Stocking up, running out, and waiting for more… Contingent Consumerism

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Consumerism in America usually follows a typical pattern: consumers buy goods when they either want or need them and they tend to stay within their own budgets. Yet when Hurricane Sandy threatened to rip New Jersey apart, this typical pattern changed. People were no longer buying their typical grocery items, but rather they went to the stores and bought things to survive the storm. Supermarkets and stores were running out of water, batteries, flashlights, and candles faster than they were able to order more. Generators were seen flying out of Home Depots and Lowes as if they were the last ones ever made.  After the storm, people waited hours outside of store for generator shipments to arrive, buying them right off the truck.  All of these items are typically a secondary good that most of us wouldn’t think about on a normal day.

Once power was lost any items requiring the use of electricity decreased in value. Items that may have been seen as a novelty, such as wood for occasional use of a fireplace increased in value. Canned food, water, and gas all items that are abundant in non crisis situations became scarce. Consumers changed their buying habits to reflect what resources they had access to and believed to be vital to their survival and because of the unknown aspect of the restoration of power they purchased those products in excess.

Businesses with electricity tried to attract consumers who were still in the dark by offering them a
chance to use the technology they lost when the lights went out.  Stores set up phone charging stations for customers.  Places that offer free wifi, like Starbucks, were packed with people.  Just the ability to once again experience modern conveniences was a commodity in itself.

Other commodities were also becoming more necessary than they were pre-Sandy. Electrical companies, tree-removal companies, and other establishments tried their best to recover and fix all that was damaged. Many people were now forced to work 12-16 hour workdays in order to help out those most affected by the storm.

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One comment

  1. jiep90

    In Naomi Klien’s article, “Hurricane Sandy: beware of America’s disaster capitalism”, she very effectively reflects much of what is mentioned in this blog. Klein also expands into further detail about the concept of Disaster Capitalism, which refers to companies attempts to take advantage of consumer vulnerability by raising prices and storm survival essentials. She mentions what she calls ” the Shock Doctrine”, which describes large corporations approaches to disasters and the emphasis on deregulation. Businesses and large corporations are like children on christmas morning when faced with a storm. With limited supply and increased demand, businesses like Walmart are able to raise their prices. However, ethically this is not right; people severely affected by the storm are already spending on repairs and undoing the damage of Hurricane Sandy. Therefore, necessities should not be overpriced during an emergency situation. Along with businesses, workers can also rejoice in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, as they were working long hours to repair the damage that affected the northeast. The longer hours make for a larger paycheck, which is a gift right before the holiday season.

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