Toilet Paper in the Time of Corona

By Farasat Bokhari

Given the corona virus epidemic, hoarding of water bottles, hand sanitizers and toilet papers is now phenomena in many places. Even if you were not initially concerned about a particular item, you hear everyone else is panic buying, and you want to buy it yourself due to fear that it might not be available next week when you need it because others are hoarding and supplies are running short. Hence you buy as well and contribute to the problem as well. Herd mentality at play.

But why toilet paper?

My guess is we want to feel in control and have limited budgets. So we go buy something that is cheap, that we can store easily, and we know at the back of our minds that we are going to use anyway. Thus it can be any item that we that we are going to use a lot of in the foreseeable future with high probability. In that sense there is some randomness to which specific item we focus on, but within the parameters described above. Think of it this way: if Armageddon is coming (and by Armageddon I mean extended shortage of food and related household items), perhaps I should go and buy a lot of canned foods. But if I don’t like canned foods as much, and if the probability of Armageddon in less than one, then I am maybe stuck with lots of unused canned food if Armageddon does not happen (i.e., if there is no long-term food shortages). Thus there is a natural limit to how much canned food and other similar items I will panic buy. But Armageddon or no Armageddon, I still need to poop daily with probability one. So I better buy toilet paper as it is cheap, easy to store, and in the meantime it makes me feel in control of my…

Image Attribution: Indrid__Cold from Halifax, Canada / CC BY-SA

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