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Lessons from History: ‘Don’t panic’ buying

2020 isn’t the first time people have stockpiled without reason
Lessons from History: ‘Don’t panic’ buying
  • National crises make people do funny things – stockpiling is one of them
  • Lessons from history can help us understand why this is often foolish

It’s time to talk about panic buying. Not the kind that sees you exit a rescue centre with two Great Danes, a three-legged spaniel and an aggressive cross-breed who hates postmen; but the kind where you buy enough toilet roll to mummify a blue whale – and it’s not just a 2020 thing.

In 1962, John F Kennedy shocked America with a speech that revealed “unmistakeable evidence” of the Soviet missile threat based in Cuba. A terrified America responded by filling their homes with tinned food, torches, batteries and (of course) toilet paper. Some, keen to profit from this fear, took to knocking on front doors offering apocalypse survival kits and radiation shelters. True to the capitalist ideology they were seeking to protect, 30 shelter firms were established in Atlanta in just a few days. In California, a construction company rebranded to become the Nuclear Survival Corporation, shortly followed by the Peace-O-Mind Shelter Corporation in Texas and Survival-All Incorporated in Ohio. One manufacturer even decided to cater for the luxury market, designing a family shelter with a built-in swimming pool.

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