Report from Naples
By David Henderson
Former star student Thomas Strenge wrote me an interesting email and gave me permission to quote. What follows below is my slightly edited version of what he wrote.
My Mom lives about 10 miles inland from Naples and her experience of Hurricane Irma offers great economics lessons. And yes, she holds popular misconceptions on price gouging, even though I try to explain it to her.
. Gas stations ran out as early as Wednesday (Hurricane didn’t approach until late afternoon on Saturday). My guess is that the panic making by media and public officials combined with the lack of price increases depleted supplies. I’m sure truckers were unwilling to make deliveries down South without a risk premium, which couldn’t be paid without price increases.
. Supermarkets also experienced panic buying.
. Collier County (which includes Naples) announced mandatory evacuation, but Mom decided to stay. She was on the inland side, at least 10 miles from shore, but even predicted storm flooding never reached more than 5 miles. Also, she built her house soundly and her roof line is lower than the surrounding trees of the adjacent nature preserve. Many of her neighbors opted likewise. (Local knowledge versus central planning)
. Also, the government shelters either did not accept pets or required them to be caged. Apparently, Florida authorities are now pursuing legal charges against those who abandoned their pets. (Kafkaesque?)
. The storm stayed offshore, but was plenty scary. Mom suffered damage to her yard, but the house was fine. She lost power and cell phone coverage.
. On Monday, after driving for an hour, she was able to call us and let us know she’s OK.
. Today, cellphone coverage continues to improve and she was able to call repeatedly.
. Anecdotally, the old style wooden power line poles appear to have survived better than the newer style concrete power line poles. Wood can bend in the wind. Concrete snaps at some point. Electricity is not expected until some time next week.
. The local police department refused to let her charge her phone. Apparently, citizens able to report an issue is not important to the government. Luckily, the local fire department was much more helpful.
. Ironically, Mom noticed that government utility vehicles were idle, apparently due to lack of gas.
. Both McDonald’s and Publix Supermarkets opened today with generator power. McDonald’s offered a slimmed down menu of chicken mcnuggets and cheeseburgers. No special orders, but you could get as much as you wanted. Drive-thru only. Publix did experience panic buying and people bought everything, including detergent (if you have no power, then you can’t do laundry!). (Bounded rationality?)
. Mom learned of openings/availability through private conversations. Little useful government communication.
. Things are hot, but all in all not bad, and improving rapidly. Main roads are passable. And neighbors are helping each other clear debris from roads/houses/driveways. Private sector is outperforming government.
Thomas (from comfy Kansas City)
Note from DRH: Today or tomorrow I will post about some interesting survey results on laws against price gouging.