Police, like any resource, is scarce: there simply is not enough to satisfy every want and need.
Because of this simple fact, anti-price-gouging legislation has two perverse effects on a disaster. The first, and the one economists tend to focus on, is what I discussed the other day, namely that price controls create shortages. The other, as the title of this post would suggest, is even more of an immediate threat to life and limb.
If police resources are diverted toward price-gouging enforcement, then that means there are fewer police resources for search and rescue operations! A cop who has to spend his time making sure merchants don’t charge too much is not spending his time looking for people, or preventing looting, or distributing goods.
Just your daily reminder: scarcity is a thing