How 'Price Gouging' Helps Consumers During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Q&A with Duke's Michael C. Munger, who also believes that big cities will see rationing and that higher education will never be the same.


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As the COVID-19 pandemic prompted shoppers to clear out supermarkets of toilet paper, rice, and canned vegetables, two brothers set out on a 1,300 mile road trip through the back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee. Matt and Noah Colvin loaded up a U-Haul with all the hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes they could find and attempted to resell the goods on Amazon at a massive markup. Then the online retailing giant banned the practice, state attorneys general started cracking down, and the Colvins were shamed in the media. They ended up donating the items. 

But is so-called price gouging a bad thing? Michael C. Munger, who teaches economics, political science, and public policy at Duke University, argues that prices contain vital information about supply and demand. When governments attempt to mandate cheap goods, he says, they end up causing more shortages than they solve. And this is especially true during a crisis.

Nick Gillespie spoke with Munger via Zoom about how the 21st century is testing libertarian ideas about limited government and individual freedom.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Ian Keyser. Intro by Meredith Bragg. Thumbnail by Lex Villena.

Music: 'White Hats' by Wayne Jones

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