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The coronavirus economy lives on in suspense, not free fall

Vernon L. Smith

While on spring break from Chapman University, I am now “confined” by the pandemic to my home in Tucson where I live part of the year. The fourth of four COVID-19 cases in Pima County (population just over one million) was announced as I write this — a haven of safety indeed. But street traffic is heavy, the stores crowded, and people are busily surfing the empty shelves and buying from the shelves not yet empty.

Americans are selling securities and buying toilet paper as Donald Trump urges us all to socially distance ourselves at least six feet from each other and limit gatherings to no more than 10. Local stores have announced that oldsters like me will be allowed to shop their empty shelves for one hour before regular opening time.

There is a deep economic lesson hidden in this rush to stock up on ordinary consumer goods, coordinated spontaneously by common fears of supply shortages and stock-outs.

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