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News Link • Price Gouging

Price Gouging and Property Rights


Price-gouging law has reared its ugly head in the wake of the flooding in Texas. This has totally overshadowed the alleged price gouging that occurred during the eclipse.

The price of solar eclipse safety glasses was as low in the months before the eclipse, but rose to as much as $150 for the identical product on the day of the eclipse. And it turns out that prices for these glasses were higher along the direct path of the eclipse. Naturally, some eclipse glasses vendors were accused of price gouging because they demanded unreasonably high payments by exploiting unusual market conditions.

Hundreds of complaints of price gouging were received by the office of Texas attorney general Ken Paxton in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. There were "reports of up to $99 for a case of water, hotels that are tripling or quadrupling their prices and fuel at $4 to $10 a gallon." "These are things you can't do in Texas," Paxton said. "There are significant penalties if you price gouge in a crisis like this." Indeed there are. Price gougers "can be hit with a $20,000 fine per occurrence, or up to $250,000 if the victim is someone age 65 or older."

By now the whole world has seen the picture of the case of water at a Best Buy store in Texas with a price tag of $42.96. "This was clearly a mistake in a single store," Best Buy spokesman Shane Kitzman said in a statement. "We feel terrible about this because, as a company we are focused on helping, not hurting people affected by this terrible event. We are deeply sorry that we gave anyone even the momentary impression that we were trying to take advantage of the situation."  

In this Internet age, there is one thing that always follows stories about price gouging: articles by free-market economists and commentators about the economics of price gouging. This is not one of those articles.

This does not mean that these articles are wrong. To the contrary, they are right and needed. Here are statements from three such articles:

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