As recent survivors of Superstorm Sandy, my family has been focused this week on being thankful for the things we have. As I tell my kids, gratitude is largely a matter of attitude, but it's especially poignant when you see the struggles of our neighbors and friends in Long Beach, south Queens, and Staten Island. Maybe the most frustrating single aspect of this entire Sandy experience has been watching politicians pat each other on the back while they posture over ridiculous consumer protection laws designed to prosecute price gougers.
In the aftermath of the storm last week, when I realized that my family was safe and our home largely undamaged after Long Island Sound crept up into my front yard only to recede and leave my home intact, I was overcome with relief. I think my next sentient thought was probably what needed to be done to return to normal. Generators were not to be found, along with extension cords, batteries, gas cans, and a whole host of other predictable items. But I don't think anyone could have predicted the immense inconvenience of gasoline scarcity. The lines to get gas have been, and remain, despite rationing, hours and hours long.
The scarcity of gasoline, and the resultant lifestyle changes that have been forced upon us, made me start thinking, why can't we get gasoline? A day or so later, I heard about the first prosecutions and fines for price gougers selling gasoline in New Jersey at what the government alleges are inflated prices. Governor Christie sounded so pleased with himself, protecting consumers by fining the evil profiteers who would dare to sell gas at prices determined by someone in Governor Christie's administration to be too high. But what the media hasn't done a very good job of explaining is how these kinds of prosecutions, and indeed the entirety of the price gouging laws themselves, actually prevent needed goods and services from being available in an area affected by a disaster like Sandy.