Officials in states hit by Hurricane Florence are on the lookout for "price gouging."
People who engage in "excessive pricing" face up to 30 days jail time, said North Carolina's attorney general. South Carolina passed a "Price Gouging During Emergency" law that imposes a $1,000 fine per violation.
"Gouging" is an issue during every disaster because when supplies are short, some merchants raise prices.
These are "bad people," said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi angrily during a previous storm.
I thought Republicans were the party that believed the market determines prices.
"Gougers deserve a medal," Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once told me. That's because higher prices are the best indicator of which goods people want most.
This is a hard concept for people to understand.
"They're not heroes. They're scabs who prey off the desperate," wrote James Kirkpatrick in the comments after watching my latest video about this. "Only Stossel would praise greed," added Paul Nadrotowski.
I don't praise greed. Pursuing profit is simply the best mechanism for bringing people supplies we need. Without rising prices indicating which materials are most sought-after, suppliers don't know whether to rush in food, or bandages, or chainsaws.
After Hurricane Katrina, one so-called gouger was John Shepperson of Kentucky. Watching news reports, he learned that people desperately needed generators.
So Shepperson bought 19 of them, rented a U-Haul, and drove it 600 miles to a part of Mississippi that had no electricity. He offered to sell his generators for twice what he paid for them. People were eager to buy.
But Mississippi police said that was illegal. They confiscated Shepperson's generators and locked him up.
Did the public benefit? No. The generators sat in police storage (I suspect some cops took them home to use while Shepperson sat in jail).
Who will bring supplies to a disaster area if it's illegal to make extra profit? It's risky to invest in 19 generators, leave home, rent a U-Haul, and drive 600 miles.
"Being moral is loading up supplies and donating them to people in need," a person named Meirstein wrote on my YouTube page.
Yes, but in real life, not enough people do that to satisfy the needs of thousands of desperate people.
You can make a law against someone like Shepperson making extra profit, but you can't force apathetic people to bring in supplies.