The event of toilet paper shortages of March 2020 was our societal initiation into the peculiar COVID-19 era. Now that we are currently facing global supply-chain shortages, people are once again starting to engage in hoarding behavior. The attempt to accumulate scarce goods when confronted with shortages is an understandable response. However, is it a good strategy? From a superficial standpoint, hoarding seems like an optimal strategy, especially when assessing the present market conditions. But being fixated on the current supply shortages does not take into account downstream consequences of hoarding behavior. Whether it is the toilet paper shortages of 2020 or the current supply shortages of 2021, all supply shortages present us with a Prisoner’s Dilemma. This observation is most likely true of all supply shortages past, present, and future.
By definition, a Prisoner’s Dilemma is a situation where players (in this scenario shoppers) believe it is in their best interest to adopt noncooperative strategies; but create suboptimal results. For example, consumer’s hoarding scare commodities can have the following consequences:
1.) Consumers’ opting to hoard a scarce product will only exacerbate current shortages.
2.) The intensified stress placed on the supply chain from hoarding will be reflected in skyrocketing prices (absent any price control measures, e.g., price gouging laws).
3.) Private firms may decide to place purchasing quotas on specific scarce goods.
4.) The increased potential for violent interactions when attempting to obtain scare goods.
While many people may think buying every last roll of toilet paper is a good strategy, several potential ramifications suggest otherwise. Hoarding results in forms of strategic purchasing that pits shopper versus shopper. Consequentially, engenders many social and economic externalities.