I recently heard from Jason McBride, who was the subject of my last Mises.org article, “The Right to Set Your Own Price”. McBride, a gas station owner from Aliceville, Alabama, was arrested for violating Alabama’s “anti-gouging” law on the day that Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast.Jason told me that there was more to the story than what had been reported in the newspapers. He said that the price he charged for a gallon of gas that day was actually $3.49 (not the $3.69 that was reported) and that he purchased that gas that very day for $3.29 a gallon. He said that this information was provided to the district attorney during his investigation.
But there’s more. Jason told me that he sold gas for only three hours at the $3.49 price until he received a call of complaint from the D.A.’s office. His response was to shut down his pumps until the the State of Alabama contacted him with a “correct price.” His pumps were shut down for 18 hours until the state told him he could sell gasoline for $3.09 a gallon. This happened in the midst of a crisis when consumer demand for gasoline increased dramatically.
Despite his bending over backwards to comply with the law, and despite zero evidence of malicious intent, the district attorney’s office still arrested him. His picture was on the front page of a state newspaper the next day (while, he pointed out, a report on a murder was relegated to page 6).
Needless to say, he told me that this experience has been very difficult for him. Some might think that trying to provide goods people need in the midst of a disaster is heroic. But those people probably don’t work for the State of Alabama.