Hoarding | Enough Already!

Stockpiling the larder is an unpleasant side effect of panic. It does not show people at their best. It is illogical, but apparently irresistible.

We insult each other as a “dog” a “rat”, or a “snake,” as “catty” or “bird-brained”. Now it is the turn of the cute little hamster, famous for cramming his cheek pouches full of food for future consumption. In German, Hamsterkauf is hoarding, something unsettlingly visible these days on the empty shelves in our local supermarkets and drug stores. Loo paper and pasta seem to be the favorites, not necessarily in that order. Why would anyone need more of either just because they are staying home?

The funny video prize probably goes to the daily Kurier, funny, that is, if it weren’t so sad. It shows a motorcycle draped out with more than a dozen packs of toilet paper and as many shopping bags of hamster supplies, a sort of Christmas tree of contraband. As the driver attempts to move off the overloaded vehicle tips over, sending the man sprawling onto the tarmac. Justice of a kind.

Stockpiling seems to be a human reaction to pandemics and other imminent apocalypses. Hefty hoarding was recorded during the devastating Antonine plague in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180), probably right here in the Roman settlement of Vindobona. And in the run up to the anticipated Y2K computer crash (midnight December 31, 1999), US doomsayers had been stocking the family bunkers with bottled water, canned food, frozen pizza and (this is America, baby) ammunition. Authorities may not approve, but rarely step in to prevent it.

There are exceptions in the present crisis: According to news source Al Arabiya, the Iranian attorney general announced March 2 that hoarding coronavirus supplies will punishable by death. So with a painful spill outside the supermarket, our Austrian motorcyclist got off relatively lightly.

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.


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