The Covid-19 crisis has brought a rash of panic buying off market shelves. While officials and commentators try to calm the public and argue that such behavior is irrational, fear has taken over. Franklin Roosevelt’s reassuring words during his first inaugural address that, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” does not seem to have the same calming impact in modern day America. 

Following long lines at grocery outlets, the mayor of Los Angeles and others have asked consumers to stop hoarding goods and produce. But as the news about contagion grows, the concern is more people will seek to stock up afraid that if they wait too long they will not have access to goods. 

Could that mean we will soon be visited with another phenomenon from FDR’s era: rationing?

Governor Newsom took more emergency actions yesterday in an effort to stall the spread of the virus. He ordered the closure of all bars, breweries and pubs while calling for restaurants to cut their occupancy in half. Further, he called for all seniors 65 and over to remain in their homes and prohibited nursing home visits.

The response to the Covid-19 virus in moving California to a war-like footing.

During World War II, the United States ordered rationing through a system of ration stamps. As summarized on the United States History website

“Red Stamp” rationing covered all meats, butter, fat, and oils, and with some exceptions, cheese. Each person was allowed a certain amount of points weekly with expiration dates to consider. “Blue Stamp” rationing covered canned, bottled, frozen fruits and vegetables, plus juices and dry beans, and such processed foods as soups, baby food and ketchup. Ration stamps became a kind of currency with each family being issued a “War Ration Book.” Each stamp authorized a purchase of rationed goods in the quantity and time designated, and the book guaranteed each family its fair share of goods made scarce, thanks to the war.

The country again is facing a global threat. Rationing during the war was as much to be sure the troops were properly supplied as the civilian population had access to essentials. As the federal, state, and local governments issue more mandates to try and control spread of the disease, rationing to both protect and assure the population that they will have the goods that they need to weather the current storm is not an unlikely scenario.

Will history repeat itself?