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"Price Gouging" Laws: Ten Research Areas in the Economics of Unintended Consequences

By Michael Giberson -- December 11, 2012

For most economists, the workings of “price gouging” laws are simple and predictable. Binding price caps in emergencies create shortages on the most urgently needed goods and services during emergencies.

The recommended policy reform is simple, too: stop harming citizens when they can least afford it!

It would seem to be an open-and-shut case, a slam dunk for economics to inform the electorate and thus policymakers to avoid such folly. Remember the gasoline lines and natural gas shortages of the 1970s? Perhaps no simple event has convinced mainstream economists that price controls have bad consequences despite intention.

Defenders of economic liberty have an even easier argument: merchants ought to be free to ask what ever price they like for the goods and services they offer. Price gouging laws unjustly limit that freedom and government ought not to do that.