20 March 2020

Shahar Hameiri: “The real story behind panic-buying and hoarding is the collapse of trust in the state’s capacity to address serious societal problems. Many people can no longer see an alternative other than market or barbarism. Either they look after their families’ own needs, or no one will. In this context, hoarding appears rational. This much-bemoaned collapse in public trust did not occur all on its own. It is a result of decades of piecemeal changes to the role of government and public institutions, accompanied by constant messaging from political leaders urging people to become self-reliant in the market — ‘lifters’, not ‘leaners’ in former Treasurer Joe Hockey’s formulation. … In response to supply shortages in supermarkets, for example, the Australian government has largely attempted to cajole private companies and individuals. But why should individuals stop hoarding? For decades they have been told not to expect assistance from the state. It was up to them to gain sought-after qualifications to be competitive in the job marketplace, find a place to live, look after their retirement and so on. And their suspicion of the state’s impotence, if not indifference, is not unfounded. It was created by design.”