A Rational Decision Maker: Stay Away from Next Panic Buying

Vincent Thian/AP

Chinese consumers just recover from the recent nationwide salt panic buying. The panic, which began in China’s coastal provinces and spread quickly throughout the country, was a result of two misunderstandings:

  • The radiation from reactors at Japanese nuclear plants, caused by the devastating earthquake and tsunami would contaminate sea salt supplies in China.
  • The iodine in salt can prevent thyroid cancer, which is a disease associated with radiation exposure.

Misled by the rumors, millions of Chinese consumers flocked to their nearby supermarket, bought as many bags of salt as they could, which made the salt price jump ten times in some cities. China Daily reports a man purchased 6.5 tons of salt during the insane buying period, now finds himself stuck with three truckloads of salt, which can’t be returned, sold or even transported.

straightfromthedoc.com

Chinese consumer is the victim in this rumor-led crisis, of course no one wants it to happen again. So how should we do to prevent it?

Many people blame the Chinese government for not responding quickly and effectively, but I don’t think it is the cause. We all know in a market-oriented economy, the price is determined by the demand and the supply. China is now transforming into a more open market, the price fluctuation is and will always be a common phenomenon. Open your eyes and be realistic. We are not living in a planned economy era any more. We cannot depend on government’s macroeconomic control all the time. We have to hand over the power to the “invisible hand” of the market. Otherwise, Chinese economy cannot be strong enough to enter the entirely free international marketplace.

But we’ve got to prevent it, and there is a way. All we should do is to become a rational decision maker to protect ourselves from next waves of social panic, and that can be achieved within several steps:

  • Be aware of the economic situation and be alert to the unusual signs. So when the crisis approaches, you can anticipate it and have enough time to make your decision.
  • Once you are aware of the unusual signs, you need to realize what are  important in making the decision. In this case:
    • the accuracy of the information: find out whether the rumors are true or not;
    • basic health knowledge: you should know that taking too much salt is bad for your health, a small amount of salt will be enough to maintain your body’s daily activities;
    • general prediction of the uncertain future:  the government will not let the salt price jump too much, since the seasoning is the fundamental ingredient in people’s life. It can go from 1.6 to 2 considering China is in a high inflation period, but if it goes from 1.6 yuan to 16 yuan, it is ridiculous, and you don’t want to be part of it.
    • financial cost: if you buy a small bottle of salt, it usually costs you 1.6 yuan ($0.25), at the highest price it costs you 16 yuan ($2.4), and you can consume it for several months. But if you buy 6.5 tons of salt, it costs you 27,000 yuan ($4,100), and you can NEVER eat it up in your life!
  • After understanding these, you can choose the optimal decision easily. You may still decide to go to buy several bottles to emotionally calm your fears towards the uncertain future, but  I am sure you will not rush into the supermarket to buy tons of salt, and you will not panic if the salt has been out of stock.
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About Yifei Liu
I am a senior research assistant at International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). I received a master’s degree in journalism from UW-Madison with a focus on international and economic reporting in 2011 and a B.A in journalism from Renmin University of China in 2009. I am now living in Alexandria, VA.

2 Responses to A Rational Decision Maker: Stay Away from Next Panic Buying

  1. Mem Aziz says:

    Ms YIFEI LIU, you are very good, You write honest and direct, keep up the good work

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