EDITORIAL: Supply and demand or price-gouging?

Photo taken from: writinglives.org

There is an old Bill Trotman (comedian/calypsonian from Trinidad) joke about a woman taking a shower and musing about the rising cost of living. In her soliloquy, she complains that, “Sugar gone up, rice gone up, flour gone up, gasoline gone up, cooking-oil gone up . . . ,” and well, we know how that story ends. Now, while that is a rather humorous look at the rising cost of living, the reality that we are facing here in Antigua, and the wider region, is no joke. Visit any supermarket or grocery store and you are bound to experience ‘sticker shock.’  Stroll the aisles and you are likely to observe shoppers looking at price tags and rolling their eyes or cussin’ under their breaths.  And of course, if you’re like most of us, you have to put one or two items back on the shelves  –  too expensive!

Consider the following from an August 30, 2017 expose by one of our dogged reporters here at OBSERVER media, “Consumers in Antigua and Barbuda are lamenting an increase in the cost of living to include food, clothing and footwear, transportation, rent and utilities. The complaints were backed by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which showed that the annual rate for consumer prices increased by 2.9 percent in April and June, and 3 percent in May this year.” Hmmm! And the intriguing, and dare we say disturbing, study did not end there. We submit for your further consideration this factoid from the CPI report from the Statistics Division, “Over the last 12 months, the food index rose 1.9 percent as six of the nine food group indices increased. These included food items which rose 6.3 percent, and fruit and vegetables which increased 6.2 percent.”  Of course, we could go on and on with the gory details, but you get the point – the cost of living in Antigua has been steadily going up.

Which brings us to a little over a month after that discomfiting CPI report, and we find an alarming rise in food and other prices. Naturally, the villains du jour for these increases are hurricanes Maria and Irma. Indeed, when supermarket representatives are questioned as to the sudden jump in prices, they nonchalantly shrug and say, “You know, the hurricanes. Things scarce!” Yep! The hurricanes are the scapegoats for the recent spike. And most shoppers sigh and accept the explanation. It seems logical, and it appears to stand to reason that with Dominica’s agricultural sector in ruins, that food prices, especially produce, will escalate. But that does not explain the uptick in the prices of hardware materials, like nails, screws and plywood. Or does it? After all, there was quite a demand for those items in the run-up to hurricanes Irma and Maria. Again, it stands to reason that those items will quickly become hard to find, and the prices will quickly go up. It is the law of supply and demand. Laissez faire entrepreneurship in its purest form! Market forces at work!

 But wait! Should there not be some protections for the consumer? Should we be at the mercy of the market or the whims and fancies of unscrupulous and unconscionable store owners? Should there not be some governmental controls? Hell, yes! The public ought to be protected from those store owners who, under the cover of a disaster, raise prices astronomically and take advantage of the consumers. Seems, we need the Prices and Consumer Affairs Division to be more proactive and vigilant in preventing artificial price hikes. In that regard, we are calling on Miss Colette Brown, deputy director for that division to be vigilant. An investigation should be launched to ferret out cases of too-high-a-markup on items in our stores and supermarkets. In much the same way that the Central Board of Health went into supermarkets earlier this year to clear shelves of goods with expired dates, we urge Brown and her team to protect us from the greed of those who might be perversely tempted to not let this crisis go to waste.

Supply and demand? We hope so! Price-gouging? That’s a no-no! Clear the shelves! No one’s buying those over-priced goods!

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