How right is the market, anyway?

Expensive water at a Houston-area Best Buy

As Houston lies debilitated by flooding from tropical storm Harvey, reports of price gouging have begun to trickle across the internet. The Texas Office of the Attorney General has fielded more than 700 complaints, including the exorbitant water prices at a Best Buy on Highway 290 pictured above. Best Buy has apologized, saying that employees accidentally priced the 24-packs according to the single-bottle price. Here’s spokesman Shane Kitzman:

As a company we are focused on helping, not hurting affected people. We’re sorry and it won’t happen again. Not as an excuse but as an explanation, we don’t typically sell cases of water. The mistake was made when employees priced a case of water using the single-bottle price for each bottle in the case.

That explanation seems reasonable, but are we to understand that the single-bottle price for 16 ounces of Dasani water is $1.79? That also seems like a lot of money for a substance that, under normal circumstances, comes out of people’s taps at less than half a cent per gallon. But it’s what the market will bear. The price of water is not determined by its value, but by what people are willing to pay.

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Nation relieved by individualized shooting

Pretty much a guide to America, courtesy of Houston's ABC 10

Pretty much a guide to America, courtesy of Houston’s ABC 10

For my money, the most amazing paragraph in the New York Times‘s account of yesterday’s shooting at Lone Star College is the last one, about a teacher administering CPR to a woman who seems to have collapsed in panic:

As Mr. Thomas was trying to revive the woman, she told him that she was more frightened than the others. She said she had survived the Virginia Tech shooting. “She said, ‘I went through this already at Virginia Tech, and I just don’t like this feeling.'”

Now there’s a robust analog. America has become so rattled by the recent string of arbitrary mass shootings that we can’t even handle regular, one-on-one gun violence.

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