To understand what’s happening today, very often all you need to do is study history. As we deal with the global pandemic, we’re also dealing with human nature and the panic buying that is resulting in shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and even yeast (as many have realized that it is possible to make bread at home). The video below shows us that this behavior (“the self-eating snake of stupidity”) is nothing new. Using examples including the Cuban Missile Crisis, Y2K, and even the election of Barack Obama, we see the human instinct to copy the behavior of crowds and create shortages, despite there being an ample supply of those items.

I’d add a Not Safe for Work (NSFW) warning but since you’re probably not watching this from work at this point, I’ll just note that there’s some language in the video that you may not want to broadcast loudly to others in your home.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


7 Thoughts on "A History of Panic Buying"

We just had our own version of panic ‘buying’ when we moved from a retrieval and pickup model for access to the our library print collection, to no access. On the last day we saw a tenfold increase in requests. I wonder how many of those books will remain unopened when this situation is over.

Thanks for the mention of yeast. I thought it would be a great opportunity to pull out the bread machine and make bread with my daughter. My mom made bread from scratch every Wednesday while we were growing up. The couple of times I’ve been to the store, no yeast in sight. I couldn’t believe it.

Same here! I do make bread often. And not a single packet of yeast anywhere nowadays! I wonder how many of those will be left unopened or thrown away once a couple of attempts have not turned as expected!
(Brilliant video!)

Suppose its the Russell Brand-like persona that catalyzed this post. Mildly amusing. Yawn.

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