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Is it ethical to stockpile groceries during the coronavirus crisis?
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Nationwide shortages are caused by people stockpiling resources

There is no disruption in the supply chain process that is causing this phenomenon. Shortages are occurring because people are unnecessarily stockpiling items. Driven by the irrational behavior of a few, entire communities begin stockpiling which results in shortages.

The Argument

As COVID-19 cases surged throughout the world, an interesting consumer phenomenon began developing. People’s basements were piled high with stacks of toilet paper and refrigerators began overflowing with non-perishable food items such as canned beans. Supermarkets witnessed paper towel sales increase by 154% while hand sanitizer sales soared by more than 200% compared to sales in March of just last year. [1]This was all caused by people stockpiling resources. Consumers began to increasingly buy enormous quantities of products and this irrational behavior prompted many others to do the same. It is not ethical to stockpile as this practice directly resulted in nationwide shortages. These temporary shortages were not due to disruptions in the economy and production frontier but rather due to unjustified, herd-mentality consumer behavior. As people began growing highly suspicious of the duration of the lockdown period, it became evident that one needs to reduce outdoor trips as much as possible. In order to do this, people began to buy as many non-perishable items as they could carry during single runs to the supermarket. Once a few irrational shoppers began this habit, others were quickly driven into the same practice through herd behavior. This concept implies that when people observe a new pattern of behavior during uncertain times, others start following this pattern. As more and more people begin observing this behavior, they also start resorting to it and it quickly becomes a snowball effect. While people who hit supermarkets earlier were able to secure essential items, later shoppers witnessed a shortage of items. Videos of elderly people standing in the middle of aisles swept clean of products were widely circulated on social media platforms. Supermarkets were not able to restock at the same rate they were running out of items. Massive floods of panic were incited as the media began to develop entire news feeds around them. All of this caused huge disruptions in economies and countries that were already hit hard by the pandemic. This provoked people to question, if only they had been a bit more rational with their buying behavior, maybe this whole consumer crisis could have been avoided.

Counter arguments

Shortages are not a result of frantic buying but they are a direct consequence of the lack of items being produced. During a time such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a must for factories and companies to realize that people are going to buy more quantities of non-perishable items and sanitary products. Therefore, it was their responsibility to recognize this and produce more such products before-hand. As COVID-19 raged in China during December of 2019 and into 2020, it became evident to economies around the world that many logistical issues will arise from such disruptions. [2]They also witnessed a rise in demand for certain products such as hand sanitizers. Yet, factories did not heed these early signs and produce more of these items. Just as predicted, when the pandemic intensified in countries around the globe, consumers' preferences and demands also increased and shifted. However, economies were not ready to meet consumer demands which lead to shortages. While stockpiling added to this pre-existing problem, it was not the ultimate reason that shortages occurred.



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 16 Jun 2020 at 19:57 UTC

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