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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Friday links! It’s only fair edition

Senator Randy Paul (R–KY) invites you to watch him take a dump.

Senator Rand Paul (R–KY) invites you to watch him take a dump.

After children have lost their other innate abilities—when they can no longer recognize facial expressions or manipulate objects, but instead swipe feebly at whatever images they hope to change—they will still have a keen sense of what’s fair. Fair is I get what you get. If you are, for example, one of a numerical minority of Americans whose parents were legally kept as slaves five generations ago, and you are twice as likely to be born into poverty and roughly one fifth as likely to successfully hail a cab, it’s unfair that I don’t get to say the n-word. I thought racism was supposed to be over, but here we are giving people special privileges. Today is Friday, which is totally unfair to Thursday, when you think about it. Won’t you forget where we came from with me?

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