Hoarding and rationing

Like most Americans my family and I are practicing “social distancing” to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. We are in Northern Virginia. My elderly parents (one disabled, one with dementia) are hundreds of miles away in Colorado. Neither drive or should go out, so I have been looking after them from afar–sending groceries, pet supplies, and medication using online services. (Both of my parents are luddites and its just easier for me to do it–trust me on this).

you’re hoarding…toilet paper?

Last weekend (29-30 March), although successful in finding basic food, I was unable to find toilet paper for my parents. Hysteria over the pandemic made people stock up on groceries and supplies three weeks ago, but we missed the panic buying. We further assumed that by now, stocks would be replenished, but the hoarding continues. Now mom and dad are down to their last two rolls and all of their local grocery stores are out of T.P.

Even Amazon can’t deliver until May 7.

Thank God for a old friend in Denver who had some extra TP that she dropped off with my folks yesterday.

Crisis averted, but it got me thinking about hoarding, rationing, and human behavior.


Last week, there was this story about two assholes in Tennessee who drove around Tennessee and Kentucky buying up all of the hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes they could find. They planned to sell them at a big mark up–$70 for a bottle of Purell. According to press, Amazon refused to allow them to use their online services to resell Purell and finally the Tennessee Attorney General stepped in and stopped them.

The government and retailers are cracking down on hoarding behavior: limiting the number of items a customer can purchase, refusing to refund key goods, and introducing anti-hoarding legislation.

It’s one of the strangest things about these very strange times we are living in.

rationing in world war ii

Since this is a blog about the homefront, it naturally got me thinking about rationing during World War II.

Rationing was instituted in May 1942, roughly six months after Pearl Harbor. The US Government through the Office of Price Administration (OPA) instituted rationing–a system that limited the number of goods a person could buy. At this time, key goods were diverted for the war effort and there was expected trade disruption due to the war. For example, rubber was imported to the US from the Pacific islands.

Typical rationed goods were automobiles, tires, gasoline, fuel oil, coal, firewood, nylon, silk, shoes, as well as food goods such as sugar, butter, and canned milk.

Rationed goods could be purchased in limited quantities and were tracked using ration books like the ones below that I found in my grandmother’s things. (Side note: how beautiful was her penmanship?).

black market

The black market thrived during wartime. I never really thought about it before, except when watching Casablanca, and it seemed to be a heroic deed. Then, I came across this Washington Post article: Want to be a Hollywood villain? Try hoarding during the pandemic.  

Comply with rationing, resist hoarding, avoid the black market. Important lessons from an earlier generation.

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