Worse than a Murderer?

Jason McBride was arrested for selling gasoline at too high of a price during the shortages that followed Katrina, under an Alabama anti-price-gouging law.  What was the legal price he violated?  Well, the law doesn't actually set a price maximum, it just makes you liable to be arrested if a random government bureaucrat feels like your price is too high.  Mr. McBride followed up with more information on his original story to Christopher Westley at the Mises Blog:

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).

During these same hours that Mr. McBride was shut down by the state, my COO was actually in southern Alabama, desperately driving all over creation looking for anyone who had gas, trying to get any supply he could at any price to prevent him from running out of gas entirely in an unfamiliar state.

Mr. McBride went to jail solely to allow some DA or elected official to get 24 hours of populist media coverage to tell the world that they were "doing something" about high gas prices.

  • http://liberalcommonsense.blogspot.com Lisa Renee

    If he truly bought the gas for $3.29 a gallon I don't see how or why they should have arrested him. Twenty cents a gallon profit should not be considered gouging. I also wonder why some of these newspapers don't actually do research anymore when reporting stories. Had they done so they would have discovered the only front page news should have been the distributer that charged him $3.29 a gallon.

  • Max Lybbert

    Lisa, I agree with you. OTOH, I understand most anti-gouging laws are set based on what the product was selling for last week, not what it cost the store this week.

  • Trainwreck

    Well, if gouging is 25% above the last 30 days average, then the 30 day average must have been $2.79 or less for him to get cited. If the state told him that the max price was $3.09, then they apparently determined that the 30-day average was $2.47. Having worked in a government job before, I can almost guarantee two things: The 30-day average can be calculated in multiple ways (lies, damn lies, and statistics....), and the government can't do anything right in 18 hours or less :-)

  • Chester White

    Damn those price-gouging laborers who are getting $20-25 an hour along the Gulf Coast. Before Katrina they were getting paid $10; now look at the situation! Taking advantage of a disaster to raise their price. The nerve!

    I demand an investigation by the District Attorney into this heinous behavior! NOW!

  • http://www.livelydebate.com/archives/2005/11/28/capitalist-digest-7/ Lively Debate

    Capitalist Digest

    The Carnival of the Capitalists is up. Here is some good reading selected from this week's choices:

    Coytote Blog follows up on the Unfairness of price gouging laws.

    Mises Econmics Blog illustrates how markets work in the wake of Katrina. No reg...