Tales of Rationing
By David Henderson
In yesterday’s post, I stated:
David Kennedy makes the claim that rationing was not used extensively in the United States during World War II. I think he’s wrong. Read sometime about how people couldn’t drive their cars due to gas rationing.
Some of the commenters backed me up. I have three tales of rationing: one from my late mother-in-law, one from a friend’s mother, and one from the late David Brinkley.
1. I interviewed my mother-in-law in the late 1990s about her life. She told about how little they had during the war when she lived in Brooklyn. I asked her whether rationing of meat, sugar, etc. was a big deal. She said no. Then she explained that it was a big problem for most people around her but that her father ran a grocery store. Not that she would have put it this way, but the artificially low price of meat made the opportunity cost of meat artificially low and so grocers would use it for their families. With a free market price, the price would have been high and grocers would have conserved. But with a low ceiling price, the grocer would see the opportunity cost as the amount of money he could have earned by selling, not that amount of money plus a ration coupon. (Ration coupons were useless to the retailers who collected them from customers.)
2. The mother of a friend was a young girl during World War II. Her family was close to the family of a butcher. As a result, they got more meat than usual because the butcher violated the rules to give them more meat. Her parents told her not to tell anyone because they were worried about legal consequences. That sounds like serious rationing to me. Interestingly, my friend called his mother this morning, after reading yesterday’s post, to get this story straight. His mother said, “But don’t tell anyone.” This, by the way, is the corrosive effect of government blocking peaceful exchange: it makes people think they are criminals and, 65 years later, she’s still worried about the consequences.
3. In his memoirs, 11 Presidents, 4 Wars, 22 Political Conventions, 1 Moon Landing, 3 Assassinations, 2,000 Weeks of News and Other Stuff on Television, and 18 Years of Growing up in North Carolina, late ABC newsman David Brinkley told of a romance he had in Nashville during World War II with a woman named Virginia Mansell. But then his employer, UP, decided to move him from Nashville to Charlotte, North Carolina. The romance ended. Why? Here are Brinkley’s words:
And in wartime, to get from Charlotte to Nashville to see Virginia was nearly impossible. The new gasoline ration was too small to allow me to drive. Airplane and railroad tickets required a priority.
In short, there was rationing of gasoline, rail tickets, and airline tickets.
No big deal, right? After all, Brinkley married someone else. So read what he wrote next:
So Virginia slipped quietly out of my life, and I never saw her again, but I have never forgotten her for a day.
Rationing, in short, was a big deal.