As Houston residents struggled with shortages in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, tales of hope and generosity flooded news feeds and social media, with volunteers from all over the country rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to help. Unfortunately, another kind of news story battled for attention as well. Some local businesses hiked up prices of essential goods in order to capitalize on the high demand. In addition, fees for many services went up, with CNBC reporting that some hotels along the evacuation route were tripling and even quadrupling their prices.
The practice, called price gouging, is illegal in Texas, but with authorities focused on rescuing flood victims, enforcement is impossible. Texas officials have received more than 684 complaints; one Houston gas station reportedly charged $20 per gallon for gasoline while another priced cases of water at $99.
Price gouging limits resources necessary for survival to the wealthy population. Victims without exorbitant amounts of money find themselves unable to afford basic commodities like food and water. These citizens are also the ones to have been more likely to be the most ill-prepared for the storm in the first place.
Rather than helping community members come together in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, business owners are seeking to cash in on the resident’s misfortune. It is unfortunate that, at a time when most of the region is banding together to help, there are individuals who take advantage of those who are in desperate situations.
Proponents of price gouging say that high prices help prevent people from hoarding supplies by limiting demand to only those who are truly in need. The problem is, price gouging limits supplies to those who are able to afford them. A more effective way to curb excessive demand and prevent supply hoarding is to ration out goods. By limiting the quantity of supplies customers are able to purchase at once, supplies can be fairly distributed to those who need them most, not just those who can afford them. Numerous gas stations have done just that, limiting customers to a set number of gallons per visit in order to serve the most customers.
Regardless of the intentions, price gouging at any time shows a lack of respect and concern for consumers. When it comes on the heels of a natural disaster, one in which many people found themselves in life-or-death situations and still find themselves struggling to overcome, it is both morally and legally wrong.