Government Gouging by Aaron Bilger
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Unfortunately, the free market price system is currently being forbidden in Georgia and several other states. Politicians have enacted anti-“gouging” laws to punish sellers of gasoline who request too high a price. Whether such politicians are well-meaning but economically ignorant, or know the consequences but are cynically manipulating public distaste for higher prices despite this is up for debate, but the results are the same. Ethically, the results are detestable. Gas station operators are told in effect that they are not free; they must sell their product as an altruistic service to others rather than serving their own individual interests. Legislating an exact price ceiling (a maximum price at which gas could be sold) would be bad enough, but to compound the issue, an exact price is not given in anti-gouging laws. A supplier cannot even know if they may be violating the law, and must be constantly fearful of someone accusing them of charging “too much.” In Atlanta for now, the de facto result is gas station operators being afraid to price gasoline above $4–4.29/gallon. Asking a half-dozen local operators who ran out of gas as to why they do not raise prices resulted in the same general response; as one put it, “I cannot raise my price. It would be a crime.”
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The culprit behind the gas shortages this time is individual state governments rather than federal government, but the solution is the same now as it was then – for politicians to stop their harmful efforts to control prices. End anti-gouging laws, end the shortage.
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