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  • Writer's pictureRob

What hoarding really means

So. This dipshit.

A lot of people (rightfully) dunked on this guy last week. He saw a health crisis forming and instead of thinking of a way to help, his first thought was "how can I make money on this?" He's not alone, of course; there have been other such dipshits in the news even more recently.

But some good can still come out of this story (well, besides his decision to eventually donate the hand sanitizer); I want to use him to make a larger point.

I've seen a lot of online comments on this story that went along the lines of "I believe in capitalism, but this just wrong." As if this was some aberration, some shameful corruption of what's otherwise a pristine and beautiful thing.

But it's not. What this guy did is exactly normal and predictable behavior under capitalism. In fact it represents the final, stable form that unregulated capitalism always strives to move toward.

Lots of people in the U.S. say they "like capitalism" or "believe in capitalism," and of course we do, because it's drilled into us from an early age. But what people really mean when they say that is they like the competition. They like having choices of which cell phone to buy, which restaurant to eat at, which brand of pasta to buy at the store. And competition is great! It means consumers have more choices, and it means sellers are constantly pushing one another to offer better products, better deals, faster delivery. It means they can't just rake in as much profit as they want, because that opens a window for someone else to draw away their business by offering a better deal.

Which, of course, is why businesses hate competition.

The natural, equilibrium end-state of unregulated capitalism isn't a free-market paradise where competition is fierce and prices are low; it's monopoly or collusion, it's the firm with all the resources doing anything and everything it can to squash any threats to its market share. It's throwing money at lobbyists and donating to election campaigns to make sure regulations stay favorable. It's price wars to undercut firms with less capital, outlast them, and then pushing prices right back up.

It's dipshits in Tennessee cornering the market on hand sanitizer.

So I try to keep in mind when people say they "believe in capitalism," what they really mean is they "believe in competition." And I do too! Competition really does bring out the best in people.

But never forget: the good part of capitalism, the competition, is an unintended side effect at best. If we take the leash off capitalism, relax antitrust laws, even for a moment, it'll be gone and we'll have garages full of medical supplies.

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