Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Creating a crisis out of... Well, nothing

It's funny how crises work. With a possible strike by fuel tanker drivers coming, the sensible thing for people to do is to stick to their regular pattern of filling up the tank. If nothing else, most cars need filled up about once a week, and there has to be a minimum of 7 days notice given for a strike, anyway, so panic buying now is just insane.

In fact, panic buying in general is a bad idea. If we all just keep calm and carry on as normal, then that pretty much gives us the best use of our reserves - people who need fuel can generally get it, until there finally comes a point where there simply is no more fuel left, at which point we'd all just need to adapt anyway. The only people who should be building a reserve are those who genuinely need to stay on the road - the emergency services and the like.

Actually, it's much like the heavy snows of the winter before last - the advice was for people to avoid travelling unless they absolutely had to... at which point almost everyone decided that they absolutely had to. In truth, very often the reality is that no, you do not absolutely have to travel.

Of course, just because that's how it should work doesn't mean that that is how it does work. Instead, at the merest hint of a strike, people started panic buying. As a result, there were massive queues at filling stations (which isn't good for anyone), and some stations ran dry (which isn't good for anyone).

It's madness. Unfortunately, it's also very human, and probably inevitable.

Sadly, as soon as some people start panic-buying, this then flips the rational response to the situation. Suddenly, it is no longer sensible to just keep calm and follow your normal pattern - as soon as people start hoarding in any numbers, you too need to join the throng. Otherwise, you're liable to find yourself the only person who doesn't have a full tank of petrol - and when you're the only person who can't get to work, that's a rather different matter for your employer than when nobody can get to work.

In effect, we're in the process of creating a crisis for ourselves where none should exist. Exactly like we do every time it snows, and the entire road network grinds to a completely unnecessary halt.

Still, it could be worse. It's not like Francis Maude is advising people to stock up... Oh.


Chris Brind said...

Don't forget to stock up on stamps and pasties too!

Cap'n Ric said...

I'm not sure whether the government are numpties or geniuses (in this particular case).

Numpties - by telling people that if you're just passing a petrol station, topping up that extra third of a tank is a sensible precaution you risk the system grinding to a halt. If the average car has 50% of a tank in it, and suddenly you're telling everyone (and I really do mean everyone - they may think that it's a sensible precaution for an individual, but we're a nation of individuals) to keep the tank at 100%, you have effectively doubled demand for petrol. The garage forecourts operate on a just in time delivery system and so cannot cope with a doubling of demand with no notice. By announcing this, they have guaranteed that virtually every garage will run out of petrol.

Geniuses - the garage forecourts will run out of petrol. If they do it now, while the tanker drivers are still driving, there is plenty of time to replenish stock before the petrol shortage caused by the strike. So suddenly we've all got full car tanks and the garages have stock. Much better to have a 1 day crisis now, and delay the strike-based crisis by a few days, than to have the strike-based crisis grip almost immediately.

This could be a move of strategic genius.

Steph/ven said...

Now, if I were really cynical, I would suggest that it's a ploy to boost the economy - by panicking people into buying petrol all at once, they're moving a lot of money through the system quickly.

Additionally, since almost everywhere has now put petrol prices up by several pence, that's even more money moving, and the Treasury gets a nice boost from the additional VAT that results.

Good thing I'm not extremely cynical, really.

Cap'n Ric said...

It worries me that the current government might actually be made up of intelligent people, as I'm also fairly convinced that they have pretty poor intentions.