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Price Gougers: Public Enemies

Liquid gold in plague time (Glasshouse Images/Getty Images)

In The Plague, Camus’ hero, Dr. Rieux, tells some colleagues in the plague-stricken city of Oran that the only way to get through it is with “common decency.” In that light, somebody needs to go upside the head of creeps like this:

On March 1, the day after the first coronavirus death in the United States, brothers Matt and Noah Colvin set out in a silver S.U.V. to pick up some hand sanitizer. Driving around Chattanooga, Tenn., they hit a Dollar Tree, then a Walmart, a Staples and a Home Depot. At each store, they cleaned out the shelves.

Over the next three days, Noah Colvin took a 1,300-mile road trip across Tennessee and into Kentucky, filling a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes, mostly from “little hole-in-the-wall dollar stores in the backwoods,” his brother said. “The major metro areas were cleaned out.”

Matt Colvin stayed home near Chattanooga, preparing for pallets of even more wipes and sanitizer he had ordered, and starting to list them on Amazon. Mr. Colvin said he had posted 300 bottles of hand sanitizer and immediately sold them all for between $8 and $70 each, multiples higher than what he had bought them for. To him, “it was crazy money.” To many others, it was profiteering from a pandemic.

The next day, Amazon pulled his items and thousands of other listings for sanitizer, wipes and face masks. The company suspended some of the sellers behind the listings and warned many others that if they kept running up prices, they’d lose their accounts. EBay soon followed with even stricter measures, prohibiting any U.S. sales of masks or sanitizer.

Now, while millions of people across the country search in vain for hand sanitizer to protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus, Mr. Colvin is sitting on 17,700 bottles of the stuff with little idea where to sell them.

He is even more horrible than it seems:

Mr. Colvin does not believe he was price gouging. While he charged $20 on Amazon for two bottles of Purell that retail for $1 each, he said people forget that his price includes his labor, Amazon’s fees and about $10 in shipping. (Alcohol-based sanitizer is pricey to ship because officials consider it a hazardous material.)

Current price-gouging laws “are not built for today’s day and age,” Mr. Colvin said. “They’re built for Billy Bob’s gas station doubling the amount he charges for gas during a hurricane.”

He added, “Just because it cost me $2 in the store doesn’t mean it’s not going to cost me $16 to get it to your door.”

Read it all.

The government should confiscate emergency supplies from price gougers like Matt Colvin and distribute them free to the needy. And when this is over, if there are legal charges to pursue against people like him, I hope the state will do so. This is wicked to do this to people who are trying to protect themselves and their families. Matt Colvin, and people like him — the Times says there are “thousands” across the country — are profiting off the suffering of others. He’s common, as the old folks say, but he ain’t decent.

Matt Colvin apparently has no idea what kind of man he is. He ought to have been ashamed to have appeared in The New York Times, outing himself as a price gouger. It seems like he feels sorry for himself.

UPDATE: A more merciful strategy:

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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