With covid I've seen many calls to leave things for others:
Let's set aside for the moment whether these are accurate,  does
this kind of thing work? These are all cases where at the current
price there are many more people who want the thing than people who
can supply the thing. In normal times the price would rise until
these balanced, but in emergencies our society has chosen not to allow
that. Let's say you're considering buying store-brand kidney beans, a
WIC-eligible item, the last one on the shelf. If you choose not
to buy it, what happens?
One possibility is that it stays on the shelf until someone who can
only buy the store brand of kidney beans comes along, and they're able to buy
it. Another is that someone who doesn't know to look for the WIC
symbol comes along, and they buy it instead.
There are about 7M
people covered by WIC in the US, out of a population of 330M, so 1 in
50 shoppers is a decent estimate for what fraction care about the WIC
status of items. This means that whether leaving it for someone else
is likely to work depends enormously on whether you expect most of
society to be going along with it. If it's just you and a few other
scrupulous people, probably someone else who isn't on WIC buys the
kidney beans, while if nearly everyone is doing this then it probably works.
The thing is, though, getting everyone on board with one of these,
distributing the message widely so that everyone hears it, explaining
the details of why it matters so people agree and go along with it, is
really hard! And pretty much all the time, instead of putting out
calls for individuals to leave things for others it makes more sense
for sellers to apply restrictions. For example, UK supermarkets have
been trying to restrict
delivery to vulnerable people and US supermarkets have been
designating hours for vulnerable
people and essential workers.
Avoiding things in the hope that someone who especially needs them
will be able to get them instead usually won't work, and isn't a very
tradeoff. If you do want to improve distribution in situations
like this, encouraging sellers to prioritize is likely much more
valuable. Alternatively, look for ways to shift demand to other
things and work around
 For example, in MA distribution of EBT is staggered
throughout the month, but "don't buy on 4/1" was still going around
in local groups here.
Comment via: facebook
Don't buy masks, leave them for healthcare workers.
I think it's better to say "Don't buy masks through channels healthcare workers would use". I think it's the time to buy masks from China via Amazon.
There are plenty of Chinese vendors that are using factories that aren't FDA certified.
It's possible that the masks won't arrive or won't be up to the quality standards but I think they are likely better then home-made cloth masks. If the masks won't arrive because customs takes the masks to be used for other purposes Amazon has good policies to get you your money back.
Alright, I'll push back a little.
I think your numbers are off. My understanding (mostly from this NYT piece) is that WIC also renews the first of the month, at least in many areas. Many people were hit extra hard in March (less income, less support available from community orgs, less food from work or supplies from daycare). I would expect that on Apr 1-2, it could easily have been 1 in 25 shoppers who were WIC-eligible, or even much higher. And, making up numbers, I am going to say that for any given WIC-eligible SKU, maybe half of WIC participants and 10% of other shoppers would want that item. So of people who might buy that can of kidney beans, I could easily believe 1 in 5 or even 1 in 3 were WIC. WIC products are often *more expensive* than similar non-WIC options, because they have built-in, non-price-sensitive demand.
Yes, it would probably be better if we could set aside 3 hours on Apr 1 for WIC and EBT shopping only. It would come with tons of its own issues, but it is at least theoretically possible. But, I think individual actions those couple of days, in parts of the country where those were the relevant days, have more impact than you are guessing.
I do think that it can be a problem when the government or grocery stores try to determine who 'deserves' masks, or delivery slots, where there isn't a litmus test like WIC or EBT. The availability of these things have not been able to keep up with demand, and there is no way I can see to allocate them appropriately short of some application process that will take a lot of time to set up and probably still miss-allocate.
Should all masks go to medical workers? As a first priority, probably yes. But what about our friend whose kid came out of the NICU a month ago? Does that family not 'deserve' masks to try to keep their baby alive, too? What about immunocompromised and asthmatics who are performing essential jobs outside of healthcare? Or those that take care of senior citizens? At some point 'think twice, and then a third time, before ordering masks that might save someone else's life' starts to look like about as good as we can do at allocation.
Similarly, I would love it if there were a system where when doctors order a quarantine, they can put that person's name in a database for delivery priority. Same with high-risk individuals. As it is, many folks under medical quarantine are relying on friends and neighbors - often elderly friends and neighbors - to deliver groceries. Or in some cases they aren't eating well because they can't get groceries for weeks.
Until these shortages are over or these systems are set up to address them, I do think there is non-negligible marginal benefit to pushing a 'to each according to need' mentality. Many people are looking for small ways to help those hardest hit, and I think this falls into that category.
When accurate, of course. If someone posts encouraging action based on information that is not locally valid, there is no reason not to gently correct that!