Thank God most people can only get 14 or 15 gallons of gasoline at any one time.
As prices drop below $2 a gallon, the coronavirus fuels concerns about shortages of just about everything. Most motorists are limited to what they can get in their tanks, so sales appear fairly orderly at the gas station.
It’s a different story at the grocery store, where anxious shoppers emptied the shelves of everything from bread to canned goods. And toilet paper, don’t forget toilet paper.
The pandemic sparked a furious run on toilet paper. Most stores were quickly out of this household product, and not just in St. Joseph. Similar panic buying was reported in stores across the country.
We refer to panic buying in the hope that this is unreasonable behavior and not something else: greed. It’s hard to say because most of us know plenty of people who think stocking up on toilet paper is foolish, but no one really wants to admit that the garage is full of Charmin. Those people are out there somewhere.
On Monday night, St. Joseph citizens will witness a City Council meeting like no other when the elected body meets in a chamber with limited public access, a precaution necessitated by social distancing requirements.
The meeting agenda includes an emergency ordinance that specifically outlaws price gouging. The measure, aimed at excessive prices charged on necessities during a time of disaster, reflects an attempt to ensure calm and fairness at an uncertain time. This measure deserves passage.
More than that, the public deserves some reassurance about the reliability of the food supply. The pandemic exposes weaknesses in the supply chain, but most of that is associated with products made in China, where the pandemic shut down production for months. Businesses and consumers that rely on just-in-time delivery are especially hard hit. In addition, the public should express concern about shortages of medical necessities like surgical masks and ventilators.
But much of the food supply is produced domestically and would not see as much immediate impact from global supply shocks. Legitimate concerns exist on the impact of mass sicknesses on labor-intensive meatpacking operations, which is one reason why Triumph Foods announced plans for emergency relief to employees who are quarantined. Meatpackers in other parts of the country have explored policies to encourage sick employees to stay away.
These concerns, however, aren’t reflected in current food supplies. The latest U.S. Agriculture Department data showed record high stocks of frozen poultry and cheeses. Frozen pork supplies are up 11% from last year.
For now, there’s no need for food hording. There’s even less need for all that toilet paper.