Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

COVID-19 panic-buying: Why would we trust the rich and powerful now?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Many supermarkets have run out of essential items in recent weeks as worry about the Coronavirus sets in. The World Health Organisation has declared the Coronavirus a pandemic, and experts are warning of dire economic ramifications in the months to come.

Unsure of how to respond, many people have resorted to panic-buying staple goods.

In lots of areas this has resulted in a shortage of personal hygiene items including tissues, anti-bacterial wipes, cleaning products, paper towel and toilet paper. A number of shops are also running low on canned food, flour, rice and pasta.

Many mainstream media commentators have taken a great deal of joy from ridiculing working class people who have been stocking up, but really the response to the virus is not that surprising.

While much of the establishment tries to portray panic-buying, and worry about a pandemic as illogical, the reactions of people are actually very normal in the context of a social and economic system that has left huge swathes of the people behind.

For years polls and surveys have shown that the vast majority of us have no trust in governments or big business. This was in somewhat ‘normal’ times, so why would people have any confidence that these rogues can steer us safely through a pandemic?

Ordinary people feel that for the most part they have no control over the broader situation. They don’t really know what the consequences of the virus will be, and they are reluctant to believe the media or those in power as they lie to us about most other things.

For example, decisions about producing extra goods or supplies and the prices charged are decisions made by profiteers in boardrooms without any democratic control. It’s likely that many businesses will consider manipulating things in order to increase profits. This is one thing that people are trying to avoid when they are stocking up on goods.

It’s also natural to want to prepare for hard times, especially if it’s possible that you could be thrown out of work or be stood down without pay.

It’s clear that those with children or elderly relatives are the most worried and feel that one thing they can control is having enough supplies to care for their loved ones for a few weeks if they are forced into lockdown.

The establishment’s mouth pieces in the media like to portray ordinary people as stupid and uncouth, but really, it’s the capitalist system that makes no sense. This is a pandemic that has been made worse by a system that puts profits before all else.

For example, it’s clear that funding cuts and the privatisation of the health systems in many countries has facilitated the spread of this virus.

While socialists understand the reasons why people are engaged in panic-buying, we also explain that the establishment would much prefer that we are fighting amongst ourselves over toilet paper rather than uniting to fight against them on the systemic issues related to this crisis.

As always, under capitalism it is those living in the most precarious conditions, from payment to payment, who are suffering the most as they have no extra money for stocking up.

On the other hand, working class communities are the most generous and creative in organising collective solutions to humanitarian crises, including supply and distribution issues. The response to the summer’s horrific mega-fires is a prime example.

We need to fight collectively to ensure that working people are not forced to bear the brunt of the Coronavirus pandemic. That means working together to embark on grassroots measures for the health and safety of us all.

Trade unions and community groups need to campaign for things like democratic control of supply chains and prices, extra paid leave, for welfare payments that people can live on and a huge boost to public healthcare funding.

These measures should be part of a broader fight for public ownership and democratic control of the key parts of the economy, and to remove the profit motive, so that crises like this can be dealt with swiftly and people can be assured of access to the essentials and a dignified life.

By Socialist Action reporters


The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many of the problems with capitalism. The Socialist strives to explain the systemic causes of this crisis, and reports about the issues that are important to working people. We also help to organise struggles against the powers that be.

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