Scientific: Salt, Autobahn, and Free Elections

The good news, for all the friends of free markets, is that Hong Kong is still a free market. Panic-buying in Hong Kong pushed up the retail price of salt to as high as HK$30 a catty, from the usual HK$2, according to the HK Standard (via ESWN). Eating lots of salt may help to ease your fear, but it can also kill you, if you eat too much of it, a warning tweet or other microblog post with a sad story from Zhejiang Province informs us.

Meantime, a saltrush in Guangdong Province has reportedly ebbed away, after several authorities in charge had refuted rumors (辟谣, pì yáo).

Or maybe it was rather once it dawned on the innocent (but chronically wary) buyers that they had been “fooled” yet again. On Friday, after the frenzy, Guangdong Provincial Price Bureau received complaints from citizens who wanted to return their salt bonanzas, and their money back, but were turned down by the retailers, reports the Yangcheng Evening Post (via Enorth). Inevitably, during the days of (occasional, I guess) panic, the Chinese retail market had turned out to be a very free market, too. Yangcheng Evening News also provides us with some salt statistics, courtesy Guangdong Provincial Salt Bureau (广东省盐务局).

The salt-buying frenzy began on March 16, at 2 p.m., and ended on March 18. But even though it lasted only for two days, it amounted to what would regularly be a one-month sales quantity. Some 1,000 tons were sold in Guangzhou on March 17. Normally, it would be 180 to 200 tons a day.

Seems that cool heads mostly prevailed in Guangzhou itself  – but then again, maybe there just wasn’t more salt on offer. Anyway, thinking of five Grannies instead of one buying salt, and near-empty shelves ahead, such situations probably have to lead to a strong sense of competition, for the survival of the fittest. Chaotic scenes were probably rather local phenomenons anyway, from Wednesday through Friday.


Let’s simplify this… how does a traffic jam occur? An experiment in Essen, Northrhine-Westphalia, tries to explain. All participating car drivers were told to keep an unvariable distance to each other, at a constant pace. It worked for ten minutes, which is actually quite good. The supervisor’s explanation: the bigger the differences in individual drivers’ pace, the more likely a jam will occur. On the Autobahn, car speeds differ widely.

Who caused the jam? Nobody knows. The driver who is to blame doesn’t know either. The jam occurs some fifteen to twenty cars further behind him or her. Once you get too close to the rear bumpers of the car in front of you, a chain reaction will occur behind you, as you have to brake, making the car behind you slamming on the brakes (more so than needed, maybe) obliging the next cars in the row to do likewise.

It’s a bit more complicated with buying frenzies, probably, because we have two circular flows here: the chain of buyers, and the stream of supplies.

But the moral of the story is the same: the buggers who cause the problems are likely to get away. Except for that anxious buyer in Zhejiang. He expired – or so the microblog quoted by ESWN is saying -

after taking in too much salt in order to ward off radiation. By the time that his family took him to the hospital, it was too late.

When nothing goes right, blame someone. A tweet as an example (please mind that China in itself is at various  mental developmental stages, and this may be meant seriously, or it may just be a bit of Jasmine fun):

This episode also shows that the Chinese government is failing its people.  The people want salt but there is no salt to be found anywhere.  This is the failure of the government.  If there were free elections, salt would be available to anyone who wants it anytime.

We have free elections in Germany, but we don’t have the universally five-lane autobahn we‘d like to have either.

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Related
Garlic Prices: to Buy is to Believe, May 14, 2010
Zigong (“Salt City”), Wikipedia

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