Commentary, COVID-19

The Right defends price gouging during the crisis, but it should remain illegal in NC

Image: AdobeStock

So what’s your take on paying $10 for a roll of toilet paper, $20 for a surgical mask or $99 for a bottle of hand sanitizer? According to ideologues on the market fundamentalist right, such prices and practices are perfectly fine and evidence of the “genius of the market” at work.

In fact, a handful of these folks have been attacking the very existence of laws that restrict price gouging during times of crisis for decades. Several years back, the Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation promoted a report that denied the very existence of the phenomenon by saying:

“From the perspective of economic science, and particularly the subdiscipline known as ‘price theory,’ the concept of ‘price gouging’ or ‘extreme pricing’ or ‘unreasonable pricing’ has no meaning.”

Just this Sunday, the Locke people sent a memo to members of the North Carolina urging them to, among other things, “Repeal or suspend [North Carolina’s] anti-‘gouging’ law.”

Attorney General Josh Stein is continuing to enforce anti-price gouging laws.

Earth to the right wing: Stop! The point of anti-price gouging laws is not to undermine the market but to preserve it. By placing limited restraints on price gouging during disasters, the public is requiring sellers to play by the rules – something that is essential to all successful markets.

In a time of great stress like the present, the last thing we need is for only the wealthy to have access to (or be hoarding) the essentials of life. This is the same brand of every-person-for-him-or-herself immorality that Sen. Richard Burr’s stock dumping evidenced.

Thankfully, at this point, price gouging remains illegal in our state. As Attorney General Josh Stein is making plain on a webpage his office maintains for reporting such incidents:

Price gouging—or charging too much in times of crisis—is against North Carolina law when a disaster, an emergency or an abnormal market disruption for critical goods and services is declared or proclaimed by the Governor or a municipality.

Under the law, the Attorney General’s Office can put a stop to price gouging and seek refunds for consumers who paid too much. The courts may also impose civil penalties against price gougers of up to $5,000 for each violation. The law applies to all levels of the supply chain from the manufacturer to the distributor to the retailer.

Caring and thinking people should speak up to defend this basic premise of a functioning and healthy society.


  1. vasiliy

    March 25, 2020 at 8:55 am

    Communities used to have more informal – and I suspect more effective – treatments for hoarding and profiteering. They included shunning at the mildest end of the spectrum, to tarring & feathering and worse. Maybe some of those ‘traditional values’ ought to make a comeback.

  2. Robert Sommers

    March 25, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    Perhaps we are nearing the time to bring back the guillotine. I believe that that is the historical tool designed to deal with these sorts of problems.

  3. EWM

    March 25, 2020 at 7:08 pm

    Markets don’t point guns at people for trading.

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