Skip to comments.Gas Lines are Not Sandy’s Fault
Posted on 11/03/2012 11:31:27 AM PDT by daniel885
(Article is posted in its entirety under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License)
Its crazy in New York and New Jersey, and commentators are mystified. Hurricane Sandy was bad enough. Thats a natural disaster, and we are dealing with it.
But then came the unnatural disaster in the form of the governments response. This is where the real catastrophe begins.
Check out the mess in New Jersey. The New York Times reports that widespread gas shortages stirred fears among residents and disrupted some rescue and emergency services as the New York region struggled to return to a semblance of normalcy after being ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Fights, anger, lines, craziness everywhere. Emergency shipments of gasoline are pouring in. Mail trucks are stuck. Supply trucks are stuck. Ambulances need fuel and cant get it. The government is trying to get gas to the place, but is hampered by traffic jams and chaos all around.
New Jersey has these weird laws that require that gas stations pump the gas for you. Why? To save jobs? I dont know. But they are there. As a result, service station attendants are slaving, breathing in serious fumes for 18 hours a day and desperately trying to keep the peace.
The images show scenes right out of the 1970s. There are long gas lines as far as the eye can see. Tempers are inflamed. Meanwhile, generators and cars need gas. Peoples lives are at stake. Some have successfully found gas in Pennsylvania, but you have to have enough gas to get there.
Who can account for such bizarre things as these? Probably the greedy capitalists at work here, right? After all, the state is fielding thousands of complaints of price gouging.
Actually, gouging if by that you mean raising prices according to market conditions is exactly what will fix the problem. But producers are not allowed to do so. The price system has been abolished. Like socialism.
Gov. Christie himself has made it clear: We will not hesitate to impose the strictest penalties on profiteers who, in direct violation of our consumer protection laws, seek to capitalize on the misfortune of others in the midst of a crisis and recovery period.
Even more absurdly, The state had set gas prices at $3.59 on the highways last week, reports the Times.
Its serious. Last year, merchants paid huge fines for raising prices more than 10% in an emergency. This means that they cannot respond to changes in supply and demand. A disabled price system means chaos. When the price is too low, producers drop out and consumers overutilize. Scarce resources are not being replenished, and those that exist are being irrationally squandered.
Thats why price ceilings mean shortages. Gas shortages cause social disasters. We are seeing this in real-time in New Jersey. Its a man-made disaster caused by stupid government officials, elected officials, and bureaucrats.
Can it really be that observers of this situation have no clue about the cause? Can it be that fairly intelligent reporters and politicians are truly that stupid when it comes to basic economics? I fear that the answer is yes. We are dealing with a governor who either has a brain the size of a pea or is so craven toward popular opinion that he is willing to throw away all rationality just to suck up to the bourgeoisie that knows not the first point of economic logic.
Hence this lesson. There is no real distinction between responding to economic conditions and so-called gouging. A law against gouging is a law against economic behavior. Merchants need to raise prices not to reflect higher costs (though costs could rise), but to reflect changing conditions of supply and demand. A higher price would signal consumers to conserve. A higher price would also call forth greater supply without having to have the government intervene with special shipments. A higher price would also settle the crowds down a bit and stop the insane attempt to stockpile as much as possible at the low price.
Price controls are causing human suffering yet again. And this time, the toll is very high, even if it will always remain somewhat invisible.
Ive been writing on price-gouging laws for at least a year, fully expecting something like this.
In my article called The Day Your Life Fell Apart from last July, I wrote:
So you hop in the car and set out for new gasoline. The storms have caused the usual anti-gouging mania. Station owners have been hauled before Congress in the past just for having raised prices in a storm a time when they should be raising prices. Stations fear bad PR and even laws against the practice, and so they cant properly ration supplies.
You drive and drive, but every gas station in a 10-mile radius of your house is out of gas. In fact, after all this driving, you are nearly out of gas. You creep home and beg the neighbor for some gas, but he has the same problems: bad can, and the stored gas doesnt work right.
How well I recall getting floods of email from people telling me that I was exaggerating, that price-gouging laws are not that awful. They certainly are nothing like national price controls that lead to mass shortages. They are mere agents of consumer protection. Did I really want to unleash greedy merchants to rob people in the middle of an emergency?
Well, I might as well say it: My article, if anything, underestimated the extent of the damage caused by anti-gouging laws. If you live in New Jersey, these laws are ruining your life. If you are running a business on a generator, need to get somewhere in your car, need fuel for your chain saw, or otherwise need some power to manage your life, these laws are your enemy.
Maybe next time you will store up some gasoline? Dont think of it. Ethanol mandates have made gas difficult to store for a long time. Also in this crisis, people are discovering that their gas cans dont work right. The culprit is again government regulations.
Economic liberty is crucial to life functioning. Even the smallest intervention can cause calamity. Enough small interventions can cause the collapse of what we call civilization under certain circumstances. Markets are never more important than in an emergency, and government is never more useless, threatening and counterproductive than during a crisis. The events following Hurricane Sandy make the point very clear: Our choice is between liberty and human suffering and death.
All these regulations are like knives at your throat. Some of them have workarounds. You can hack your gas can. You can shop for gas that is not ruined with corn additives. You can prepare by storing up water and food. But in the end, as Ludwig von Mises said, there is no escape for anyone when civilization is headed to destruction.
We are rarely presented with a case that so clearly illustrates the explanatory power of economics. It turns what would otherwise seem inexplicable into something entirely predictable. The lesson we must learn before its too late: Let the price system work.
It may make economic sense, but if you think anyone is going to allow gas stations to charge, say, $15 a gallon to people during a natural disaster, you’re crazy. The mindset of most people is to be charitable to people who are suffering in a natural disaster, donating food, clothing, shelter, etc. And the government supplying disaster relief is probably considered even by most conservatives to be a valid role for them to play, just like enforcing the laws and having a military.
Bottom line is the gas shortage must be related to a localized supply problem, since supplies are abundant in states right next door like Pennsylvania. The government should have a plan to get gas to the stations or citizens. Even if prices were allowed to be hiked, there would still be people unable to get gas, because they couldn’t afford it.
If the market price rises to $15 per gallon, then let it. That will send a signal into the market place to producers to divert gas into that region (even if it’s a higher expense and trouble to do so). Putting price controls in effect has the exact opposite effect and means that there will worsen the supply problem.
More on this from the ever-bright economist Walter E. Williams (who sometimes fills in for Rush Limbaugh) http://rossputin.com/blog/index.php/economics_of_prices_by_walter_e_williams
“The government should have a plan to get gas to the stations or citizens. Even if prices were allowed to be hiked, there would still be people unable to get gas, because they couldnt afford it.”
Get government out of the way. The free market can handle it. As conservatives, we need to have more faith in the market than that.
New Jersy women will be crying for ironing board cleaners and vacuum cleaner bags for Christmas
The article in picture form: http://lfb.org/files/2012/11/525613_10101479423879489_1834399846_n.jpg
Well, in New Jersey we have Obama gas lines! Just like Carter. And at the same Gas stations as in 1979!
I have not yet found that provision in my copy of the Constitution, nor the BOR.
I do believe that we are a CHARITABLE nation, and the proper response should be from the Church! JMHO...
Donate to the Salvation Army. They will have food and water long before the Gum't gets there, and not just donuts and coffee!
DOING THEIR MOST...
The problem here in New Jersey is that we're in this bizarre "Twilight Zone" -- partly an ongoing disaster (especially for people who have no power and are facing the first cold spell of the season next week), part disaster recovery, and yet fully functional in other respects. So we have at least half the population going about their lives as if there is nothing wrong, which means their consumption patterns for things like food and fuel are back to where they were before the storm. Yet the supply chains that provide some of these things aren't likely to be back to normal for days -- if not longer.
Ironically, I live within a 1/2-mile walk of two grocery stores, three convenience stores, and about two dozen restaurants. Every one of them is up and running, and doing great business. Trucks have been making their normal deliveries to these places for days.
Having said that, I think it’s also worth noting that with limits on the prices gas station owners can charge, there’s also the possibility that many of them simply aren’t going to make any heroic efforts to get their businesses open while things are still in a state of flux here.
Not Sandy’s fault? Does Tucker mean there are miles long lines normally? A three or four wait happens always?
Many gas stations are owned my middle easterners and some care less about gouging Americans.
The only way a free market can/will handle a $15 spike in gas prices without govt. intervention is thru threat of force. After the first station owner is murdered, the rest will get the message......Yea, that's a sound plan.
You're talking about natural market forces at work, what's happening there is not natural. It's an emergency life and death environment that was created by an act of nature. Without expected govt. intervention (yea, I'm a conservative who expects govt. intervention in this case) that area will quickly turn into a post apocalyptic battle ground...the very scenario "preppers" plan for.
Let gas prices go to $15 per gallon and you would have private tankers lined up at the NJ border to get in and sell it immediately.
Want to solve the problem? Allow human nature to work freely.
Gouge and people will remember, and bend over backwards to screw you back. That is a part of the free market that this article misses.
I seem to recall reading here on FR after one of the Gulf Coast hurricanes, that a gas station was selling water at super inflated prices. After the hurricane and when things had calmed down, people remembered and NEVER shopped there again. The store was shuttered within a month.
I wouldn’t mind FEMA so much if it were just holding a warehouse full of MRE’s and generators (to lease to gas stations after a disaster). If that was all FEMA was maybe it would be more efficient. They have to ORDER MRE’s 4 days after a hurricane? Seriously?
Exactly. When a trailer load of petrol represents a six figure profit suppliers will be crawling over each other to find a way to fill the demand.
Can it be that fairly intelligent reporters and politicians are truly that stupid when it comes to basic economics?
Yes. Plenty of folks here, too.
There would be so much gas coming in the price would start falling again rather quickly, IMO
“Not Sandys fault? Does Tucker mean there are miles long lines normally? A three or four wait happens always?”
No he means it’s government’s fault for imposing rationing and price controls.
No, have more faith in the market. If gas goes to $15 per gallon, people in other areas of the country will drive trucks of gas into those areas and come up with a market based solution to sell. High prices in a market affected by a natural disaster send signals out to the larger economy to divert resources into the places hit hard by disaster. When government steps in and stops that process, the result is shortages and chaos and people are worse off.
Government planning is a joke. The history of the Soviet Union in the 20th Century should have proved that conclusively for everyone, but some seem to have missed the lesson.
the greater the amount of intervention (price controls, free government supplied gas, government mandated rationing) the longer will it be before retail gasoline markets return to markets free of that intervention
under Obama they have sunk untold billions into the “housing & mortgage” markets, and the result is great delay in those markets reaching a natural free market bottom from which a more robust recovery of them would resume
whether Obama or Romney, housing alone (and who knows what else) will likely be in “double dip recession” mode by spring 2013, because government intervention has stalled housings’ recovery by misallocating resources going into the housing markets
Then why no similar gas lines a month ago?
I agree with you, and would add that a few posters are ignorant of the choke points also. I believe that much of the Gasoline in the greater NY area is refined in Jersey City. These refineries also store significant quantities of fuel. Without power the refineries cannot run, nor can they move fuel to distribution nodes. A large percentage of the Oil they refine comes in from a pipeline(s?) from the west, no power and the pumps on that pipeline do not work.
Once the electricity is restored to those bottle necks the fuel shortage will be quickly alleviated. I doubt that the refineries took significant damage, although they probably were shut down for the storm and I would not be surprised if it takes several days to restart them.
Good post. As an FYI ... the major refinery in this region is the Bayway Refinery in Linden, NJ. It’s along the western side of the NJ Turnpike just south of Exit 13, where the Goethals Bridge touches down in New Jersey at the Turnpike and Routes 1&9.