Jeff Jacoby has an interesting column in today’s Boston Globe about price gouging and why we shouldn’t discourage it.

IMAGINE a system that could instantly respond to a calamity like Hurricane Charley by mobilizing suppliers to speed urgently needed resources to the victims. Imagine that such a system could quickly attract the out-of-town manpower needed for cleanup and repairs, while seeing to it that existing supplies were neither recklessly squandered nor hoarded. Imagine that it could prompt thousands of men and women to act in the public interest, yet not force anyone to do anything against his will.

Actually, there’s no need to imagine. The system already exists. Economists refer to it as the law of supply and demand. Unfortunately, too many journalists and politicians call it by a more pejorative and destructive name: “price-gouging.”

He has an interesting point. It would be more interesting still if it weren’t so eerily similar to one made by Mark Kleiman three days ago, though.

The textbook analysis has a lot to be said for it: not only does the higher price encourage people to use as little as they can of the temporarily scarce good and encourage potential suppiers to spend what they need to spend in order to rush new supplies to the market, the prospect of higher prices encourages stockpiling in advance of potential disasters by merchants and consumers alike. (Since no one can cause a hurricane, there’s no reason to fear perverse incentives.)

I’m not accusing Jacoby of plagiarism, though others have done so in the past and not without cause. However, it does seem like someone who’s paid for their original insight could do a lot better than to get their ideas from right-wing chain letters (the “fates of the signers” incident that got him suspended from the Globe for four months) or from weblogs. Is the laissez-tricher right so incapable of formulating an original argument that they must resort to reprinting as though it were original one that’s handed to them by someone like Kleiman? The answer, apparently, is that they are.