Remaining People in a Crisis

Over on Sifting Reality, John Barron raises an interesting topic – the role of business in society and the role of that business in emergency situations.

John’s premise is that business that sell products that are at a premium in supply and demand – such as food – during states of emergency should be able to set whatever prices the market can bear – so people willing to spend $20 for a loaf of bread get as much bread as they are willing to pay.

State of emergency legislation, prevents businesses from basically gouging the panicking public.But John feels this is an unacceptable limitation on business – but this view fails to consider that states of emergency are not business as usual circumstances.

While it may be in the business’s short term goals to maximize profits, this is not a long term business strategy for when the crisis is over and people remember who made the crisis worse and who made the crisis more easily survivable.

More than that, gouging in the short term only increases the sense of danger and impending doom, making an already stressed population more panicked and less reasoned – which is more likely to result in looting to obtain resources that are available but no longer affordable.

This means that that shop that could have survived the emergency intact by placing reasonable and measured limitations on quantities to ensure maximum distribution of resources through the population and thus lowering the anxiety and fears and reducing the likelihood of looting – now becomes the location for a food riot and not only have their goods not available, but not paid for – in addition to the damage to the property itself.

The people will survive the disaster, but the store will be faced with closure for repairs if not outright closure after the emergency is over.

So stores maintaining prices and setting quantity limits and enforcing the limits is the way that business can best whether an emergency and retain it’s customer base when business as usual is back to the usual business.

As for people who would thwart quantity limits by making return trips – some things you cannot police – and that’s when social conventions and public/private morals kick in.

In a society where the attitude is me at the expense of you, there will be people who would feel no shame in taking more than they need and depriving others of basic necessities. Even if that means making several trips in and out of the store – but at least, there are other people in line between their trips and at some point, there is no more for anyone to buy, but at least the greedy and selfish people weren’t able to get everything the first time – and that ensures more people had access to the goods than if there were no limits in the first place.

It’s not the role of the state or business to police people in this way.

But by putting these limitations and forcing people to have to choose to go against the limitations, will make some people feel shame and they will police themselves.

I think that this is a good example of where matters are not black or white, but all kinds of grey shades come into effect

It comes down to a matter of trust – and your position is that you don’t trust people so either want over regulation to prevent trust breaches or no regulation to avoid the expectation to be dashed that people will behave in a fair manner.

There are better ways for businesses to balance out panic hoarding than profiting from said panic by gouging. Emergency measures can mean stores step up security and enforce limits to maximize the spread of resources to lower the overall panic – this means that people get calmer and are less likely to simply rampage and loot resources – better for business to not have to be damaged – such as the coffee shop in Vancouver during the coffee riot that had to shut down for a few months for renovations.

When people see that controls are in place and that resources are being distributed fairly, they will calm down – this gives people the opportunity to follow Japan’s example of taking just enough so that everyone gets some. No one is cheating or line jumping or getting too much and depriving others.

Stores can close their doors and limit how many people come in at a time – they can demand to see ID for purchases – the line up to get back in after a trip to the car will discourage people from making extra trips in to thwart the limitations. At the least, they would have to go to several stores – and since everyone is lined up – it means that the resources are still more evenly distributed and still priced in a way that means that they are affordable and food is not distributed on the I got their first and grabbed the most or are willing to pay more than other people who can’t afford to.

I think that this is an excellent topic to really demonstrate the difference between right and left thinking.

Emergency measures means the usual rules of society have to adjust to the conditions, but it doesn’t have to be so right wing dog eat dog, we can choose to be people pulling together in a crisis, even if that means having to enforce peoplehood

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