if schools are closed and we have to spend more time at home? The kids will still eat three meals a day, right? Well, you say, they would have eaten lunch at school. Okay, so you need a little more bread, PB and J, etc.

And they would have used the bathroom at school. So maybe you need a little more TP. And we would have eaten out sometimes, but restaurants are closed so we have to eat at home. Well, if you were feeding the kids at restaurants — and I’ll bet it was McDonald’s and other fast food places — you can still get takeout.

It is obvious, based on the number of cars in the lot, lack of carts in the foyer, and number of shoppers in the store, that my store has never been this busy.

People are buying much more than they normally would. This surge in demand does not reflect any rational assessment of what people currently need or the ability of producers to supply these products. It is, in part, hoarding.

Isn’t there a TV show about hoarders? And don’t those people need mental help? The next time you’re bulking up on TP and other stuff you don’t really need, maybe you should think about the people from whom you’re taking them.

David M. Kiriazis


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